The New Novels
ALTHOUGH the thing which Mr. Kipling is doing possesses such immediate significance as to hamper any cool judgment upon his measure of success, the place of honor for the year in English fiction seems indisputably to belong to Puck of Pook’s Hill.1 It may be possible that merely as a piece of abstract literature this group of short stories will not ultimately fill the high position which now appears its due. Contemporary rating can never be infallible. But after all, this is of minor importance, since no tarnishing finger of time, no fading glamour, no change of taste, can alter the fact that in conceiving and carrying out such a plan the author proves his own claim to permanent greatness. With all his glitter (which we once feared might degenerate into glorified journalism), with all his restless flitting from land to land, his experimenting, his weakness for panache,—his Sousa moments, so to speak, — looking back upon his career it is now plain that he, the man, has been constantly growing.
The dashing colorist of Under the Deodars, the robust humorist of Soldiers Three, the external observer of Captains Courageous, has been all the while deepening and ripening. The meaning of things seen has laid stronger hold on him, in a special way, if you will, but with the sound specialization of an artist in whom there is developing a lofty purpose. The very singleness of his aim has simplified and refined its expression, and the point by which these stories avoid all the pitfalls of the usual tendency-writing is the absolute sincerity with which he is passing on an ennobling personal experience. An impassioned patriotism has here found its perfect medium of appeal. It is as if, sitting in the meadow under Pook’s Hill, the poet himself had fallen beneath the spell of the whole beauty and romance of England. It has gradually crept over him till he has seen all that it means to its remotest inheritors. Reverence, — the last quality suggested by the early Kipling, — value for intangible treasure, loyalty to the unfathomable past, all this he makes real, and makes worth while, till you feel as if he had touched the mellow strings of an enchanted harp whose vibrations would softly echo to the farthest limits of the world, binding the whole empire with its strains, as armies are made homogeneous by the force of a great national melody.
Coming “home,” Kipling the colonial has fallen in love with England. The emotion which comes to all Americans on first realizing the wonder of her is his, with the fuller sense of present possession. While we respond to a sentiment of the past, to the bond of a common language and literature, he feels the thrill of actual ownership. In “ They” he showed how the outward beauty of England had enthralled him. In “Force of Habitation,” he chronicled the irresistible encroachment of tradition centuries old. In the present book it seems as if his whole previous life had brought tribute of observation, imagination, and affection (not to speak of learning, since incidentally on the historical side these stories show him a careful student), which he has garnered, as a poet, and given out with the most crystalline simplicity.
Dr. Johnson would have found him highly irrational and old-fashioned, since he is the living contradiction to that philosophy which denies the existence of patriotism. Kipling’s appeal is no more to the reason than the muffled beat of drum appeals to the intellects of lagging soldiers on a long day’s march. Yet that meaningless rhythm is known to hasten stragglers, straighten bent shoulders, and give new movement to the footsore and disheartened.
In the general black pessimism which threatens English literature, where, one after another, clever writers are frantically suggesting feeble panaceas, this one a socialist brotherhood, that one a model town, Mr. Kipling sounds his own note of high courage and belief. And this note has nothing in common with such forced optimism as that of Mr. Chesterton, whose determined cheerfulness too often suggests a small scared boy whistling a gay tune (quite false) to keep up his spirits after dark.
And yet, with all this underlying wealth of meaning, Mr. Kipling only seems to be telling how two nice, imaginative English children were playing at the foot of a meadow on Midsummer’s Eve. Dan and Una chance upon an invocation to Puck, who at once appears, and brings back from the past a series of visitors each of whom has had to do with the making of England — a young Saxon gentleman, a Norman knight, a Roman legionary, a. mediæval Jew, a forgotten builder of country churches. With extreme gentleness and poignant sense of beauty, he describes the quiet water course, the grazing cattle, the children’s various haunts in wood and open. With the ease of a happy dream, Present merges into Past, and each romantic figure tells the listening children his own particular adventure. There is the imagination of “The Brushwood Boy,” of “The Greatest Story in the World,” but infinitely fined and controlled, and the style, itself has become a wonder of purity.
“Three Cows had been milked and were grazing steadily with a tearing noise that one could hear all down the meadow; and the noise of the mill at work sounded like bare feet running on hard ground. A cuckoo sat on a gate post singing his broken June tune, ‘Cuckoo-Cuk,’ while a busy kingfisher crossed from the mill stream to the brook which ran on the other side of the meadow. Everything else was a sort of thick sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and dry grass.” It is all as simple and direct as that, so much so that children will read as they read Alice without suspecting more than meets the eye. So hidden and delicate is the intention, that the book has been reviewed merely as a series of fairy tales; so spontaneous that one even wonders if Mr. Kipling himself knows the full extent of his accomplishment.
The originality of this method is all the more grateful at a time when, to borrow Mr. Gelett Burgess’s inspired catchword, Socialism has come to be the universal bromide. It is natural enough that masses of remarkably unconvincing novels should be burdened with every form of so-called socialistic remedy. In fact, the demand for panaceas of one kind or another has so influenced English fiction as to occupy a full third of the entire year’s product, the remaining fractions being divided between religious stories, and novels about people at large. Merely to name a few typical specimens of the first division, in The Great Refusal2 Maxwell Grey begins with a rather forcible and interesting study of rich fashionable life contrasted with the struggles of the landed gentry to maintain its place, and the misery of the hopeless poor: but the whole ends with a South African Brotherhood as feeble as it is tiresome.
Mr. Whiteing’s Ring in the New 3 is clever, readable, not to be taken too seriously. It is less sincere but more witty than the earlier books of Gissing, but deals in a general way with his class of subject, the scramble for bread in London. The best of it lies in an admirable description — to use his expression—of the New Bohemia, the entirely distinct social grade introduced by the working lady with a code of her own as remote from old-fashioned Bohemianism as it is from fashionable rules of behavior.
