Naomi Royde-Smith. The New Statesman. June 4, 1927, pp.251-52.


Young Men in Love. By MICHAEL ARLEN. Hutchinson. 7s. 6d.
The Wall of Glass. By AMABEL WILLIAMS-ELLIS. Cape. 7s. 6d.
To the Lighthouse. By VIRGINIA WOOLF. Hogarth Press. 7s. 6d.

Mr. Michael Arlen continues to wander about in worlds not
realised. It is not that his Peers of the Realm, ladies of title,
Secretaries of State and other denizens of Mayfair eat and
drink and chatter with a disconcerting absence of what a
young critic has called “vermisillytude.” Other and less
successful novelists have drawn on their untutored imaginations 
when seeking to put these high mysteries before the
lower classes for whom they write. Nor is it that his courage
takes him out of his depth to the extent of allowing him to
parallel that “all rowed fast but none so fast as stroke”
which has made his great predecessor immortal. Mr. Arlen
knows the etiquette of such athletics as his characters practise.
The shaking of cocktails; the drawing, but not firing, of
revolvers; the driving of racing cars to the danger of the
public, are not hidden from him, and he can take a party on
board a yacht lying in the Solent without getting himself
entangled in the rigging. And, when he has got us there, we
cannot complain because Lord Townleigh has turned the
Celadawr into a disreputable private night-club, though I
myself would like to know from what language the yacht
itself was named. Night clubs and the suicidal misery of the
people who frequent them are Mr. Arlen’s theme. They are
all desperately unhappy, these gilded revellers of his. Even
when they get to the night club, even at the bar, they cannot
enjoy their drinks:

What was so singular was that everyone who was trying to reach
some beautiful goal was generally wounded in some silly skirmish
miles before, so that when at last he came to his beautiful goal he
was not fit, he was too hurt and tired to enjoy it.

Now nobody can complain because a novelist chooses to tell 
us through the adventures of his hero, how

. . . the world he loved so much
Had turned to dust and ashes at his touch.

The subject is in fact a highly moral one. Mr. Arlen’s Young
Men in Love is a highly moral tale. It shows us Venetia, who
from her childhood up has been the mistress of her father’s
colleague, the Right Honourable Peter Antony Serle, P.C.,
M.P. Serle has a wife and a daughter rather older than 
Venetia, but Venetia is necessary to him as the stimulant which
keeps his gigantic brain equal to its political activities. When
she is twenty-five Venetia thinks she would like to marry quite
another kind of man. She is, not unnaturally, bored by the 
company of her father and his friends, who are indeed heavily
boring people:

The profound silliness with which wealth afflicts so many worthy
men was not their silliness. Ton bored them. They accepted the
company of princes with the resignation of philosophers and the
irony of pirates.

They were, in fact, no fit companions for a young girl. They
were also entirely unlike the kind of people Mr. Arlen thought 
he was describing when he started to tell us about them. Mr. 
Arlen is, as I have said, quite out of his depth, not only in 
Mayfair, which would not matter very much, but, and this is
more serious, in his own literary medium. Two characters
he knows and can put before us. One is the clever and rather
pathetic young writer who, after a struggle, wakes one morning
to find himself famous and too rich to be at all happy. The 
other is the fashionable whore whose advances this fundamentally 
shy though superficially impudent young man
repulses. We have seen them both in other novels by the 
same author. They occur again in Young Men in Love and 
they are competently described. But all the other people in 
this book are made in their two images and this is confusing.
They all speak alike. You cannot open a page of the almost
continuous dialogue in which the tale is written and be sure
who is speaking. Lord or lounge-lizard, novelist or courtesan, 
“Darling” is their form of address and “Oh, shut up!” the 
style of their repartee. Mr. Arlen lacks variety. He also
lacks command of epithet or metaphor. Tropes come to him
indeed, but he hardly ever knows what to do with them:

His face was the colour of sleeping-car linen as you see it through
half-open doors on your way to the breakfast-car.

He wondered why her hair smelled of a bathroom and a cherry
orchard . . . her hair had the same smell as a cleanly woman’s
bedroom in the morning.

Her eyes danced along her eyelashes into his heart. . . Warm
dusky eyes . . . he wandered about in them like a man enjoying a 
cigar in a warm dusky garden.

[next column]

And it is not only in such flights of overburdened fancy
that Mr. Arlen misses his way. The facts of life are hidden
from him in an equal confusion of ignorance and imagery.
His Venetia, faithless to her cabinet minister, takes tea with
the over-risen novelist in his flat, which overlooks Mount Street
Gardens, “and every one who walks through wears a smile
that lasts a little way up the busy streets beyond, like the 
taste of oysters through luncheon on the 1st of September.”
He, poor man, asks Venetia to admire his view:

“Bother the view,” she said. And he saw that she was wiser
than he . . . Things were happening. There was a silken sound
and the clothes fell from her body like petals from a shaken

Now, if Mr. Arlen had sought for any reliable information
as to what really does happen when a young lady of fashion
casts off clothing of all description in London to-day, he would
have been told that, far from being able to let her clothes fall
from her like silken petals from a shaken rose, she has to struggle
out of them, usually with the help of the onlooker, passing through
one of the most inelegant and undignified moments possible 
to civilised humanity when the sheathlike garments of her
sophistication are pulled over her head and completely shackle
her arms and disintegrate the lacquered perfection of her hair.
This scene strikes the top-note of the book—but it is incredibly
out of tune. It is followed by a really brilliant description of the
agonies suffered by the novelist when Venetia has left him
to dine with the politician. She has promised to ring her new
lover up at eleven o’clock. But by half-past eleven she has not
done so, and though he tries to telephone to her every half-hour
thereafter it is not until half-past one that her voice answers
him. By this time his passion has withered into jealous despair.
Here Mr. Arlen is on safe ground. He knows, at last, what he
is writing about—he has come to the record of a communicable
anguish. He is almost as good, though not nearly so funny, as
M. Sacha Guitry when he wrote and when he plays Un Monsieur
attend une Dame. If only Mr. Arlen would master his metaphors
and stick to the people and the situations he understands, and if
only he could bring himself to write a novel in which no lady
undergoes an operation . . . 

The Wall of Glass is in all respects so different a piece of work
that it requires an effort to realise that it is a tale of contemporary
London and presents the same world as Young Men in Love. Mrs. 
Williams-Ellis, like Mr. Arlen, takes the governing classes for
her province. But, unlike Mr. Arlen, she really does know the
people who govern England, knows them so well, Conservative,
Liberal or Labour leaders, that it is impossible in reading her
crowded brilliant pages not to identify some of the real people
who, in decorous but incomplete disguises, move across her varied
scene. At first The Wall of Glass makes rather confused reading.
We are hurled from Carlton House Terrace to South Battersea,
from Bloomsbury to the Wellstead Garden City. We travel home
from a Pirandello play at Barnes on the top of an omnibus with
two potential lovers and are just beginning to be really thrilled
by their relationship when, turning a page, we find ourselves
introduced to Sir Stephen Wincop, our Minister to Sweden,
”who liked to be considered an expert on contemporary life.”
It is all a little too sudden, too busy. But presently the torrent
of life broadens and deepens into a river along which we can
travel more comfortably side by side with the several boats that
are all steering to their moorings in a harbour where the business
of a general election is to involve all the characters Mrs. Williams-
Ellis has marshaled together.

And as we read, more and more do we feel the assurance and
comfort of being in the hands of a writer who knows her business
and who knows her world. Towards the end of the book the
competence of the novelist is reinforced by real and controlled
emotion. The two main love-stories are developed into moving
tenderness and a fire of passion, so that we smile at the foolishness
and cry over the pathos of young men in love. For Mrs. Williams-
Ellis has insight and a sense of proportion as well as inside 
knowledge of the world in which she lives. The Wall of Glass is
a very fine novel, and quite the finest novel of contemporary 
English life since the War that I have read.

With Mrs. Woolf we have the same assurance from the
outset as Mrs. Williams-Ellis gives us towards the middle of her
tale, that the writer knows the world she presents. But that is
all there is in common between The Wall of Glass and To the
Lighthouse. For where Mrs. Williams-Ellis is competent,
talented and human and deals with careers and characters from
without, Mrs. Woolf is illuminated, analytic and radiant with a 
personal quality that increases in beauty and power with every