The War as Critic: Some Notes on Recent Fiction
WAR is the great satirist, the great cynic: more than ever now, in a world so shrunken that all thoughtful people live at the centre of it. However the future may judge of the war as creator, the least prophetic can hardly have escaped seeing it as supreme and universal critic. A destroyer, this war, and a leveler; a teacher of unfaith, a testing scourge for men and movements, for ideas and creeds. Many things we shall never countenance again on the old terms; many other things have dropped quite out of mind, as not worth even the glance of retrospect — illusions that could only quail and shrivel in the glare of war the critic. In a world filled with the spectacle of death, nothing can seem quite the same thing; nothing can survive except by multiplying its claims and paying a higher price for survival.
It would be foolish to expect that any great proportion of our art could pay the suddenly increased cost. The world’s collective conscience has grown in thirty months a good deal faster than the individual artist’s knowledge, and the only artist who has much to say to us is he who once had more than we would receive. It would be equally foolish to expect very many of our canons and modes of criticism to suffice — canons and modes developed mostly for praise of him who could ‘simply sing the most heart-easing things.’ Whatever we interpret art, and more particularly the art of fiction, as meaning or as being worth, it is certain that some small pettifogging ways of interpreting it are swept away, for the present and perhaps forever, in the same flood that carries off so much other wreckage of our cluttered modern world — the flood of history at the full, broken over its dykes and raging, the so terribly renewed and still renewing bath of blood.
The plain truth is that this war has taken the pen out of the hand of the individual critic and put it into the hand of the multitude. The only fiction which remains tolerable at all is that which speaks in a clear voice to some direct human needs created or reëmphasized by the war; the only standard of criticism worth raising is the sum of those very needs. Art must be, as never before, a ministry to need; criticism must be, as never before, the quick response of need ministered to, the indifferent silence of need ignored or travestied. Thus the war becomes, not merely a critic, but the only critic of enough scope and candor to meet the requirements of the hour.
To say that we are impatient with this and that thing which might have pleased us three years ago is not enough, though it is something. To say that we have welcomed this and that thing which could not have pleased us three years ago is not enough, though it is much. To this extent at least we have submitted to war’s destructive criticism of our former selves. But the criticism is constructive, too; for the war, indiscriminately wrecking, has taught us to discriminate. Some things, more precious than we had known, we must cling to the more fondly because they are threatened. We have been forced to prove how few were the things we really wanted, how many the incumbrances we merely thought we wanted. Strong indeed must be the moorings of any collective faith which is not swept away now; full indeed of inward light must be any ideal which can still seem to shine for any great number of eyes, while the shadow of these black condor wings is passing over it. Whatever appears beautiful now is beautiful, has something of the eternal in it.
More than once of late I have had the fancy that the war tests as only time has been supposed to do, by attrition and perspective, so that criticism has achieved all in a moment something of that detachment from its object which is considered so great an advantage. However that may be, it is immeasurably harder of a sudden for the novelist to make us attend to his affairs. If we attend, it is to affairs great enough for survival after a real struggle. And this is the constructive mission of the war as critic: to reveal to us, shining in the darkened world, those finalities which even the shadow of death cannot eclipse, however the shadows of lesser things may have dimmed them for us when the world was not so dark.
Not that any one would wish the artist in fiction to be preoccupied exclusively with the physical facts of war. A year ago when Mr. Conrad, dedicating his latest volume of stories, called them, as though in fond contempt, a ‘sheaf of care-free ante-bellum pages,’ it was with alarm that we caught the possible implication. We would not have him in the least repress, withhold, or consciously change himself.
