Some Recent Fiction
FROM the mazes of discussion in the modern novel it is sometimes most refreshing to go back to that earliest and purest form of narrative, the ballad, and to lose one’s self in the delight of story as story. It is not that we are ungrateful for the complexities and the subtleties of our latter-day fiction, but that it is always wise in any study to turn back now and then to sources, and that in this case the effort takes one from troubled waters back to a clear and limpid stream.
They spared us their interpretations of human fate, for the most part, these forgotten ballad-makers, and sang simply of human lives, telling directly, objectively, that which happened, event and people growing real as the tale unfolded. They had power, perhaps lost now forever, of stirring the listener’s feeling to the very depths, the appeal being made, not to one special faculty, but to the whole man, touching old chords of thought and of emotion, bringing dim memories to life, so that he who heard was made one with the story that was sung or told.
Always, in reading a good ballad, I stop for a moment, if only for a moment, to wonder why any other type of literature was ever devised, so satisfying is it in its haunting singleness of suggestion in regard to place, character, and incident. As much by what is left unsaid as by what is said, the imagination is set stirring. Like fair Janet, one
Amang the leaves sae green,
because of its compelling mystery, all that we know of the place being suggested in the words quoted, and in those that tell of the red, red roses growing there. Could any study of individual character, could any arraignment of a hypocritical and fair-spoken type, be more complete than the bequest of Edward to his mother of his curse, for the evil counsels that have led him to crime? A whole drama is unfolded in those two lines, with total shock of surprise to the reader, and a whole unwritten romance is told in the last two lines of the “ Wife of Usher’s Well,” as the youngest son says, at the close of that ghostly midnight visit between death and cock-crowing, —
That kindles my mother’s fire.
One does not wish to reduce our elaborate and sophisticated modern novel to anything so primitive, but contact with this fresh and early form makes one realize in how many ways, sometimes admirably, sometimes atrociously, we depart from pure story, and many of the great achievements, as well as many of the shortcomings, of our fiction become apparent.
In facing the lengthy and complicated works before me, my first impression is of the astounding amount of information some of them contain. Here is a story, which, the announcements say, is the first one ever written about the fire-insurance business;1 a surprising plea, by the way, if one stops to recall the supposed nature of fiction. And it is about the fire-insurance business, whose working methods are clearly and exhaustively treated; but why should not all these details be given in essay form? Of imaginative appeal, of artistic unity, the book has almost none, and the characters concerned are of far less importance than the exposition of ways and methods of insuring.
There is cause for marvel, in dealing with many of these tales, in seeing how much mere detail the narrative can carry, of background, of furnishings, or of concrete examples proving a theory. The little steam-tug, wearily, or with spirit, tugging a line of canalboats up a river, comes to mind now and then as one follows the puffing and groaning movement of a plot overladen with stuff. What an opportunity the author of the old ballad, the “ Heir of Lynne,” neglected, in failing to give a complete account of the hero’s wardrobe from head to heel, both before and after he became a prodigal; also, a complete inventory of those possessions that he gambled away, instead of telling of his weariness of heart as he comes back and stands at the lost gates of his father’s home! Speaking of gambling, that garish melodrama, the Guests of Hercules,2 whose quality would forbid its being mentioned in these pages save that it illustrates the point all too well, gives, in its descriptions of Monte Carlo and the methods there employed, a liberal education in gambling, at once so comprehensive and so minute that one almost feels that, given a roulette-wheel and a gold-braided uniform, one could start a gambling establishment in the front yard.
In most of these stories of the inventory type, far more observation than thought is apparent, but both are shown in The Department Store,3 which treats, with Teutonic thoroughness, the clash between old and new business methods. It carries the study of shopkeeping all the way from the small, individual enterprise, through the department store of the present to the department store of the millennium, located in Berlin, at once tasteful and gorgeous in its exterior, and righteous in its inner workings; a shop in which all women employees are housed and mothered under the mammoth roof, and are paid incredible wages. The book is an interesting one, and, from the study of business methods, the characters emerge with an air of reality.