Here again the ending is a picture of the entire human race lifting itself by its own boot-straps into a state of complete beatitude.
Mr. Wells also wastes his possibilities as a genuine novelist on a comet4 which suffuses England with luminous green vapor, from which every one emerges loving his neighbor better than himself. Philosophers naturally have to offer concrete remedies, but why novelists should so commit themselves must ever remain an irritating mystery. The Utopia resulting from Mr. Wells’s “Change” is as uninteresting and unconvincing as any other piece of constructive Socialism. The Socialist storyteller really should content himself with destroying. If the twentieth chapter of Genesis had ended with a sketch of Lot presiding over two model towns, with hot and cold water on every floor, the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah would soon have been forgotten. That wise old chronicler fully understood that the romancer’s mission is to arouse imagination and generous indignation, and there to stop, since from some basic trait in human nature imagination and enthusiasm do not take fire at the idea of neat rows of hygienic dwellings inhabited by a race of purely rational altruists.
The mass of English religions novels, to be candid, owe their importance to the fact of their numbers rather than to the intrinsic value of any one story. But. there is significance in the mere fact of Mr. Benson’s wit and skill being submerged by a weak and painful mysticism, as in The Angel of Pain,5 and in TheHouse of Defense6 by a pitifully flat and obvious sermon upon Christian Science.
Orthodox churchmanship has also its literary exponents, headed by the immortally absurd “Guy Thorne,” who, in the preface to A Lost Cause 7 nestles under the wings of “five or six Bishops,” and “innumerable letters from the Clergy.” The whole preposterous book, though as exaggerated and over-emphasized as Lady Southdown’s famous tracts, has a certain crude air of earnestness. You read with a misgiving. Incredibly comic as the whole is, — if by chance the author should be sincere, rather respect any farrago of nonsense than smile at a genuine conviction. When asked to believe that an unorthodox, low church young lady felt a remarkable sensation on touching an unblessed wafer, you give the author the benefit of the doubt; but when two hardened and successful malefactors wither, like Mephisto before Siebel’s sword, at a glance from—but let me quote.
“A broad, square man of considerable height, with a stern furrowed face, wearing an apron and gaiters, stood there, with a thunder-cloud of anger upon his face. It was his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. ... In the presence of the great spiritual lord who is next to the royal family in the precedence of the realm, the famous scholar, the caustic wit, the utter power and force of intellect, the two champions were dumb.” One of his glances, in fact, and their machinations were forever blighted. And so the story ends !
It is a curious tribute to the power of Rome that it continues year in and year out to be a fertile source of inspiration for controversial fiction. Mr. Bagot (a few more converts of his critical calibre might go further to undermine the Pope than Père Hyacinth and Martin Luther) opened the season with The Passport,8 a trite piece of sensationalism, only significant from its attack upon the rapacity of the Italian priesthood.
Signor Fogazzaro’s Saint 9 is of course the most important, religious novel of the year, though, to be frank, it is less a novel than a protest. Purely as fiction it lags far behind his earlier work, being no more than a thoughtful treatise upon the attitude of Italian rationalists to-day towards unquestioning loyalists, by one who both knows and cares, and who is fully equipped for expression. Benedetto (Piero Maironi),the Saint, belongs with those holy mystics who come into the church prepared to live up to a set of inconveniently high ideals. Here, an enemy, a satirist, could have made capital of the situation, of the disturbance caused by a genuine mediæval saint in the midst of a highly capable worldly organization. Being himself a loyal Catholic, Signor Fogazzaro only does this so indirectly that a great opportunity is lost, since the humor (Mr. Thayer’s preface guarantees the existence of this quality) to animate a slightly inanimate group of characters is subdued to the vanishing point. The strange fact is that the author himself should show surprise at this book’s being put upon the Index, since it is no less than an indictment of the whole contemporary condition, an indignant picture of a church which discourages true piety, and expels saints as malefactors. Fogazzaro always speaks with the authority of rich development, but there is no attempt here at sharp characterization, not even with the woman, Jeanne, since for the purpose of the book the only requirement was a figure to embody Benedetto’s renunciation. Neither is your sense of the renunciation extremely poignant (as in the wonderful garden scene in Daniele Cart,is), nor would a vivid set of impressions here be in place, since the whole has been deliberately set in a low key, that no tempestuous human emotions should distract the reader’s attention from the cause for which Benedetto suffers to an absorbing interest in the actual suffering.
Mr. Moore’s religious novel, The Lake,10 is far more personal. Although steeped in the feeling of Ireland, his story follows no accepted tradition. It is unlike Miss Barlow, Fiona Macleod, Miss Laffan, or Boss and Somerville. It is Irish to the core, but. with a quiet and contemplative melancholy. Of the few events none is cheap or trite. When Father Gogarty drives Rose out of his parish by a cruel sermon, the girl neither dies nor is reduced to the London pavements. Nothing could be more natural than his unavowed regret that she is able to earn a living without his aid, so robbing him of his chance of making restitution and solacing his conscience. The priest’s irresolute wanderings about the Lake, his discursive mental processes with their kernel of thought, his starved love of life and beauty, all linger in your memory; also the way in which he unconsciously rounds point after point towards making a personal demand upon life. Mr. Moore’s arraignment of the church is neither hot nor bitter, but rather tinged with regret that a system should prevail which takes so small account of legitimate human instincts.
