In the third novel THE CONTENDERS, Wain places "the theme of the personal value into wider area of English society."1 Joe Shaw is a narrator. He is "rumpled, fat and easy going."2 He narrates the story of his two schoolmates, Robert Lamb, the artist and Ned Roper, the businessman, and of their "rise to prominence in post World War II England."3 What they were after, says the narrator, was a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge. Shaw drops out, right at the beginning, and says that "the Higher cert was good enough for me and they could keep Oxford or Cambridge".4 Neither of his two friends, Ned Roper and Robert Lamb could go beyond the Higher certificate - but both were careerists. Their competition took the form of Ned's trying to become Robert's patron, to make him dependent, and Robert's trying to owe nothing to him, and more important, each trying to Myra, a beautiful but empty-headed creature whose fate was to walk on the arms of successful men. Ned takes Myra away from Robert. Robert, then, turns to Pepina. She is a "faithful and loving"5 Italian girl. Thus the three Midland lads, competing at school, "smack at each other on their adult way to the top.:6 But before long Robert leaves Pepina and goes off in pursuit of Myra. Joe Shaw, the only one of the three men who knowa true love when he sees it, falls in love with Pepina. Perhaps he is capable of overriding "the wisdom of instinct and passion."7 The string of the theme is well stretched over all the chapters and no doubt from this point of view that the novel has a unity. But somehow the novel approaches an allegory. Joe Shaw is the thoughtful man, Ned is the business careerist, Myra the beautiful symbol of success, and Pepina is true value. As a kind of morality play THE CONTENDERS is interesting.
Wain in the THE CONTENDERS seems to attack the "competitive instinct"8 apparent in the artistic and business world. As it is narrated in the novel, Lamb (the artist) is dark, stocky and explosive and Roper (the tycoon) is tall, fair and suave. Roper does "tall, fair, suave"9 things. Lamb does "dark, stocky and explosive ones."10 Yet it is not the material success, business, or subservience to Art Wain wants to lash at, though he may look down upon them as the following verbal war between the Bloater and Robert suggests when the former tears off Robert's drawing :
Tearing up drawings isn't discipline, said Robert. He began to advance towards the Bloater, looking fixedly at him.
'Making them isn't learning history', I might remind your'.
'Remind me nothing'. A moment ago there was a drawing and now it's a torn-up bit of paper. I did that drawing. I should have been listening to your tommytot.'
'I won't stand insolence, Lamb' the Bloater shouted. He took a step forward and the two faced each other, scrowling.
'I should never been listening to your messed-up drivel,' Robert went on. 'But I did a drawing. So what. Punish me. Send me to the headmaster. But don;t tear up drawings.'
Don't say another word, Lamb. If you want to continue to be a pupil at this school,' the Bloater barked in his St. Bernard voice, which was really terrifying. 'Get back to your place and I'll see if I can bring myself to overlook your insolence, your..........'
'I said don't tear-up drawings Robert shouted. 'Don't ever do it again, don't ever do it again, do you hear ?'