The most striking defect in this kind of work is its lack of true imaginative quality. I do not mean the gay and fanciful invention of things that are not, of unrealities, but imagination in the deepest sense of the word: that power of penetration to the eternal, underlying significance of things, and that power of imaging the inner vision in concrete, tangible form, so that, for instance, a tale that is told comes before us as something actually witnessed and shared. It is the highest intellectual faculty of man, Ruskin claims, ‘and tastes into the very rock heart, no matter what the subject submitted to it, substance or spirit, all is alike divided asunder . . . whatever utmost truth, life, principle, it has, laid bare.’ It creates, as it divines reality. ‘No stone, leaf, or shadow, nor anything so small’ used by the artist that it does not win through him ‘meaning and oracular voice.’
This penetrating insight to the soul of things conceives a thing at once, and as a whole, as Coleridge, perhaps better than any one else, has demonstrated, so that all details, all circumstances, are fused and welded together as one. The unity, the singleness of purpose, of the great works of the imagination hardly needs to be cited; there is not a minute, concrete touch in King Lear that does not body forth the imaginative vision of that awful suffering. It is naturally a long stride from the masterpieces of sixteenthcentury drama to our modern novel, even at its best, but surely, fiction also, in the light of its origin, should make the imaginative appeal. It sometimes seems as if we no longer see or know imaginative unity, so satisfied are we with externals, so athirst for information on all subjects, so cursed by the mania for statistics. No imaginative power could unify all of the details presented in some of these novels; no unity of the deeper kind belonging to art could come from methodical presentation of answers to all the questions that could be asked about a subject.
The historical novel vies with the modern realistic novel in introducing more matter than can be fused into a perfect whole, and we all know how these accounts of the past are, beyond the fashion of old garrets, packed and crammed with ancient stuffs. There is, therefore, cause for surprise and rather unusual pleasure in reading The Friar of Wittenbergf 4 a vigorous and spirited historical novel, presenting, imaginatively and sympathetically, Martin Luther at the crisis of his career. Despite an evidently extensive knowledge of the period, the author has shunned the temptation to overload his narrative with mere information, and with great skill has selected, both in his presentation of the gay charm of Rome under the southern sun and of the gray northern stronghold which is the hero’s home, that which is genuinely significant. The study of Luther from the point of view of a young nobleman, half-German, half-Italian, is both original in conception and fortunate in execution, and the decisive influence of the great reformer upon the youth who is wavering at the cross-roads of his temperament brings the theologian before us in very human guise.
Beyond the Law,5 is a historical novel, far inferior in quality to the one just discussed. It deals with the times of William of Orange, and is full of stirring and swashbuckling adventure. It takes sides against the taciturn hero, and has the fault of seeing only good in the one party in the contest, only wrong in the other. Possibly this is a reproach which could be made, though less strongly, in the case of the Friar of Wittenberg.
The Lone Adventure,6 by Halliwell Sutcliffe, a Jacobite tale dealing with an uprising for Prince Charlie, is perhaps a trifle overweighted with local color. It has, however, an interesting motive, the making of a man out of a scholar-dreamer, and the story of the inner and the outer struggle gives good opportunity for character development. It is of finer quality than Beyond the Law, and has an air of genuineness and reality, although the author repeats too often and in too many ways the point he is making in regard to his hero.
It is not only with information that our stories are overweighted; many and many a one is too heavily clogged with sentiment, which is introduced for its own sake, and dwelt upon with minute particularity, as if here, too, the author must expound and explain. It is easier, perhaps, to give information about successive stages of grief or joy, to analyze at length, than to give the quick, instinctive thrust which wakens the imagination and stirs unfathomed depths of feeling. Here again primitive story, in its reserve and its objectivity, may help us detect the lack of balance, of measure, of sanity in many a modern work. Among the tales that sin in this respect, Florence Barclay’s Through the Postern Gate7 naturally bears the palm. Surely even the admirers of this author will see in this, the latest and worst of her novels, the sickly quality of the sentimentality offered to the public in the guise of art. Nor do the sugared blasphemies of reference and quotation add dignity or worth. ‘And the evening and the morning were the first day’; — it would seem that some instinct would keep an author, of whatever creed or faith, from transferring the solemn words of the magnificent chapter in Genesis which records the brooding of primitive thought at the dim edge of things from the creation, to the love passages between the spinster and the dapper youngster with the flower in his buttonhole.
The Man in Lonely Land,8 The Lovers of Sanna,9 are two romances perhaps overweighted with sentiment, though the former brings the relief of a welcome humanitarian feeling, and the latter both humor and a spice of adventure.