In Traffic11 however, Mr. Thurston speaks with unbridled disapproval, combining a controversial document of great force with a living (and bleeding) picture. It must at once be confessed that his book is painful. After that it deserves only praise — praise for skill of conception and execution, for its passionate tearing aside the mist of sentimentality with which Irish and English writers have veiled the naked truth of priest-ridden Ireland. Miss Laffan was no friend to the church. Miss Barlow describes many a scanty meal and shivering winter; but Mr. Thurston portrays a whole community ruled by the church, in which no individual pain or sacrifice is ever allowed to weigh against the force of dogma. Stripping off every palliative, he holds up a code of ethics which makes divorce the unpardonable sin, and venal prostitution an error to be redeemed by repentance. One by one he tears off the romantic ornaments of the plaintive Irish peasant, showing him drunken, sordid, brutal, responding only to two appeals — the priests’ power to cut him off from life everlasting, and the love of land. As for the vaunted Irish family affection, he disposes of that in short order. " Woman,” Mr. Thurston says, “is only the beast to bear his burden, the cattle on the land that he loves. Every record of English injustice to that country — and there are thousands that are only too true — are all those inflicted on the land. This man stole a farmer’s homestead, that man killed another for his domain — but scarce a tale of the seduction of this man’s wife, or the rape of that man’s child, and when the soldiers were spread throughout the land that must have been a common story too. Yet it is never repeated now. It has slipped the memory of them all, while stories of the land — the land — the land — these will remain forever.”
No matter how relentless his accusation, Mr. Thurston does not clothe it in a treatise. The figure of Nanno Troy is at no time an abstraction. From the evening when you first meet her driving her cows to pasture, the interest never fails to be first for the story of Nanno, girl and woman. Incidentally you realize the force behind her cruel marriage sanctioned by the church, the power which inhumanly held her to her torment, which recaptures her after her escape and drags her down to inevitable debasement.
As in The Apple of Eden, Mr. Thurston dissects deep and pitilessly as the modern Frenchman; but. even in this candidly repellent theme, he keeps a certain fervor which makes his work worth while for adult readers of firm nerves and serious mind.
Besides the controversial religious novels there are in England a certain number in which religion plays a minor part, as in Mrs. Craigie’s The Dream and the Business,12 which occupies a midway place between the purely religious novel and the conservative story about individual human beings.
In this last class it is a comfort to find tradition prevailing to such an extent that, whether it be serious fiction or light-hearted comedy, the kind of novel in which the English have always excelled shows no sign of extinction.
One of the pleasantest examples of these is by a lady who, while never rising to great distinction, where many have soared higher and disappeared, has quietly gone on producing readable books.
As a young woman Miss Rhoda Broughton wrote clever if slightly trashy love stories. In maturity, within her definite limits, she retains gayety, wit, and the quality of an easy, irresponsible storyteller.
A Waif’s Progress13 is no more than a sketch, verging here and there on caricature. It is light, unpretending, avowedly skimming over the surface of things. Miss Broughton has never been a careful waiter, but if she has not gained in classic brevity, neither has she lost a whit of her racy individuality. To use an expression which she would probably find appropriate, — without ever having attained a place in the first rank, Miss Broughton has “staying power.” Bonnybelle Ran some, the Waif, is like Lily Bart, a poor young lady with expensive ways. Unlike Lily, she has been brought up by an entirely déclassée mother, who dies and leaves the Waif a confirmed little rouee of seventeen, to be passed from refuge to refuge, habitually turned out by the hostess as a result of too great attention from the host. Gay as a lark (a mud lark), inconvenanle in speech and action, the Waif is constantly making the most frightful bévues, in her insincere efforts at outward conformity to the standards of decent life. She is a greedy, ungrateful, lying little baggage, with a queer, obscure, sporting code of her own, and not the slightest conception of ordinary behavior. Miss Broughton tells you every disadvantageous truth, yet gives you a feeling for the misguided, pleasant scamp. If Mr. James’s unforgettable Maisie had lacked her limpid truthfulness, and possessed high spirits and sparkle, she would have grown into just such a girl as Bonnybelle. The only difference is that Maisie “Knew” — without telling, while higher vitality constantly betrayed the Waif into indiscretion at once amusing and pitiful. Of course Miss Broughton still has a habit of over-italicising. She perhaps overdoes the Waif’s consciousness of her own poses, but at least there is no didacticism.
The author merely shows you the product of certain conditions silhouetted against the quiet dullness of a respectable country house. The child’s bringing up taught her that she must pay, in her person, for certain advantages. Men who took you in motor cars usually kissed you. Motor cars were an agreeable necessity, the kissing a disagreeable but necessary penalty. Bonnybelle honestly enjoyed any unexpected reprieve, but never dreamt of with holding her toll. Miss Broughton establishes her analogy without ever stopping to explain.
I have dwelt so long on this light and unimportant sketch, first, because it is amusing to an unusual degree, and secondly, because Miss Broughton’s frivolous manner too often causes her books to be left unread, regardless of the fact that her knowledge of character and pictures of life are quite as sound as those of many pompous story-tellers who are taken far more solemnly by dint of their so taking themselves.
Another simple and disarmingly unpretentious book is A Lame Dog’s Diary,14the journal of a young officer, wounded in South Africa, trying as best he can to adjust himself to a life of crutches and invalidism. The whole is like a bit of Cranford with a few more masculine complications, and in trusting the young man to tell his story, the author has avoided all the pitfalls which usually beset narratives in the first person. Hugo manages to let you know that he is a pleasant fellow: you see his type plainly, without any indecent self-laudation on his part. Although he merely serves as a mirror to show the whimsies of a village as dull as any in Miss Austen, you take an interest in his own quiet love affair, if only because he is so agreeable a person, and you proceed in the happiest frame of mind to follow his thread of a story. If you put down the book offering up prayers of thankfulness at not being condemned to live in a moribund English hamlet, you also hope to have many more glimpses of it, through the eyes of so competent a guide as S. Macnaughtan.
