Aleck Maury, Sportsman: A Novel
“It is, in a sense, a prose Aeneid, written with so much economy and constraint that the reader is only aware at the end that he has been following the wanderings of a hero.” Thus did Andrew Nelson Lytle, in a 1934 New Republic review, capture the essence of Caroline Gordon's novel inspired by the life of her father, a supreme hunter and fisherman.
Caroline Gordon wanted to call her novel “The Life and Passion of Aleck Maury,” an apt title for the story of a man passionately drawn to the rites, rituals, and excitement of hunting and fishing. Gordon describes these rituals with a precision that even Hemingway would admire. The result, as Lytle points out, is that she makes “hunting and angling appear so exciting that a reader who has never had a gun or rod in his hand will not lay down the book until he has reached the end.”
Aleck Maury earned his living as a professor of classics, but found books and classes pale in comparison with blood sport. Only in the world of sport is Maury truly alive, for only there are the rules exact; in the world of sport Maury is an artist, a creator in control. He prepares until he is ready, then tries his hand at the game. The rituals of blood sport lend structure to his life. From these rituals come elation, a formal delight.
For Maury, life without joy, without transfiguring excitement, is not worth living. Throughout his life he has been a questing Aeneas. Delight has given direction to his search, and in the end he understands: “I knew now what it was I had always feared: that this elation, this delight by which I lived might go from me.”