'They want on shouting.' Get back to your place' and 'Don't tear-up drawings' for what seemed about ten minutes. They both had powerful voices and the room was absolutely full of noise. I was sure the whole school would drop what they were doing and come racing to see who had gone mad. Then, quite suddenly, the tension dropped. Instead of attacking one another, Robert and the Bloater began arguing in more of less normal voices. 11
That is why James Gindin observes :
Although Wain ridicules both complete subservience to Art as a kind of mystical goddess, and the reverence for material success so prevalent in society, neither art not business in itself is his principal target.12
It is the spirit of competition Wain lashes at, as it "both the artist and the businessman, a spirit by parents, teachers, all of society."13 And in the life of Joe Shaw this spirit of competition is conspicuous by its absence as he has an "ardent dislike"14 for it. He is a simple man. The spirit of competition leads to "the slavish and unthinking adherence to commercial and middle class values."15 Wain analyses it in THE CONTENDERS. The protagonist Joe Shaw, while talking to Robert, feels the kind of simplification of experince to which the competitive spirit leads :
I began to see where I was. It was useless, plainly, to argue with either of the, because they were both committed to what was, fundamentally, the same position. They both saw women not as people but as instruments. Stocker's argument was crude, Ned's - on the surface - more subtle. But in either case there was only one way of bringing them round, and that was to get them to see a woman as a person. But what was the good? If I were to tell Ned that an unsuccessful, obscure and unambitious man might find himself a wife who, as a human being , was as good as anyone available for the most famous and powerful - what good would that do? Again, imagine trying to tell Stocker that if he would take to exploring woman in depth, rather than brushing over each one on his way to the next, he might find some pretty surprising things. He couldn't believe any such thing even if he wanted to.16
This competitive spirit of the "futile struggle"17 between both Ned and Robert confines themselves to what is visible and acceptable in society. Ambition is their force :
In both Robert's case and Ned's, the real driving force was ambition, with sex entering relatively little into the picture; far less than it would have done with me, for instance. If I had married Myra, which God forbid, and which wasn't very likely under any circumstances, I should have done so because that would have been my only chance of getting to bed with her. Did that make me more human than Ned and Robert, or merely more animal.18
Ned keeps his private fantasy, a vast model rail-road system that he can control completely, locked in a private room in his house. This railroad has for Ned some special significance as James Gindin points out :
The railroad represents both his escape from society and his desire for control, both hidden behind a calm, respectable facade.19
Robert's art, too, likewise gets the "veneer of brittle acceptability"20 as he comes out triumphant while his acting out of artistic postures disallows him in possessing a woman. Perhaps because of this Joe Shaw thinks :
The next day Robert went back to London, without having done anything towards getting hold of Ned. He had telephoned the house, rather with the air of being afraid of looking a fool if he did not, and had seemed relieved, if anything, to be told that Ned was away and they didn't know when he'd be going back. (This was just what I expected of course). At the circumstances; he had got his balance back.21
About Robert's artistic success Gindin rightly thinks :
The preoccupation wirh success, a preoccupation handled with deadly irony when Robert gives a toast to success at the public celebration of Ned's wedding to his glamourous former wife, keeps both Robert and Ned from getting beyond the axioms of their society.22
Surprisingly the protagonist Joe Shaw though far more limited superficially, manages to override the limitations of society as he is not "racing against a competitive phantom."23
Thus in the THE CONTENDERS the dominant patterns of contemporary society are discarded in favour of the value of the older, more local tradition. About this value of localism Gindin rightly remarks :
THE CONTENDERS.....asserts the value of localism, the traditional English virtue of remaining close to one's original surroundings. A large share of Joe Shaw's worth is based on the fact that he has been really left the pottery towm he grew up in, has not been corrupted by the cosmopolitan influence of London.24
Joe knows that a town like London has its own limitations, yet he loves it. Not only this; he is fully convinced that the "artistic ability"25 of Robert owes much to Robert's being born and brought up in London :
I hadn't realised, yet, that the only reason England any intellectual and artistic life at all because man like Robert aren't reared in London. They take their originality with them, and London assumes it all and gives them nothing back. It's because the provinces accept dreariness that London can boast of its brilliance.26
Wain must have been haunted, whie showing Joe's love for localism by his own craving for being at his old cottage when he was a mere child. He had to move to a house, which he never disliked. Yet he liked his cottage more. And when once his sister drew a landscape, Wain was full of joy as it had in it its cottage too :
One day she (Wain's sister being seven years his elder) draw the landscape, as it appeared from our lawn, and I was delighted to see that she put the cottage, my cottage in the centre and organized the picture round it. I felt it showed that she understood the significance of the cottage, and this was important, for it meant that another person had shared a deeply personal feeling of mine, without needing to have it explained.27