Miss Cholmondeley’s new book, Prisoners,15 is of precisely the same stripe as Red Pottage. It is most curiously compounded of sparkling comedy of manners and cheap melodrama. The story itself bears no test of analysis, the tragic moments are no more to be taken seriously than the sad parts of Sherlock Holmes ; but the author presents her picture so delightfully that you feel a pleasure akin to that of seeing a really good player in a somewhat trashy rôle. Miss Cholmondeley is full of minute, amusingly acid observation. She has a truly old-fashioned way of disliking her bores (none of your wide-minded ethical tolerance for nuisances), and her constant state of lively exasperation is all the more welcome because she has apparently suffered acutely from the identical annoyances which with all of us go to make up each day’s sum of petty irritation. She hits off her own flighty heroine in the happiest fashion, as belonging to that large class “of whom it may be truly said when evil comes, that they are more sinned against than sinning. They always somehow gravitate into the phases where people are sinned against, just as some people never attend a cricket match without receiving a ball on their persons.”
Also the introduction of Colonel Bellairs is a model of neat observation. “A handsome man . . . remarkably young for his age. The balance, however, was made up by the fact that those who lived with him grew old before their time.” Wentworth, the prig, is delightful, at minutes, when “he talked of his conscious guidance by a Higher Power in the important decisions of his life . . . and always meant following the line of least resistance.” The impartial Bessie is always funny, but never more so than when she assures her elder sister that “You can make even a home pleasant.”
The fact is, that Miss Cholmondeley always seems to have strayed out of her own domain. One could almost suspect critical friends of urging her, “Mary dear, you must pay more attention to plot!” Consequently, having abundant imagination, she straightway concocts a melodrama rivaling Ouida at her most inventive, but proceeds to recount it in a manner not unworthy the chronicler of Cranford, or The Perpetual Curate.
When Mr. Shaw dubbed his plays “Pleasant” and “Unpleasant,” he invented a method of classification so simple and obvious as hardly to call for approval. Any one of us could easily have thought of it, though as a matter of history, no one before him had even remotely suggested it. However we may question his judgment in rating Candida as a pleasant play, there can be no doubt as to the value of his system of pigeonholing. Now concerning Mr. Locke’s The Beloved Vagabond,16 there can hardly be two opinions. Pleasant is the word! Fantastic, improbable, impossible! Granted freely, that and more! There never could be such a being as Paragot, there never has been such a small boy as Asticot. But in The Beloved Vagabond there is a delightful modern revival of the picaresque novel, an aimless tale of aimless wanderings, wherein the chance word of wisdom, the meal at a wayside inn, the sun’s warmth of a cool day, and the grateful shade in summer weather, make up good and sufficient reasons for being. But if the tale be in a way fantastic, it also contains good measure of truth, the inner truth of life tricked out in the whimsical deeds and utterance of the wandering hero. Paragot could not be tamed by convention; witness his sufferings at an English tea-party, among excellent people so addicted to tradition that “a square muffin would be considered an indelicacy,” and his utter failure to propitiate Lady Molyneux, “one of those women whose eyebrows in the normal state are about three inches from the eyelids. I understood then what superciliousness meant.”
This Paragot, nevertheless, when the time came, like a true man, bowed his neck to the yoke of nature. In his shiftless erratic philosopher, Mr. Locke has succeeded in creating a character which stays in your mind. Whether the hairy, unwashed creature of impulse strike you as rarely companionable or as an entertainment to be viewed from afar, whether you be of those who linger at table with Villon, Mürger, and Béranger, or respectably watch their performances from a distance, there can be no question as to Paragot’s affording entertainment.
The whole book is witty, light in hand, full of a chastened gayety. Mr. Locke writes happily, as if he were thoroughly in his story. The style is artfully simple, swift, yet conveying a sense of agreeable leisure.
Outwardly this book is no less fantastic than Marcus Ordeyne, but in its grasp of character it shows deeper penetration of the truth of life, a penetration none the less sound for the graceful manner which conveys a realism of perception under a form so light as to appear almost trifling.
Equally fantastic (with no other possible point of likeness) and most certainly laying small claim to pleasantness, Mr. Snaith’s new book 17 shows him as a writer who by no means rests satisfied with revamping the impressions which have already led to one success. While Henry Northcote is obviously a fruit of the same mind and temperament as Broke of Covenden, it also reveals the same mind turned in a quite different direction.
No mediæval saint, no early martyr, has proclaimed more passionately than Mr. Snaith that success can only be bought at a price. The problem of the young man making his way in the world, whether he be offered the peau de chagrin or a mess of pottage, has always been of perennial interest. We have it constantly in American novels, expressed in the highly concrete form of politics or shady transactions in the stock market. (Of these Mr. Stimson’s In Cure of Her Soul is perhaps the best example of the year.)
In Henry Northcote, using quite another dimension, Mr. Snaith treats the problem at once more poignantly and more finely. The battle is fought within the limits of Henry Northcote’s soul, and the question is refined down — not to how he shall act, but to the intention in which his action is conceived.
A young barrister is starving in London. He is not only consumed by despair, but fairly ravaged by a consciousness of uncommon power denied reasonable outlet. Temptation comes in the form of a call to defend a woman charged with murder. The case is perfectly simple, the evidence overwhelming. She is entitled merely to a perfunctory defense, to a possible mitigation from the death penalty to a life sentence, on the plea of drink or madness.
The young man has tested his ability in public speaking by haranguing Sunday crowds in Hyde Park, consequently this summons comes as his great chance to make himself known, to prove his power. The question (one always so baffling to lay intelligences) is: Shall he use his genius to defeat justice and save a crapulous and guilty prostitute, or let the law take its natural course? But this does not give the full subtlety of Mr. Snaith’s problem. If in the fibres of Northcote’s soul there had lingered a grain of conviction, if he had been one who shrank from taking human life, if the woman had inspired a glimmer of sympathy, if the working of his brain in planning her defense had been different, its success need not have extinguished his divinity and transformed him from a potential archangel to a fallen Lucifer.
