Recent Novels

THE writing of novels has come to be so definite a department of industry that idle people have begun to ask if there might not be some school or formal system by which young men and women of lively sensibilities could be trained as novelists. If any one wishes to be a painter or sculptor, it is argued, he enters a school of art, or places himself under the tuition of some master who will guide his talent and give him practical instruction in the laws of his art; why should not a novelist, go to work in the same way, instead of blundering by himself and producing what any skillful master in the business could have shown him was untrue and offensive to the canons of literary art? One could easily fancy a school of novel-writing, where the pupils would be set to work constructing tales upon certain points furnished to the class, as plaster casts are given to beginners in drawing; and were there such a school we think that Miss Fothergill would be recognized as one of the brightest and aptest scholars. Probation 1 is a capital novel, well planned and well constructed, yet the incidents which make its crises are stock incidents which have been used again and again. A workman thrashes a rich man’s son for insulting a young woman ; the rich man gives a ball on his daughter’s birthday, when he is on the eve of bankruptcy, and the festivities are arrested by the catastrophe ; the favored lover overhears some words between his rival and the woman they love which he instantly misconstrues, and thereby spends two or three years in wretchedness; a young lady suddenly loses her property and station, and becomes a governess, to be accidentally discovered by her lover, — these are certainly not new inventions in novel-writing, and the plain catalogue of them here might easily persuade the reader that Probation, built upon such foundations, could hardly be more than a commonplace and conventional story. Conventional it may be called, but not commonplace, and it seems to us a singularly apt illustration of the truth that the inventive part of a story is really the least considerable part. It is like the underpinning of a house,—essential to the structure, but not very characteristic. A mature reader who takes up the Arabian Nights, for example, will very likely be surprised at what he might call the poverty of invention and the simplicity of the expedients resorted to. A great number of modern stories are substantially the same in their groundwork ; they use the common facts of the life they represent, and when a story is placed, as Probation is, in an English manufacturing town, one may look confidently for just such incidents as we have intimated, growing out of the relations between workmen and their employers.

Miss Fothergill has used her opportunities well. She has made the story move chiefly in the period of the Lancashire distress, coincident with our war, and has given an admirable background to the typical figures of the young manufacturer, who combines radical principles with conservative manners; the sturdy workman, whose native stubbornness and independence have been reinforced by half-communistic views; the restless young lady of fortune, the self-contained, self-respecting young lady without fortune, and the minor characters, all of whom are cleanly sketched. There is no violence done to the proprieties ; the young workman does not finally marry the lady who rejects the workman’s employer until he has won for himself an independent position ; and no lucky turn of fortune resolves the difficulties into which the characters fall. The author has a clear conception of what she intends, and depends for her results upon the law which governs in human life, the action and reaction of character and circumstance. There is positive pleasure in reading so sane a novel, and in following the lead of a writer who thinks so dispassionately and is possessed of so strong a human sympathy. The distress and trouble of the Lancashire spinners are used legitimately, not to intensify our interest in the characters by the introduction of a bit of realism, but because characters and scenes all seem equally a part of history. There is little abstract discussion of the relations of master and workman ; the reader is treated to something better in the relation of real persons to one another; but out of the whole story one may gather some sensible reflections upon one phase of modern society.

