Happy Throwback Thursday everybody! For this week’s TBT Best Seller Edition, I wanted to take a break from your constant flow of Halloween-themed reads. However, I also did not want to do a complete 180 from the general atmosphere of October. That is why this week I will be highlighting a lesser-known title, despite its massive popularity at the time of its publishing, If Winter Comes by A.S.M Hutchinson.
If Winter Comes was published in 1921 and was the best-selling book in the United States for the entirety of 1922. Many people now say it was incredibly ahead of its time, depicting a marriage that would ultimately end in divorce, a suicide, and a candid portrayal of the devastation World War I caused in England. England was dragged into the war by having guaranteed the protection of Belgium’s borders, but it expected the war to be swift and manageable. Not only did World War I last longer than anybody expected it to, but it also changed the face of modern warfare forever.
Trench warfare proved to be an incredibly horrifying form of land warfare, in which armies remain largely in permanent places, occupying carved out ditches of the ground. The design of the trenches was to avoid machine-gun fire and attack from the air. Since emerging from the trenches was such a risky thing to do, “No Man’s Land” became the term that was used to describe all of the ground between the opposing sides’ trenches. Cries from this space could be heard from the trenches, but the nature of it meant that those crying were beyond reach and therefore beyond helping. In addition to trench warfare, World War I also brought with it the emergence of chemical warfare, with the most commonly used one being “mustard gas.” Gas masks meant to protect soldiers from such weaponry became so integrated into the uniform and training that it is one of the most common images associated with World War I.
Hutchinson begins the story just before World War I, has it last throughout the entirety of the war, and then wraps it up only the year after the war has ended. Therefore, readers follow these characters as they go through major societal shifts – the change from the massive amounts of volunteers to the expiration of that feeling of adventure, which had been associated with protecting England’s allies. The novel’s protagonist, Mark Sabre, is also depicted in a not-so-typical soldier storyline, because he is first denied when he applies to join the war. After that spirit of adventure I mentioned earlier had run thin, though, he was given a uniform and sent to “the show.” However, his time is then cut short again after he suffers an injury severe enough for him to be sent home.
Besides the accurate portrayal of World War I England, this story is also captivating through the various relationships depicted. Neither Mark Sabre’s wife nor his boss seems in line with the positive and thoughtful disposition of Sabre himself, but he never falters in his efforts to please either of them. There is also a woman named Effie who represents what it was like to have a child before marriage at the time. Due to the fact she had been taken in by the Sabre’s, this causes a rift in the household and leads to much of the novel’s conflict. This is just the beginning of the drama though, as Sabre’s old love also returns to town.
In regard to the style of the book, A.S.M Hutchinson’s writing is much different from the way in which other writers of the time composed their books. In fact, Hutchinson’s writing style is quite unique and therefore difficult to explain, so you’ll have to read it for yourself to see what I mean. Hutchinson breaks up the melodramatic nature of the story with his witty humor and by narrating the story through the perspective of one of Sabre’s friends. If Winter Comes has been described as reading more like an epic poem, but without being too challenging for the person reading it. Being a healthy blend between romance, drama, and a hint of horror, the second half of October is the perfect time to re-introduce this book to society.
In addition to the style of the book, there is also the content of it that speaks to why it should be reintroduced at this time. First of all, because Hutchinson writes a beautiful paragraph dedicated to the month of October. “Nature was to him in October, and not in spring, poignantly suggestive, deeply mysterious, in her intense and visible occupation…” In addition to this, October means that we are slowly approaching winter. Hutchinson included in his novel a famous quote of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the final line in her poem “Ode to the West Wind” and you will notice that he also used this quote to craft the title of his novel. “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Having garnered such rave reviews, not only at the time it was published, but also by the few who read it today, it’s truly a wonder that this book practically disappeared from everybody’s radar. So, let us bring this masterpiece back and give it the recognition it still deserves. In my case, I just found a first edition copy of If Winter Comes and, naturally, could not do anything else until it belonged to me. Between posting photos of that all over Instagram (the ones in this article are from its original listing on Etsy) and writing this article as a tribute to the novel, hopefully, I can at least get a few of you to give it a read.