Opéra Bouffe

ENGLAND has certainly given its a polished Tartar in Angela Thirkell, and there is no one this side of the water writing such easy malice and with charm enough to compare to her. I should judge that by now she has attracted a considerable audience which The Brandons (Knopf, $2.50) will swell a notch or two.The Brandons is social comedy, the sort of writing that enrages the socially minded, for it is constructed oil the principle of a dig all around at the characters while the notion of the particular society is left, alone. As in Trollope, whom she has been thought to resemble, her reader lives very much within the charmed circle, and it is only by means of dialogue that the time, the present, is assured, and a rather trivial reality. None of that matters.
I note that the jacket makes a point of her cerebration, which is misleading. There is nothing here more intellectual than wit, and there’s plenty of that to go around. Artistically the English upper classes have always been known for charm and taste; in this respect Angela Thirkell is an excellent example. She is the granddaughter of Burne-Jones and the daughter of Professor J. W. Mackail. Her stage is set with the pleasurable props of the Brandon country place, Stories, Brandon Abbey, where an old female tyrant is dying in a very large bed while each heir trembles that the place may devolve upon him, and the usual accessories such as plenty of money, servants, and a quantity of leisure. The whole thing is therefore of no significance whatsoever, but with such a background the comedy may progress unhampered, and character can rattle against character with the best effect in the world.
Mrs. Brandon is a widow with a happy faculty of making every man she meets fall in love with her, and to prove it each one is determined to read aloud his own work in progress, for they are all writing books. She cannot understand a page, naturally, but she listens as only the kind and lazy can. The business works up to a very pretty climax in the reading of the will. What is good is the traditionally cruel treatment of the characters, which the author looks at with a Congreve eye, and such ridiculous bits as young Grant and his book on Le Capet, whose ’chief claim to immortality was that he had just missed meeting everyone of note in Paris.’ his Italianate mother who is mercilessly caricatured, and the excellence of the dialogue throughout. This is an exceedingly clever book, particularly to be enjoyed by Americans who are, one hopes, safely out of Mrs. Thirkell’s range.