Victory on West Hill

By R.L. Duffus
WEST HILL is four miles outside Alderbury, which is Mr. Duffus’s invented or synthesized microcosmic community in Northern Vermont. And this story of West Hill in the summer of 1941 is at least four miles outside the province of the novel, if one takes the novel to be the province of created characters who live from within by the force of spontaneous in born qualities. Mr. Duffus, an always pleasant writer, is a more popular philosopher than novelist, and Victory on West Hill is philosophy of a timely sort, fiction-plated. It is a story with the force of a parable. Its characters are loosely individualized types, and its action is dictated by the moral these characters exist to point. The chief of them is a ruggedly simple man so very aged that he has begun to confuse himself with the even more ruggedly simple grandfather who dominated his boyhood, and even to confuse his own soldiering of 1864-1865 with his grandfather’s under Washington. The struggle that culminates in a qualified victory is his struggle to impress the ancestral virtues on three generations of his descendants, victims in their several ways of the modern softness, skepticism, and self-pitying complexity.
The Vermont flavor of the narrative is unexpectedly dilute, and the reader is left wishing that more of the dialogue had the pungency of the retort by the nonagenarian whose grandfather fought in 1776 when he hears it murmured that that was “a long time ago”: “Depends on how you look at it. It wasn’t a long time ago when it happened.” W. F.