"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Dickson McCunn 1-3 by John McCunn

...."There," said Mr. Heritage, nodding after the departing figure. "I dare say you have been telling yourself stories about that chap—life in the bush, stock-riding and the rest of it. But probably he's a bank-clerk from Melbourne. . . . Your romanticism is one vast self-delusion and it blinds your eye to the real thing. We have got to clear it out and with it all the damnable humbug of the Kelt."

Mr. McCunn, who spelt the word with a soft "C," was puzzled. "I thought a kelt was a kind of a no-weel fish," he interposed.

But the other, in the flood-tide of his argument, ignored the interruption. "That's the value of the war," he went on. "It has burst up all the old conventions, and we've got to finish the destruction before we can build. It is the same with literature and religion and society and politics. At them with the axe, say I. I have no use for priests and pedants. I've no use for upper classes and middle classes. There's only one class that matters, the plain man, the workers, who live close to life."

"The place for you," said Dickson dryly, "is in Russia among the Bolsheviks."

Mr. Heritage approved. "They are doing a great work in their own fashion. We needn't imitate all their methods—they're a trifle crude and have too many Jews among them—but they've got hold of the right end of the stick. They seek truth and reality."

Mr. McCunn was slowly being roused....

*     * *

I can't be the only Marxist reading and enjoying the stories and novels of John Buchan.

His devotion to monarchy, respect for fascism, and oft-expressed Jew-hatred were not rare for intellectuals and politicians of his class. Capitalism faced its most profound crises and organized working class opposition in the 1930s. The political stance of Buchan and his cohort certainly reflected this.

It is not the job of the reader to try dead authors under a "foreign code of conduct" to borrow a phrase from Auden.

Buchan's skills as a storyteller, his inventiveness and generosity to characters, the perfect shaping he achieves with landscapes he chases his characters over, are fecund and deeply satisfying. He dramatizes persuasively and punctuates his tales with increasingly potent climaxes.

*    * *

Richard Usborne wrote a monograph titled Clubland Heroes: A Nostalgic Study of Some Recurrent Characters in the Romantic Fiction of Dornford Yates, John Buchan and Sapper in 1974. Buchan's heroes Hannay and Leithen are certainly citizens of Clubland.

Buchan's Dickson McCunn and his Gorbals Diehards (resourceful street urchins akin to Baker Street Irregulars) are far from clubland. McCunn is a retired department store owner with a Romantic imagination who stumbles upon increasingly fantastic Bolshy plots to foil. Foil them he and the Diehards (in their childhood years and young adulthood) do.

In Huntingtower (1922) they protect tsarist jewels from recapture and liberate an imprisoned princess.  Castle Gay (1930) is set in Scotland against the background of a roiling local election. Here McCunn and a couple of grown-up Diehards give a retiring media magnate something akin to Saki's "unrest cure."

1935's The House of the Four Winds is  Buchan's Zenda, a charming and busy thriller (which also recalls "Blind Corner" by Dornford Yates) with McCunn, Jaikey, and other Diehards making sure Evallonia gets the Mussolini-inspired regime it deserves after a decade of insidious republican rule.

The Bolsheviks were the enemy of the bourgeoisie in the interwar period, and again after the WW2 Big Three alliance broke up. To men of Buchan's class, the militant working class represented anarchy and nihilism amok. Thus the great fondness among writers like Buchan and Dennis Wheatley for fascism.

The Dickson McCunn trilogy expresses this temper through homely and witty conterpositions and thrilling buildups/climaxes. Who, who can resist?

22 November 2018

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