The Machen series continues with a book I unexpectedly liked perhaps because, in our tumultuous times, I found it comforting though I am in no way a mystic or religious. One can definitely sympathize with its protagonist’s indifference to the world.
It also, I suspect, served as a partial model for Mark Samuels’ A Pilgrim Stranger.
Review: The Secret Glory, Arthur Machen, 1922, 1998.
Partially written during his years of grief following the death of his first wife and before he remarried, Machen finally finished this novel in 1907. Parts were serialized, but the novel didn’t see publication until 1922 and even then its last two chapters were excised, summed up by, as editor S. T. Joshi notes, a not very good epilogue by Machen. The full novel, which I read, was finally published in 1998.
In a preface, Machen lays out what this novel is, a combination of two things: a satire on English public schools and the Holy Grail.
Machen was not impressed by the fatuous accounts of English headmasters, particularly their enthusiasm for sport over academics. Football, he thought, was not a preparation for life. However, in an essay “About My Books (reprinted in The Secret Ceremonies), Machen said he found parodying these kinds of memoirs useless: “These Eton masters on their late Head read like an extravagant parody of my parodies.”
As to the Holy Grail, that was a subject that fascinated Machen. He wrote several essays on the Holy Grail with his friend, occultist A. E. Waite. They were collected in The Secret of the Sangraal and Other Writings.
This book is also, incidentally, considered the first work of literature to bring the Holy Grail into a contemporary setting.
While some claim this book is overly long and dull, it’s only 222 pages at full length, and I did not find it boring.
Our hero is Ambrose Meyrick, sent off to Lupton. In Machen’s view, British public schools served as factories to produce a predictable type of men to fill in slots in the Empire’s administration. There is a very funny scene where we learn that the sorts of men Lupton produces are those who will not retract their opinions and judgements no matter what facts they are confronted with.
Ambrose comes to hate the school but conforms to it marvelously, even in sports, after a thrashing by his uncle, a schoolmaster there. Part of the novel follows the uncle’s career disappointments.
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