This, baldly put, appears to be Mr. Snaith’s thesis, but no amount of description, short of bodily quoting whole pages, can give an idea of the intensity, the fury even, with which he clothes it. The pace gives no time for questioning. Whatever doubts may arise later as to possibility, as to whether judge and court could have been so hypnotized and spellbound , at the time you hurry on -without misgiving. (Of two legal opinions on the book, it is interesting to know that one rated the court scene as arrant nonsense, the other as the most brilliant legal tour de force in fiction.) To be frank, doubt eventually creeps in as to almost every event in the book; but, having doubted, you end by seeing that the probability or improbability of the actual events has nothing to do with the actual value of Henry Northcote.
The first chapter gives Northcote shivering in his dismal chamber, equally tormented by hunger and by a craving to employ his teeming intellect. Out of the gloom a nebulous stranger hails him. The effect on one’s own nerves is of a supernatural visitor; but it proves merely a strange philosopher of a tramp who has heard the young lawyer’s speeches in Hyde Park and believes in his sincerity. Finding him ambitious and torn by desires, the tramp vanishes down Northcote’s noisome stairway.
Temptation then comes in the person of a prosperous attorney with the brief. In these chapters, where the manner is so wild that you read in constant apprehension that the next page will bring a clumsy ghost, Mr. Snaith shows extraordinary skill by producing all the effect of mystical stage carpentry, through the gloomy and imaginative key in which the whole is set. There is all the foreboding that chills you in Poe’s incomparable opening to “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
The resemblance to Poe deepens as the story goes on, — Poe with a moral purpose, if such a thing be conceivable, — with all his exaggeration, all his fantastic disregard of fact, but with much of his dream —not to say nightmare — quality, and his capacity for communicating his own personal intensity. Henry Northcote, whatever its defects, bears every trace of being conceived and carried out under the stress of genuine excitement; and whatever its measure of success, neither in plan or execution is there a taint of mediocrity.
At this late date the time has passed for a detailed review of Lady Baltimore.18We all know what gentle and friendly humor Mr. Wister has brought to bear upon “the most appealing, the most lovely, the most wistful town in America.” Yet in the en joyment of this charming vignette, the broader significance of Mr. Wister’s book has hardly received due notice. Perhaps from the very gentleness of his manner the boldness of his action has passed unobserved. Obviously Lady Baltimore is an effort to smooth out the furrows still dividing North and South, by showing all the pathos and heroism of Dixie, and the problems besetting her, through the lens of a sensitive Northerner. Where Uncle Tom’s Cabin opened the debate in fiction by arousing passions, a half century later Lady Baltimore strives to lay a soothing touch upon nerves still raw and bleeding. It is curious that, with all its outcry and luridness, no Southern fiction has placed the South in so sympathetic a light as this tribute from a Northern writer. This may perhaps be laid to its fundamental patriotism, to the author’s wish for a united country bound together by the same aims, the same ideals. Like Mr. Kipling (it is really extraordinary how two books so antipodal in outward form should be so at one in intention and intellectual method), Mr. Wister draws his inspiration from the past, from a “ perspective of generations.”Augustus tells John Mayrant, as they sit in the melancholy churchyard, “There is nothing united about these United States any more except Standard Oil and discontent. We’re no longer a small people living and dying for a great idea; we’re a big people living and dying for money. And these ladies of yours — well, they have made me homesick for a national and a social past which I never saw, but which my old people knew. They’re like legends still living, still warm and with us. In their quiet clean-cut faces I seem to see a reflection of the old serene candle light we all once talked and danced in — sconces, tall mirrors, candles burning inside glass globes to keep them from moths and the drafts that, of a warm evening, blew in through the handsome mahogany doors. . . . Such quiet faces are gone now in the breathless, competing North : ground into oblivion between the clashing trades of the competing men and the clashing jewels and chandeliers of their competing wives.”
There you have it all, the secret is out, the boldness ! Mr. Mister deliberately upholds the aristocratic idea, — not the snobbish absurdity of “my Aunt Carola’s Salic Scions ” of course; but he finds hope less in the equality of the human race than in the very fact that some are born to higher ideals than others, and that salvation comes not in dragging these down to a common level, but in honoring and preserving what they have always stood for, and in seeking to uphold their standard of a national honor and a national life.
In the flood (happily ebbing) of colonial novels with all their paraphernalia, and our too often snobbish and common novel of so-called fashionable life, Lady Baltimore stands quite apart as the first serious and patriotic American story which candidly has the courage to uphold the aristocratic ideal.
In speaking of Les Mystères de Paris, a work which he particularly loathed, Sainte-Beuve felt constrained in justice to confess “ II parait décidément que Sue . . . aura touché quelque fibre bien vive et saignante, et qu’elle s’est mise à vibrer. L’humanité, dès qu’il s’agit d’elle, se prend vite au sérieux.”
At a first glance, this gratification at being taken seriously, coupled with a prospect of purer lard and sausage, might altogether account for the public’s reception of The Jungle.19 A book which spoilt the entire nation’s appetite for its Sunday roast beef could hardly fail of an audience. Consequently there is a natural inclination to rate The Jungle as a sensational document devoid of other merit than timeliness and a knowledge of Packingtown Oddly enough, the success of this book has stood in the light of its appreciation. Taking it on its own merits as a story, no one who has followed Mr. Sinclair for the past five or six years can fail to see the progress he has made in thought and expression. The crudity of his earlier books and the heaviness of Manassas are here replaced by a finer imagination and a simpler method of expression. If it were possible to cut out the slaughterhouse and merely give the experience of the immigrant family struggling to find its level in a cruel new country, it would at once be clear that Mr. Sinclair’s work had reached a new plane of sincerity. At the very first he strikes the note of his bewildered Lithuanians, and the note never varies. He conveys the sense of his peasant family in the great city, the suffering, the horror of it. Still, so much might be done by any skilled journalist; but he gives the effect of a mental condition with clear strokes — and this is his achievement. In fact, the part of the book which depends upon imagination, upon divining the state of mind of people whose mental processes he could only guess at, as literature, is far superior to the exact descriptions of scenes entirely obvious to the eye of any one who chanced to be on the spot. Also it is no small achievement that, in spite of piled-up horrors, the book should still be interesting, and, up to a certain point, not monotonous.