One finds in Alexander’s Bridge10 a welcome contrast to the over-emotional tales. In this study of passion, involving the lives of two women and the test of a man’s faith, there is a steady and harmonious development of plot and of character, a dignity and reticence in the treatment of the dramatic scenes. The author’s workmanship is deft and skillful, and the swift, clean stroke tells on every page.
Among the stories making strong appeal to the emotion must be mentioned The Old Nest,11 which presents the sorrow of parents forsaken, if not forgotten, by their children. The outpouring of sentiment is more legitimate here than in some of the other cases, for it deals with the lives of those who are old and hurt in the running, not of those who are still actors in the drama of life. Moreover, there is throughout a certain delicacy and restraint in the treatment of the theme.
The most interesting instance of the novel of overwhelmingsentiment comes in The Citadel,12 a story of political reform. From the first unpremeditated outburst of feeling on the part of the young hero in his speech to Congress, on through the eloquent oratory of his career, the appeal is primarily from emotion to emotion, producing an effect almost of hysteria upon the waiting crowd. It is full of the froth and fume of betterment and change, and we are swept breathlessly along by a tide which promises to do away with things wrong and old, to change human nature in the twinkling of an eye, to banish competition; and which delivers the young over forever to the Sidis and the Montessori methods of education. The frank ignoring of human obligation on the part of the hero, in the swiftness wherewith he is off with the old love; on the part of the heroine in her treatment of her aged aunt in that unnecessary elopement, might well rouse the question as to whether those who have been faithless in little will be faithful in much. However, the story is an entertaining story, and a deeply significant one in its testimony to the growing emotionalism and volatility of our character as a nation, our greater and greater readiness to succumb to the sound of words. Many of the reforms outlined seem wholly desirable, but surely statesmanship should rest on a more solid basis of thought.
If much of our modern work stands rebuked in the presence even of the most primitive and naïve literary art, in regard to the use of endless, unassimilated detail, in regard to the outpouring of unbridled sentiment, there is still another point of comparison on which we might well meditate. A tale like The White Waterfall,13 providing on every page sensation the most extreme, so that every moment seems the climax, bears witness to another phase of our lack of taste, our inadequate sense of measure. Those wistful old ballads, which dealt with peril not for the sake of prolonging the harrowing effect, but for the sake of following human footsteps wherever they must go, betray the crudeness of work which constantly harps on the one point of physical danger in response to the demand of readers who clamor for unalleviated extremity of agony. Are we then more barbarous than our faroff barbarous forbears?
One turns from the sensation-monger to more serious types of fiction and is at once aware of another phase of our modernity, which expresses itself in abstract inquiry or in dogmatic statement, and which, from its very nature, must stop short of creation. It used to be said that there were only three plots in existence, and that these, with variations, had served as the basis for the world’s supply of plays and of novels. Surely now, with our thirst for information always keen, and our desire for progressive reforms alert, there are as many novel-plots as there are new enterprises, kinds of business, new causes to espouse, new evils to expose, and new countries to explore, whose geography is provocative of curiosity. The abstract themes engaging the attention are endless, and many a pleasant hour may be spent in thinking how one’s neighbor’s transgressions, or some phase of civic or national wrong, could be worked up into a plot. This series of incidents, runs the more or less mechanical thought, could lead up to the climax where the greatest enormity is to be exposed; characters must fit themselves to the abstract idea, or vanish; the world shall read and learn its lesson.
General topics have become far more interesting to us than human story; with the growth of the power of analysis, comes, of course, the lessening of the synthetic sense, of the power of imagination. The old way of art, of making a universal appeal through a profoundly conceived story of human fate, is no longer ours; we get our universal appeal through generalized statements based on statistics. The economists have undone us! From an ethical point of view, perhaps, no theme is better worth treating, and certainly none is more frequently treated in fiction, than the sufferings of the poor. They rouse the conscience, they satisfy the intellect, these carefully systematized tales of misery, yet many of them betray the wholly worthy motive of making these things known, rather than the anguish of suffering with the characters delineated, and the power to embody that suffering in the lasting form of art. How much nearer human nature, and the actual pangs of joy and of woe, are the ‘old, forgotten, far-off things’ that come in snatches of song, than the carefully compiled figures, the generalized observation, the composite pictures of nowadays, springing less from the sympathetic imagination than from the note-book!
