So you finished Portrait of a Man with Red Hair.
What was your final verdict?
On the whole excellent but I’ve noticed that he puts in elements in his stories which belong in much longer novels.
You mean an extended incident which might be natural in War and Peace but threatens to capsize a 187 page novel.
Precisely. I put it down to plot block. He doesn’t know quite how to proceed and tries to write himself out of it.
Is this the concept of ‘narrative traction’ that you mentioned before.
Amn’t I telling you. Any fool can write but it takes real talent to narrativize.
I like that last word, only available in American spelling I imagine.
The evil of the eponymous Crispin and his sadistic theory of love through pain is well wrought. The relationship of Crispin pere and fis and which of them is the dominant one is an acute observation of twinned psychosis. But it is in the passage where the rufous rascal,
Hold it you’ve used ‘eponymous’ and ‘rufous’ recently. Put your €2 in the Fowler box and I think €1 in the Partridge.
Might I continue. When Crispin shows Harkness his gems, jades and prints - By the way Peter Lorre would be perfect for the role with his glabrous pate covered by en brosse carrotty – it is with the horror of the true connoisseur that Walpole write:
"Yes, yes, I could show you then my power." His voice vibrated with sudden excitement. "You think me absurd. Yes, yes, you do. You do. Don't deny it now. As though I couldn't perceive it. Do you think me so stupid? Absurd, with my ridiculous hair, my ugly body? Oh! I know! You can't hide it from me. You laugh like the rest. Secretly, you laugh. You are smiling behind your hand. Well, smile then, but how foolish of you to be so taken in by physical appearances. Do you know my power? Do you know what I could do to you now by merely clapping my hands?
"If my fingers were at your throat, at your breast, and you could not move but must wait my wish, my plan for you, would you think me then so absurd--my figure, my hair, ridiculous? You would be as though in the hands of a god. I should be as a god to you to do with you what I wished. . . .
"What is there that is so beautiful that I, ugly as I am, cannot do as I wish with it? This--" Suddenly he took up the "Orvieto" and held it forward under the candlelight. "This is one of the most beautiful things of its kind that man has ever made, and I--am I not one of the ugliest human beings at whom men laugh?--well, would you see my power over it? I have it in my hands. It is mine. It is mine. I can destroy it in one instant--"
The beautiful thing shook in his hand. To Harkness it seemed suddenly to be endued with a human vitality. He saw it--the high, sharp, razor-edged rocks, the town so confidingly resting on that strength, all the daily life at the foot, the oxen, the peasants, the lovely flame-like trees, the shining reaches of valley beyond, all radiating the heat of that Italian summer.
He sprang to his feet. "Don't touch it!" he cried. "Leave it! Leave it!"
Crispin tore it into a thousand pieces, wrenching it, snapping at it with his fingers like an animal. The pieces flaked the air. A white shower circled in the candle-light, then scattered about the table, about the floor.
Clearly his evil knows no bounds. Definitely Lorre. Didn’t Walpole write for Hollywoood?
Yes he adapted the David Copperfield of 1935 which had W.C.Fields playing Micawber. You will remember that Uriah Heep is red haired.
Finally and in conclusion.
Excellent, a neglected classic of the macabre genre.