By an odd coincidence an American novel of factory life2 comes before us at the same time with Probation. There are even some curious repetitions in the two novels, which could not possibly have affected one the other. The boy who rises from the ranks to a controlling place appears in Hope Mills; Sylvie is in several respects a counterpart of Adrienne ; the benevolent young people of the story organize schools among the factory hands in one book as in the other ; another young lady of fortune loses her money suddenly; and a time of prosperity is followed by a time of depression. Nor are the differences between the two stories as great as they might be in consideration of the difference in scene. Miss Douglas has apparently had opportunities for studying factory life in this country, but we should guess that she was indebted for some of her material to English novels. At any rate, we never get very far away from conventionalism in the story, although there are some minor scenes which appear to be transcripts of actual occurrences. Yerbury, the scene of the story, may be judged to be a village near New York, which has broken out in all the half-civilization of a factory town, and the characters are such as seem to be accepted as types of the life : a dignified and honorable mill owner, Mr. Lawrence, whose son grows up a gentleman, and whose daughters are haughty young women of society ; a manly mechanic’s son, Jack Darcy, who represents the sturdy thinking young republican, bound, as the reader foresees, to change places with the aristocratic young Lawrence, and finally to subjugate the haughty Irene Lawrence, while Lawrence himself passes through the several phases of rich man’s son, idle gentleman with latent powers, and at length, plunged into poverty, the redeemed worker who wins also the girl who refused him when he had money and laziness.

Miss Douglas seems to have had a double purpose in her story, and to have intended it most seriously as a contribution to the doctrine of cöoperation. A writer in such a case has us a little at a disadvantage. We may concede all the truth of the theory, but what we need most to be convinced of is the actual test by experiment; and when the author triumphantly produces her facts and figures we feel bound to remind her that she is telling a story, and of course has complete control of the facts and figures. She can manipulate the returns and send her heroes to Congress, if she so chooses. The history of the coöperative experiment is told with due regard for the probable difficulties that are finally surmounted, but after all we are compelled to fall back upon the book as a story, and wait for the real narrative of any such mills as may have stood as models for Miss Douglas’s Hope Mills.

We can hardly assure the reader that Miss Douglas has graduated from the school of novelists in the same class or with the same diploma as Miss Fothergill. There is the difference between a skilled and an unskilled writer, between one who husbands her resources, selects her incidents, and concentrates the interest, and one who introduces a character whenever she wants a new scene, supplies the reader with a great deal more material than is necessary for the perception of character, busies herself about endless detail, which is unessential to a story however much it may be of service in a coöperative tract, and washes the narrative down with copious draughts of thin sentiment. That the particles of this story do not touch one another is capable of proof by the ease with which the narrative may be compressed. For all that, the evident honesty of the writer and her interest in the subject of the book redeem it often from unworthiness, and if one will take the story lightly and concentrate his attention upon the development of the socialistic problems he may close the book with an honest respect for the writer, and a sense of not having wasted his time in reading it.

Readers of The Atlantic who have already followed the career of Irene the Missionary will readily concede the claims of that embarrassed young lady to continued existence between the covers of a book.3 We suspect that the story had and will have a twofold surprise ; for it is neither a record of the spiritual struggles of a young missionary assailed by a worldly temptation, nor a cover for a disingenuous attack upon missions. Not until the story is fairly ended does the reader wake to the discovery that the entertainment is of the most rational sort, and then he perceives how cleverly the author has managed to give novelty and originality to a very simple and familiar love-story by taking for his characters persons unused to figure in novels and laying the scenes in almost equally virgin soil. It really would not be difficult for one to invest the story with an important function in its dispelling a popular delusion respecting the character of missionaries and missionary life. It seems that they are, after all, people, and by his quiet and entirely sensible description of their life and relations to one another the author has at once naturalized them in our minds, and given novel-readers a real and enjoyable sensation. Those who thought there were no unexplored regions of Christendom for the novelist must have been amused at finding one so simple and homely and accessible. We suggest, en passant, another in the lives of Roman Catholic priests in this country. Here is a class of educated men, who figure only as a part of the mechanism of religious or theological novels, but who will undertake to make them real to us in their human and every-day relations ?

