The Magnificent Idiot

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By Peter de Polnay
DOUBLEDAY, DORAN
THIS novel is described on the jacket as “a stinging cocktail: civilized and satiric,” but I should not myself describe it in those terms. It is a parable of the human spirit, possessing at times a kind of terrible Swiftean irony. At other times it lapses into sheer dullness, but its comedy is always serious and has none of the superficial and easy stimulus of a cocktail. The hero is a congenital idiot with a beautiful body. He is called “Boo” since that is almost the only word he can say. He comes of normal parentage but, as his wife describes it, ”he doesn’t speak coherently, and never learned to read and write. In short, he doesn’t do the silly things we do.”
The peace of his mindlessness and the influence of his beauty and his gentle nature have a profound effect on the unhappiness of a rich widow, tortured by the loss of her only son, and she leaves Boo her fortune. They have the same effect on a young woman, honest but alcoholic, who finds herself trapped in the complications of an emotional relationship. She marries him, and they live happily together with his father, the ex-butler of the rich widow, who has always refused to admit that his son is anything but “a bit backward.” Into their paradise of simple, natural love and well-being breaks Edward Braddon, an ultra-sophisticated young intellectual with no ethical standards, who, instead of accepting Boo as he is, thinks he will get a mental “kick” out of studying the idiot in his own terms of sadistic comedy and analysis. He baits and teases him, and Boo, intuitively perceiving Braddon to be the human pest that he is. quietly drowns him in the lake. But since we live in a so-called civilized world, the law of man and not of nature prevails, and the conclusion is tragedy and not comedy. E. D.