Thursday, May 30, 2013

Godfrey Childe

Godfrey Childe  (b. Wakefield, West Yorkshire, 22 June 1901;  d. reg. Chichester, West Sussex, April-June 1970)

Godfrey Slade Childe was the youngest of four sons of Henry Slade Childe (1861-1925), a wealthy mining engineer and three time mayor of Wakefield (elected for the years 1901, 1904 and 1905), and his wife Kate, née France (1859-1945), who were married in Wakefield on 9 April 1889. Godfrey’s oldest brother was the poet Wilfred Rowland Childe (1890-1952), who converted to Catholicism in 1914.  Godfrey followed his older brother and also became Catholic. 

Little is known of Godfrey’s life.  He was educated at Repton, and in 1927 he published his only book, a novel Short Head: A Tale (London:  Richard Cobden-Sanderson, 1927). It is dedicated to the memory of his brother Derrick Francis Childe (1896-1915), who was killed in action at Ypres during World War I. 

Short Head is a very odd book.  It tells the story of Antony Herrick, an agent to a country landowner, and his activities among, as one reviewer summed it up, “the kaleidoscopic world of race-meetings, cricket, motors, shoots, golf, music, estate-management, objets d’art, and sybaritism” (Blackfriars, January 1928). Thus it gives a vivid picture of English country life as enjoyed by a fortunate few. The Bookman noted aptly: “Antony Herrick, [the novel’s] hero, is such a fine gentleman that some would call him a prig and a snob and be not far out at times, but he had appeal, if not eventually, for Miss Anne Bullen, whom no reasonable person could blame for giving such a persnickety young man the go-by. Just think of a youth of twenty-four whose fads include James Joyce, cricket, shooting pheasants, dancing the Blues, double-breasted white waistcoats that always grip the shirt, little dinners at the Berkeley, rather heavy dealings with bookmakers, friendships with innumerable titled persons, and ancestral Jesuitical instincts of fanatical fervour. And all on £800 a year. No wonder Anne funked it” (October 1928).

Herrick, after Anne’s eventual rejection of his marriage proposal, finds consolation in his Catholic religion, giving the novel something more than its surface descriptive qualities.  Yet the religious dimension of the book is not without problems. The reviewer in Punch noted that Short Head is “a first novel of ability and I therefore hesitate to describe it as ‘written by a Catholic for Catholics.’ It deserves a wider public than that, and yet I must warn the Protestant reader that Mr. Godfrey Childe will irritate him by his attitude of calm superiority towards the poor benighted creatures who are still outside the fold” (22 February 1928).  Yet a Catholic review stated that “Mr. Childe, like his hero, is ‘an artist at heart, and so well-bred’ that he aquits himself fairly creditably on thin ice. This good breeding is indubitably Catholic, and one feels that it saves the book from being merely an effort at ‘smartness.’ Fashionable cynicism is defeated by the sanity of Catholic philosophy” (Blackfriars, January 1928). To the present-day reader, it is this imperfect blend of modernism and Catholic theology that make the novel ultimately unsatisfactory.

Childe’s other writings include four essays for The Bookman (“A Plea for Some Reprints” October 1931; “The Ideal of Peace in the Nineteenth Century” December 1931; “A Bibliography of the French Exhibition” January 1932; and a follow-up to the first article, also titled “A Plea for Some Reprints” June 1932), and a contribution to The New Forget-Me-Not: A Calendar (London: Richard Cobden-Sanderson, 1929), published for the year 1930.  Godfrey Childe was the literary executor for his brother Wilfred, and with Wilfred’s student, the poet Robin Skelton (1925-1997), they began a memorial volume of Wilfred Childe’s poems.  This was completed as The Crystal Tree: A Selection from the Poems of Wilfred Rowland Childe, 1890-1952, edited by Skelton and Margaret Snow, but the book was never published.

Godfrey Childe married Elsie B. Ashbolt in Chelsea in late 1933.  They had no children.