Characters in Recent Fiction

THERE is a certain thinness of quality, as of mere thought, about many of the vast assemblage of characters that emerge from my large pile of recent novels; and it is interesting, if somewhat dismaying, to see the variety of ulterior purposes which these imaginary personages serve. Has one a grievance? He seeks a wardrobe for it, and sends it forth in hat and feather, like Hawthorne’s Feathertop, to stalk the world, pretending to be alive. Has one a plea to make? It is straightway personified in an ideal human form, and projected into the world, to ‘dazzle when the sun goes down,’ like fair Inez. The embodiment of a grievance or of an ideal is, of course, an old, old literary habit; allegory has an ancient and honorable history and is always in order, yet we are all aware of the slight appeal that merely allegorical characters make to those powers of sympathy and awe wherewith we follow human story. In much modern work we cannot miss the central abstraction behind the closely described human physiognomy, even though external definiteness is secured by details of costume, and by the use of such names as John P. Smith and Mary A. Jones, instead of Cowardice or Charity.

The proportion of novels in which one finds the purely artistic impulse to study character closely, and to interpret it for its own sake, is lamentably small; the range of personified ideas is large, and widely diversified. Barbara Worth1 represents a topographical conception, typifying the large and generous nature of a certain section of western country; the central personage in Marie Corelli’s latest novel2 is revealed, in all the glare of fireworks and footlights, as a personification of the author’s desire to give evidence as to the immortality of the human soul, — surely not in need of any such spectacular demonstration as this; while son and mother, in Mr. Hamlin Garland’s last book,3 stand as embodied question and affirmative answer in regard to the truth of that extremest form of materialism, — spiritualistic belief. In all this work is apparent an insistent desire to impress upon the public some idea or conviction of more or less importance; but much of it gives small proof of patient observation and of thoughtful endeavor to discern the laws of life; and the few novels in which we find that combination of the individual and the typical which brings the greatest effect of reality in character presentation stand out with startling distinctness.

Some of the personifications in this class of fiction, wherein individual prepossession overmasters study and observation, achieve a certain vividness; more often they fade into the background with the swiftness wherewith an angry mood vanishes. The central woman figure in Mr. Phillips’s last novel 4 is a mere bundle of complaints, an enumeration of his grievances against modern womankind, and the character throughout lacks imaginative wholeness, is not created. Feathertop here proves but a scare-crow indeed. The harsh lines of the treatment, the dull anger with which the list of qualities that he resented is checked off, the journalistic quality of the style, make up a volume which impresses one as having neither charm nor power.

Rough, inartistic in method, but of honest purpose is The Nine Tenths,5 presenting certain phases of the wrongs of the workingmen. Mr. Joe, after his awakening, becomes the embodiment of the right attitude toward the submerged, and might be named Sympathy. Throughout, deep concern with down-trodden humankind gives the book vitality and value. In modern fiction, as in old allegory, figures which present ideals are more convincing, usually, than those wdiich embody grievances; the Red Cross Knight is far more real than Duessa; and Mr. Joe is not only better worth doing than the heroine of The Conflict, but bel ter done.

Mother6 is a personification of all the sweet and lovable qualities of all unselfish mothers, and the book is at once a plea and a warning to the maidens of to-day that they may not permit their intellectual and artistic pursuits to rob them of the larger life of home. It is wholesome, appealing, and genuine in its teaching. Throughout it has an inner fineness, an old-fashioned quality, in its recognition of good-breeding as belonging in the realm of the spiritual, not of the material; and this is doubly welcome now, when in our increasing sophistication we hear so much of the theory that good-breeding is a matter of courts and of cities, and may not be associated with village life, or with lack of wealth.

Flower o’ the Peach7 sets forth the race wrongs of the natives of South Africa, and tells, in the story of the young Kaffir who represents these wrongs, and of the young English girl who embodies the protest of civilization against them, an interesting tale, wherein both people and background are more fully created than is usual in fiction based on a special plea.

Mr. Anthony Hope’s latest heroine8 is a carefully studied character, whose experiences are designed to set forth the immemorial social wrongs of womankind. The difficulties in which she finds herself involved through her defiance of the law regarding marriage are presented with true dramatic sense of the consequences of her choice; and the logic of circumstance, through which her act of rebellion for the sake of larger life gradually robs her of the human companionship that makes up life, gives pause for thought.

