Book of the month

18 Oct 2021

William Hurrell Mallock, In an Enchanted Island: Or, A Winter's Retreat in Cyprus, R. Bentley & son, 1889

William Hurrell Mallock (1849 –1923) was an English novelist and economics writer.

He was educated privately and then at Balliol College Oxford where he won the Newgate Prize in 1872 for his poem The Isthmus of Suez..

He was brought up to believe in the gentry’s prescriptive right to social position and power and in the verbal inspiration and literal truth of the Bible. So Mallock had a strong antipathy to Benjamin Jowett’s Broad Church doctrines. Mallock disdained both Jowett’s reconciliation of science and religion and the positivists’ substitution of a religion of humanity or a scientific ethic for traditional religion. While at Oxford he conceived his novel The New Republic (1877), satirised both Jowett and the positivists, which caused an instant scandal.

In his book “In an Enchanted Island”, written about his journey and stay in Cyprus, in the first chapter titled the True traveler, he notes that he would rather call it a record of a fragment of life which was, by the magic of its unfamiliar surroundings, detached like a dream from the things of the modern world – from stream, from progress, from the glorious march of democracy- and suddenly came between them the lulling and luxurious charm of an interlude from an opera heard between the acts of a farce.

The book is an enchantment itself. Mallock has a magical way of transporting the reader to dreamlands. He describes cities and mountains, monuments and people in a storytelling manner which instigates one’s curiosity and thirst for more. He not only has strong perceptions but uses his poetical skills to present scenes and landscapes.

Entering Famagusta he writes: it was a flock of churches, most of them almost entire, which were standing in this solitude like a flock of scattered sheep. Wherever I looked and fresh one caught my eye. Some of them were hardly twenty yards from each other. When I entered the town my thoughts had been of Venice and Genoa; these churches took me back to the crusaders. The sight, as I realized it, affected me like a burst of devotional music, vibrating far off from the lost ages of faith, distinct, and yet so faint that it made me hold my breath to hear it. It surrounded me with a new atmosphere, in which new thoughts were whispering; and amongst other things it occurred to me that outside of Palestine this was the most eastward town of all the crusading world – the town nearest to the Holy Sepulcher.

Mallock was a controversial figure who upset many and mostly the Catholic Church. But no one can deny his lyrical descriptions coming from the heart and his abilities to appreciate and feel beauty especially in whatever was different.

The 'Book of the Month' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

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