Nevil Shute's Views on Modern Art

Jack and Jane Dorman are sheep ranchers in Australia. After many long years of hard work and penny-pinching, suddenly the price of wool skyrockets and they discover that they are wealthy for the first time in their adult lives. This excerpt from the Far Country is the only place in a Nevil Shute novel, of which I am aware, where he implicitly expresses his views on "modern art".

……at four-twenty they drew up in front of the Windsor Hotel… and the Dormans went up to their bedroom; a fine, lofty room with plenty of cupboards and a bath. After the constrictions of their rather mediocre station homestead it seemed like a palace to them; the hard years fell behind them, and for the moment they were young again.

"Jack," said Jane, "don’t let’s see anyone tonight. Let’s just have a very, very good dinner and go to a theatre. Any theatre."

"Don’t you want to see Angie?"

"Angie can wait till tomorrow," said her mother. "I want to see a theatre. Angie’s probably seen them all. Let’s go out alone."

"All right," he said. "I’ll go down and see what we can get seats for."

She said, "And I want a bottle of champagne with dinner."

" My word," he said. "What’ll I order for dinner- mutton?"

"You dare! Oysters and roast duck, or as near as you can get to it."

They went out presently and walked slowly in the heat down the tree-shaded slope of Collins Street, tacking from side to side to look at the shops. Jane said presently, "I know what I want to buy."

"What’s that?"

"A picture."

He stared at her. "What sort of picture?"

"An oil painting. A very, very nice oil painting."

"What of?"

"I don’t mind. I just want a very nice picture."

"You mean, in a frame, to hang on the wall?"

"That’s right. We had lots of them at home, when I was a girl. I didn’t think anything of them then, but now I want one of my own."

He thought about it, trying to absorb this new idea, to visualize what it was that she wanted. "I thought you might like a bracelet, or a ring," he said. With so much money in their pockets, after so long, she should have something really good.

She squeezed his arm. "That’s sweet of you, but I don’t want jewelry. I’d never be anywhere where I could wear it. No, I want a picture."

He tried to measure her desire by yardstick. "Any idea what it’ll cost?"

"I don’t know till I see it," she said. "It might cost a hundred pounds."

"A hundred pounds!" he said. "My word!"

"Well, what’s the Ford going to cost you?"

"Aw, look," he said. "That’s different. That’s for the station."

"No, it’s not," she said. "The Chev’ll do the station work for years to come. It’s for you to run about in and cut a dash, and it’s costing fourteen hundred pounds."

"It’s for both of us," he said weakly, " and it comes off the tax."

"Not all of it," she said. "If you’re having your Ford Custom I’m going to have my picture."

He realized that she was set on having this picture; it was a strange idea to him, but he acquiesced. "There’s a shop down here somewhere," he said. "Maybe there’d be something there you like."

When they came to the shop it was closed, but the windows were full of pictures, religious and secular. He knew better than to offer her a picture of the infant Christ in her present mood, although he rather admired it himself. He said, "That’s a nice one, that one of the harbour. The one where it says ‘St. Ives."’

It was colourful and blue, with fishing vessels. "It’s not bad," she said, "but it’s a reproduction. I want a real picture, an original."

He studied the harbour scene. "Where would that be?" he asked. "Is it in England?"

"That’s right," she said. "It’s a little place in Cornwall."

"Funny the way people want to buy a picture of a place so far away," he said.

"I suppose it’s because so many of us come from home."

There was nothing in the shop window that she cared for, nor did it seem to her that there was likely to be what she wanted deeper in the shop. "I’d like to go to picture galleries," she said. "They have a lot of galleries where artists show their pictures and have them for sale. Could we see some of those tomorrow, Jack?"

"Course we can," he said. "I’ve got to pick up the Custom in the morning, but we’ll have all day after that."

She smiled. "No, we won’t - you’ll be wanting to drive round in the Custom. We’ll go to the picture galleries in the morning and pick up the Custom in the afternoon."

They went back to the hotel, and rested for a time in the lounge with glasses of cold beer, and dined, and went out to see Worm’s