One wonders in looking at much of our fiction, why the attempt at art form persists. When the didactic purpose is the all-important thing, why is not the proper form, exposition in essay, employed? The retort may come that, in many a case, the old ballad which we are using as a touchstone taught its lesson also. That is true, but it knew how to teach by artistic suggestion, not by rubbing in the theme. And it must always be remembered that the ballad died, in the eighteenth century, of excess of moral conviction.
Cap’n Martha Mary14 does not generalize, does not present statistics, but pictures, with utmost realism of detail, the piteousness of childhood which must fend for itself, and the heroic little central figure is one to be long remembered. Though it is a story of special plea, it is quick and vital with human sympathy, and full of something deeper than the mere desire to prove a point. Buttered Side Down15 contains a series of vigorous tales of rather harrowing reality. There is originality of perception, as well as genuineness of feeling in these stories told in the vernacular; and in some cases the roughness of workmanship adds to the effectiveness of presentation.
Blinds Down16 contains much good work, in its study of a peculiarly English environment, and of types of character that have been largely determined by the old-fashioned setting and old-fashioned ways. The book is an interesting example of the loss of the power of suggestion in much of our modern work, for the theme, which is the folly of sheltering human souls from knowing the harsh facts of human life, is reiterated in comment and in incident in most unnecessary fashion. Surely it is patent enough in the facts of the story, which has its interesting and dramatic moments.
Fate Knocks at the Door17 is a story of interesting theme and of refreshing idealism, somewhat marred by the treatment, which is blurred and indistinct. This surprising combination of very ordinary melodrama with a mysticism which has its profundities is sometimes difficult to interpret. There are fragments, glimpses, suggesting many complexities of modern character study, yet the people do not emerge clearly, are not fully created, but are seen dimly through a floating mist of thought and of feeling, and seem not so much imaginatively created as imaginary. There are far echoes of Meredith at times in both thought and style, yet the characters do not reach definiteness, as do Meredith’s, but float in a limbo between nothingness and creation.
The Sins of the Fathers,18 is a sensational story, done with a sweeping stroke, dealing with the causes and the consequences of wrong relations between white folk and black in the South. There is local color enough and to spare; some of the historical background puts a strain upon one’s credulity; and the tale betrays, perhaps, too much of our love of continued climax of effect.
In Cotton Wool19 is an exceedingly clever study of character degeneration, wherein a veiled selfishness, reinforced by our modern passion for physical comfort which has become a science, leads the hero, step by step, to insanity. This book has the rare merit of being at once entertaining and instructive, and may be impartially recommended to all and sundry as a wholesome tonic.
The Price She Paid20 presents the life of a woman who develops her voice for the operatic stage, the stimulus being poverty. Her difficulties and discouragements, until she wins something of the necessary heroism of the successful artist, are vividly and realistically presented. The story, however, wanders in plot and in motive. What becomes of the villain husband who is so minutely described, in person and in surroundings, far beyond the requirements of the tale, and whose threats play so portentous a part in the plot, only to vanish into nothingness? In spite of the non sequitur, the book is better than any other one of Mr. Phillips’s works that I have read, yet it has something of his querulousness of voice, a thinness of quality which suggests that he did not go far enough into the vital sources of human life. There is, for instance, in this whole study, no touch of recognition of the artist’s joy in his work, or delight in work for work’s sake.
Stover at Yale,21 gives some admirably spirited stories of a young collegian, more than fulfilling the promise of the Lawrenceville volumes. In most of these brief narratives there is an effect of reality in character-representation and in background, and the vigor of young manhood is felt throughout the book. It contains, moreover, valuable and well-justified criticism of American college life.
No American stories of school and of college, however, make one aware, as do the English, of the shaping and controlling forces back of the play of boy’s life. Whether it is because, with us, those forces are less real, or because it is taken for granted that here readers would not be interested in the grave phases of academic existence, it is hard to say. Mr. Hornung’s Fathers of Men,22in very quiet fashion, presents life at an English public school from a new point of view, that of the son of a hostler who had run away with his employer’s daughter. It is very realistic, and very real in effect, showing the slow and somewhat dogged response of the Yorkshire lad to the finer influences that come through master and friend to reinforce the native strength and sincerity of his character.
In The Charioteers,23 by Mary Tappan Wright, appears a sombre tale, finely wrought to an ethical issue, concerning a high-minded New England woman, who took the great false step and suffered the consequences, slowly growing wise. There is a dignity, a reserve in the treatment; there is no ready display of lavish sentimentality, but a quiet record of slow character-change and growth. To the American academic background, glimpses of the hillsides and the sky of Greece bring welcome contrast and relief, and these suggestions of outer beauty are reinforced by the inner beauty of idealism showing in the initial quotation of Plato.
