The Secret City: A Novel in Three Parts

By HUGH WALPOLE. New York: George H. Doran Company. 1919. 12mo, 386 pp. $1.60.
MR. WALPOLE is a novelist who responds sensitively to both persons and places; perhaps more sensitively to places than to persons. In the definably new phase of his work represented by The Dark Forest and The Secret City, the chief of his powers seems to be the evocation of an intensely real atmosphere out of the accord between persons and their environments.
The environment of The Secret City is the Petrograd of the 1917 Revolution, a city which is to Mr. Walpole what others commonly deny it to be — the heart of Russia. The central persons are Semyonov, the Russian sensualist and cynic of The Dark Forest, turned mystical idealist by the death of the woman he loves, craving reunion with her in death, yet too proud to take his own life; Markovitch, a futile, impractical, pathetic man whom Semyonov manages to hound by spiritual tortures into killing both Semyonov and himself; Vera, the wife of Markovitch. a placid and maternal young woman made suddenly torrential by the passion of love; Lawrence, the inarticulate Englishman who returns her passion; Nina, the young sister of Vera; Grogoff, the anarchist with whom Nina lives when she has run away from her family; Bohun, another Englishman, young, quixotic, and absurd, who rescues and marries Nina; and Durward, the mild-mannered, self-effacing Englishman of The Dark Forest, who is there again as observer.
But it is Petrograd in revolution. Petrograd expressing in revolution the multifarious aspects of the chaotic Russian temper itself, which is the most real character of all. The Russians in the book are children of the city; the English characters are drugged with the sense of its crowds and its emptiness, its tumults and its silences. It is characteristic of Mr. Walpole’s peculiar gift that he should have undertaken to write about some Russians, and left instead a more vivid impression of Russia; that he should have started from the idea that there is ‘a secret city in every man’s heart,’ at whose altars ‘the true prayers are offered,’and ended by making the actual physical city more mysterious than even the hearts of men. W. F.