The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
by Patrick White
Viking, $8.95
American readers were surprised last fall when it was announced that Patrick White, an Australian, had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. One’s first thought was that the Swedish Academy had made a political award, but a reading of Mr. White’s new novel, The Eye of the Storm—his ninth—is convincing proof that he is indeed a mature and analytical writer.
Mr. White is particularly interested in women: his best-known early work, The Aunt’s Story, was a psychological study of a plain woman whose instincts are greater than her adaptability to life. In The Eye of the Storm, a larger work, he is writing about a wealthy Australian widow, Elizabeth Hunter, whose mind is far more vigorous than her body. She has had a stroke—“only a little one,” as she keeps reminding the nurses. In her half-world, now drowsing and now alert, she relives her resistance to and her tragic reunion with Alfred, her undemanding husband, who rescued her from poverty, but whose sheep farm was deadening to her spirit. She is tormented by self-justification as she recalls the loneliness she experienced in Sydney, where she moved after their separation—a loneliness her occasional lovers did not quench—and the selfish neglect of her son and daughter, who deserted her for their careers in Europe. Now they are returning to her bedside and she rallies her wits for the encounter. Dorothy, her daughter, flies in from Paris, bringing with her an accent and arfectation, and bitter memories of the French nobleman whom she has divorced. She was always ill at ease with her mother—jealous of her mother’s beauty—and she still is. The prying old lady has lost none of her dominance, and her thrust—“to make sure you’d see me die—or to ask me for money if I didn’t”—soon has her daughter in tears.
After Dorothy comes her brother, Sir Basil Hunter, the famous London actor, who is in his late forties and finding it increasingly difficult to get good parts. He still has the aura of the theater about him, but he cringes at the memory of the ridicule which greeted his latest performance. So the children return, each drawn back by love and hostility and by the desire to get as large a share of mother’s legacy as possible. Dorothy is annoyed that her mother should have three nurses and a housekeeper and immediately begins cutting down on expenses.
But the nurses are vital to Mrs. Hunter’s life and it is amusing to watch her employ them. Her favorite is Sister de Santis, the night nurse, who has been with her for fifteen years and in whom she confides. On Sister Badgery, “the boiled nurse, oozing sympathy,” she vents her exasperation, and Flora Manhood, the young pretty nurse, she teases about her love life. It is Flora who makes up Mrs. Hunter, putting on her rings, lipstick, eye shadow, and wig when visitors are expected.
In its leisurely, observant, and waspish way, this story is easy to read and more than a little wise. Mr. White is a stylist with a very sure delineation of character, and the scenes between Sir Basil and his mother seem to me the best in the book. On his entry the actor gives a perfect performance, but when he retreats to his hotel room he is beset by the remembrance of the messes he made “in certain corners of his career.” Even if his mother will finance the half-baked new play on which he has an option, he dreads “the sound of projecting a tattered voice into a half empty theatre.”
A cool, merciless story, masterful in its introspection, intimately perceptive of human frailty and wryly humorous. But only in the character of the Jewish housekeeper, a victim of Hitler’s Germany, is the compassion that might have added more warmth to the whole.
by Stewart Alsop
Lippincott, $8.95
On the morning of July 19, 1971, Stewart Alsop, the Washington correspondent of Newsweek, was assailed by a spell of dizzy breathlessness; he had had it before but this was worse, and when it recurred after lunch he consulted the family doctor and overnight received the verdict that he was suffering from acute leukemia. He decided to take his chances at the National Institutes of Health, where he fortunately came under the care of Dr. John Glick, a candid, inquiring specialist, half his age. and as Alsop reached back in memory for possible clues to his illness, a trust was established between them which is the central theme of this brave and honest book. At the outset the odds were twenty to one against his living beyond a year.
Able journalist that he is, Alsop feels naked without a notebook and the single word “leukemia” at the top of the page for July 21 was the beginning of his medical box score. From the needles in his arms, from the test of his blood and the more painful ones of his marrow, he learned to follow the fight for his life as it fluctuated from the deepest dismay when he contemplated using Hamlet’s “bare bodkin” to the euphoria of “dies gloriae” when remission gave patient and doctor the hope of indefinite prolongation. Because Alsop’s case was without precedent, the clinical details take the reader into one of the great mysteries of medicine; and they are essential, since they mirror the spark of one man and the brilliant resourcefulness of the other. “It is a curious feeling to have the inside of your bones a battlefield.”
The only writer I have known in this predicament was Dr. Hans Zinsser and with him, as with Stewart Alsop, the experience of being on the threshold heightened his daily perception. Woven in and out of the journal of Alsop’s treatment are the endearing interludes with Tish, his attractive English wife, whom he married in 1943 while serving in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps; his daydreams about their versatile children; side-splitting remembrances of his journalistic partnership with his older brother Joe and of family life back in Connecticut when they competed against their authoritarian father; vignettes of his “most enduring hero,” Winston Churchill; the witticisms of Cousin Alice Longworth (“Never trust a man who parts his hair under his left armpit,” as Douglas MacArthur did, to cover his bald spot); and the recall of that moment when Alsop, on special service, was dropped behind the lines in France and found himself in deep trouble. The occasional morose slump as when he feels that the Establishment in this country is falling apart is offset by his dry humor. “This is a most interesting experience, although one wishes one were not so personally involved.”
by Christopher Hibbert
Harper & Row, $10.00
One problem the British monarchy has never solved is what to do with the heir apparent. There is no place, like our vice-presidency, where a prince could be employed without becoming obstreperous. In the early days the Prince of Wales rode off to the wars, to fight with Pa or, if he was an intriguer, against him, but by the time of the Hanoverians he was kept marking time, supposedly as an attendant to the King at church and social functions but exempt from risk or responsibility. The restrictions which George III placed upon his eldest son were even more severe than those Queen Victoria sought to impose upon Edward, and in each case resentment led to extravagance and scandal.
The Prince Regent and Bertie in their youth had much in common. Each was a man of great charm and style with a large appetite—especially for women. The denial of office drove both of them to gambling and the turf. Bertie had the better racing stable and the Prince Regent the better dwellings-his adornment of Carlton House and the Pavilion at Brighton was lavish, as was the cost. The Prince Regent was the more generous, ran up the more monstrous debts, loved more madly—and was the heavier of the two. According to the huge scales in the Old Coffee Mill (now Messrs. Berry Bros, and Rudd) on St. James’s Street, H.R.H. at the age of thirty-one weighed 246 pounds.
The biography is bizarre, pathetic, and fascinating because of the impetuous way in which the Prince threw himself at life. He could do nothing by halves and his father’s remonstrances fell on deaf ears; at sixteen his love affairs—with older women—were beginning to cause talk and cost money. He early became an admirer of Charles James Fox, who politically and morally was unacceptable to the King, and in his drinking and shooting with that lively politician he became a recognized part of the Opposition. When he was denied the income of £100,000 a year, he retorted by spending double that amount; and when he fell in love with Mrs. Fitzherbert and defied the Marriage Act by marrying her secretly, he found with her in their Brighton retreat a happiness and docility rare in his career. This was the first arrangement which the Prince managed to handle with discretion, and it was not to last. He could not restrain his spending and his debts became a national disgrace. Having finally grown cold toward Mrs. Fitzherbert, he agreed to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick as the only way out, and in short order was disgusted by his slovenly bride.
The letters in this book show how deep was his repeated attachment to Mrs. Fitzherbert, how genuine his concern about his father’s mysterious illness, and with what earnestness he pleaded for a meaningful commission in the struggle against Napoleon. One wonders if his dissipation and extravagance would have been less had he been given more to do.