Miss Van Kortland
A Novel. By the Author of “ My Daughter Elinor.” New York : Harper and Brothers.
FROM the internal evidence of the novel itself it would be a difficult matter to determine the sex of the author of “ Miss Van Kortland. ” The men of the story are portrayed as men appear to women, and the women as they appear to men. This is not saying that the characters are not tolerably natural and recognizable, but it is saying rather that the author does not go very deeply into human nature. We would not be understood to hold this fact up to blame, especially in an American novel ; for the same good sense which has kept our author on the surface of things has kept the work free of a manifest purpose. The only moral taught in the book will be considered an immoral one by the majority of its readers ; and the religious feeling of the author is so shadowy, that it will be misunderstood by a great many who are pleased by the attractive, straightforward movement of the story. The author — and we must call him a man when we come to this moral —has attempted to cure the American public of a certain false delicacy ; but even those who sympathize somewhat with his endeavor will hardly admire his method. His religious standpoint is apparently the serenest altitude of the High Church doctrine, yet he seems full of the little fanaticisms of a man who believes nothing.
Taken as a whole, the novel of “ Miss Van Kortland ” is a very respectable performance. It is studiously non-sensational. The principal characters are two pairs of lovers, whose doings are made interesting without any complicated plot. They talk and act, generally, as bright people may be supposed under such circumstances to talk and act in life. The whole book treats in an easy, humorous way, except in the intentionally humorous scenes, of the ordinary skirmishes, advances, retreats, and flank movements preliminary to the battle of life, which, according to the modern novel, is the rearing of a family. It is not likely that the world will ever get tired of these things either in reality or their imaginative portrayal ; and the positive ceremony of getting married, being, as some timid people believe, one of the most arduous and distressful duties of this life, it is probably just as well that this sort of introductory halo should be thrown around it.
We have intimated that the professedly humorous scenes of this novel are not amusing. There are a great many of these scenes, and each one of them is carried too far. Indeed, it is some time after having passed through one of them, before you recover your patience with the otherwise agreeable narrative. In almost every scene of this nature there is an undertone of cruelty, which leaves an impression contrary to the one intended. When a clergyman in his fright drops the baby he is about to baptize, “ and nearly cracked its skull on the stone fount ” ; and when the impulsive Nora throws hot water about recklessly, and pulls the sensitive Miss Maguire down stairs by the heels, bumping her head most unmercifully, and has metal tips put upon the toes of her shoes to kick the shins of the unoffending negro boy, Jupe, and so kicks him quite through the book; and when a poor insane woman is brought in to be laughed at, and to teach the professed but questionable moral of the story, we have reason, we think, to doubt the quality of the author’s humor. It is at best the broadest fun of the ordinary farce; and in the ordinary farce the spectator has this vast advantage over the reader of “ Miss Van Kortland,” that he knows and sees the instruments of torture to be merely stuffed clubs, and ludicrously harmless. His pity, at least, does not stand in the way of his laughter.