London: William Heinemann, 1907. First edition. Original charcoal cloth (7 3/4 inches tall), lettered in orange with Gothic decoration to front board, uncut. Ink inscription to blank flyleaf, slight crack to inner paper hinge, lettering bright, boards sharp and mostly clean. A near-fine copy. Item #1386
"PAUL UNFORTUNATELY DISPLAYED AN ANNOYING TURN FOR MYSTICISM; A THING WHICH READS PRETTILY ENOUGH IN SAINTLY BIOGRAPHIES, BUT IS RIGHTLY HELD TO BE OUT OF PLACE IN THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH"
Rare first edition of Evelyn Underhill's early novel—in the original "Gothic Dawn" binding—affectionately inscribed by Underhill to her husband in the year of their marriage: "For my darling Choodle with best love from Choodie / January 25th 1907." A singular copy, allowing a glimpse of the marital relationship which often burdened Underhill’s developing vocation as one of the world's greatest female spiritual writers.
Before Underhill became known for popularizing the Way of Mysticism, she authored an early trio of novels, The Grey World (1904), The Lost Word (1907) and The Column of Dust (1909). "All reverberate with neo-platonic overtones, symbolic characters and situations, suffering and atoning love" (Joy Milos). The title is taken from the epigraph on the title page: "The loss of the Word of a Mason, which is lost indeed; but may, we hope, by our aid be recovered" (Ceremonies of the Knights of the White Eagle). Divided into two parts (I. The Visible Image, and II. The Invisible Shrine), the novel is prefaced with a careful disclaimer: "'Lest any be offended,'...the account of the Masonic ceremony...has been obtained in no unlawful manner. E.U."
"This novel, about the conflicting demands of art, religion and love on a young Englishman with a mystical temperament who grows up to become an ecclesiastical architect, is part bildungsroman, part social satire and part mystical confession. The author went on to become a noted scholar of Christian mysticism, writing many popular expository works on the subject while abandoning fiction. It's not surprising, therefore, to find this novel so discursive. If Underhill is not a born novelist, she is nonetheless an intelligent and careful writer and what is surprising in this book is how often her discursiveness rises to the height of the aphoristic. The book, with all its sturm-und-drang of inner turmoil, is punctuated with dozens of shrewd and witty observations, like small stained glass windows piercing the gloom of a massive, ancient church" (Robert Eldridge).
The presentation inscription to Hubert Stuart Moore—in the clear hand of Underhill—is dated prior to the publication. The major holding of letters by and pertaining to Underhill (preserved by King's College London) bear mention of the "Choodle/Choodie" pet names used between the author and her husband in their courtship. They were married later the same year of the inscription and, as Underhill slipped into the busy life of the wife of a London barrister, she also began to move away from the abstract spirituality of Neo-Platonism towards a more incarnational interest in Christian mysticism. With Underhill's dedication "To MY MOTHER / In Remembrance of Our Adventures Amongst Architecture." Christopher Armstrong. Evelyn Underhill: An Introduction to Her Life and Writing; Joy Milos. Underhill's Mysticism: A Centenary Review; Reginald 14380. Not in Bleiler (1948; 1978).