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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

PRETEXTS Edward Upward, The Night Walk and Other Stories (Heinemann) £9.95

'The Night Walk' of the title-story, the most successful of the pieces in this collection, is a kind of unpicturesque picaresque in which Henry Mitchell, Upward's alter ego, wanders through the dream-landscape of his intellectual history, the most important feature of which is his life-long commitment to Marxist-Leninism. Henry is taken to a Party meeting, located, for the sake of symbolism, beneath a disused chapel. The climax comes when a certain Harry, Henry's and Upward's political self, makes a speech describing how, like them, he left the Communist party after sixteen years because it had 'betrayed Lenin' but believes that this branch has finally rewarded his hope that 'the Party of Lenin would rise again in this country'. On the way to this vision of faith vindicated, Henry meets temptation in the person of Aminta. An amateur painter in the non-representational (i.e. unpolitical) mode, she is of course a slave of capitalism. Lest we fail to make that ritual identification she is depicted as a prostitute. Overconfident in the powers of the imagination, she exhibits sexual ambitions towards the ancient Henry. But unlike 'many perfectly sincere and politically active socialists', Henry is not seduced by 'the old-hat modernist idea' that art ought not to be 'politically propogandist'.

Auden, Isherwood and Spender were later seduced by Aminta from their original political allegiances. Upward remained loyal, and remained essentially a political writer, not an 'imaginative' one. But the problem with committed writers of Upward's generation is that, unable to ...

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