Thorpe9 is an embodied naughtiness, reminding one of the little boy in the jam-closet, the boarding-school girl at a midnight spread. The question of the validity of marriage is worked out in light comedy, whence a single characteristic of the hero, the attitude of protest, developed in different situations, becomes the basis of the plot. That there are many abuses connected with the institution of matrimony is undoubted, as undoubted as the fact that humanity has not as yet found a satisfactory substitute, — and the spectacle of the young human animal, capering away, even in thought, from social obligation, is not helpful. The sprightliness of the book is full of self-consciousness, the vivacity heavy and forced, and its suggestions as to a way out of the difficulty are neither edifying nor amusing. Against Thorpe’s Way, Mrs, Maxon Protests.

However much one may chafe at times at the limitations of Mrs. Ward’s mind, at that absence of humor which means absence of insight into the deepest ironies and tragedies of life, one is grateful always to enter her world, wherein ideas and ideals dominate, a world so different from our own, with its worship of wealth and of physical force, that, in following, one seems to be stepping into another planet. Doubtless her great popularity here is partly due to the fact that, in novel after novel, she recreates, for the oldfashioned reader, that rapidly vanishing atmosphere of an earlier day, of inherited spirituality, of gracious ways of thought wherein the inner life is more than the outer.

There is in Richard Meynell10 much reminiscence of Airs. Ward’s earlier work, not merely from the fact that it takes up again the problems of Robert Elsmere, and that his daughter is heroine of the book, but because page after page recalls old shades of thought, old touches of characterization. If it has less depth and breadth than David Grieve, less fine insight into delicate shades of human character than Helbeck of Bannisdale, it has none of the superficiality of Marriage àa la Mode, where she was perhaps trying to write down to her American public, and wrote too far down.

The problem is that of an emancipated Christian rector, who, devoting himself with Christ like simplicity to teaching and preaching a simple gospel creed, comes into collision with the ecclesiastical powers, because of his radical theology. ‘All Christianity save that of Christ,’ as Mr. Herford says of Shelley, ‘failed to the last to touch his imagination.’ This type of primitive Christian piety, set against a background of labor commotions, is appealing. Richard Mcynell, however, is the personification of an idea, and if it were not for his pipe, his rumpled clothes, his fawning dogs, could easily fade into a shadowy something that might be called Holiness or Greatheart.

We find here less freshness and poignancy in working out the inner struggle than in Robert Elsmere, doubtless because there is here no clash between human passion and spiritual ideal. The intellectual problem is not so fully the motive power of the tale as in the earlier book, and the most dramatic bit of story, that of the wayward young girl Hester, has small connection with the motif. The tragic crisis seems to be hers, not Richard Meynell’s, and in point of looseness of structure, of failure to identify theme and plot, the novel is somewhat inferior to most of Mrs. Ward’s serious work.

Inevitably the characterization suffers, and there is small trace of growth or change in the central personage. Perfect in conviction and in self-mastery at the outset, he is perfect in conviction and self-mastery at the end, and as a human being is far less real than David Grieve, whose slow development in the face of difficulties was masterfully traced. Neither the young disciple of Richard Mcynell, Stephen Barron, in his attitude of entire adoration, nor the shadowy heroine, adds to the impression of reality in the hero of the book, and perhaps the most fully created personage is wild Hester, whose story in the sub-plot dangerously threatens the interest in the main plot.

Mr. Herrick’s latest novel11 has for hero an embodied ideal through whom a protest and a plea are made. There is much interest in the delineation of this healer by divine right, scornful of the airy unrealities of social life, and of what he considers the commercial and subsidized power of the medical profession. A conception of what a physician should be, in honesty,disinterestedness, and curative gift, is here presented, against a background of primitive forest life, full of the appeal of clear air and the breath of freedom. As the charming love story slips into a satirical presentation of the defects of the Healer’s wife, it seems sad that this man, more than human in his power of healing kindness to the world, should prove less than human in his treatment of wife and children. The first clash of opinion with his wife seems, in his own opinion, to justify him in neglect of her ever after; and the rather brutal egotism that here emerges saves him, at. least, from being put among the heroes of allegory as an embodied perfection.

