Friday, March 16, 2007

Pilgrims and Passers-By


Painting by Ambrogio Lorenzettti.


Nevil Shute was a best-selling novelist a generation or two ago.

He wrote at least 24 novels, selling over 4 million copies in their original editions, as well as developing secret weapons for the British war effort.

Four lines from W.B. Yeats preface his novel The Legacy.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

The story is a romance - in both meanings of the word - between a girl who survives of a Japanese death march in Malaya and an Australian soldier.

A central theme in all of Shute's work is the courage and simple decency of the ordinary person.

Anyone wanting to set their next opus in the "historical" era surrounding WW2 and its immediate aftermath might find his books good research material, for skill, for social attitudes, and for setting. Pied Piper is one of my favourites.

And many writers have the "pilgrim soul" and hope that readers find such moments of "glad grace" within their pages.



18 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

I know that an idea is one that I want to write when it gives me this sweeping, almost melancholy mood-- like one of those moments when you look back on your life and yearn to explore alternative paths. That's what I want the reader to feel: Bittersweet nostalgia for a place they haven't been, can't ever visit...but long to see almost more than life itself.

Not sure about the "pilgrim soul" concept, though.

jason evans said...

In school, we were assigned On the Beach. I still remember that story. The most chilling part was how the radiation from the nuclear war slowly spread south. Plenty of time to think about what was coming.

December Quinn said...

Lovely. I've always loved that line, too.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more WWII-era fiction, especially romance now that it's been declared okay for historicals. Been thinking of something set in the roaring 20s myself...I'll put that on the list beneath the ten other ideas currently in the queue...

Bernita said...

You may have just described a facet of it, Written.

The emphasis - or association - with On The Beach tends to obscure his other works, Jason, which are far more positive and definitely not apocalyptic.

Bernita said...

I'm a little uneasy about that status, December, perhaps because there are available so many novels written during the period.
On the other hand, there is certainly no lack of research material for a fresh take.

Jaye Wells said...

This reminds me of a Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic":

I want to rock your gypsy soul...

Hmmm, writer as pilgrim soul. The kind that travels vast distances in in the mind to worship at the altar of imagination. Yep, sounds about right.

Kate Thornton said...

Lavinia Warner's series, "Tenko" from the early 1980's reminded me very much of Nevil Shute's work. Set in Singapore just before (and then in a prisoner of war camp) during the Japanese occupation, the cast is primarily women. The writers for the first series were Paul Wheeler, Jill Hyem, and Anne Valery.

A lovely illustration of the concept of the pilgrim soul.

Of course, "A Town Like Alice" - by Nevil Shute - captures it perfectly.

S. W. Vaughn said...

This sounds like a good read. Have to check it out.

Bailey Stewart said...

The kind that travels vast distances in the mind to worship at the altar of imagination.

Awesome Jaye.

I used to listen to my father and uncles talk about WWII - I'd like to write a romance during that time period.

Bernita said...

Does seem to fit, Jaye.

Kate, "A Town" is probably one of the few of his I haven't read.

He sometimes uses the "as told to" style of first/third person narration, Sonya.

Bailey,just post-war there was a very popular American romance writer using the war in her plots, but dammit, I can't remember her name.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Blogger keeps eating my post...now I forgot what I wanted to say *sigh* we just got past another Noah and the Ark episode, now the waters have frozen up again and we're having a blizard....is it spring yet?

Bernita said...

Oh, Bonnie!
We're due snow too.
Yet my husband saw a robin on the lawn this morning.

raine said...

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

Wonderful.
Sigh...

jason evans said...

To be honest, I was not aware that Nevil Shute was so prolific. You've inspired me to explore some of these titles.

Bernita said...

I know, Raine...

Jason, the narrator of The Legacy happens to be a solicitor, btw.

Robyn said...

I always been drawn to the idea of the march, probably because of my Cherokee heritage. The Trail of Tears is kind of branded into the soul of Oklahoma.

Robyn said...

HAVE always been drawn. Grrr on no edit button. Blogger wants us all to sound like doofuses.

Bernita said...

The Legacy is actually based on a true story, as well, Robyn, though it happened in Sumatra, the trek was over 1200 miles and lasted 2 and 1/2 years.