He don’t mean any harm

John Bayley

  • A.A. Milne: His Life by Ann Thwaite
    Faber, 554 pp, £17.50, June 1990, ISBN 0 571 13888 8

Emancipation involves escape, but having got out of the Victorian prison, what then? The new world may seem wholly delightful, like Blake’s Beulah or Keats’s Chamber of Maiden Thought, or the land of sexual intercourse we entered in 1963, so why not stay in it for ever? Somewhere at the top of the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing. But this soft magic may end up seeming as hateful and hypocritical as Victorian repression, a new sort of conformity from which the next generation will emancipate itself in derision and disgust. A.A. Milne’s favourite novel was Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, which came out in 1903, not much more than a decade before the begetting of Christopher Robin, in fact and in fiction. Milne may well have thought that he was destroying for ever that awful old father and son relationship, blowing away the tyranny and obfuscation, showing that age doesn’t matter, that nanny will give them sixpence each and they will always remain the best of pals. Things don’t work out quite like that. Did Christopher Milne or Ernest Pontifex suffer more at the hands of the elder generation? Hard to say.

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