It is difficult to draw the line sometimes between the novels which have some special plea to present, and those which try to deal simply, dramatically, with human experience. Carnival,24 is a study of the life of an unimportant young actress, and it takes us from the glamour of the footlights to the dreary realities behind the scenes. It is sad, and increasingly so, throughout. The author has the power of graphic presentation of scene and of incident, and both London with its theatres and streets, and the lonely Cornwall farm to which her unhappy marriage takes Columbine, become almost too real. Genuine dramatic power is shown in the ending.
The Greater Fellowship25 is an excellent love story, with an unusually interesting setting, Persian life, from the point of view of the foreign resident. The local color has the charm of faroff days, and of nature beauty full of the fascination of strangeness; moreover, it is not spoiled by being overdone, though the temptation to heap up detail must have been strong. The title hints an underlying theme which carries the tale into regions deeper than those of mere romance.
There is something over-plausible in the character-interpretations in The Street Called straight26 where one man’s wrong-doing calls two others to the rescue, and the young American hero and the young English hero vie with each other in chivalry. The story moves smoothly, too smoothly on; the people concerned do all that could be asked, but in a fashion which suggests rather perfectly adjusted machinery than struggling human nature, and which results in a certain finished commonplaceness.
Eve Triumphant,27 by Pierre de Coulevain, is a story of large scope, dealing with the lives of two American women who lose the coldness of temperament supposed to belong to the type, drink deep of passion, and, after suffering, reach happiness. The types as presented are amusingly remote from the American, or any other race, and one wonders why the story received the honor bestowed upon it by the French Academy, as it seems to have neither the closeness of observation nor the depth of thought that go to the making of genuine interpretation of experience.
Over the Pass28 is a refreshingly real story, and, full as it is of a sense of companionship with cloud and with mountain, with man and with beast, it represents something vitally and lastingly true. It has much of the spice of adventure, more than a touch of poetry, and something of genuine philosophy. One is grateful for the good taste shown in the ending; unlike most of the idyllic stories of nowadays it does not restore to the hero on the last page the millions that he has renounced, but leaves him leading a genuinely simple life close to the heart of nature.
The Labyrinth of Life29 has, both in the setting and in the character-study, a cosmopolitan quality. It represents, against a Parisian background, the struggle of a young man of poetic temperament with the hard realities of life. There comes a crash which means apparent failure, but at the end the broken pieces are picked up and put together, with a touch of fine philosophy on the part of both author and hero. The book is full of promise, the earlier part especially showing a certain brilliancy of workmanship.
Sarrow30though a melancholy tale, without, perhaps, adequate cause for the melancholy, has much that is appealing in its rendering of enduring passion on the part of a child of an ancient race for the ancestral home. The mellow beauty of the spot which had for centuries been the abidingplace of the family, is interpreted with full poetic sense of the charm that may come to places long associated with human lives. Possibly, in future days, antiquarians may turn to the book to study a type of English lord and his environment when both have become obsolete through swiftly-changing social conditions.
The Matador of the Five Towns31 is made up of stories and sketches, somewhat heavily freighted with relevant and irrelevant detail, making one wonder if Mr. Bennett did not pack away in these tales all the stuff which was left over and would not go into the novels, as one packs into the last boxes in moving the miscellaneous accumulations of a life-time. The inanities of ‘The Baby’s Bath,’ the imitative insincerities of‘The Death of Simon Fuge,’are relieved by more genuine studies of life, as in the story which gives its name to the volume, yet one closes the book wondering whether it may not be possible, in time, to get tired of the Five Towns.
One seldom encounters in a novel closer and more significant treatment of local conditions than one finds in The Mountain Girl.32 The beauty of the spot, the quaintness and picturesqueness of the life are vividly rendered, with many an imaginative touch in its study of reality, and the lives and the passions of the people are inwrought in the very fibre of the spot. The last part of the book, however, is so different that it might have been written by another author, and the devices borrowed from the paper-covered type of fiction regarding the identity of the English lord, and the journey of the young wife to the ancestral castle with the heir in her arms, are hackneyed and commonplace.
