JULIAN GRENFELL: His Life and The Times of His Death, 1888-1915 by Nicholas Mosley

JULIAN GRENFELL: His Life and The Times of His Death, 1888-1915

Email this review


Mosley, a highly regarded British novelist, examines the brief life of a sometime relative-by-marriage who was killed in the Great War at the age of 27, a few weeks after writing his celebrated poem ""Into Battle."" In Mosley's bitter scenario Julian was the victim of some widely held values and assumptions--most concretely embodied, for him, in his brilliant and fashionable mother. In early manhood Julian made a stand of sorts against Ettie Grenfell's world of exalted, unexamined allegiances, mysterious rewards and punishments, gushy but self-protectively limited loves. That world was in Mosley's opinion the counterpart of the larger world which was rushing joyously toward war. At 21 Julian wrote a book--never published--of seven essays on the taboos and emptinesses of his society; but a brief, severe depression temporarily closed off all avenues of protest. After five dissatisfying years as a cavalry officer, he greeted war not as a duty but as a pleasure--""like a picnic without the objectlessness of a picnic."" He had no time to move toward another view; he was killed after less than a year's service. His death set the seal of heroism on Julian in family legend and in Mosley's eyes shows how bitterly right the earlier Julian had been: it gave him over to Ettie's happily pruned family memoir celebrating Julian and his younger brother Billy (killed two months later) as what every man in arms would wish to be. Mosley, more openly than Ettie, has appropriated Julian and his fate to his own ends. This is a fiercely stage-managed presentation intended to pinpoint some inner treacheries of a world-view that is by no means a thing of the past. And the result is painfully successful. Whether Mosley has rendered a service to Julian Grenfell may be debated, but his book is remarkable in its own right.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1976
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston