I knew a little about The Hopkins Manuscript before I borrowed it from my library. I recently read Greengates by the same author, but this is a very different book. I knew from reading a post by Thomas a couple of years ago that it was a science fiction work, a genre I'm not crazy about. But I thought I might like this one because it takes place on Earth, not in outer space, with real people, not aliens. I was also curious to read more by R. C. Sherriff since I liked Greengates so much.
The Hopkins Manuscript is presented as a document found in the far future, written by a survivor of a terrible natural disaster.
Edgar Hopkins is a former teacher of arithmetic at a grammar school in England. He's inherited some money, which allows him to purchase a country house and small holding, where he happily raises prize-winning Bantam chickens, and, generally, deigns to mix with the villagers. He's very class conscious, although he likes to think he can bridge the gap between classes. But he expects the lower classes to notice and appreciate it when he does. Late in the book he says:
'Distinctions of class were gone for ever and I sat with Mrs. Smithson, the wife of a plumber, and Miss Bingham of the drapery store, talking to them almost as if they were my equals.' He doesn't realize how ridiculously prejudiced he is.
He's a member of the British Lunar Society, a small group of amateur astronomers who meet in London. When it's discovered that the moon has changed its course and is nearing Earth, he is one of the privileged first to know. And boy is he frustrated! He's dying to tell everyone that he's in an elite group of knowledgeable people. After the news is broken to the general public, he makes sure everyone knows that he's known for months.
It's not known whether the moon will crash into Earth and obliterate it, or if it will just 'graze' it, causing much less damage. I'm not going to tell you what happens because I found it quite suspenseful. I'm not a scientist, but I'm pretty sure that things would happen very differently if the moon got too close to Earth.
When the news that Earth might be destroyed gets out, people react in different ways. Some drink and riot and loot. Others try to make up for the things they did and shouldn't have done. The government keeps people busy by requiring that all the towns and villages construct dugouts to shelter the people from the expected atmospheric and geological disruption. Storms and floods are anticipated.
When the people of his village enter the dugout on the night the cataclysm is to occur, Hopkins and his neighbors, Colonel Parker and his niece, Pat, and nephew, Robin, both in their late teens or early twenties, decide to brave the event and take what may come. They stay in their separate houses, though.
There is a catastrophe and Earth is battered by a couple of storms and a massive flood. Many people are dead. The people in the dugout mysteriously disappear. Hopkins eventually finds out what happened to them, but he doesn't share this with Pat and Robin. Colonel Parker is killed by a falling beam during the storm. Hopkins asks Pat and Robin to come live with him, since his house is less damaged than the manor house.
Like Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson, they start over with what they have. They rebuild their lives with things they can salvage or grow, and Hopkins, for one, appreciates it. 'The destruction of the big combines and chain stores had brought individuality back to English life: the return of the craftsman and the master-man.' (I wonder if the text is wrong here and if it should read 'the big companies'.) He appreciates the security of self-sufficiency.
As the world slowly recovers, governments are re-formed and all work together to rebuild. They form a United States of Europe to work together. They face a common disaster, and, later, a common enemy. But as things return to normal, countries, or, as Hopkins points out, the people who run them, battle over their shares of resources and access to those resources. The common man only wants to live his life peacefully.
Apart from being an exciting and suspenseful story, it's a study of how people and governments react during and after an international disaster. The Hopkins Manuscript was published in 1939. But I drew some parallels to what could happen in our near future, and the future doesn't look promising.