Late Have I Loved Thee, by Ethel Mannin. 350 pages. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1948. Price, $3.00.
There have been so few novels in English dealing extensively with climbing that it is always interesting when one is found. Miss Mannin’s theme would seem far afield from mountaineering, for her story is about a successful young writer, clever, cynical and unhappy, who is converted to Catholicism and becomes a Jesuit. Actually, however, a great part of her book has to do with mountains and with climbing. Her people, with admirable good taste, keep turning to the peaks to enjoy a sound and happy life, a life of asceticism and high spiritual values.
But Miss Mannin takes a very dim view indeed of any possibility of simple physical pleasure from an ascent. “A mountain,” meditates her chief character, “was nothing if it was not an endurance test”; and the several Tyrolean climbs, described in some detail, are all a matter of grim determination and painful mortification of the flesh. There is also the usual regrettable ignorance of climbing technique. In fact, the fatal accident on which the whole plot turns would have been avoided by the proper use of rope and ice-axe—though neither the characters nor the author seems aware of this fact.
On the credit side, one finds many sympathetic and understanding pictures of the moods and quality of mountains, and a keen appreciation of some of the non-physical satisfactions of climbing. The novel also offers an unusual plot and several rather convincing character studies.
* See “With Justice Douglas in Iran,” Life, 15 Aug. 1949, pp. 59–61.