“I have chosen a man and a woman, neither of them in any way exceptional,” wrote Delancey in the preface and though this was undoubtedly so, they seemed to me truer to fiction than to life. No, the merits of the book had nothing to do with the characters, they lay in the descriptions of the English countryside, of village life, of London traffic, of the Armistice, of an Albert Hall meeting. There was a close observation of detail and that pictorial sense which is Delancey’s one gift and which he relentlessly suppressed whenever he could, nevertheless forced its way out here and there. The canvas seemed to me immense. Politicians and preachers, workers and capitalists, artists and philistines, “good” women and prostitutes, soldiers and conscientious objectors jostled one another in the melee. Bloomsbury, Westminster, Chelsea and Mayfair each had its appointed place, while race-courses and night-clubs alternated with mining villages and methodist chapels. But, unlike Delancey’s other stories, the soldiers had no V.C.’s and the workers didn’t touch their caps. My eyes ached and my brain tired as I read on, but I forced myself forward with the thought that no one else in the world would reach the end.
Then the reviews began. I felt a little nervous but one seemed more glowing than the last. Finally, a notice appeared two columns long entitled “A Social Document” which ended with the words, “We venture to predict that this book will be read 100 years hence as a truer picture of the England of to-day than most of the histories that are being written.” Delancey was frightfully pleased, naturally. With child-like joy he showed me cuttings from intellectual literary papers. His book was even mentioned in a leading article and formed the topic of a sermon.
“Think of reaching a pulpit,” he exclaimed exultantly. “Of course, I know I’ve lost my old public but I’ve found my soul.”
“People talk to me of their work now,” he told me another time; “in old days, they never thought me one of themselves. I was a story teller, not an artist.”
And then it was that an extraordinary thing happened—“Transition” began to sell. It was quoted and talked about until the snowball of fame, steadily gathering momentum, started rolling down-hill to the general public. The sales went up and up and up. The circulation reached 100,000 and soon after, 150,000. Why people bought it and whether they read it, I don’t know, but Sydney (the heroine) and Mark Allison (the hero) became household words and soon they were used as generic terms—a Sydney, or an Allison, without so much as an inverted comma!
Delancey hardly ever came to see me. I imagine he was in a very divided state of mind! He had so dreadfully wanted to be an intellectual, to be able to rail at the base imbecile public in exquisitely select Bloomsbury coteries, he had so resolutely determined to be a martyr, to sacrifice himself on the altar of pure art, and somehow Mr. T.S. Eliot and martyrdom were as far off as ever. After all, he had given up 5,000 pounds a year and V.C.’s and happy endings. Was it his fault if he was making more money than ever and the inner circles of the unread elect seemed more firmly closed than ever?