Wain love for localism vert much tallies with that of Joe. And Robert, too, when his wife leaves him and he is at his most depressed, returns to the pottery town with Joe in order to recover his talent and his sanity at their source. Even Joe's mother owes to the provinces thus adding to the localism of the novel. As Giddin muses :
Joe's mother who supplies an excessive dose of the kind of wisdom and silent understanding found in the provinces, also looms throughour the novel. She says little but she little but she is never deluded.28
This longing for localism keeps a man at its best and Wain's characters are no exception to it. To quote Gindin again :
Man is best, in Wain's fiction, when he sticks wirh what he knows and can handle, when he avoids the pretense, implicit in the cosmopolitan and the universal.29
This sense of localism may, however, also be seen in the first novel of John Wain HURRY ON DOWN. When Lumley goes to Rosa's house to meet her family, he likes her father with his pre-First World War habit :
Charles liked Rosa's father......father was a foreman at some kind of brickyard or quarry...... it was a pleasure to heat his father, whose speech had been formed, along wih all his other habits, before 1914; the last injection of new elements into his vocabulary had been in the trenches, and a slight seasoning of the Army slang of those days gave his talk a touch of colour.30
But Lumley does not feel any sense of respect for Stan, Rosa's younger brother. In him he finds a dearth of local colour. He slurs his speech and prides himself on "his commercial success and his American style cigarettes."31 It is his imitation of the West that keeps him aloof from localism Charles is fond of :
......he (Lumley) did not like Stan. At sixty, Stan would neither the massive good humour not the genuine dignity of his father, and already he was immersed in learning the technique of cheap smartmess. He talked a different language, for one thing; it was demotic English of mid-twentieth century, rapid slurred, essentially a city dialect and, in origin, esseintially American.32
It is perhaps, because of this localism that Wain's humanism is "more optimistic"33 in THE CONTENDERS. The protagonist Joe Shaw develops in the way that Wain thinks "natural and good".34 He is unconcerned with the struggle for power.35 Instead he prefers looking for a lady "who has developed untouched by modern commercial society."36 In other words, the spirit of localism is in him and he wants to see it in his better half as well. He is convinced that a true growth of personality if possible :
Everyone's life has a same shape, the shape it would grow into if it was left alone, like a tree. Most people tinker about with the shape and distort it more or less, either because they have to or because, they want to.......37
Even the images Wain uses in the prose of THE CONTENDERS are remarkable for a note of localism :
In the silence that followed, we thought of London of the provincial adolescent, the smoky swampt full of jewelled toads, the dirt-track where racing taxis full of millionaires skid rogether in a shower of sovereigns the pallid aviary of bank notes flapping their wings in time to the cunning chimes of Big Ben.38
Wain has already made use of such contemporary, mechanical, comic and incongruous images in the two novels that preceded THE CONTENDERS.In HURRY ON DOWN the describes the feelings of Lumley in love :
.......his (Lumley's) heart lurched over and over in his breast like a cricket ball lobbed along a dry, bumpy pitch.39
A little further Wain describes one girl looking at another in the following words :
......as if she were a gal-stone on a X-ray plate.40
And after the girl moves round to have a glimplse of Charles Lumley :
She ran his eyes over him. His spine felt like a row of cotton reels strung on a wire. Then the wire became red hot and melted and the cotton reels clattered to ground.41
Such contemporary and mechanical images have been used in LIVING IN THE PRESENT (1953) as well :
She was wearing leopord-skin trousers and a pair of ear-rings that could have done duty on the front axie of a Ferrari. Her low-cut blouse revealed a deft between her breasts big enough to hold a bundle of firewood.42
All these images give a comic effect. About these imagess James Gindin's words are worth quoting :
At times the comedy is even more severely local, as in the images dependent on reference to fashionable academic figure such as William Empson, logical positivists, and F. R. Leavis. This kind of comedy, discordant, contemporary, energetic and often extremely funny, is occasional and decorative rather than central to the kind of statement Wain is making. Yet the frequent comic image means of presentation help to limit the range of statement, help to prevent the values endorsed from soaring into absolutes.43
However, seen in the wider perspective, these images of localism may not seem to incorporate any value. Perhaps they have a confined and limited value. In other words, it is the value that by its very nature must rule out a good deal of possible human experince in order to assert or establish itself. About the localism Gindin opines :
It is almost more a means of playing safe than an indication of value. Similarly, Wain's heroes are limited, are carefully established as non heroic.44
Joe Shaw looks puny. He is fat, elaborately casual, indifferent, and, as his friend Robert oncce charges him directly, 'more a spectator of than a participant in human experience.45
As the novel closes, we notice a change in Joe :
He throws away his pipe, becomes more active, registeres emotions himself instead of merely understanding those of others.46
Yet this change helps him little in giving him the stature of a hero. Over and above, as his passive, provincial, lucid qualities have been regarded as valuable and important in the novel, the whole issue of heroism seems out of place. Man's character, it appears, is "too contradictory, too difficult to allow a world like hero" to apply.
