CHALKY by Matthew Vaughan


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A spotty attempt to comment upon Victorian caste more and duplicate its literary devices, via the unhappy career of an orphaned slum brat gradually and painfully extricated from his class only to live a straitjacketed and immured life. Chalky is first discovered at three chewing a rag while his mother's lover, an Indian snake swallower, vomits in a bucket; at the end, Chalky, a British officer in Africa, dies chewing another rag and vomiting blood after being pierced by the spear of a native priest amidst writhing snakes. In between there are some theological discussions with the Rev. Giles Burnyeat, a Newmanist, Chalky's savior and mentor, in which the protagonist has admiring words for Satan: ""He's a leader. . . who can stand up to suffering and pain [and] he willingly becomes a snake."" Chalky, like Satan, is the ultimate outcast, the creation of a ""High Church cleric who wanted to play God,"" by molding--according to some imperial, cosmic, social logos--an officer and a gentleman from an urchin. Only once--in a triumphant primal coupling with a hitherto restricted officer's wife--is Chalky ever anything but alone--whether in a savage orphanage or through lower and upper echelons of the service. An original and strenuous exegesis of the strain of both reigning in Hell and serving in Heaven, but without that essential breath of life.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1975
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown