By the author of “Three Men in a Boat,” “Three Men on the Bummel,” “Diary of a Pilgrimage,” “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow,” “Stage-Land,” “Paul Kelver,” etc.
As the circus ringmaster says, Now, for something completely different! This book may be of interest to Jerome fans to show subject matter and writing style quite different from the author’s usual choices.
From customer review by David Bagchi at amazon.co.uk: ... this novel will be a complete surprise. Although Jerome ... had tackled religious themes in his popular play, “The Passing of the Third Floor Back” (1908), “All Roads Lead to Calvary” is a more explicitly religious Bildungsroman. It follows the intellectual and emotional development of Joan Allway as she begins her professional career in London on the eve of the First World War. Moving easily in the worlds of journalism and politics, Cambridge-educated Joan serves as our eyes and ears as she is introduced to a range of characters who represent the various political and economic solutions to the world's ills, and encounters a series of moral dilemmas.
It would be easy to list the book's demerits; certainly the clunkiness of the set-pieces, as each character puts forward a stereotyped world-view in turn, will not be to most modern tastes. But it would be wrong to dismiss Jerome as a Victorian stuffed-shirt out of place in the twentieth century. Although a patriot, he is clearly disgusted by the exploitative jingoism of war. The book is populated with professional women who choose to make a living without the support of men. The working classes are not idealized, but Jerome clearly sees the future in the organization of labour and in its participation in industrial management.
Jerome's theology, as the title of the novel suggests, is a theology of the cross: as God in Christ suffered, so all self-giving leads to God. A theme of the book is that God is not to be thought of as a great king but as a fellow-labourer (echoing I Corinthians 3), working out his purposes in the everyday struggles of life. In this sense, the true heroine is not Joan the glamorous media-star, but the elderly church cleaner Mary Stopperton, ever-working and ever-hospitable to the underclass of Chelsea. Again, this brand of heart-warming Pelagianism will not be to everyone's taste (and is surprising, given that Jerome's family nickname was 'Luther'); but, in the context of the horror of the trenches, which Jerome observed first-hand as a volunteer ambulance-driver, it is understandable. To say the least.
The book begins:
SHE had not meant to stay for the service. The door had stood invitingly open, and a glimpse of the interior had suggested to her the idea that it would make good copy. “Old London Churches: Their Social and Historical Associations.” It would be easy to collect anecdotes of the famous people who had attended them. She might fix up a series for one of the religious papers. It promised quite exceptional material, this particular specimen, rich in tombs and monuments. There was character about it, a scent of bygone days. She pictured the vanished congregations in their powdered wigs and stiff brocades. How picturesque must have been the marriages that had taken place there, say in the reign of Queen Anne or of the early Georges. The church would have been ancient even then. With its air of faded grandeur, its sculptured recesses and dark niches, the tattered banners hanging from its roof, it must have made an admirable background. Perhaps an historical novel in the Thackeray vein? She could see her heroine walking up the aisle on the arm of her proud old soldier father. Later on, when her journalistic position was more established, she might think of it. It was still quite early. There would be nearly half an hour before the first worshippers would be likely to arrive: just time enough to jot down a few notes. If she did ever take to literature it would be the realistic school, she felt, that would appeal to her. The rest, too, would be pleasant after her long walk from Westminster. She would find a secluded seat in one of the high, stiff pews, and let the atmosphere of the place sink into her.
And then the pew-opener had stolen up unobserved, and had taken it so for granted that she would like to be shown round, and had seemed so pleased and eager, that she had not the heart to repel her. A curious little old party with a smooth, peach-like complexion and white soft hair that the fading twilight, stealing through the yellow glass, turned to gold. So that at first sight Joan took her for a child. The voice, too, was so absurdly childish—appealing, and yet confident. Not until they were crossing the aisle, where the clearer light streamed in through the open doors, did Joan see that she was very old and feeble, with about her figure that curious patient droop that comes to the work-worn. She proved to be most interesting and full of helpful information. Mary Stopperton was her name. She had lived in the neighbourhood all her life; had as a girl worked for the Leigh Hunts and had “assisted” Mrs. Carlyle. She had been very frightened of the great man himself, and had always hidden herself behind doors or squeezed herself into corners and stopped breathing whenever there had been any fear of meeting him upon the stairs. Until one day having darted into a cupboard to escape from him and drawn the door to after her, it turned out to be the cupboard in which Carlyle was used to keep his boots. So that there was quite a struggle between them; she holding grimly on to the door inside and Carlyle equally determined to open it and get his boots. It had ended in her exposure, with trembling knees and scarlet face, and Carlyle had addressed her as “woman,” and had insisted on knowing what she was doing there. And after that she had lost all terror of him. And he had even allowed her with a grim smile to enter occasionally the sacred study with her broom and pan. It had evidently made a lasting impression upon her, that privilege.
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