Yet, like Sartre and Saul Bellow, John Wain makes a sincere attemot to exhibit human values. Besides, he also tries to utmost to indicate that it is often difficult to "understand and explain" 47 the human personality. Joe Shaw, for all his room-grown perception, is often perplexed by what he notices in the people around him and, at several points, abandons futile attempts to communicate with others or with himself :
One particularly vile morning, with a sout mist everywhere and the mud frozen in the streets, I had a picture post-card from Robert. He was in Italy, evedently at some Alpine resort; the card showed pines and show and all the rest of it. As it lay on the breakfast-table it had the effect of making me wish, just for five minutes, that I was not Joe Shaw and fat and ordinary and content to work for a provincial newapaper and live through six months of fog and filth every year. It made me wish I were the kind of person who lashes out and leaves all that behind and couldn't be bribed by any degree of security to live the sort of life lived.
Then my mother brought my bacon and eggs in and I listened to 'Morning Music' on the wireless and the fire crackled and spurted, and I was Joe Shaw again. Some like one thing, some another, I thought to myself. I'll go to the pictures tonight and you can keep the Dolomites.
The card just said, 'Having Wonderful Time Wish You Were Here' or some such thing. It didn't give any news. I suppose the fact that he was there was news enough; he had had enough of moping about in Hampstead, and had gone away to enjoy himself bit and complete the process of regaining the balance that he had started during his few days with us.48
Like HURRY ON DOWN and LIVING IN THE PRESENT, THE CONTENDERS, too, ends with the protagonist (limited and restricted as he is) finding himself and his place. Like the protagonists of the two novels, Joe Shaw, too, gets the girl as a prize. In a way such an ending sounds a bit sentimental. To quote James Gindin :
.......the equation between value and reward seems a little too pat and soft. Yet the value, the moral centre of Wain's work, is, in its insistence on the dignity of the humane and the personal, a sentimental value. In a world where a man has little understanding ans less control he can at least make personal choices and at least recognize what and where he is. This is essentially a sentimental doctrine because the choices and the recognition are endowed with more emotion than the structurally or logically warrant.49
Wain finds a human being full of complex and reverberating emotion and owing to this he is bound to be sentimental. Small wonder, the happy romance at the conclusion looks an unjustifiable gesture. Indeed, it is pity Wain has not been quite successful in avoiding sentimentality. His comic devices remain too brittle, too decorative and too occasional to prevent the weight of the emotion. Perhaps he should have gone for a richer and more violent comic effect of the kind (if you like) we get in Evelyn Waugh. The Followiing dialogue between Ned and Joe Shaw may serve as case in point :
The fact is Myra's left Robert, and she's going to marry me, 'said Ned briskly, as if addressing a meeting of share-holders who had to be told of an important decision. His voice was full of confidence and steady assurance. 'I'll be there with the rice', I said.
'Oh, it'll have to be at a register office this time, Joe darling, 'Myra cooed, leaning forward. She smiled up at me. I seemed to have pleased her, for some reason, by talking about rice.
'No orange blossom'? I said earnestly.
'It's hard on Robert, of course'. Ned went on; he was trying to ignore the red herrings and get on with the story.
'Yes and no', I said. 'It'll be a good thing for him in some ways.
'I do0n't quite see what you mean, Joe, 'said Ned sternly, almost threateningly. 'I shall have to ask you what you mean by that, old man.' He seemed to think I ought to join in drawing a picture of Robert on the verge of suicide with grief and despair.