With all its interest, the story seems a bit hasty and ill-considered, as such swift workmanship must be. This shows in the quick, unfinished character-delineation, and also in the critical thought revealed in plot, in characters, and in abstract discussion. There is too much impressionism, too much improvised and sketchy allusion in the indictment of the medical profession of the country; and even those inclined to believe many of the conclusions, would be glad to have a more thorough and convincing presentation, and of more of the grounds for such conclusions.

There may be, in view of the large sales of the book there must be, people to whom the hero of The Following of a Star12 seems a fully-created character, instead of an embodied abstraction. I had thought, however, that the days had passed when we could thrill over the type of hero whose dark hair falls over a pallid brow, and who talks of his approaching lonely grave in Africa. Presumably all graves are lonely! To call him effeminate would shame the valiant modern woman, yet in all his lonely perfections he is undoubtedly the creation of an over-feminine mind. Feminine taste is apparent, too, in the scenic background, which is worked up with deep sense of the value of rich stuffs, and also in the belittling use, for personal decoration, of the great Christmas symbols, the star, the frankincense, the myrrh.

There is no more pathetic evidence of a crying lack in our time than the enormous and unwarranted popularity of this kind of unhealthy fiction. Our wealth-ridden, progress-ridden, science-ridden world refuses after all to be satisfied with mere physical well-being. It is wistfully eager for expression of faith in things spiritual; yet long dominance of materialistic ideas has apparently made us lose all sense of values. We are in desperate need of novelists and of poets to point out. the possibilities of enlarging inner life, but we need virile voices to drown the gushing sentimentality of work like this. The commercial spirituality, the fundamental materialism of the book, are all too apparent, despite its suave religious vocabulary; and its great vogue is another proof of the way in which our spiritual ideals have become hopelessly entangled with our pursuit of wealth. All the joys of the other world, and of this world also, are heaped upon the hero’s head, and his suffering selfabnegation only intensifies his enjoyment of extreme wealth in the happiness ever after, for his destination proves to be not that lonely grave, but a luxuriously-cushioned, flower-decorated motor. The book is fundamentally unsound, from the point of view of artistic truth, and will hardly appeal to those who care for honest work in fiction, or for disinterested faith.

As a contrast stands out a book which makes a special plea in behalf of the inner life, Mr. Norman Duncan’s Measure of a Man,13 to which the sting of frost and snow, the keen breath of the north winds, give added vitality. It is a rough and ready talc of one valiant man, fighting single-handed the battle of the spirit among men who have sunk below the level of the brute. It is perhaps over-didactic, and it lacks the depth and the tragic sense of ironic values that some of the author’s short stories possess, notably that incomparably good tale. The Wayfarer, but it is wholesome, and full of masculine energy.

If many of the characters in recent, fiction seem over-ideated, too much the embodiment of desire or of protest, too little the result of disinterested observation and study, another class presents itself in which the opposite is true, and we find a maximum of observation of human life with a minimum of desire, or of ability, to interpret it.

To many of the readers of The Old Wives’ Tale, and of Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways14 brings a sense of disappointment. There was reason to hope that, from the many interesting elements in Mr. Bennett’s singularly uneven work, artistic clearness might emerge; that the author who could so ably render the pathos of age and of illness, the reaction of the imaginative, emotional fancy upon the hard facts of life, would win his way to a triumphant workingout of the truth of informing idea, at one with the truth of observation. The new book marks retrogression rather than progression; the underlying idea is harder to find; the array of facts is less significant. The wearisome repertorial character of the work, and a newspaper quality in the style, are more in evidence than in the earlier books, and the hold upon the actual is weaker.

Hilda, in this minute account of her, is far less real than in Clayhanger, where her personality is more briefly and more imaginatively suggested. Moreover, she hardly seems to be the same woman, except in the earlier part of the book, the blurring and the coarsening of the character differentiating her more and more, as the tale goes on, from the Hilda of Clayhanger. The opening chapters are full of human interest in the presentation of the ironies in the relation of mother to daughter,— the nearness which yet means distance; and in the chapters following the feminine sense of expectation, of waiting for wonder-happenings, is often vividly drawn; but, partly because of excess of the analytical method, personality is dissipated among successive moments of sensation, and Hilda is never fully created.