Whether this improvement over earlier work be the result of writing under high excitement, whether it be as a campaign orator that Mr. Sinclair has gained such heat and motion, rather than as a novelist, cannot be decided now, particularly as the constructive, socialistic ending is exactly as weak and ineffective as any ordinary prospectus of a land company.
“The Co-operative Commonwealth is a universal automatic insurance company and savings bank for all its members. Capital being the property of all, injury to it is shared by all and made up by all. The bank is the universal government credit account;” — and so on for many pages whose flatness suggests a different hand from the brilliant opening chapter, with its vigorous description of the Lithuanian marriage feast.
To judge The Jungle fairly, it should be analyzed, first, as the work of an enthusiast absorbed in a special issue; next, as a novel which, though its realistic side might be the work of any able journalist, on the side of imagination shows qualities which can only belong to the born storyteller. And lastly, it must be confessed that in many places the effect is gained by revelling in ugliness, by lacerating the nerves so that a great tragic impression is obscured by foul-smelling detail. The eves of Œdipus, so to speak, are destroyed, coram populo. At times it comes dangerously near belonging in SainteBeuve’s class — “littérature de crapule.”
It is curious that, out of the four most prominent American novels of the year, three should be so occupied with the national well-being that discussion of their place in literature is inevitably subordinate to their importance as tracts. Apart from a general seriousness, nothing could be less alike than Lady Baltimore, The Jungle, and Coniston. The first is set in a key of gay comedy, The Jungle is sanginary and aggressive, while Coniston20 draws force from a quiet, dispassionate historical view of a formative period of the national life.
The entire movement of the story is founded upon the general aspect of the time at its broadest. The mere scale guarantees at least a certain measure of powder; the mere fact of attempting so large an undertaking proclaims no trifling or unworthy ambition, and the result calls to mind those immense canvasses of such painters as Benjamin West, wherein certain qualities constantly command your respect, and a suspicion that only a slight lack of atmosphere and vibration keep them from permanent greatness. To tell the exact truth, Coniston is a great novel, minus the vibration, and beyond question it is the most substantial and craftsmanlike piece of work Mr. Churchill has yet produced, since it show’s not only study of his period, but comprehension. There is good academic drawing and at times a depth which almost amounts to perspective. The story is difficult to get into, and the characters are always rather types than individuals; but in Jethro Bass Mr, Churchill has hit upon the type which never fails of interest, the shrewd, kindly, direct man of complete political obliquity. Where the majority of ambitious boys try their fortunes in a city, Jethro stays at home and quietly buys up mortgages till he controls the country vote. The intricacies of his moves, the stratagems by which he conquers, are carefully worked out and sound as probable as the doings in one’s own ward. His picture of New England at that time when people began leaving their farms is as clear and homely as a page from Horace Greeley’s memoirs; but, throughout, the instinct for time and place is warmer than the instinct for people. The young girl’s struggle between her devotion toold “Uncle Jethro,” who has been good to her, and her disgust at his political methods, is far more genuine and alive than her somewhat ordinary love affair. From beginning to end, the story is thoughtful and quite without flippancy. It is penetrated by a really admirable sense of responsibility, and in the whole outlook upon our disturbed national life, there is no point of better augury than that such widespread recognition should greet a long, slightly tedious story, quite devoid of cheapness, or of appeal to any but the worthiest instincts.
Although Miss Sedgwick lays her scene in England, we may by right of birth claim her as a countrywoman, and do so all the more gladly as she is one of the few serious Americans who treat the individual rather than t he national problem. Incidentally, there is a paradoxical truth in the fact that the individual cases forever prove to be the problems of humanity at large, while national or sociological issues, however broad they may appear at the time, are sure to end by seeming limited and special. It is worth remembering that while no less a personage than Jane Austen has been blamed for her perfect indifference to any matter beyond the boundaries of her own parish, her stories remain a living factor in English literature when the intelligent and publicspirited works of Harriet Martineau and William Godwin suffer world-wide neglect.
Miss Sedgwick has the quality of striking her personal note. She never disappoints you in being commonplace or uninteresting. The Shadow of Life21 bears out the impression of her earlier work, that with a little more vitality she would be a novelist of the first rank. Her conception of character and situation is never ordinary. She is interested in the deep relations between people, less in their outward comings and goings than in what flashes between them unobserved by the world at large. After an introduction in which, to be truthful, leisure approaches slowness, she fairly states her situation. Elspeth Gifford, who loves life in thecompletest sense, also loves Gavan Palairet, whose character is less easily summarized, since he is chiefly negation. Of the temper of the saints, he has no spiritual belief, merely a repulsion to everything that life means. He is a melancholy, gentle pagan crossed with a Saint Anthony’s spirit of renunciation; only for Gavan the renunciation is a dream, since, to renounce,one must at least believe in life and happiness. The struggle becomes concrete in his decision to renounce Eppie. He loves her, but is eaten away with doubts of himself, with fear of happiness. His ideal is a Buddha who can only smile at pain. Her effort is to warm him into life through her splendid love, to win him from morbid contemplation into action and happiness.
The book is one long duel between the girl and the man —his effort to escape sensation, his neurasthenic panic at caring for anything enough to arouse feeling, and the girl’s spirited attempt at rescue. Elspeth herself is conceived with great nobility. Her pursuit is free from baseness, she never stoops to vulgar allurement..
Miss Sedgwick keeps up an unbroken sense of tension. She establishes Elspeth’s odd physical attraction, her external Scotch hardness, her equipment of worldly grace and knowledge. She also makes Gavan plain, the kind of man who forever raises the question: Should you revere him as a saint living on heights unattainable by the vulgar ? should you feel the average man’s impulse to cure his malady of the soul by personal chastisement ? or is he merely a delicate study of a physiological sensitiveness bordering on insanity?