Look, I said. 'If Myra wants to change husbands that's her affair. And if she changes to you that makes it your affair too; and as Robert's the one she's leaving behind, that makes it his affair too as well. But it's not only my affair, so there is no reason why I should have any opinion at all. But if I am going to be asked what I think, I might as well say it without any evasions. All right?'
'All right, he said. Myra watched us both tensely, but I knew that however hard she listened she was bound to miss the point.50
It is not hard to see that the comic effects achieved by Wain are much too simple and mild. To quote Rayner Heppenstall :
......the sharpest differnce between the comedy or Mr. Waugh and that of....... Mr. Wain lies in what future writers of doctoral disseratations are likely to characterize as Mr. Waugh's cruelty. Mr. Waugh's most elaborately prepared and brilliantly managed comic effects centre upon some violent, ludicrous death or frightful accident.51
The 'violent' is thus missing in THE CONTENDERS. Kenneth Allsop must be aware of this fact when he contends :
The odd thing is that he (Wain) does nor examine violent situation.52
It is true that THE CONTENDERS has in it only normal situations and normal relationship between people within the framework of normal society. Yet as little later, Allsop opines :
Lamb and Roper are not ordinary - one is supposed to be brilliant artist, the other a brilliant businessman - but atleast they are not presented as the psychopaths that their brutal dehumaised conduct would suggest they are.53
If anything is violent in THE CONTENDERS it is the constant antipathy and hostility with which everyone behaves. To quote Kenneth Allsop again :
No one in Wain's world ever says anything to anyone else : they shout or jeer. I again found myself depressed by the bettering of ill-feeing. His favourite words are sneer, bitter, murderous, splenetic, snarl, nastily, bullying and peevish.54
Yet we cannot shut our eyes to the morality the novel has, particularly the morality that underlines these characterstically happy endings. While analysing and making a review of THE CONTENDERS, John Davenport has raised a good point about the way in which critics and reviewers have linked Amis and Wain :
It happened that Wells and Bennet were linked together in the public critical mind, and it has happened to Wain and Amis.55
Davenport sees Amis as a kind of Wells, bouncy and self-confident, and Wain as Bennet, drawing on hid Midland common sense to produce a happy ending. Mr. Davenport further observers :
THE CONTENDERS is similsr to one of Bennet's high-hearted card tricks. The comparison of Wells and Bennet with Amis and Wain can be carried even further. Amis is essentially a comic satirist. Wain is a satirist too but the moralist is very strong in him.56
Mr. Davenport statement holds true to a considerable extent as we have already seen in the novel THE CONTENDERS. With the benefit of hindsight we can perceive the strain of down-to-earth marality in what Wain was searching for. As William Van O' Connor puts in the following words :
......the English school system, especially from the sixth Form on, demands such intense competition that the young are marked by it, and some of them spend their lives pusuing goals the inherent value of which they never question.57
The moral issue in the THE CONTENDERS is simple and unsophisticated. Wain seems to focus the uselessness of the competitive spirit and the superiority of the value of an older, more local tradition over the dominant patterns of contemporary society.
Not very surprisingly, most people took THE CONTENDERS for a serious novel. Rayner Happenstall, however, is an exception. He ridicules the idea by saying that "it was serious in the sense that it explored a single characterstic-situation.58 Continuing, he argues :
It was more nearly a straight novel', an example of the novel proper', not of mere picaresque. It was also serious in the sense of not making us laugh.59
The novel has in it some deficiency of characterization even though the first few pages may seem rather misleading. One gets herein the promise of a big improvement in the art of characterization. To quote Kenneth Allsop :
.......there is a closeness to the human beings that is missng entirely for previous books. The starting point has impact and importance in this time of grammar school sweat-shops and the intensely competitive structure of State education. We met the three main characters, Jos Shaw (the narrator), Robert Lamb and Ned Roper as sixth formers, and the grim rivalry between Lamb and Roper has already eaten deep into their relationship which has the superficial guise of friendship. Unfortunately the early relevance, the rapport between and the scene and events which Wain unfolds, soon disappears. The blight takes hold again. The reader is wrenched into the peculiar bilious Wain world.60
No doubt all the characters serve the plot; but the irony of the fate is that "the plot does not afford then a chance to grow or change",61 though the plot itself gains "momentum from a conflict, a clash of wills between the chief characters.62
'Let's just have the facts, Robert, old man,' he said briskly. 'What exactly did he - '
'Facts' Robert spluttered. The word seemed to engage him more than anything that had so far happened; for several minutes the three of us waited with bowed heads, like people listening to publicly offered prayer, while he built up a massive edifice of bad language.