Indeed, the possible failure of the ‘timely’ book is well illustrated in the contrast between two recent novels, A Strong Man’s House1 and The Winged Victory.2 The first tries to prove that no good can come of England’s war, because no good can come of evil, to the doer or to any one. Several things might be said of this thesis, even on the large assumption that England’s war is evil. One of them is that it discards the whole meaning of Christianity, a religion founded on a crime of violence. Mme. Grand, with no attempt at special timeliness, understands the basis of Christianity, which is also the basis of her title and her story. ‘Good may be made to flow from evil. On a little table . . . stood a crucifix, symbol of the greatest crime ever committed upon earth, yet with what glorious results! ’ The Winged Victory, with all its diffusion, levity unutilized, and melodrama, is a true study of woman in transition. The wronged heroine who, fifty years ago, would have thought it common decency to die of a broken heart, can do no less now than live, making the world a present of ‘sympathy so widened and deepened, and of understanding so enriched by experience.’ A Strong Man’s House portrays a house of weak-willed women whose rebellion against war is prompted by nothing beyond its physiological horror; they will never understand the sense in which, as Ruskin said and the great moralists agree, it is better to slay your neighbor than to cheat him. The Winged Victory is a prevision of what women of strong heart can mean to the reconstructed post-bellum world — and the glimpse is enough to earn our praise and gratitude.
The quest is not, then, for books that deal circumstantially with this hour of history: it is for books which cannot be dwarfed by our awareness of the present. Mme. Grand’s book — its kinship is with The Heavenly Twins of nearly twenty-five years ago — happens to be one of an unusually interesting group of stories which come to us as across a gulf, from writers wholly or partly of the past. The posthumous Tutor’s Story of Kingsley, edited as he would have wished by his daughter ‘Lucas Malet,’3 may stand abashed on the shelf with Alton Locke and Westward Ho! but it does at least prove that its author’s ‘muscular Christianity’ is inherently stronger than some tolerated modern kinds of egoism. We turn, not too unsparingly, the screw of contrast when we compare The Tutor’s Story with Mrs. Harrison’s own Damaris,4 an enervated and rather decadent story of official life in India. Damaris would have marked the present limit of futility were it not for Rodmoor,5 the queerest novel of the season, without exception the most exquisitely written, and the most undeviating in the moral ghastliness of its pessimism — the pessimism of a cold and subtle connoisseur in spiritual poisons.
Enoch Craned,6 our latest and perhaps our last direct glimpse of F. Hopkinson Smith, adds nothing to our appreciation of his wonderful urbanity. He was of those who are most lovable when seen and heard; in print his rarity was often thin to extinction; it was not to be expected that another could preserve it. But The Mysterious Stranger,7 a fanciful tale of the sixteenth century, is as full-flavored as Mr. Howells’s recent study8 of primitive religious hysteria. This satirical romance has for a moment the disconcerting effect of turning Mark Twain himself into a mysterious stranger, until we see how at a stroke it has reëdited for us the man and all his work. For in this story of inversions — no God at all, a near relative of the devil for hero, man for victim, man’s Moral Sense become the prime agent of evil — we have nothing less than Mark Twain’s philosophy. Man’s ‘foolish little life’ is ‘but a laugh, a sigh, and extinction’; the individual has ‘a billion possible careers, but not one of them . . . worth living.’ The irony is often ruthless, as here in summary of man’s genius for bloodshed: ‘A few centuries from now he will so greatly have improved the deadly effectiveness of his weapons of slaughter that all men will confess that without Christian civilization war must have remained a poor and trifling thing to the end of time.’ Yet the general effect is to deepen and intensify, not shatter, our former sense of Mark Twain’s attitude toward humanity — the most kindly solicitude there could be, and the least interfering. The message is the message of pessimistic misanthropy, but the voice is the voice of pity.
The war has not only not corroded, it has visibly burnished, whatever elements are sound in these belated and posthumous works. That it has done the same for the taste of many readers we may believe also, thanks partly to the new and enlarged public which has been found in the last two years for two volumes of W. H. Hudson’s cooling and sumptuous prose9 — the one republished after more than ten years, the other after more than thirty.