Whatever the author’s view, she wisely refrains from explaining, leaving you to decide according to the angle of your own sympathy. What she has done is clearly to indicate an individual man of the type who keeps you in constant uncertainty.
She does not escape a tendency to overload her story with philosophical discussion (Nietsche really threatens to become the accredited bore of modern intelligent fiction), but too much rather than too little cultivation is not our crying fault, nor has philosophy destroyed her distinction of manner, or her sad and piercing sense of beauty.
Mrs. Deland also takes her place as a chronicler of the individual. The Awakening of Helena Richie22 is our nearest equivalent to the old-fashioned English novel, and the scene might equally well be laid in England, Scotland, France, or America.
Although the story contains such elements of extreme violence as suicide, infanticide, a shivered eighth commandment, and filial impiety, the prevailing tone is an agreeable quiet. Dr. Lavendar with his ancient horse, old Benjamin Wright and his “freckled nigger,” the doctor’s nagging wife, the men’s friendship — all this creates an atmosphere at once real and interesting. Mrs. Deland shows a grateful sense of values in passing over superfluous detail. A less skillful writer would feel obliged to explain how little David was left adrift, instead of simply stating through Dr. Lavendar, “How can I find a home for an orphan child ? A parson up in the mountains has asked me if I could place a little seven-year-old boy . . . the child’s sister who took care of him has just died,” — and David has been adequately introduced, without halting the forward movement. It is worth while in passing to note the clear compactness of this; and Helena’s own early life is disposed of with an equally swift and able stroke. The young woman’s character is perfectly consistent: a charming, emotional creature, passively good, born to run straight but dislocated out of her normal position by a series of totally unsuitable tragedies. Framed for happy domesticity rather than passion, she falls victim to a lover simply because her movement is always in the direction of least resistance. The real tragedy lies less in his shortcomings than in her unfitness for the life into which she has drifted, in her pathetic envy of old and ugly wives, in her longing for any beaten track, in her rudderless misery of loneliness. It is this capacity for general discomfort rather than for tragic concentration which keeps her story from moving you profoundly, from leaving such a sense of emotional disturbance as Daniele Cortis or The Mill on the Floss. Mrs. Deland does not attempt to plumb great depths, and rightly, since her heroine is not of a calibre to render heroic treatment appropriate. But if not heroic, the method is delicate and penetrating. The author’s mild and abundant humor, pleasant observation of children and animals, clears the air from all taint of melodrama, and a steady moral purpose is at no time allowed to hamper a well-told story. The Awakening of Helena Richie has been mistakenly lauded as a highly emotional book, and unjustly criticised for superficial analysis of a great tragic situation. Both points are ill taken, since it is exactly in showing how little tragedy can penetrate certain natures that Mrs. Deland proves her skill and moderation. Helena’s awakening is no more real than her abasement. Many a woman of greater emotional capacity has suffered as much over a lack of perfect sympathy as Helena could from her false position, but no one could possibly feel more uncomfortable, and the discomfort of so pretty and winning a creature quite naturally impressed Dr. Lavendar and his friends as hopeless searing misery. Hester Prynne truly suffered; she was the tragic figure east for the tragic part; also Clarissa Harlowe; but life often gives the serious rôles to the lightweights (fancy little Emmy Sedley a Waterloo widow!), and in skimming over the surface of a superficial nature, Mrs. Deland reveals far greater knowledge than would be shown by an attempt to sound non-existent depths.
Equally devoted to the concerns of a limited group, The Clammer23 is a delicate little sketch, pleasing from its gentleness and good taste. Where Mr. James Lane Allen’s Adam, in The Kentucky Cardinal, raises vegetables, this New England Adam digs clams in his own bit of beach. Both books are legitimate descendants of the Reveries of a Bachelor, and in The Clammer there is a pleasant flavor of eighteenth century deliberateness. Although the motor of Goodwin-the-Rich whisks past, it is powerless to hurry the pace. Mr. Hopkins’s manner is consciously artificial in using words and phrases with recurrent rhythm, but the words and phrases themselves are of an artful simplicity. The whole is contemplative, reposeful, and breeds a rare conviction of having been written rather to gratify a mood of the author than with an eye to startle the public.
In Don-A-Dreams,24 genuine study replaces the too customary demonstration of character, to such an extent as to suggest the passive truthfulness of Russian novelists. Only the last page (which is easily skipped) has a conventional sound, and that rings like an afterthought, loosely attached in deference to a publisher’s natural mistrust of the unusual.
Don-A-Dreams is merely a young Canadian, with too much individuality to travel along the rut, marked out for him, and not sufficient force to cut out a path for himself. Mr. O’Higgins has been particularly happy in showing how both the hesitations and ill-considered spurts of action are the only possible results of such a nature, and that while to Don each move seems the inevitable sequence of what has gone before, to every one else it appears a piece of avoidable and resounding folly. The type is perfectly realized, the promising young man who forever disappoints his friends like a horse that, will not come up to the bit, a dreamer to whom the whim of the moment constantly masquerades as purpose.
Mr. O’Higgins’s Smoke Eaters entirely established his place as a storyteller, and proved his pictorial knowledge of New York. In the present book, while these qualities stand him in good stead, his color is under better control, cool grays replace his earlier blazon of red and yellow, he uses a lighter stroke, a more delicate outline, without loss of force or interest.
