Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review


"Stephen Morris"

Published in: Another Fashion

By Glen Larum

While Nevil Shute did not publish his first works ---two short novellas: "Stephen Morris" and "Pilotage" --- in his lifetime, he used their main theme [an obsession for aviation and its consequences] and so much of the raw material that it could be argued that the main reason he never sought to rework the two pieces [(both very good stories, with strong hints of the future Shute) was that he had already done that very thing.

I believe that "So Disdained" was for Shute the same work --a rolled out full-length version of both "Stepehen Morris" and "Pilotage" stories with a more complex plot and character development. It is just such a thing that a young writer would do if he felt that he had a truly good idea that he had unsuccessfully attempted to develop in his earliest work. Shute said that he believed his original stories were not of sufficient quality to publish, which publicly accounts for his reluctance to see them in print. However, that does not explain why he never went back to them when he was a more mature writer.

STEPHEN MORRIS main characters:
Stephen Morris, young man obsessed with aviation
Helen Riley, Morris' love interest

PILOTAGE main characters:
Denison - young man obsessed with aviation
Sheila - Denison's love interest [same name as heroine of "So Disdained"]

SO DISDAINED main characters:
Maurice Lenden - young man obsessed with aviation
Mollie Lenden - his faithful wife
Peter Moran - a wartime flyer, agent for estate
Sheila Darle - Moran's love interest

CITATIONS from Stephen Morris that underscore Morris' love of flying:

"...he came upon his old war-time flying helmet and gloves, and sat for a long time on his bed, fingering the furry, oily relics. Well, he was getting back into it again. He ought to have never left it. ... It had been a mistake, all that rubber-merchant business; he should have stuck to aviation." p. 13

"He sat in her [the Avro], daydreaming; he was back in aviation at last, away from the humanities and all that they implied." p. 16

"He was back in aviation again. ... His hair seemed to bristle with a sense of adventure; he moistened his lips and dug his nails into his palms. His spirits rose like a great crescendo in music; he was back, back in aviation again. ... He had not know how much he wanted to be back. He was keen on nothing else." p. 17

"He was back again, back in his own trade, the only thing he could do well. ... Aviation was going to be a big thing." p. 22

"This work that he loved might bring him back in time to that other love that he had lost." p. 23

[This character foreshadows Maurice Lenden, the misfortunate flier in "So Disdained".] Lenden, too, was obsessed with flying and gave everything to get back into it, even to the extent of treason and the loss of his wife, the former he never considered and the latter he deeply regretted. Shute developed Lenden's character with a new complexity, relating the account of his failures in a joy-riding flying concern and as a surveying flier in Central America prior to going to the Soviet Union as a pilot.

Citations from "So Disdained" about Lenden's love for flying:

"You see, I knew he'd turn up in aviation some time. He loves it so---it's the only thing he can do really welll, and he can't keep away from it. We tried giving it up before, you know, and it didn't work ... I knew that where there was flying, Maurice'd turn up sooner or later." p. 127, Mollie Lenden, talking about her husband

"A man gets keen on other things that don't seem to be any good at all, and he goes and spends all his life on them, even if they don't lead to the quiet time that he really wants. Even if he can't make enough money at them to live properly...He won't give them up." p. 128, Mollie Lenden speaking

"Maurice didn't think about being a spy," she said. "Honestly, I know he didn't. All he ever thought about was the job---the flying, and whether he'd be able to keep his course all right, and how he'd be able to find out what the wind was doing, and what height he'd have to be when he let off the firework. And whether a thousand pounds was the right fee for all that night flying, and what he'd have got for a series of long night flights like that if it had been in England. You see, it's his profession, and it's all he thinks about. It's--it's the only thing he lives for, really." p. 148, Mollie Lenden, talking about her husband

Then, there is the appearance of the common character Captain Stenning on page 18 in "Stephen Morris"... a small broad-shouldered man with a big chin, in a dirty pair of tweed breeches and gaiters." introduces a character who appeared in the final pages of "So Disdained" as a heroic rescuer and, behold, does the very little thing he did in that novel. "He spat a little fragment of tobacco from his lip." p. 18

On page 33 in "Stephen Morris", the name Rawdon appears, the owner of the aircraft company in "So Disdained" [another common character to the works].

But it is in Pilotage that the strongest evidence appears:
On p. 186 of "Stephen Morris" -- the "Pilotage" novela-- Sheila echoes passages in "So Disdained." "A man isn't like a girl, you know," she said, almost to herself. "A girl when she marries is quite happy with her home, and her children, and she doesn't want much else. But a man is different. He's like a little boy that has to have his toys... a man has to have his toys, and if you take them away from him you -- you just kill him. ... if a wife take its away from him she can never make it up to him, however much she loves him. It's just gone. ..."

Compare that to p. 128 of "So Disdained" when Maurice's wife says, "A man isn't like a girl," she said quietly. "That's what I didn't know and it's my fault, really. A girl gets married, and she wants a home, and children, and a quiet time. And she puts all that first, and she hasn't got much patience with anything else. And I think a man's a bit like that, too, but only a bit. A man gets keen on other things that don't seem to be any good at all, and he goes and spends all his life on them, even if they don't lead to the quiet time that he really wants. Even if he can't make enough money at them to live properly ... He won't give up. ...It's like a kid with its toys. Music, or the sea, or ... or flying. A man has to have his toys, and if you try and take them away from him -- you just kill him."

This sketchy comparison suggests how Shute used the material that was "Stephen Morris" and "Pilotage" in "So Disdained." It may not be conclusive, but it is strongly suggestive that the thesis outlined in the initial paragraph has some merit.