To return to Irene, it will be admitted that the author has done a difficult thing well, when he has undertaken to move freely among the missionary articles without damaging anything or rudely knocking over any religious idol. The secret is in his unfeigned respect for the people and their work. Such a character as that of Payson is entirely intelligible and respectable ; possibly, the unworldliness is insisted on a little too much, as if the author were over-anxious to show his honest admiration of the man. The touches by which Mr. Pelton is described are equally truthful, and in the characters of Irene herself and Dr. Macklin the author has admirably disclosed the genuineness of missionary life which makes possible such a union of nature and grace. Indeed, we are disposed to think the portrait of Dr. Macklin the most successful in the book, as the man himself is the one who interests us most. The humor of his inconsistencies is delicious, and more subtle than the fun which twinkles in Mr. Porter Brassey, Miss Biffles, Mr. Wormley, and the Branns. These last, nevertheless, are clever foils to the higher characters of the book, and again we are reminded how felicitous the choice of subject was, since the necessary circumstances supply at once contrasts which ordinarily would have to be laboriously constructed. The author has wisely attempted but one thing, and has not undertaken to show the interior life of a mission any further than it would be perceived by such a man as DeVries. He has used well the opportunity given for pictures of Syrian life and landscape, and has found excellent material at hand in the religious strifes of Druses and Maronites to heighten the dramatic effect. The story certainly deserves praise for what it does not attempt as well as for what it accomplishes.

The many readers who have grown up with grateful recollections of John Halifax, Gentleman, and other early novels by the same writer, will turn with expectation of pleasure to Young Mrs. Jardine,4 the latest of her stories. We cannot say that they will be quite as well pleased. The plot of the story is so slight that in its expansion there is too much room for that flow of sentiment which has always been a snare to this author. A young Scotsman, of good family and of fair expectations as the only son, receives a small bequest from a distant kinswoman, coupled with a commendation to his kindness of certain still more distant relations of whom he had never heard, supposed to be living in Switzerland. He has finished his collegiate business, and is dallying with life, and being of a romantic and somewhat quixotic disposition conceives the scheme of taking a jaunt to Switzerland to hunt up his relations. A cousin of his father and of the just deceased kinswoman had gone, years before, to Switzerland, and married there. He had entered the Swiss church, and was a pasteur ; but all connection between the families had long since ceased, and no one knew whether he was living, or, if dead, whether he had left any family. Roderick Jardine, armed with a letter to a Neuchâtel pasteur, appeared on the scene, and in the orthodox method fell in love at first sight with a young girl whom he saw by the lake side, and a few hours afterward, upon presenting his letter, discovered to be Silence Jardine, the only daughter of the missing relation, who had died and left a widow and daughter in poverty. The poverty was the graceful, self-respecting poverty of the Swiss Protestant community, and the picture of Silence is drawn with affectionate eagerness, as presenting a not unknown type of Puritan loveliness. Roderick was enchanted with the village refinement of life into which he was suddenly thrust, and was fast moving toward the declaration point, when two events occurred to arrest him. He had written frankly to his mother, telling her of his intention, when he received a dispatch,— “ Your mother is not well. Come home immediately ; " and at the same time Silence’s mother dies suddenly. Duty and love have a little struggle, in which Silence decides for him, and he goes back to Scotland without any actual betrothal. There he discovers that his mother, annoyed at what she considered his boyish folly, had used a stratagem to get him back. She was in most excellent health, and very resolutely set against his scheme of marrying Silence. The mother and son had a hard Scotch tussle of will, and it ended in Roderick’s going back to Neuchâtel in the face of his mother’s obstinate threats, and marrying Silence, whom he brought to Scotland, settling with her finally in the country house which had been bequeathed to him and constituted almost his only property. His mother refused to see her son or to acknowledge his wife in any way, and the rest of the book, before the inevitable reconciliation which the reader anticipates as his rightful reward for reading, is occupied with the petty trials of the young couple and the slow adjustment of their characters to the situation.

Mrs. Craik employs the opportunity to read the lesson of marital confidence and patience, and succeeds, at the risk of being tedious, in making the reader uncomfortable over the inside view which he gets. Roderick needed all the lesson he had, undoubtedly, but somehow the discourse is more edifying than agreeable. We suspect that part of our irritation arises from being invited to witness the difficulties of people who are standing on the false bottom of British social order. While the conventionalities of life were very serious things to the young Jardines, they have not the same power to affect readers, and the queer mixture of high principle and low convention makes the sentiment of the book rather oppressive. The reconciliation comes through the birth of a child, and this truly feminine book ends in tears of joy.

