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Matthew Silverman (1937)

Novel (316 pages, 88,860 words)

First edition 1937
First edition

The Book

Matthew Silverman is the editor of the Swanbridge Messenger, a local paper founded by his great-grandfather in a town fifty miles south of London. He hopes in time to pass on the editorship to his eldest son, George, but George announces that he intends to enter the church. After some uncertainty the second son, Alexander, who had ambitions to be an architect, agrees to start as a reporter with a view to succeeding to the editor's chair. He introduces a young friend, Harold, who works in a shop but who wants to become a reporter, and between them they persuade Matthew to modernise the paper, so reversing its decline in sales. Matthew's daughter Loraine swithers between Harold, her steady suitor Philip, and the glamorous visiting novelist Austin Swing. Alexander dabbles in socialism and extends his ambitions, wanting to work for a London paper. Finally George returns, disillusioned with mission work among the London poor, and offers to resume his ancestral charge and become the next editor.

There is very little plot, but the book is an amiably observed and extremely readable slice of life in a provincial town. One delightful feature is the set of chapter headings, each of which is a typical headline or quotation from a different section of the newspaper, making an ironic comment on the community.

Publishing history

This was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1937 and had a print run of 6500 copies. It does not seem to have been reprinted at the time or included in the Heinemann Uniform Edition of the 1970s. There was no American edition. It is now quite rare in hardback. The new edition from Lulu.com (2012) is the first paperback. It is also available as an e-book.

Since 'Swanbridge' is not on the coast, the best candidate for a location would be Lewes, or perhaps Ashford if one extends 'south' to include south-east. Canning was living in Kent when he wrote this book.

The following is the only contemporary review I have been able to find. It appeared in the Yorkshire Post on Wednesday 2 June 1937:

NOVELS OF THE WEEK
by VICTOR MURRAY

A provincial newspaper

As Amurath to Amurath succeeds so--in Mr. Canning’s novel--does Silverman to Silverman. There was first of all John, who founded the “Swanbridge and District Messenger”, followed by Jacob, followed by James, followed by Matthew--all three eldest sons and all three proprietors and editors. It was unthinkable that there should ever be any break in the succession, for what could the world offer higher than this?

Matthew’s children, however, are more independent than previous generations, and George, the eldest son, announces that he is going into the Church. The family take this as almost equivalent to going to the dogs, but he gets his way, though he “comes to his senses” later. Meanwhile the second son, a youth of wild views and artistic tastes, goes on to the paper, and even inaugurates a new policy of competitions, pictures, crosswords, and other horrors that enrage his elderly aunt and uncle. As his father supports him, however, they have to lump it and happily the circulation of the paper goes up.

There are many other people in this delightful story, some stolid, some “precious”, some cynical, and more than one pair of lovers. But the real “hero” is the newspaper itself, drawing everybody with a constraint which is nevertheless their chief pride. Thus there is no morbidity anywhere, all the people are thoroughly alive and at work, and Matthew himself, after a little hesitation on the author’s part at the beginning, is a thoroughly excellent person.

The "Amurath to Amurath" allusion is to a travel book by Gertrude Bell, published in 1911, presumably rather better known then than now.