'So what it came down to, in the end; said Robert finally, 'is that he said he'd got me the offer of a show from one of the better galleries.'
He stopped to give us time to ask what was wrong with that, but we were all sufficiently used to his thetorical devices to know that the snag would follow in its own time. So we rode the pause out.
'All right. So I'm grabbing at the rope he's dangling down. I reach up for it. It looks a good enough rope. My fingers are closing on it. So what does the old bleeder do? He whisks it up, right of my......'
'The facts, Robert, the facts' Ned out in. There was edge to his voice, this time, that revealed now sick of it all he was getting.
All the same, I wished he would have kept quite and waited. I was there to prevent any sort of friction between them, and if Ned was going to needle him it wouldn't make my job any easier, Robert stopped and began glaring at Ned.
'I'm just telling you, for Christ's sake,' he said What's the hurry? If you've got a train to catch, go along. We won't detain you. We .......'
At this point Celia took over. I was glad she was there. It was a real lesson in the power of woman, even one like her, to calm a man down, even one like him.61
Nevertheless, like Dicken's characters, the characters of this novels are sketched with a spirit and distinctness which rarely fail to convey immediately a clear impression of the person intended. The sketch of Ned is a happy example :
........Ned was very keen on, at seventeen; specification. He used to hold that the stupidest person could get skillful at one task if he did it all the time. This infuriated Robert, who had an instinctive dislike of that kind of attitude, though he was not good at rationalising it. When they disputed, Ned could always riddle Robert's arguments and it nearly always ended in a row, with Robert losing his temper. He was thickset, with an easy scowl, and this gave Ned an unfair advantage of looking the more reasonable of the two; he was tall and fair. Anyway to get back to the book of the Bloater-bait. Ned the General Editor, led off with a general survey of the objectives to be aimed at - I remember, across the years, that his opening sentence ran.' While we cannot make the person hereinafter described as the Bloater stop being a bastard, it should be possible in certain ascertainable ways to make him sorry that he won't stop being a bastard' - and the rest of us chimed in with shorts accounts, illustrated with diagrams, charts and what not, of various individual ways we had developed of needling the poor old rod. I could never be quite sure how far Ned look all this seriously. To the rest of us, it was a joke pure and simple; but Ned, though there were undoubtedly times when he saw it as we did would often get into a very solemn mood about the book.62
There are, however, not complete and finished delineations, but mere outlines, though very clearly and sharply traced, which the reader may fill up himself. Analyses of disposition, and explanations of motives will not be found here. They will not be required either, Wain's plan is not to describe his personages, but to make them speak and act - and it is not easy to understand them. These may not be applicable to the characters like Robert Lamb and Ned Roper as they are too shadowy and undifined. They are like Pickwick's companions, Winkle, Snodgrass and Tupman - not very interesting and having pecularities or oddities rather than characters. Joe Shaw's description of Robert Lamb tells only a little about him :
I'm not likely to forget that drawing. It was the first piece of really characterstic work by Robert Lamb that I ever saw. There were some things of his pinned up in the art room, of course - he had always been the star turn at 'Art' - but as far as I was concerned, this was the moment when he found his characterstic manner. What he was showing me was a rapid but tremendously energetic sketch of the Bloater on skates, skimming over the surface of a lake. In the left foreground was a star-shaped whole in the ice, with a boy clinging desperately to the straining surface round it; the sort of thing that used to get a laugh in punch about 1905. The drawing made it clear that the Bloater had seen the boy and just couldn't be bothered to do anything about helping him. He was sweeping past, skating very stylishly on one foot, and obviously in the middle of some intricate figure that left him with no energy to spare for saving lives. The thing that struck me, and has stayed with me over since, is the extraordinary precision of comment in the drawing. There was the Bloater, with his nose up in the air, his eyes popping in a supercillious way, his mouth exactly like that of a fish and his whole being expressive of self admiration and lack of concern for anyone who had been fool enough to fall through the ice. It isolated exactly those qualities in the man which we all dislike.63