In the wave of solemnity which has overtaken us it is pleasant to find two books of short stories which are frankly (and successfully) humorous. The deliberate assertion of funniness in the title rather risks your antagonism, and finds you quite unprepared to meet a number of spontaneous, gasping laughs between the covers of Red Saunders’ Pets and other Critters.25 These are not nature studies of animals, but irresistibly comic sketches of the doings of a small North Dakota town with its outlying farms and ranches. Arizona may come in, and Idaho and Iowa, but the impress is chiefly of Dakota. The robust practical joke underlies almost every story, whether of man or beast. The whole bubbles over with genuine animal spirits. You feel the vigor of the men, their inconsequent gayety, their physical hardihood, and insatiable thirst for diversion. Incidentally you have a sense of mixed nationalities, of outlying Indians. The slang is gay and racy; the point of view fresh and personal, rudely comic, but never out of taste. The stories bear the test of reading aloud. Mark Twain himself never produced anything more convulsing than “Billy the Buck,” “The Little Bear who Grew,” and “In the Absence of Rules.” It is the typical American humor of unabashed exaggeration, with the primitive quality which does not shrink too sensitively from the loss of a little fur or cuticle, and which deems the penalty of a broken bone a small price to pay for the frolic of hearty and ludicrous adventure.
Even a book notice which claims for “ O. Henry ” the best qualities of Dickens and Maupassant (one wonders what Dickens would say to that yokefellow) is not enough to overweight The Four Million.26 These sketches may be like Maupassant, in being short! They are like Dickens in being quite open to sentiment, but they are entirely like “ O. Henry” in that they mirror New York in the receptive eye of a contemporary journalist, who fuses his observation with something quite his own, before giving back this product in form of a trip to Coney Island, a tour on the Seeing New York motor, a glimpse into a hall bedroom.
Although he may tell of a row at the Clover Leaf Social, of the sequelæ of a wake, his stories are pervaded by gentleness. In symbolism and color his slang need not yield to that of Mr. George Ade; he knows his world as well, but he sees it with an eye for its beauty as well as its absurdity. There is imagination as well as vision, and beyond his expert knowledge of our colloquial tongue, he possesses in the background, to be used when needed, a real style. He is not afraid to be leisurely in the shortest sketch, he even risks an occasional introductory page. “ The Green Door ” actually opens with a charming essay upon adventure and the adventurous to whom once in a while “a slip of paper written upon flutters down . . . from the high lattices of chance.” He may talk Bowery, or talk Tenderloin or Harlem with impunity; he also talks the language of civilization. In twenty short stories there can never be twenty gems, but “ The Gift of the Magi,” “ The Skylight Room,” “ The Coming out of Maggie,” “A Cosmopolite in a Café,” “ The Green Door,” “ The Cop and the Anthem,” are as varied and excellent pictures of a great city as can be found, and in every case the picture has its meaning, its bit of sympathy, something to lift it above the mere quick character sketch.
In noticing all this, it must not be forgotten that “O. Henry” is also exceedingly funny. In a general way the stories suggest the thumbnail studies of Frapié, Provins, and the other flashlight Frenchmen, but without their pessimism and despair. Where their tendency is to forget that they are writing stories, to approximate as far as possible to a literal document, “O. Henry” does not hesitate to round out, to fill in, to take advantage of coincidence, in short, to indulge his reader’s weak-minded craving for a little human enjoyment. And after all, since babies still smile and crow, even in courts and alleys, and lads take their sweethearts for an outing, and the rhythm of a hand-organ still quickens tired feet to a waltz, perhaps his picture with its glimmer of arc light and sunshine may be to the full as true as if it were altogether drawn in India ink and charcoal.
- Puck of Pook’s Hill. By RUDYARD KIPLING. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1906.↩
- The Great Refusal. By MAXWELL GREY. New York : D. Appleton & Company. 1906.↩
- Ring in the New. By RICHARD WHITEING. New York : The Century Company. 1906.↩
- In the Days of the Comet. By H. G. WELLS. New York: The Century Company. 1906.↩
- The Angel of Pain. By E. F. BENSON. Philadelphia and London : The J. B. Lippincott Company. 1906.↩
- The House, of Defense. By E. F. BENSON. New York and London : The Authors’ and Newspapers’ Association. 1906.↩
- A Lost Cause. By GUY THORNE. New York and London : G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1906.↩
- The Passport. By RICHARD BAGOT. New York : Harper Brothers and Company. 1906.↩
- The Saint. By ANTONIO FOGAZZARO. Translated by M. AGNETTI PRITCHARD. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1906.↩
- The Lake. By GEORGE MOORE. New York : D. Appleton & Co. 1906.↩
- Traffic. By E. TEMPLE THURSTON. New York: The G. W. Dillingham Company. 1906.↩
- The Dream and the Business. By JOHN OLIVER HOBBES. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1906.↩
- A Waif’s Progress. By RHODA BROUGHTON. New York and London: The Macmillan Company. 1906.↩
- A. Lame Dog’s Diary. By S. MACKAUGHTAS. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 19U0.↩
- Prisoners. By MART Cholmo.ndeley. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 1906.↩
- The Beloved Vagabond. By W. J. LOCKE. London and New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head. 1906.↩
- Henry Northcote. By .J. C. SNAITH. Boston : Herbert B. Turner & Co. 1906.↩
- Lady Baltimore. By OWEN WISTER. New York : The Macmillan Company. 1906.↩
- The Jungle. By UPTON SINCLAIR. New York : Doubleday, Page & Co. 1906.↩
- Coniston. By WINSTON CHURCHILL. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1906.↩
- The Shadow of Life. By ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK. New York: The Century Company. 1906.↩
- The Awakening of Helena Richie. By MARGARET DELAND, New York: Harper Brothers & Co. 1906.↩
- The Clammer. By W. J. HOPKINS. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1906.↩
- Don-A-Dreams. By HARVEY J. O’HIGGINS. New York : The Century Company. 1906.↩
- Red Saunders’ Pets and Other Critters. By HENRY WALLACE PHILLIPS. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co. 1906.↩
- The Four Million. By O. HENRY. New York: McClure, Phillips, & Co. 1906.↩