If the old theory of Locke and of Hobbes had come true, that life and thought are but a series of senseimpressions, of disintegrated states of consciousness, this kind of art would adequately represent humanity; but it is not true, and, from this mass of haphazard, momentary experiences clear lines of character-development fail to emerge. Moreover, there is an almost mechanical iteration of psychological states, as the girl’s sense of coming romance clashes with hard realities, and the repeated striking of the one note becomes wearisome. In its unassimilated, uncoordinated detail it is as inconclusive as a shop-window; and, as in most of the work dealing largely with physical sensation, there is no imaginative wholeness of concept ion. Crealion is impossible without selection; the realists who attempt to give the whole of life by telling all the facts make an enormous mistake; the facts arc there for all to see, but why write, unless you are able to convert mere fact into artistic truth, observing, thinking, selecting, in a fashion that shall call forth imaginative response from the reader? There are wide fissures and gaps in Mr. Arnold Bennett’s attempt to tell everything; and in the light of this latest book it seems but a lumpy and spasmodic realism that he achieves in following the old query of the realist as to how character can be delineated without imaginative conception of character.

One wonders if Mr. Bennett’s admiration for the author of Jennie Gerhardt15 is based partly upon a consciousness that here is an author who can be even more non-committal than himself in the presentation of endless happenings. Flashes of interpretation, hints of idealism, creep into Mr. Bennett’s work, but in Jennie Gerhardt, which has more steadiness and less significance of detail, the gray monotony is never relieved. In this long tale of the woman who is the victim of bitter poverty and of men’s selfishness, there is a certain reality of momentary impression, yet one lays it down with a feeling of wonder that so many facts can mean so little. Is this realistic veracity as close to the truth as it seems? When Jennie makes ready her dinner, first daintly decorating (he table, then lighting the candles for it, then going out to put the leg of lamb into the oven to roast, — ‘from three to four hours,’ say the cook-books, — an amused skepticism is roused in the reader, who wonders if the ultra-realists, like Jennie, are not beginning at the wrong end in spreading the table before us. Here, as in Hilda Lessways, the personality slips through that which is said about it, though here one is less baffled by a feeling that, there is personality there, if one were only permit ted to know it, and the long, closely-detailed narrative leaves one with a feeling of unachieved character presentation.

Some of the notices of the book have spoken of the method as being like that of the Russian novelists, but surely t he statement is misleading. In the Russian work there is a deep and tragic sense of fate, an undercurrent of emotion which makes their apparently unmoved recitation of details full of tragic power. One finds it in Tolstoy, in Turgénieff, in Dostoievsky. It comes from a depth of temperament that perhaps has in it something of the Oriental sense of unfathomable meanings. Of the thousand and one facts of daily life the Russian can work out a drama of destiny wherein the very surroundings seem heavily charged with significance. That splendid, listening impersonality of the Russian, the sphinx-sense of mystery, is a race characteristic, and cannot be borrowed.

Each nation must learn to express itself in its own way; the Russian method is inextricably a result of immemorial race-consciousness, and we can copy it no more successfully than we could copy their complexions, or the shape of their faces. That patient suspension of judgment during long brooding no race can imitate; we are more quick in thought, moving more swiftly to conclusions, right or wrong, and our art must represent us, as Russian art represents the Russians. It is impossible for us to get on without betraying our working programme, and where the method is attempted the author is betrayed, as here, by some minor prepossession. After a long and seemingly impersonal study of Jennie Gerhardt and her surroundings, he steps in at the end with the dubious plea in regard to the superiority of the type of woman who yields over-easily to masculine demands, right or wrong. The plea belittles the entire book, both ethically and artistically.

Aside from the personified theses, and the novels wherein the multitudinous facts of life are left to shift for themselves, the character-interpretations in this recent fiction are many and varied. Several of the people in Miss Abbott’s book of short stories16 are mere personifications of moods on the verge of hysteria, and hysterical language is found or invented to match the mood. In the Sony of Renny,17 as in much of Mr. Hewlett’s work dealing with the past, we find long lines of battle, murder, and sudden death converging in erotic moments, and through all the picturesqueness of treatment the characters are done with the single intent of intensifying the effect of those moments.

