So began an odd relationship which had its ups and downs but somehow held together to the day of Allen’s death. Very soon they were on good terms, and met frequently during the short period when Allen was living in London.
Other characters include Lady Hilda Tregellis, a bold and bored young aristocrat eager to marry someone ‘different’, and Arthur Berkeley, a composer of comic operas and the first in the long line of Allen’s self-sacrificing heroes who decorously love another man’s wife from afar. By the time this withering exercise was written Allen’s touchstone of scenic and architectural excellence had become Italy. But his love affair with rural England came first; and now, as his freelancing life got under way, he had the chance to consummate it and escape London for good. The family lived first in Hastings and Lyme and then in 1881 they shifted to the small market town of Dorking, in Surrey.
Readers may wonder why, in a book which deals so much with money, I have made so little attempt to indicate its modern purchasing power. Inflation tables readily show, for example, that Allen’s L1000 literary prize in 1891 is equivalent to L64,341 in 2004 British pounds. But as a guide to what such a sum ‘meant’ in terms of what it would buy, such a conversion is wholly misleading.
The negative reviews, though memorably and insultingly phrased in a few cases, were hardly representative of most readers’ opinion of this masterpiece. It was followed by ‘Sarah Grand’s’ The Heavenly Twins (1893); ‘George Egerton’s’ Keynotes and Discords (1893, 1894); ‘Iota’s’ A Yellow Aster (1894); and Mona Caird’s The Daughters of Danaus (1894). Very few of the reviewers of Moore’s painfully grey Esther Waters (1894) struck a sour note. Meredith’s Lord Ormont and His Aminta (1894) was criticized rather severely but not on moral grounds, even though its subject is adultery sympathetically treated.
Dorking today is a commuter town which has suffered some monstrously ugly development over the last fifty years, much of it at the expense of the old. Two of the most grievous losses, both praised by Allen in various essays, were Deepdene, a great house and garden demolished in favour of a nondescript office block in the 1960s, and the small, elegant Rookery, Thomas Malthus’s home. But in Allen’s time Dorking had the advantage of being utterly rural — it consisted of just one long, old-fashioned main street with its antique coaching inn, the White Horse, halfway along it — while still being on the direct line to Victoria. This was the perfect combination for the not-yet-prosperous writer, and this part of Surrey had long been popular with authors.
As its superficialities in thought and style would not strike the ordinary reader I am inclined to think that it would be a success’. Having delivered himself of this opinion, Moore was anxious to get paid for it.
They are ‘places for imparting a sham and imperfect knowledge about two extinct languages. Besides, look at our results!
Zola himself, despite the Vizetelly prosecution, showed up in London in 1893 and was treated as a celebrity. Ibsen’s three astonishing plays were seen in unlicensed London productions. Everyone concerned had survived these experiences without feeling the policeman’s hand on their collars. Some had made money too, even if they had had to absorb a lot of abuse. Hardy’s Jude appeared uncut late in 1895 and certainly touched the very edge of toleration.
Precisely what influences had moulded Allen’s socialism it is hard to say. If he had links with people in any branch of the movement they remain invisible.
It was a private matter, but it had serious public consequences. On the last day of September 1868, at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, West London, he got married. part of the Allen family began one of those leisurely tours of Europe, their duration measured in years rather than months, which were such an attractive feature of upper class life of the time.
But from this point on, it is plain that the pressure is mounting. Every move we see him making now brings him further along on a collision course with the moral arbiters of the day. He will confront the ‘dissenting grocer’ head-on, cost what it may. Why? Because he had a message to convey, truths to tell, and he was being blocked.
He had given his hostages to fortune. He had a living to earn. Allen’s letter had been a little disingenuous itself. He professed to be amazed when Spencer answered, but he had surely anticipated a reply because his next move was to solicit Spencer’s help in placing a manuscript in one of the big British reviews.
He certainly made his son read Herbert Spencer. And, like several Victorian atheists, Grant Allen acquired a knowledge of the Bible that would have shamed many a divine; he quotes from it more than from any other work. On the other hand, he said once that he had no problem giving his villains an occupation, because he made them all clergymen. The converse is certainly true. He made most of the clerics in his fiction hypocrites, trimmers, time-servers, fanatics, arsonists or murderous psychopaths.
Traill, who liked to think he had his finger on the pulse of opinion, took it as conclusive evidence that Mrs. Grundy had now abdicated her throne. As though taking him at his word, novelists pushed even harder at the limits. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, if it had had to be dismembered as a serial in the Graphic, escaped too much censure when it was reassembled as a novel in 1892.
It is impossible to think of any contemporary of Allen’s who could have fixed our attention on the immensities of geological time as well as this. T. H. Huxley’s prose is a flexible instrument, and his lucidity and range of reference are very great; but he lacks Allen’s lightness of touch and fantastical wit. We are reminded always, in his essays anyway, that his is the prose of an elder statesman of science. H.