About Green Mansions
The success of Green Mansions in 1904 assured Hudson's place in English literature, provided him with continuing royalties as a steady income, and won him a market for all his writings. The critics helped in this acceptance by their generally unanimous praise. For example, Hilaire Belloc, the influential British writer, praised Green Mansions as one of the best books he had ever read. In 1915, John Galsworthy wrote a foreword for a new edition of Green Mansions; and these preliminary pages definitely established Hudson's romance as a classic of the early twentieth century. Galsworthy's comments were penetrating and laudatory, and he concluded that Hudson was the "most valuable writer of the time."
The "Foreword" of Galsworthy is often included in editions of Green Mansions and is always mentioned by critics of the romance. According to Galsworthy, Hudson not only depicts nature in finely sketched poetic prose, but he transcends his descriptions with a vision. Never the admirer of cities, Hudson shows what the modern world has missed in nature, and he urges contemporary man to review his misguided aspirations toward perfection and beauty. However, this vision of Hudson regarding the appreciation of nature is always seen through civilized eyes; there is never any praise for the illusory theme of the "noble savage." But Hudson is an idealist, doomed to failure, according to the English poet.
Death and the inexplicable vagaries of destiny destroy hopes and dreams. In addition, the chasm created by contemporary civilization has widened the distance between man and nature; man no longer understands the gigantic forces at work in natural settings, as he tried to do in the past. In The Purple Land, Hudson says, "We had only to conquer Nature, find out her secrets, make her our obedient slave, then the Earth would be Eden, and every man Adam and every woman Eve. We are still marching bravely on, conquering Nature, but how weary and sad we are getting!"
There are for Galsworthy three important characteristics to Green Mansions: the story itself, the style, and the philosophy of Hudson. The story is so unique in its plot that Galsworthy calls it, probably for that reason, "a pure romance." It is true that critics, such as Carlos Baker, have traced influences and sources for Hudson's creation in Green Mansions; but all the scholars admit that Hudson fashioned anew and improved whatever readings he may have used. Stylistically, Green Mansions is for Galsworthy "a prose poem"; and Hudson has dedicated himself to the expression of the beautiful in the background, characterization, description, and language. Hudson's religious philosophy is noted in his espousal of the beauty of nature as a reflection of God; but this vision is also straightforward and honest, and the view is not always optimistic about a benevolent God.
Hudson, in short, was a rebel in the twentieth century against the standards of the present age. Hudson's faith lies in a simpler time when people respected and lived by the laws of nature, when life was less hectic, and when progress was not deified for humanity. He is, almost a century after Wordsworth, close to the English poet's rejection of the Industrial Revolution, then beginning to destroy the rural fabric of British society. Several critics have indicated the similarities of Hudson with the ideas of Wordsworth and even Thoreau.
Ironically, Galsworthy wrote his incisive "Foreword" during World War I, when the values of the "pale mechanician" were being put to the test in a crisis of Western civilization. Galsworthy curiously makes no mention in his famous essay of the important historical events occurring in Europe. In fact, it would be impossible from internal evidence to date Galsworthy's "Foreword." Hudson's world of nature and ideal beauty are far removed from the bloodshed then taking place on the battlefields of the Continent. The impossibility of accepting Hudson's vision of the "green mansions" was grasped by the generation coming to literary power in the 1920s. Hudson himself, by the time of his death in 1922, could see that World War I had destroyed his poetic dream of a happy existence in a natural habitat
It is also ironic that Hudson attained financial and critical success and that Green Mansions became a modern classic at the time when the ideas and themes of the writer were about to be challenged by the "lost generation" after 1918. The traumatic effects of the 1914-18 conflict upon European youth have deservedly received much attention from historians. The young men and women of that era lost faith in the values of the past, belief in romanticism and idealism, and hope for the progressive improvement of humanity. The escapist qualities of Hudson's world in Green Mansions evoked cynical responses from a generation that insisted upon seeing the social system and life realistically. Hudson's writings, then, were not in tune with the new era, and his reading public vanished quickly during the 1920s. Esthetically, of course, the romance emerges unscathed, but the historical situation had changed so that the qualities of the book were not looked upon as valuable in the postwar period.
Hudson is, therefore, not a widely read author at the present time, but he has certainly achieved a lasting place with his masterpiece, Green Mansions. Yet it is too easy to dismiss him as an anachronism in the twentieth century. Hudson revived the romantic heritage of nature as a source of inspiration, but he endeavored to avoid the melodramatic and melancholy attitudes of the romantic. He looked upon nature as a trained naturalist as well as a poet; he brought discipline, intelligence, and personal research into his conception of the primitive environment. However, Hudson is not a realist about his subject because he contributed emotional, imaginative, and poetical feelings to Green Mansions.
Hudson is, above all, sincere in his vision of earth. One might well wonder what he would have thought of the mounting problems of water and air pollution. He constantly called attention to people's failure to live in harmony with nature, and Green Mansions is his ideal of a harmonious relationship. It is true that the dream is destroyed, but for Hudson the issue of a vision for humanity was raised. If not his view, then at least some ideal of the future, stimulated and inspired by the study of his book, should be forthcoming. "Nevertheless we cannot suppress all curiosity," Hudson wrote in the prologue to A Crystal Age, "or help asking one another, What is your dream — your ideal?"
Green Mansions is often called a romance rather than a novel, and Hudson uses the subheading of "a romance of the tropical forest" in order to describe his book initially. The critics, however, are not in agreement about a precise classification. The romance is characterized by certain features, the most prominent ones being the use of fantasy and imagination. In short, the unreal is a permeating element of a romance. In Green Mansions, the entire story fits this definition. Abel plays the role of an average South American youth who crosses the border from a credible situation into an exotic, unusual dimension of time and space. Rima is almost like a "god" or "ghost" who appears to Abel. Hudson utilizes his poetic talent to heighten the imaginative and romantic effects of the setting in the hinterlands of South America and the tragic love affair between the young man and the bird-girl.