A gossipy chronicle of life in Washington,18 from the point of view of a sensible Western lady, gives many an amusing glimpse of social and political affairs at our national capital; while Mr. Meredith Nicholson’s Hoosier Chronicle19 presents a broad and interesting picture of Indiana life. The history of the making and marring of men in politics is strongly conceived and graphically presented, while throughout, a certain high-mindedness on the part of the author makes itself felt, refreshingly. More than one interesting character emerges, the most delightful of all being Mrs. Sally Owen, the elderly lady who is wise in regard to many things besides blooded horses. Romance runs through this chronicle of state events, and mystery involving the heroine of the tale lends piquancy and charm.

Two books of light comedy20 present the young American hero in those characteristics which are as much a part of his make-up as is the vestment of stars and stripes in the caricatures of Uncle Sam: quick resourcefulness, humor, unconventionality, absolute disinterestedness, imperturbable strength. Both novels are full of idyllic appeal, of romance, whose charm is strengthened by loveliness of background; in the one case the green meadows of Dapplemere, in the other a moss-grown ancestral castle. The Arcadia of the Money Moon has unusual fascination, but is not the chink of quite so many pounds of gold in that pastoral atmosphere a little vulgar? Both stories are humorous, and well-fitted to beguile the weariest reader in his weariest hour. The suggestion of idyllic atmosphere brings to mind Mrs. Burnett’s latest tale,21 which comes like a breath of spring from the childhood of the world. It is a story of the healing power of nature, transforming an ill-tempered, selfish little girl into a happy and generous one. Though it is frankly based on an ethical idea, and the forces shaping character are drawn with unmistakable moral intent, yet so potent still is the author’s genius that the idea, like the old garden, becomes alive. The amazing naturalness of the three children makes the children in the other books of the season seem self-conscious, and one marvels anew at the secret of the undying freshness of Mrs. Burnett’s work.

There are several novels in which character-study is rather especially emphasized, perhaps at the expense of plot. Christopher22 is a genial and pleasant account of the development of a sensitive, impressionable lad, presented in a leisurely manner that has t he charm of an elder day. The study of the earlier years is more interesting than that of later days, partly perhaps because of the picturesqueness of the foreign background, but partly, too, because the child-psychology is more definitely and vividly rendered than is that of youth.

Adrian Savage23 is the first book by Lucas Malet that I can recall which connects her thought with that of her father, Charles Kingsley. The theme, like that of the Saint’s Tragedy, is the glory of matrimony, though the daughter is fighting, not false asceticism but false intellectuality. The abstract plea is cleverly hidden behind the prolonged sketch of a very charming masculine personality, that of Adrian Savage, who combines the best traits of the two peoples from whom he springs, the French and the English. He is chivalric, sympathetic, idealistic, with a fine and exquisite sense of honor, and, throughout the plot devised to glorify his traits, bears himself gallantly. In the dreary story of the starved woman cousin, whose over-intellectualized, under-humanized training makes her a prey to a passion for him which she cannot control, save through death, the ethical meaning is presented with a bald directness lacking in the author’s vividly dramatic Wages of Sin, and in Sir Richard Calmady. The heroine is but a shadow, almost automatically smiling her Mona Lisa smile; she would be far more convincing if some indication were given of the forces drawing her away from Adrian. The attraction of the feminist movement is not explained, and there are no concrete touches in the treatment of her relation to it.

Lucas Malet’s work is always interesting, and has always intellectuality and depth. Here, though there is a lack of centralization there is much suggestive character-interpretation, notably that of the mad caricaturist, M. Dax, who occupies a place in the pages totally out of proportion to his importance in the plot; of the piteous Joanna; of the vulgar and unscrupulous Challoner; most of all of Adrian, who is presented in all the reality of a very human complexity, and whose bewilderment in the face of the crises in the tale is full of reality.

