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William Gerhardie: Of Mortal Love

Gerhardie had long wanted to write a simple love story and this is it. According to Gerhardie it is a simple story containing fresh love-lore and treating of the succeeding stages of transmutation of love erotic into love imaginative; of love entrancing into love unselfish; of love tender into love transfigured. It was Gerhardie’s favourite of his own novels and many critics recognised it as his best work. He had started work on it as early as 1920 and was tempted to abandon it but Katherine Mansfield urged him not to do so. It is, indeed, a fairly straightforward love story – unsentimental but romantic. The heroine is Dinah, a fascinating woman but one unable to choose between her three suitors – Walter, Jim and Eric.

Walter, the hero, is Gerhardie, while Dinah is Vera Boys, the most beautiful woman in London, according to Beaverbrook. Gerhardie had had an affair with her but her husband, who at first had showed little concern, sued for divorce, citing Gerhardie as co-respondent. Gerhardie, worried about the costs of defending such a suit, had prevaricated. By the time the matter was settled, Vera had lost interest in him. Like Vera, Dinah is vain, not an intellectual and, by 1930s standards, immoral. And, for this reason, the public did not like the novel, preferring their heroines to be pure and upright. The book did not even find an American publisher. Reading it now, it seems dated but still fascinating, though it is unlikely that many contemporary critics would consider it Gerhardie’s best work.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by Barker