On the other hand we have the protagonist Joe Shaw who is a complete character - an example of a complete delineation. Towards the end of the novel he appears happy that the competitive spirit failed to change him. He is glad he is remained 'Joe', intact and unruffled :
And at this I laughed, in my turn. Let them get on with it, I thought. For the first time since my childhood I felt free of them. An image flashed into my mind : muddy fields, a little boy on the verge of tears. and two figures in running shorts loafing on a stile. How they had pounced on the child, in their endless search for an emblem, an emblame of their own importance of effectiveness. And they had dragged me into it all, so easily, that afternoon when it had all begun...... My role had never changed; I had always been 'Joe'. 'We don't want any of your nonsense, Jor; of course you're coming with us : It'll make the effect so much better' Joe.64
Like Dicken's Pickwick and his man Waller - Joe is most amiable. He is the modern Quixote having in him a combination of benevolence, simplicity and good sense - frequently ridiculous but never contemptible, and always inspiring a certain degree of respect even when placed in the most ludicrous situations. He is favouable, yet in many respects, a faithful representative of the Londoner of humble life.
As for me, I went back on the paper and before long I was principal assistant to the News Editor. The News Editor was a pretty old man, and it was understood that when he retired I was to have his job. Just to get in practice I started straight-away to do all the work. Also there was one park I to managed to corner; when there were any trips to London to be done. I was the one to go. It used to work out at about one trip to town per fortnight, depending on how much I could invent in the way of pointless reasons why it was important for me to go. They were pretty good about it. I must say.65
Admittedly, Wain's forte lies less in drawing characters than in describing incidents. He seizes with great skill those circumstances which are capable of being graphically set before us. He make his passing scenes distinctly present to the reader's mind. Ludicrous circumstances are those which he touches most happily; of which THE CONTENDERS affords many examples - Joe Shaw's determination of sticking to his pottery town (that is the "traditional English virtue of remaining close to one's original surroundings"66), his refusal to be involved in "the struggle for power"67 and his attempt at looking for a woman who has developed "untouched by modern commercial society".68 All these incidents are richly comic and worthy of Smollet. They are narrated with SMollet's spirit but without his coarseness. The following passage showing Joe Shaw's belief that Robert's artistic ability is because he is not brought up in London, may serve as an example justifying it :
At that time it seemed a reasonable proposition. I hadn't realised, yet, that the only reason England has any intellectual and artistic life at all is because man like Robert aren't reared in London. They like their originality with them and London consumes it all and gives them nothing back. It's because the provinces accepts dreariness that London can boast of its brilliance.69
The passage shows Wain's genial satire, his kindly and gentle humour, his "hearty love of human nature"70, and his reverence for everything that is good and true. Thus THE CONTENDERS has a high moral aim, and we may surely add, a high moral teaching. The characters - Joe Shaw, Robert Lamb, Ned Roper, Pepina - all are a portion of the society of England during the Fifties. They are to us not only types of English life, but types actually existing. They at once reveal the existence of such people, and make them thoroughly comprehensible. They are "not studies of persons, but persons".71 And yet they are idealized in the sense that the reader does not think that they are drawn from the life. They are alive. They are themselves. And then the atmosphere in which they live is one of boundless fun, humour, and gentiltiy. For the first time, perhaps Wain seems to have achieved the power of making the reader feel the thoroughly at home in an imaginary world, and of being and living and moving in it naturally. Once again he seems very much in the line of Smollet and Dickens.