The Joyous Wayfarer24 is firm and fine in the texture of its workmanship, especially in character-delineation. The study of a man, born to be an artist, forced to become a lawyer, working his way into his own, is an old story in English fiction, but it is here told in new fashion, and is the record of a new and very real hero. The silent force of Louis Massingdale, half English, half French, makes itself felt from the first, in his words and in his reticences, in the potent influence of his personality upon others. In reading you remember your Thackeray, and Trilby, and The Beloved Vagabond, but the slight touches of reminiscence do not detract from the original and forcible treatment of a character of unusual strength and charm. The laxity of moral standard for which the notices of the book apologize is perhaps atoned for by the fact that the hero of the tale resolutely puts the sins of his youth behind him, when his first real experience comes, and the fact that blunders and indiscretions make up part of his sympathy with humankind, which is boundless, sweet, and strong. Picturesque background, picturesque motley personages, and a fine dramatic finale, add to the interest of t he book.

Among the more serious pieces of fiction which attempt the working-out of human characteristics into dramatic plot, one finds The Fruitful Vine,25 wherein Mr. Hichens attempts, without achieving, the impossible in the matter of character-delineation. It is an endeavor to study a human dilemma, — in this case a childless marriage, — and to follow the play of human motive and act in seeking relief from unhappiness. In cold-blooded fashion, much detail is heaped up around a central hypothesis; fact is heaped upon fact. There is a lack of relief, a dead solidity, an absence of light of intellect or of imagination, in the book, so that, in spite of its explicitness, it fails of an effect of reality. If— perish the thought! —Mr. Hichens had written a book twice as long, if he had written to the end of time, he could never have made the woman of the story real, for the combination of traits which he has attempted to make is monstrous and impossible.

Over-fastidiousness, delicacy, sensitiveness, could never lead to her solution of the problem. There is no genuine character-creation in this overminute account of Dolores Cannynge, no imaginative grasp of the situation, no artistic fusion of story and background. As the Fruitful Vine moves on its unpleasant way to its revolting conclusion, we are aware all the time of sickliness, morbidity, a dreary emphasis on physical fact suggesting the resourcelessness of a generation aware, apparently, of only one way to take hold on life.

A bit of relief comes in the pict uring of the happy home of the Denzils; but this phase of the story, except in the scenes dealing with the illness and death of the father, is commonplace enough. One wonders why the action should take place in Rome? Not all the beauty, significance, pathos, of Rome, past and present, can glorify the theme, partly because they have nothing to do with it, and the descriptions, sandwiched between the pseudoscientific expositions of character, are no vital part of the motive power of the book.

Another story, of far less pretension, set against the same background, attains a far higher degree of artistic veracity. In Her Roman Lover26 we find evidence of close and quiet work in character-study, and the presentation of widely-differing types is deftly and significantly done. The fact that the American girl and the Roman youth reveal two races does not mean that individual portraiture is sacrificed for the sake of the larger investigation. The attractions and repulsions of two contrasting personalities, the deep, if not complete, affection, the inevitable clash, make up a plot which unfolds itself so naturally that you cease to think of it as a plot. Among the many books which deal with the Italian temperament one rarely finds such close observation, and there is much subtlety in the way in which the fine meshes of thought and of feeling are woven and interwoven with the action. The background is delicately and suggestively sketched, but never obtruded; moreover, it is an essential part of the story.

There is always in Mrs. Deland’s work genial observation of human nature, with constant outlook for its better side. The gift of humor, added to her gift of sympathy, meant unusual richness of dower for a woman, and it is partly due to the humor, perhaps, that she has been allowed to keep, with her moral earnestness, an artistic sincerity that reckons with the facts.

The new novel27 is large in scope and deep in purpose — the story of a ruthlessly strong feminine personality which dominates everything about her, and becomes the determining influence in the fate of the chief personages in the book. At moments the Iron Woman suggests an abstraction, and seems compact of all the iron qualities of unflinching womankind of all times and all countries. If her peculiarities of hair, dress, and manner are a trifle overdone, appearing in almost mechanical repetition, yet in the main she seems t rue to fact, and is by far the most interesting character in the book, effectively set against a background of flaring light and molten metal from her foundry. The slow revelation of passionate maternal love, concealed by the hard exterior, gives the character something of universality, and the disasters brought about by the weakness which is part of her greatest strength, are convincingly wrought out in the tale.

The story of the way in which her doting fondness ruins her son and brings about the crisis; of the way in which Helena Ritchie saves the situation, is ethically sound and strong, and is told with much dramatic power. The tale is didactic, yet human, full of the play of personality, but a trifle over-assured in its conclusions. Something of the freshness of observation that characterized the author’s earlier work is gone, and, as the book systematically and triumphantly demonstrates its meaning, one is left with a sense that, after all, Old Chester Tales marks the summit of Mrs. Dcland’s achievement. In these, the sunny humor, the invincible faith in human beings, and in the power back of human lives, show at their best. Close observation, records of the habits and the traits of people, are delicately balanced. In The Iron Woman the scales tip too emphatically on the side of the lesson to be enforced.

In Ethan Frome,28 Mrs. Wharton has produced a story of great strength, different in manner from much of her work, and of far deeper appeal. Instead of that amused, satirical aloofness, which gives the reader, in much of her fiction, a feeling that the author is a mere spectator, in no way involved in the human predicament, here is a depth of comprehending sympathy, too deep for mere word or comment, wrought into the very fibre of this tale of ill-starred love. The naked reality of human life and pain is presented with an almost startling vividness; the tale, though simply told, is finely dramatic in its way of following suppressed human passion to the inevitable tragic catastrophe. There is much less of mere analysis, much more of imaginative wholeness of conception than in many of Mrs. Wharton’s tales, and there is an exquisite fitness of character to tradition and surroundings. It is one of the most skillful things that Mrs. Wharton has ever done, and her power of selection, her artistic restraint, have never been more in evidence.

Tante,29 by Anne Douglas Sedgwick, is a most unusual book, and is, in the depth and the thoroughness of the character delineation, by far the best among the sixty-odd recent novels upon my shelves. It is original in conception — a study, on a scale, I think, not before attempted, of feminine egotism; and in reading it one feels that at last the long-looked-for companionpiece to Meredith’s Egoist, feminine to stand beside the masculine, has been found. This has not, however, the universality that makes Meredith’s Egoist seem to sum up the egotism of all types of men; it is distinctively an investigation of an artist type; yet so much of it suggests the wrong side of the ‘eternal feminine,’ detected with keenness, presented with illuminating clearness, that many parts may well stand for a study of the egotism of all types of women. Instead of the passive hero, standing upon a pedestal for the admiration of womankind, as in Meredith’s brilliant, ironic comedy, we see here the active-beneficent, the sham-motherly in all its phases, the self-seeking that disguises itself as care for others. Throughout, except in the rare moments when the veiled, passionate egotism breaks through, as lightning breaks through a cloud, we listen to a bland, masking vocabulary of sweetness and consideration that hides Tante’s selfishness even from her own eyes.

The element of the typical in the character-study nowhere reduces it to mere abstraction, for close study is given to a temperament complex, many-sided, with a result of unusual artistic completeness. The characterization is deft, skillful, and full of concrete touches, and progressive revelation of the central personage goes on even when she is not actually before us, through the effect of the domineering personality on other lives. Me are constantly made aware of her pervading presence through the memoranda on the heart and mind of her protégée, Karen Woodruff, so that the way in which this young girl faces the crisis in her life becomes a revelation of the older woman.

The comedy-plot involves discomfiture, exposure of the false and the unreal; Karen, the worshiper, sees her idol’s feet of clay, and is thenceforward free to live her own life. As is usual in this type of critical comedy, there is little change or growth in the central character, only progressive revelation, as Tante becomes more and more hopelessly involved in her own characteristics.

The minor personages arc delightfully done, with sympathetic humor. Slight but graphic touches bring Franz before us, the impossible young German Jew of the artistic soul and the kindly heart. The delineation of that unpretentious yet potent personality, Mrs. Talcott, the American ‘old girl,’ with her clearness of vision, her untrumpeted human kindness, shows that the author has not forgotten that which is best in the land of her birth. It would be well if Mrs. Talcott s remarks could be studied as a pattern by the many English writers of fiction — Lucas Malet among them — who attempt to render American vernacular, and who flounder so wildly among impossible terms, and possible ones in impossible combinations. Karen, the heroine, is full of charm, and both in her ecstasy of adoration for the older woman, and in her anguish of discovery, displays those qualities of loyalty and truth which long companionship with sham had been unable to weaken.

Tante, with its informing idea clearly and artistically presented, puts to shame the tales made up of an aggregation of details, and also brings out a lack in some of the stories first discussed in the article, which present truth of conviction, perhaps, but evade the novelist’s sterner lack of reckoning with the actual. One does not feel here that the facts have been warped and twisted in making out a case; they ring true; our own partial observation constantly confirms them. But the author’s mind is busy with the high task of interpreting human life, and not merely her hands, in collecting data, perhaps meaningless. The marshaling of idea and of evidence is masterly.

There is a cosmopolitan quality in the work which seems to come from actual acquaintance with the scenes and the types described, and has not the ‘made-up’ air which we find in many an American tale of European life. If there is in Tante something of over-elaboration, especially at the outset; if, sometimes, people and places are over-minutely described, with a loss of the graphic directness of A Fountain Sealed, yet, interesting from the first word, the story grows more and more interesting as one reads on, the situation becomes more and more dramatic, and the tragic crisis that flows so inevitably from the characters intensifies in power to the end.

There is, after all, more of sympathy than of satire in the book; one marvels at the unembittered keenness of the author’s mind, for the gentle understanding that accompanies her clearness of vision is not found often in people who ‘see through’ things. Miss Sedgwick goes further than the ordinary satirist, and sees through even her own cleverness, into that deep need of humanity — under all foibles, limitations, vanities — for sympathy.

  1. The Winning of Barbara Worth. By HAROLD B. WRIGHT. The Book Supply Co.
  2. The Life Everlasting. By MARIE CORELLI. Hodder and Stoughton.
  3. Victor Ollnee’s Discipline. By HAMLIN GARLAND. Harper & Bros.
  4. The Conflict. By DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS. Appleton & Co.
  5. The Nine Tenths. By JAMES OPPENHEIM. Harper & Bros.
  6. Mother. By KATHLEEN NORRIS. The Macmillan Co.
  7. Flower o’ the Peach. By PERCEVAL GIBBON. The Century Co.
  8. Mrs. Mason Protests. By ANTHONY HOPE. Harper & Bros.
  9. Thorpe’s Way. By MOBLEY ROBERTS. The Century Co.
  10. The Case of Richard Meynell. By MRS. HUMPHRY WARD. Doubleday, Page & Co.
  11. The Healer. By ROBERT HERRICK. The Macmillan Co.
  12. The Following of a Star. By FLORENCE L. BARCLAY. G, P, Putnam’s Sons. 1 The Measure of a Man. By NORMAN DUNCAN. The Fleming H. Revetl Co.
  13. Hilda Lessways. By ARNOLD BENNETT. E. P. Dutton & Co.
  14. Jennie Gerhardt. By THEODORE DREISER. Harper & Bros.
  15. The Sick-a-Bed Lady. By ELEANOR HALLIWELL ABBOTT. The Century Co.
  16. The Bong of Renny. By MAURICE HEWLETT. Charles Scribner’s Sous.
  17. The Woman from Wolverton. By ISABEL GORDON CURTIS. The Century Co.
  18. A Hoosier Chronicle. By MEREDITH NICHOLSON. Houghton Mifflin Co.
  19. The Money Moon. By JEFFERY FARNOL. Dodd, Mead & Co.
  20. Pandora’s Box. By JOHN AMES MITCHELL. The Frederick A. Stokes Co. 1 The Secret Garden. By FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT. The Frederick A. Stokes Co. 2 Christopher. By RICHARD PRYCE. Houghton Mifflin Co. 3 Adrian Savage. By LUCAS MALET. Harper & Bros.
  21. The Joyous Wayfarer. By HUMPHREY JORDAN. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  22. The Fruitful Vine. By ROBERT HICHENS. The Frederick A. Stokes Co.
  23. Her Roman Lover. By EUGENIA BROOKS FROTHINGHAM. Houghton Mifflin Co.
  24. The Iron Woman. By MARGARET DELAND. Harper & Bros.
  25. Ethan Frame. By EDITH WHARTON. Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  26. Tante. By ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK. The Century Co.