We shall not betray the plot of Figs and Thistles,5 for it is the expectation of some startling dénoûment which induces the reader to finish the book. There is, however, a certain rude strength shown in the marshaling of the characters, and some scenes are effective, although the writer falls easily into a halfmelodramatic or extravagant manner. The scene, for example, between Curtis and Morey is neither funny nor necessary. The reader who happens to have read a powerful story which appeared in The Atlantic, several years ago, called Lost, by P. Deming, will be struck by the coincidence between a scene in that and in Figs and Thistles, where the neighbors come to the house of the missing boy and ominously prepare to search, calling to account the father in one case, the grandfather in the other. Mr. Tourgee has helped out his story with some dashing pictures of political and military life ; the scenes are coincident with the development of the plot, but do not always have a very direct relation to it. We may fairly expect to see the days of the war entering the best of our fictitious literature, and a vast treasury of material is in store for future novelists, poets, and romancers ; but the interest which readers have in this material will not release a writer from his duty to use it artistically. Mr. Tourgee has in one or two instances made spirited and skillful use of it, as in the lively scene where Churr returns after the battle of Bull Run, and in the account of the same young man’s excitement on the Sunday when the Sumter affair was announced. Many isolated passages appear, so good in themselves as almost to excuse their lack of cohesion in the story. Here is one which will call up lively remembrances : —

“ The drill sergeant was the hero of the hour. Judges, lawyers, professors, authors, editors, — all were trash beside him. Brains, influence, riches, integrity, — all were nothing to a trick of fence or power to mar the carcass of an imaginary foe with scientific lunge and thrust of bayonet. He who could aim and fire in the manner prescribed in the manual of arms was to be envied ; he who could load in the times, in the positions, and with the motions ordained was a marvel ; while he who could make four muskets stand together without extraneous support was fit for the table of the gods !

“ Markham Clurr was not usually impulsive, but he had forgotten all of his past which lay beyond the reading of the yesterday morning’s extra. He had never made two lines jingle in his life before ; but there is something so suggestive of marshaled numbers in marshaling men that something akin to the divine afflatus seized him then, and he wrote some crude lines upon a scrap of paper, on the steps of the court-house, while an unknown orator was haranguing the unwearied crowd. When this latter individual had yelled himself into indistinguishable hoarseness, and ceased speaking from necessity, Markham sprang up, and shrieked out his lines to the shouting mass. Despite its crudeness, his verse was a success. Jingle, patriotism, unspeakable devotion, and unflinching boastfulness suited the strange mood of these staid citizens of two days before. Gray-haired men of sense and taste cheered the halting lines. Again and again he was called upon to repeat them. A frantic editor offered fifty, a hundred, dollars for them, and having succeeded in obtaining them proudly announced that this wonderful poem would appear in his paper the next day. No wonder Markham thought himself a poet. Thousands of clods became heroes, that day, in very truth. It was an exaltation which can come but once in a life-time. If his head was among the stars, it was not from mean and selfish aspirations, but because he was lifted out of his own individuality by an unselfish and noble devotion. The day was drawing to a close as he stood and looked at that frenzied crowd. Could it be that he was one of them a moment before ?”

If one is content with an exciting story, and will take, by the way, a good deal of thinly veiled description of public life, and not look too closely for literary excellence, Figs and Thistles may be commended to him. It is a pity, however, that so much vigor and rough-and-ready faculty had not been more carefully trained to the special business of writing novels.