When we come to books directly occupied with the war, we find it harder to tell the signs of mere goodness from those of permanent worth. For the war is a human enough critic to be weakest in judgment of his own immediate concerns. Men who agree strangely on most of the fundamental questions about which the war has made them think will still differ flatly in their attitudes toward the war, toward all war. Until war has come to mean the same thing to a great part of mankind, most of the books about it will seem limited, didactic, and ex parte. Time is the only real critic of wars — and this war is still in the blind-spot of time.
But at least we can make the fundamental distinction between honest and dishonest; we can tell those who have sought light from those who have preferred darkness — and that by a test so simple that the least wise can apply it. The chief moral result of this war is that it has shattered the egocentric universe and built up in its place the sense of ‘living in the whole.’ No humanely thinking or feeling man, no man not impregnably barricaded behind his own self-importance, can any longer tolerate himself except by trying to get outside himself. Individualism is not good enough. It is either too intelligent to be human, or too unintelligent to be even diabolical. We may fight in the war or against it, we may hope or despair about its effect on civilization, we may suspend judgment and try to find out what it means; but we may not decently patronize it. It is not a timely dispensation for providing us with copy, or rounding off our stories, or filling our pockets, or improving our minds, or mitigating our boredom; and from the impoverished cynicism which takes it so, Good Lord deliver us! ‘All ambitions are lawful except those which climb upward on the miseries ... of mankind.’
Unhappily, A Strong Man’s House is not the only book in which the war dances attendance on the faddling concerns of mawkish people. The author of The Three Things10 allows her hero, a rather callow young American, to treat the war as a moral gymnasium (Mr. Bernard Shaw’s expression) for exercising his undeveloped virtues of democracy, faith, and forgiveness, and as a deus ex machina for providing him with a wife. The Woman of Mystery11 makes hatred and revenge as selfishly and narrowly personal as they are in a penny-dreadful got up for anæmic bellboys. Quaker Born,12 after an impressive account of how its hero’s inherited philosophy toppled, degenerates into a farce of calf-love, jealousy, and triumph over a discomfited rival. The honest brutality of Action Front,13 a plain blunt soldierly account of how men in the trenches actually conduct the business of killing, is far preferable to such sophisticated prettiness. To defer exclusively to one’s sensibilities is even more unsatisfactory than to have none.
It is interesting to compare various novelists’ methods of trying to put the war into a story which would probably have been told anyhow, and to do it without belittling the war and ruining the story. Mr. Eden Phillpotts, in The Green Alley,14 tells a story indistinguishable from many of his earlier ones (except that this time it is hops instead of pottery or slate or fishing) until the very dénouement, where the illegitimate elder brother, a stoic, and the legitimate younger brother, a hotheaded egoist, have come to grips as rivals in love. The war breaks upon them as a corrective, taking the one from his bliss, the other from his disappointment, and restoring them to a brotherly unity in service. Also, we are given a vision of the war performing the same office, that of critic of living, for other folk all over Kent, all over England. It is stirring, and one feels that it is true. In itself, it at least keeps a just proportion between the war and the individual.
Yet one must praise The Green Alleys with reservations — two at least. First, Mr. Phillpotts, who really never has much of anything to say for himself and has won prestige on the system of getting other people, the most garrulous in the known world, to do his talking for him, deals here as specially as ever in the garrulous, the quaint; and when, in the last chapters, he ‘lets out’ the war to his rustics, as a subject for their droning quaintness, one feels that he has belittled the war indirectly after all, by letting it be handled, or mouthed, as any other subject. Second, Mr. Phillpotts has always written novels by formula without insisting on any of the real advantages of formula, — firm architecture, for example, — and when in this story the war deprives us of the proper Phillpottsian dénouement, we rejoice in the acceleration and the surprise more than we regret the lost chapters. Which is to say that we rejoice in an artistic defect — as in a really firstrate story we could never do.
The adjustment in The Dark Tower,15 though logical enough, is hardly more satisfying. This story begins as a comedy of manners written with more than ordinary gusto. Then it proceeds to mix the genres by becoming a desperate love-story, and getting the married hero into such an impasse that a heroic death in Flanders has to be provided. The man is, to be sure, a brave soldier, and deserves no less; but the death seems ready-made.
More subtle and more just is the blending of love with war in The Wonderful Year.16 Here a somewhat restored and rejuvenated William J. Locke touches with delicate fingers the mystery of race, and shows us in personal and local terms the conditions which breed inter-racial confidence and understanding. An Anglo-Swiss teacher of French and an English girl, both pretentious failures at home, learn life and love all over again through menial work in the heart of France (not Paris: ‘Paris . . . may be the liver, the spleen, the pancreas — whatever giblets you please—of France; but it is not its heart ’), and when the war comes it is for consummation of these new selves through joyous sacrifice. The meaning is the oldest and the newest, that of all art and all morals: ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’ The reward of sacrifice is for him who accepts the sacrifice without thought of the reward.
After all, the only effect of the war which we can as yet profitably know and measure is its effect on distinguished yet representative individual souls. What it will do to the world is on the knees of the gods; but what it does to our humanists and idealists, what through them it is trying to do to the world — these are the heroic actualities of the hour.
The war as critic and moulder of the individual idealist is in fact the subject of two very different books which must take their places with Mr. Hugh Walpole’s Dark Forest among the finest records of the war in fiction. The Worn Doorstep17 is a tenderly beautiful idealization of sorrow which no one but Miss Sherwood could have written without spoiling it. Miss Sherwood herself could not have written it in the time of Daphne, since when she has greatly grown. And as for Mr. Britling,18 whose other name is Mr. Wells so far as the spiritual adventure is concerned, the thing he ‘ sees through ’ is the thing we hardly saw the beginning of a year earlier, when The Research Magnificent was written. For ten years Mr. Wells had a perception of the waste entailed by the world’s obstinate refusal to let its brilliant wayward men do exactly as they pleased without penalty — and now he has a perception of God. The book is important as a picture of England at war. But it is more important as the history of a private conscience which runs the gamut from malignity to forgiveness. Mr. Britling is at the outset a man ahead of most, and the war takes him far, far ahead of himself. There is a point where he idealizes hate as a form of creative energy; there is another point, after his glimpse of ‘blackened ruins in the town behind, the little grey-faced corpses, the lives torn and wasted, the hopes extinguished and the gladness gone,’ where he can whisper, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ The distance between these points is the measure of the peak Mr. Wells has climbed. That so great a man can now look backward and downward upon so large a part of himself is also another measure of the war’s effectiveness as critic of living and of thinking.
Because the war subjects our institutions, our philosophies, our very consciences to more rigorous judgments, a great deal of recent realistic fiction is conceived in some such mood as that of Mr. Britling — the mood of selfexamination and penitence. Of course no one can write of a time before the war as though the war had not come: it is inevitable that the novelist should now scrutinize that strangely remote ante-bellum world in order to find out what was the matter with it. The bases of Western society are probably to receive such an overhauling as the artist, at least, has never given them. The task of the serious-minded social historian is to show us, in that past which could not decipher its own oracles, the thousand obscure hints of what was to be, of what now is; and to do so with an eye to the future, lest old errors unrectified endanger us still. The whole English-speaking world is open, as in modern times it has not been, to the experience denoted in the fine old theological phrase ‘conviction of sin.’
In a novel packed with the domestic, industrial, professional, and artistic life of the mid-Victorian time,19 Mr. Gilbert Cannan puts these summarizing reflections into the mind of a disillusioned hero who contrasts his tawdry present with his boyhood’s dream of the future.
‘ So this ... is what lay beyond the Blue Mountains; this is what they have made of life and it does n’t look as if we were going to make it much better. John with his lungs half gone; Tom turning into one huge trouser-pocket full of money; myself running after colored gas-light dreams; mother eating her heart out because the Lawries are n’t as important as the Keiths. . . . Good God! I don’t know what is going on in my own life, and if that knowledge is impossible how can I expect any other?’ And again, ‘Tyre and Sidon were real places, you know, mother, and I think they must have been very like South Lancashire, without the smoke.’
Mr. Cannan’s novel is one of a distinguished group in which the British middle-class respectable family bears the brunt of this self-criticism. ‘The word “home” was a mockery. It should stand for the dearest and the purest known to man, but there the evil was most firmly seated. Every house in the street was a place of authority, within each a man like Peter Leslie enthroned in an easy-chair, a dead man at a dead end.’
These words are in Three Sons and a Mother; but the sense of them is equally in The Family20and These Lynnekers,21 two other novels of considerable distinction, one more, the other less carping than Three Sons and a Mother. All three books are extraordinarily full and readable footnotes to The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler’s analysis of the tyranny, dullness, and narrow obscurantism in British family life, a satire still gaining readers and influence. These Lynnekers is a fine novel by almost any criterion. Better than the trilogy of Jacob Stahl, it illustrates its author’s gift of joining perfect candor with exalted emotional beauty whenever he touches such great enduring realities as ambition, death, and love. Above all, the hero, Richard Lynneker, though no genius, is made lovable and at last positively resplendent through what one may call the genius of absolute normality.
From The Sins of the Children,22 a sincere but jejune attempt to show that most of the difficult problems of life would not exist if parents would be frank enough with their children, much less satisfaction is to be got; and in Watermeads,23 an amiable record of a county family’s struggle to keep up appearances, the competence of the workmanship hardly makes up for the emptiness of subject and characters. In Mr. Hamilton’s book, argument crowds out truth; in Mr. Marshall’s, where there is no argument, mere symmetrical prettiness of plot crowds it out. Professor Phelps, accepting the usual comparison between Mr. Marshall and Trollope, frankly pities those who do not enjoy both. Well, the present scribe — child of error he may be — remembers Trollope’s people from years before he knew them for classic, whereas the survival of Mr. Marshall’s people, even with the foreknowledge that it is proper to remember them, is a question of hours. This is perhaps as sound an argument as pity.
Reaction against a narrow and cramping expediency is the prime impulse of several novels which treat of men and women, not married but marriageable, and which mean most when read as appeals to women against a selfish sterility. The ‘slaves of freedom’ of Mr. Dawson’s novel24 and the ‘trufflers’ of Mr, Merwin’s25 are the people who enjoy, as Mr. Dawson puts it, ‘ the excitement of skating over the treacherous thin ice of sex’ while refusing its fixed obligations. The Wall Street Girl26 is a prettily conventional love story of a young man’s choice between a working girl who is real woman and an idle girl who is ‘rose-colored dust’ — our only question being whether he is inherently quite deserving of his reward. Mr. Arnold Bennett, in a work not of his most serious,27 portrays again that unquenchable feminine impudence in which he specializes; but even Audrey Moze, with her voracious appetite for every drop that can be squeezed out of the orange of life, renounces feminism-rampant for marriage. The Chorus28 is a skillful and rather hard study of a girl of quite different destinations, the born fille de joie; her composition lacks the something of innate responsibility which in the end rules Mr. Bennett’s heroine. Nelly Hayes is summed up in a coolblooded connoisseur’s description of the ring which symbolizes her: ‘The man who made it certainly had talent . . . but he bungled the setting. It did n’t last.’ In Love and Lucy,29 a story of love in and after marriage, Mr. Hewlett turns from his trafficking in literary cosmetics and toilet waters, to give us in pure comic distillate the story of the wife who falls in love with her husband.
All these, except possibly the two last named, are inspired by a Meredithian vision of ‘the heroical feminine type for the worship of mankind, an image as yet in poetic outline only, on our upper skies,’ but eager for incarnation, we dare not doubt, as now she hears the call of the world’s great need of her.
In the fiction of intricate social relations and adjustments the American novelist is more often a bungling tyro than not, and that for the traditional reason, our lack of a coherent society in which ideas circulate freely and are at home. In such a society the novelist is spared half his task of criticism: his ideas are appraised automatically by the fineness or coarseness of the persons who embody them, and those persons in turn are already appraised by a ripe tradition of breeding. Our want of such patterns to work from is still the sign of our spiritual youth, crudity, and preoccupation with the turbid and the material.
Other novels, the very opposites of the timely and regional, commit themselves to themes of wider scope. And in the list we find several to hold us — but, oddly, not where we first look for them, among accounts of genius or of exceptional talent. The best of these is hardly so good as to make us wish the group larger.
Olga Bardel30 is the best from England. Olga is a pianist of low birth. At first cheaply exploited as an infant prodigy, she finally achieves her full stature as a woman; not, it seems, as an artist. In The Sailor,31 Mr. Snaith still holds to his favorite theory of creative genius as a kind of inspired stupidity, occurring without preparation in individuals who know not what they do. Witte Arrives,32 our American best, carries far more conviction: the Russian Jew who is its hero does know precisely what he is about, and ‘arrives’ at citizenship and authorship by credible stages. We do not believe in Mr. Maxwell Gray’s World-Mender,33 a shorn Samson whose Delilah is too tawdry a creature to have spoiled any idealist of real strength; nor do we feel that Ledgar Dunstan quite deserves his success as a novelist, recorded in a book woefully overloaded with anecdotal asides which will prove most useful to the jaded after-dinner speaker.34 Even ‘realizing God in the soul’ is a mystical experience of which it is possible to make an insistently selfish personal necessity, as a young clergyman does in No Graven Image.35 Mr. Comfort is still at his task of manufacturing ‘world men’ out of the stress of international mystery and melodrama,36 and we still respect his ideas far more gladly than we do the people through whose stories he expresses them. In general, this half-year of the novel has not been too prosperous for the person with a mission.
Nor, it must be added, has Mr. George Moore consoled us with his much heralded story of Jesus as one who renounced his mission. The Brook Kerith,37 an attempt to rationalize the Man of Galilee by turning each of his greatest utterances into something that anybody might have said, was bound to gain a notoriety out of all proportion to its intrinsic merit. Now that the angry cries of ‘blasphemy’ and ‘sacrilege ’ have ceased to echo, the real objection to this book is seen to be its lack of imagination, its almost unreadable dullness. A tortured Jesus saved from death by his friends and disciples might still be a great moralist and a world-figure; but a Jesus who is a weakling, a sort of decadent prose poet, — in short, Mr. George Moore in costume, — is simply not exciting at all. The best that can be said is that Mr. Moore, re-creating Jesus in his own image, has after all not produced so baseless a travesty as can be heard from a thousand pulpits and read in a thousand devout books. But there was something in Galilee which makes every one of us, skeptic and devotee alike, pitifully small when he measures himself by it — and none so small, in this day of ghastly heroisms, as he who despises everything and believes in nothing.
There is a thousand times more virtue in Julius LeVallon38 and The Wave,39 two magical fantasias of reincarnation; or in The White People,40 an exquisitely fanciful expression of the craving for some direct evidence of immortality; or in the six stories of Philosophers in Trouble,41 a philosopher’s assertions of the impotence of dialectic before the elemental needs of the human spirit. Let George Moore’s dead Christ have his curt dismissal in some words spoken in one of these stories about the living Christ: ‘His sayings are like great explosions, and His deeds are much the same. . . . He was man in so far as He did what was expected, and God in so far as He took the world by surprise.’
Another volume of tales, The Certain Hour,'42 is especially important because its elaborate preface and its ten stories constitute Mr. James Branch Cabell’s vindication of what we roughly call ‘romance.’ Reduced to baldness, the argument is this: Since first-rate art has never reproduced its own contemporary background (for some reason or other Mr. Cabell does not adduce Jane Austen in support of this truism), and since the novel of things-as-they-are calls for no constructive imagination whatever in author or reader, the present supply of ‘realism’ is nothing but the publisher’s answer to a cheap and fickle demand; and since the imaginative element in art is all but everything, the only artist who has a chance of longevity is he who shuns the ‘vital,’ the ‘gripping,’ and the contemporary.
With Mr. Cabell as practitioner of his own precept there is no quarrel. He studies in each of his Dizain des Poëtes, from Raimbaut de Vaquieras to his own John Charteris, that crucial ‘certain hour ’ which concentrates and crystallizes all the directions, the meanings, of a life; and several of the stories have the vibrancy and the quick vision of the best dramatic monologues of Browning. Moreover, Mr. Cabell is a born stylist who lovingly cultivates in himself the virtues of the made stylist. But, pace the stories and the style, there are some things to be said against the doctrine. And the most important of them is this: that whatever imagination may have been invoked in the past by the art which deals with the exceptional, the illustrious, the romantic, it is as nothing to the degree and kind of imagination needed now for the perception by men that they are all brothers, and their brothers’ keepers. So long as men grope and writhe through the night of their blindness to that vision, the imaginative truth of art will be that which helps them to an understanding of their oneness, the oneness of all living things. There is no other True Romance, be the outward trappings what they may.
It is fortunate that so important a truth can be urged at this moment in terms of so important a book as Casuals of the Sea,43 by all odds the most notable recent work of fiction from an author not previously known. Here is the sense of community, not realized indeed by the characters, but proposed by the author as the goal of their ignorant striving, and subtly made manifest every where in his own relation to them. Dedicating his story
The feckless wastage of our cunning schemes,
he finds it possible to add, —
And beauty I have seen in vagrant dreams.
His novel — we would not hear his enemy call it ‘ vagrant dream ’ — is Thackerayan in method, without the Thackerayan levity. Clear-headed ironist, adequate philosopher and analyst, using sometimes the inflection of mockery to guard himself from sentimentalism, this author has given us a movingly sad, not exactly a tragic tale of lovable ineffectual people hunting for a lost clue to life. And the clue, when we seek it for ourselves, is precisely our sympathy with them, our sense of being casuals of the sea together in the same boat, ‘going out with sealed orders’ into the night.
To those who cannot quite accept Mr. Cabell’s æsthetics, it is further gladdening that the one recent novel which contains the clearest glimpse of serene and timeless beauty should be also among the most local and realistic. Hatchways44 is not what its title suggests to the unread, a picture of galley slaves chained to their oars betweendecks while their masters and exploiters idly enjoy the view and the coolness above: it is an unpretentious social comedy of eight or nine unforgettable people, introduced to us at a country estate which gives its name to the book. Hatchways is one expression of its mistress, Mrs. Ernestine Redgate: like her, it is coolness and quietude, taste and beauty, a haven of all the perfections. To tired people, ‘ the very thought of Hatchways was peace. And it was they, needless to say, wanderers and ponderers in the world’s cause, — the worn official, the shrinking success, the conscious failure, — that Ernestine was really happy to have. Only not cranks — she avoided them; or they avoided her, we cannot be certain which. ‘Ernestine, and her husband as well, had a taste for sanity.’ The other, more intangible, expression of Ernestine is her silent and effortless smoothing out of many tangles in the lives of people who will never realize what she has done for them. Nor will she herself realize: it is all ‘no work of hers.’ To which the author, ‘It never is the work of people like Ernestine, you may have noticed; no doubt because they work with nature.’
Hatchways has received the stupid official frown of the London Athenœum for having nothing to do with the war. It has, really, everything. To begin with, Miss Sidgwick shows us the best of England and the best of France flashing out like released lightning to accept each other, in the time before the war. But there is a greater thing, which can be expressed only by saying that the book has swallowed the war, gulped it down, got outside of it without a thought of evasion. This is why every chapter has the tremulous and noble beauty of a face which, having once known and conquered the uttermost of sorrow, can thereafter smile — and wait.
Even the principled student of letters will at some time or other incontinently risk himself in prophecy; and at least one student is predicting that the twenty-first century will hear pens scratching (if there are any left then) in honor of this novelist’s centenary, as the present year hears them in honor of Jane Austen’s. One hopes it will be as late as possible in the twenty-first century.
- A Strong Man’s House. By FRANCIS NEILSON. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co.↩
- The Winged Victory. By SARAH GRAND. New York: D. Appleton & Co.↩
- The Tutor’s Story, An Unpublished Novel. By the late CHARLES KINGSLEY. Revised and Completed by His Daughter, LUCAS MALET (Mrs. Mary St. Leger Harrison). New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.↩
- Damaris. By LUCAS MALET. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.↩
- Rodmoor. By JOHN COWPER POWYS. New York: G, Arnold Shaw.↩
- Enoch Crane. By F. HOPKINSON SMITH and F. BERKELEY SMITH. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.↩
- The Mysterious Stranger. By MARK TWAIN. New York: Harper & Brothers.↩
- The Leatherwood God. Commented on in the Atlantic for March, 1917, pp. 369-70.↩
- A Crystal Age. By W. H. HUDSON.The Purple Land. By THE SAME. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.↩
- The Three Things. By MARY RAYMOND SHIPMAN ANDREWS. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.↩
- The Woman of Mystery. By MAURICE LEBLANC. New York: The Macaulay Company.↩
- Quaker-Born. By IAN CAMPBELL HANNAH. New York: G. Arnold Shaw.↩
- Action Front. By BOYD CABLE. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.↩
- The Green Alleys. By EDEN PHILLPOTTS. New York: The Macmillan Company.↩
- The Dark Tower. By PHYLLIS BOTTOME. New York: The Century Co.↩
- The Wonderful Year. By WILLIAM J. LOCKE. New York: John Lane Co.↩
- The Worn Doorstep. By MARGARET SHERWOOD. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.↩
- Mr. Britling Sees It Through. By H. G. WELLS. New York: The Macmillan Co.↩
- Three Sons and a Mother. By GILBERT CANNAN. New York: George II. Doran Co.↩
- The Family. By ELINOR MORDAUNT. New York: John Lane Go.↩
- These Lynnekers. By J. D. BERESFORD. New York: George H. Doran Co.↩
- The Sins of the Children. By COSMO HAMILTON. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.↩
- Watermeads. By ARCHIBALD MARSHALL. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.↩
- Slaves of Freedom. By CONINGSBY DAWSON. New York: Henry Holt & Co.↩
- The Trufflers. By SAMUEL MERWIN. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co.↩
- The Wall Street Girl. By FREDERICK ORIN BARTLETT. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co,↩
- The Lions Share. By ARNOLD BENNETT. New York: George H. Doran Co.↩
- The Chorus. By SILVIA LYND. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.↩
- Love and Lucy. By MAURICE HEWLETT. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co,↩
- Olga Bardel. By STACY AUMONIER. New York: The Century Co.↩
- The Sailor. By J. C. SNAITH. New York: D. Appleton & Co.↩
- Witte Arrives. By ELIAS TOBENKIN. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.↩
- The World-Mender. By MAXWELL GRAY. New York: D. Appleton & Co.↩
- The Rise of Ledgar Dunstan. By ALFRED TRESIDDER SHEPPARD. New York: D. Appleton & Co.↩
- No Graven Image. By HILDA P. CUMINGS. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.↩
- The Last Ditch. By WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT. New York: George H. Doran Co.↩
- The Brook Kerith. By GEORGE MOORE. New York: The Macmillan Co.↩
- Julius LeVallon. By ALGERNON BLACKWOOD. New York: E, P. Dutton & Co.↩
- The Wave. By ALGERNON BLACKWOOD. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.↩
- The White People. By FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT. New York: Harper & Brothers.↩
- Philosophers in Trouble. By L. P. JACKS. New York: Henry Holt & Co.↩
- The Certain Hour. By JAMES BRANCH CABELL. New York: Robert M. McBride & Co.↩
- Casuals of the Sea. By WILLIAM MCFEE. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.↩
- Hatchways. By ETHEL SIDGWICK. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co.↩