Greyfriars Bobby33 retells with art as simple as it is true to life a beautiful bit of Scotch history. This long watch of fourteen years of the little skye-terrier above his master’s grave is one of the great love stories of all time, and it is hard to see how it could be more sympathetically recorded. Not even Dr. John Brown could penetrate further into the heart of a dog than this author has done; and with the interpretation of the dog comes, in the concrete and vivid sketch of background and of minor characters, fine interpretation of the soul of things Scotch. There is constant, stirring incident; one follows with increasing interest the fortunes of the heroic little central personage of the tale, which, as a friend of mine recently remarked, is the only one among recent novels that has a real hero. One cannot help wishing that the book might go to all homes where there are children, and all libraries from which children draw books, for it will have untold influence in quickening imaginative sympathy with suffering animals, — and we all know that it is the mere lack of power to understand which is the cause of the greater part of the cruelty to dumb and gentle beasts.
The Judgments of the Sea34 contains vigorous and stirring tales, regarding vigorous people, and they are as refreshing to encounter as the sting of salt sea air. They show a wholesome touch of that idealization for which any human type is the better, abundant humor, and a good eye for droll character contrasts. Strength, rather than delicacy of workmanship, characterizes their execution.
Ensign Russell35 is full of crisp and brisk adventures, wherein we follow, with interest and with amusement, character in the making. The initial story, and ‘The Paths of Judgment’ may be especially recommended.
A Local Colorist36 contains a few stories, which are told in the quietest possible fashion; yet they are so full of close and subtle observation that they make many of the earlier studies of rustic life seem obvious and superficial. The ironic humor, and the sympathetic keenness shown here, make one wish that the little volume contained twice as many tales.
Her Little Young Ladyship,37 by Myra Kelly is full of the humor and of the keen insight into human nature which mark all the work of this author. The book is most entertaining, but it lacks something of the distinction of the stories which were close studies of differing humble types of human nature, for the plot involving the English lord and his villain brother keeps reminding one that it has been used before, and that, I think, is something that never occurred in reading about the Little Citizens.
An unabridged translation from the Russian of The Brothers Karamazov,38 by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the first of a series including his more important work, — with the exception of Poor Folk, —dwarfs, in weight and in significance, the seventy volumes of original contribution to American and English fiction before me. It is difficult to suggest all the reasons for the spell which draws one again and again from lighter and more entertaining pieces of fiction back to this unwieldy book. Huge as it is, it is but a fragment of the work originally projected, being one of the five parts planned. M. Waliszewski, in his History of Russian Literature, expresses the opinion that this, though a book touching almost every chord of the human soul, and a most invaluable treasury of information concerning Russian life, may, perhaps, never be accessible to the average European reader, because of its lack of form, of measure, and of proportion. It is difficult, however, to think that sins against rhetorical rule could keep any intelligent reader and thinker from becoming acquainted with work so great and so remarkable. We seem to be in the presence of some awful reality of life, beyond the power of the mere literary artist to produce, in this story of the debauched nobleman and his sons, of parricide and wrong suspicion. Against this cloudy background the face of Alexey Karamazov, the youngest of the sons, who resembles his innocent and persecuted mother, shines out like a star. Not only the main personages of the book, but minor characters, the monk Zossima, made holy by hard trial, the disgraced officer, the village idiot, seem to live their lives before us, as do the persecuted child and tortured animals.
Dostoevsky, in his better work, achieves the great feat of telling his deepest thought, his profoundest feeling, in the simple forms of the life that he knows, telling it concretely, and so close to every-day happenings that we are compelled to see and hear. Mystic, visionary, he is also a realist, and the difference between his work and that of the mere observers may be seen in the depth of significance wherewith mere details are invested, as, for instance, in Poor Folk, the button which poor Makar Djevuschkin finds hanging by a thread from his coat, when he is summoned before his Excellency, and which he nervously fingers until it rolls across the floor, carrying with it the weight of a whole drama of poverty and of devotion. This genius for making commonplace details instinct with deep meaning was as apparent in Dostoevsky’s first story as in the later work, but his power grew greater because experience and suffering brought deeper understanding for him to express.