Theuriet is sometimes instanced as a French novelist who has fallen under English influence, and accepts a moral foundation for his art; we should rather name him as one who has conceived a certain artistic value in virtue, and uses it complacently as an aid in producing original effects. To one who finds it difficult to take just that attitude the chief impression is of insincerity, as if the novelist did not care a straw for his virtuous character, and built, him up laboriously from hints which he had obtained, not so much by observation as by the study of models. Angèle’s Fortune,6 to be sure, comes to us in English dress under slightly suspicious conditions. " Adapted ” is a word which may save the translator, but confuses the reader’s effort to do impartial justice. A clerk in a lawyer’s oflice in a provincial town of France has a pretty daughter, who chafes under the restraint of her life and cherishes a secret ambition to go on the stage. One of the younger clerks. René des Armoises, a light-headed and selfish young aspirant for poetic fame, has become her ideal, and when he goes to Paris to seek his reputation her heart goes with him. Meanwhile, her father brings home as a lodger another clerk, Joseph Toussaint, a country youth, who is the virtue of the little Morality. He is captivated by the girl, but overpowered by his modesty. The mother of Angèle is an ignorant, shrewd woman, who easily falls a prey to the representations of a Bohemian traveler that she is principal heir to the undivided estate of an East Indian nabob to whom she is related, and has visions of great wealth, which makes her connive at Angèle’s plan of going to Paris and entering the dramatic profession. Angèle’s secret departure brings a stroke of apoplexy upon her father, the old clerk, and the mother shortly follows the daughter to the city, and makes her home with her. The girl has already fallen in with her love, René, and her lover, the moral Joseph, presently appears. The relations begun in Bay continue in the new scene. René receives Angèle’s affections as a tribute to his poetic sensibilities, and honest Joseph is the true friend who does all the good deeds for which René gets credit. The attempt to go on the stage is a failure, the promised fortune vanishes in smoke, and the selfish poet, after having gone as far as he cared to in pleasure, offers to make the gigantic sacrifice of poverty and discomfort in witness of his noble character. The girl abruptly leaves him and her other friends, in order to give him liberty, and finally comes back in wretchedness to Paris, at the opening of the siege. René has meanwhile made a prudent and uncomfortable marriage, and has taken himself out of the country for safety. Joseph is the noble volunteer, and after the war marries Angèle and adopts her child as his own.

There are no singularly novel features in all this, and we should hardly think it worth while to notice the book except for its disagreeable homage to virtue. Joseph, whose name appears to be a part of his moral make-up, is a mere scarecrow of an upright man, and the unhappy effects of an unholy love are used chiefly to heighten the constancy of the lover. Theuriet seems to be off his bearings when moving amongst perfectly pure scenes, and he picks his way there as carefully as some writers tread in the neighborhood of vice. For the rest, while there are bits of pretty provincial scenes now and then, there are many false starts in the story, incidents which offer to be important and result in nothing, and half-sketched pictures which make one wonder sometimes whether they may not have been “adapted ” from the French. It is a weak book, and will not give one confidence that Theuriet is to make his mark anymore significantly than he has hitherto.

Miss Jewett has already begun to appropriate an audience, and may, if she choose, whisper to herself of her readers as a clergyman openly speaks of his people. The womanly kindness which pervades her writings gives her readers a warmer interest in them than the mere weight of their literary quality might command. Yet we shall not be hasty to separate these elements of her work, but accept the pleasure which it gives, and, confessing her claim upon our regard, compare her latest book 7 with her previous one, rather than with an absolute standard.

Deephaven, as our readers will easily remember, was a series of sketches, in which there was no development of plot, but a rambling description of life in a New England fishing-village, caught together by the simple device of bringing into the village two city girls of refinement, who occupy an old mansion, and sally forth from it on their voyages of discovery. The charm lay chiefly in the sympathetic delineation of character, and in the pictures of homely life seen from the side of this fresh, unspoiled, and reverent girlhood. The two young summer visitors at Deephaven won upon the fishermen and their families in the real life of their visit, as they do upon readers in the scarcely less real life of the book ; and while they call upon us to look on this simple seaside picture they are not conscious that it is they who have most of our thoughts. Nothing could be purer than the relation between young and old which Deephaven disclosed.

