Fletcher Allen’s Keable – Novelist and Rebel

Fletcher Allen’s Keable – Novelist and Rebel

March 02, 2023

Although I published my book on Robert Keable last November I still manage to stumble on new material about him. Only yesterday I came across a long article in the Literary Digest International Book Review by Fletcher Allen titled Keable – Novelist and Rebel, written in 1923.

The article runs through Keable’s career and goes over much of the same territory as in my book but there are some fascinating insights including an intriguing description of the man.

Fletcher Allen begins the article:

With a little sight to the eye, and rough knowledge of Robert Keable’s background, almost anybody would sense the suggestion of adventure and strange rebellion. He is a man of medium stature, with contemplative eyes, fair complexion, and a rather large nose. His face hints at deep spiritual storms and a little physical suffering. Life hits him, sensation is acute for him. He has an uncompromising spirit. He is a man who might be broken, but not bent.


(This photograph accompanies the review of Recompense also in the Literary Digest that year.)

Fletcher Allen runs through Keable’s spiritual journey from evangelical to Anglo Catholic and then explains what Keable did after he left Zanzibar.

The outbreak of war, which found [Keable] just invalided home, threw him headlong once more into turmoil. He volunteered to the Chaplain General’s department. Rejected on account of ill-health, he took the place of the Vicar of St Saviour’s Church, Hoxton, in the midst of a thickly populated neighbourhood, releasing the vicar for war-work. Here he introduced Catholic devotions, and associated himself with the extreme Catholic Society of Saint Peter and Paul, founded by the Reverend Ronald Knox, who later joined the Roman Catholic Church.

About Keable’s time serving with the SANLC Fletcher Allen is more cryptic:

In 1916 he sailed once more for France, as Chaplain to the South African Native contingent. He had accomplished his intention, and subsequently was in and out of the line in what was familiarly called “the” salient. Flanders gave him either definition or disillusion – perhaps both.

Fletcher Allen’s explanation of Keable’s spiritual journey after the war is interesting.

He resigned his living in 1920, as was inevitable. Unwilling to compromise with himself, yet realizing that his position as an Anglican Catholic was impractical, especially in a mission field, he took time off to think. Returning home through Morocco and Spain, he fought out his own inner war fare, going into retreat for a year at West Wratting, not far from his old university. From retreat he emerged personally convinced that Anglicanism and Protestantism were broken down and could offer no solution or satisfaction to life or thought. It was rumoured that he had at last entered the Roman Church, but this is not so. On the contrary, Robert Keable came out of retirement with the drift to modern free thought strongly marked, and adopted a frankly revolutionary position in religion and politics.

Fletcher Allen recalls the reaction to Simon called Peter ‘which naturally occasioned some considerable abuse – abuse that might have been less personal.’ He defends the novel saying:

Peter is a character whom we knew very well “over there” in the bitter years. Men did go through such scenes, they were frivolous and as serious, as adventurous and as searching. Life was as Keable presented it.

Fletcher Allen finishes his portrait of Keable by suggesting he is on an endless search for peace. He ends:             

This friend of Rupert Brooke, who accomplished the happy ability to string the right words together, begins to catch the fuller ministry; but, whether the habit was acquired by accident or is inherent with him, he is now more or less permanently wandering. He pulls up stakes at short notice and jumps off to the out-of-way places… this year he has taken unto himself a home in Tahiti. Of all the things he has done, that is perhaps the most self-expressive – a man not embittered, but distrest by conventions which have lost their sanctions, thinking through under warm skies.


Fletcher Allen’s article appears in The Literary Digest International Book Review, Volume 2, December 1923 - November 1924. Page 384