The Fates Are Laughing
By HARCOURT, BRACE
MR. CROZIER belongs to that small and special group of authors who have chosen Imperial Rome as the theater for realistic novels. This group has respectable but not always successful antecedents. When Macaulay wrote his Lays of Ancient Rome, he obviously failed to convince anyone that he was an Ancient Roman, but. he fully succeeded in convincing his contemporaries that he was a brilliant and eloquent product of the English Public School and University. Later writers have been less successful. No one, except the most wishful thinker, would accept General Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur; A Tale of the Christ as anything but sanctified melodrama, or Quo Vadis? as much better than treacle, or The Robe as anything but a popular bestseller.
On the other hand, there have been a few conscientious writers who have been deeply interested in the curious manner of living and thinking in the days of Imperial Rome, who have tried to translate that habit of life to modern readers in the terms of intimate novels or alleged autobiographies. One thinks immediately of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God, in which the erudite author slips himself inside the baffling personality of that strange emperor and explains his intimate purposes and methods. It is all very cozy and just among ourselves — and extremely well done.
Mr. Crozier, in this instance, follows an earlier and, to my mind, superior example. His easy, colloquial story of a Roman senatorial family living under the tensions and fears of the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula has a simplicity and a verisimilitude which remind the reader of that little-known masterpiece, Andivius Hedulio, by Edward Lucas White.
Perhaps the unenlightening and rather forbidding title explains the comparative neglect by his countrymen of Mr. White’s novel. The incredible sharpness of detail, combined with the strange, dreamlike unreality of Andivius, can never be duplicated or approached, but Mr. Crozier does succeed in a different manner, in telling his story quite as convincingly, as though it were told as of London today instead of Rome about A.D. 40. This is a very considerable achievement, and the story is a good one. Incidentally, it demonstrates that it is not good to live under the caprice of a tyrant — something which this generation has learned all over again.
The inevitable urge to drag the early Christian Church and Pontius Pilate into his novel has acted on Mr. Crozier as it has on most of his fellow classic-novelists. He does it, with a wave of the hand and a shrug, but he does it just the same. It seems to this reviewer that one could write a novel of contemporary American life without hauling Earl Browder across the stage, but the temptation to introduce Peter or Paul in a “Tiberius" novel would seem to be compelling. I accept, being a poor Latinist, the civilization and thinking of Imperial Rome as Mr. Crozier presents them. And I am quite certain that he has written an entertaining, interesting, and constructive book, well worth anyone’s reading. Addicts of Andivius, take notice!
R. E. DANIELSON