In Old Friends and New the same charm reappears. The book is a collection of seven stories, some of which first saw the light in the pages of this magazine. We name the titles that our readers may recall those familiar to them : A Lost Lover, A Sorrowful Guest, A Late Supper, Mr. Bruce, Miss Sydney’s Flowers, Lady Ferry, A Bit of Shore Life. One of them, at least, Mr. Bruce, appeared before the Deephaven sketches and is a lively piece of girlish fun, refined and agreeable, but immature, and hardly worthy a place in the volume. The stories, written and published at different times, have a singular and apparently unintended agreement in one theme. As in Deephaven, so in these disconnected stories, there are two foci about which the circle of events are described, the young maid and the old maid. Here, as there, it is the life of the old as seen by young eyes which is delineated, and in nothing is the sweet reverence of youth, as portrayed in Miss Jewett’s writings, more profoundly shown than in the frequent and touching pictures of old and lonely age. Miss Horatia Dane in A Lost Lover, Miss Catherine Spring in A Late Supper, Miss Sydney in Miss Sydney’s Flowers, Lady Ferry in the story of that name, old Mrs. Wallis in A Bit of Shore Life, — all these are portraits in Miss Jewett’s Dream of Old Women, and with womanly chivalry she has taken under her special protection those whom the irreverence of youth has most flouted. Her old maids, moreover, are not pieces of faded sentimentalism ; she has shown them in their dignity and homely truthfulness, but she lets us smile quietly with her at their quaintness.

The motive of love as a passion between the young is almost wholly absent from these stories, and as excursions among other emotions and principles they have a certain originality, due in part to this abstemiousness. Yet since no strong motive of any kind is called in, the stories remain chiefiy sketches, studies, episodes. We shall not quarrel with Miss Jewett for not doing something else than what she has done ; she has acquired already a greater firmness of touch in these pencil sketches, and the skill with which the pretty story of A Late Supper is worked up indicates that she may yet succeed in the more difficult art of making her characters act for themselves. At present they cling to her skirts, and she leads them about with her. Cranford is often mentioned in comparison with Deephaven, and there are points of likeness : in some respects Deephaven comes closer to nature, but perhaps that is because it is nearer home; yet Cranford has what Deephaven lacks, an individuality apart from the author. The figures are projected more boldly, because drawn by the hand of one who was primarily a novelist. In Deephaven and in these later sketches, the author has not yet felt the confidence which would enable her to withdraw her direct support from her characters. She cautiously holds, for the most part, to the form of the story which permits her to be present during most of the action. We suggest, as a practical experiment in story-telling, that she avail herself of the method which is sometimes used in Mr. James’s stories, where one of the characters, not identified with the storyteller, is charged with this duty. It might gradually strengthen her in an ability to conceive of a story which had its own beginning, middle, and end, and was not taken as a desultory chapter of personal experience.

  1. Probation. A Novel. By JESSIE FOTHEKGILL, Author of The First Violin. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1879. (Leisure Hour Series, No. 108.)
  2. Hope Mills ; or, Between Friend and Sweetheart. By AMANDA M. DOUGLAS. Boston; Lee and Shepard. 1880.
  3. Irene the Missionary. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1879.
  4. Young Mrs. Jardine. A Novel. By the Author of John Halifax, Gentleman, etc. With Illustrations. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.
  5. Figs and Thistles. A Western Story. By ALBION W. TOURGEE. New York: Fords, Howard and Hulbert. [1880.]
  6. Angèle’s Fortune. A Story of Real Life. By ANDRE THEURIET. Translated and adapted from the French by MARY NEAL SHERWOOD. Philadelphia : T. B. Peterson and Brothers. [1880.]
  7. Old Friends and New. By SARAH O. JEWETT. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.