If this colossal narrative seems somewhat shapeless, it is yet so full of insight into eternal truth, so pervaded by a great personality, that it seems unified, however episodic, however many trails of human experience it follows. Less of an artist than either of his great countrymen, Tourgenieff or Tolstoï, he is, in a certain sense, more profound even than the latter, for the depth and the cruelty of his experience carried him further toward the heart of the meaning of life. The tragedy of poverty he reveals, not as one who watches, studies, sympathizes, and tries to share, but as one who is a part of its inner agony. Poverty, however, was the least of his sufferings. Nature had inflicted him with epilepsy; his country, for his radical views, had imposed upon him punishment cruel beyond conception, in leading him out to execution, then, at the last moment, commuting the sentence to four years’ exile in Siberia. Both nature and his country he forgave, because of the deeper insight won through pain and the opportunity to share more fully the lot of his suffering fellows. If his mind sometimes trails away into strange regions, and there is now and then, as in Crime and Punishment, something of morbid psychology in his themes, it is but natural. This, too, he seems to say, is a part of human experience for me to share; there is nothing alien or beyond the touch of my sympathy.
If his work, then, reflects much of the trouble of earthly things, it has, too, something of direct vision into the infinite, and perhaps none of his novels show this more clearly than does The Brothers Karamazov. His eyes look out from Calvary. The youth, Alexey,seeing,but not sharing,the evil; the Idiot, in the book of that name, whose mind nature has closed upon all ordinary passions, the love of gain and kindred lusts, to open them upon things eternal, best represent , perhaps, a certain detachment in Dostoevsky. One is ever and again reminded of Browning’s Lazarus, in “Karshish,” whose sojourn in the grave had carried him beyond the reach of human things, so that ever after, all mere affairs of every day seemed dwarfed and unimportant in the light of understanding of that which is beyond fluctuation and change.
Dostoevsky represents, not so much struggle, tragedy, as the moment beyond, of vision and forgiveness, for he won his way through full understanding of evil to the great peace of not condemning, the pity born of suffering. When we find him saying, ‘Father and teachers, I ponder, What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love,’ we feel a searching activity of sympathy which makes the Tolstoï doctrine of non-resistance seem passive and non-effective, in the presence of this active outpouring of love to all fellow creatures.
- White Ashes. By SIDNEY R. KENNEDY and ALDEN C. NOBLE. The Macmillan Co.↩
- The Guests of Hercules. By C. and N. WILLIAMSON. Doubleday, Page, & Co.↩
- The Department Store. By MARGARETTE BÖHME. D. Appleton & Co.↩
- The Friar of Wittenberg. By WILLIAM STEARNS DAVIS. The Macmillan Co.↩
- Beyond the Law. By MIRIAM ALEXANDER. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.↩
- The Lone Adventure. By HALLIWELL SUTCLIFFE.↩
- Through the Postern Gate. By FLORENCE BARCLAY. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.↩
- The Man in Lonely Land. By KATE LANGLEY BOSHER, Harper & Bros.↩
- The Lovers of Sanna. By MARY STEWART CUTTING. McBride, Nast, & Co.↩
- Alexander s Bridge. By WILLA S. CATHER. Houghton Mifflin Co.↩
- The Old Nest. By RUPERT HUGHES. The Century Co.↩
- The Citadel. By SAMUEL MERWIN. The Century Co.↩
- The White Waterfall. By JAMES FRANCIS DWYER. Doubleday, Page & Co.↩
- Cap’n Martha Mary. By BY AVERY The Century Co.↩
- Buttered Side Dawn. By BY EDNA The Frederick A. Stokes Co.↩
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- Stover at Yale. By OWEN JOHNSON. The Frederick A, Stokes Co.↩
- Fathers of Men. By E. W. HORNUNG. Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- The Charioteers. By MARY TAPPAN WRIGHT. D. Appleton & Co.↩
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- The Greater Fellowship. By RACHEL CRAVEN SCHAUFFLER, The Macmillan Co.↩
- The Street Called Straight. By the author of The Inner Shrine. Harper & Bros.↩
- Eve Triumphant, By PIERRE DE COULEVAIN. Trans, by ALYS HALLARD. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.↩
- Over the Pass. By FREDERICK PALMER. Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- The Labyrinth of Life. By E. A. VALENTINE. E. P. Dutton & Co.↩
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- The Matador of the Five Towns. By ARNOLD BENNETT. The George H. Doran Co.↩
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- A Local Colorist. By ANNIE TRUMBULL SLOSSON. Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- Her Little Young Ladyship. By MYRA KELLY. Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- The Brothers Karamazov. By FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY. Trans. by CONSTANCE GARNETT. The Macmillan Co.↩