From Father to Son

By MARY S. WATTS. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1919. 12mo, 310 pp. $1.75.
IN her successive novels Mrs. Watts appears to become more and more content with her own proficiency in character-drawing, and correspondingly more careless whether she tells a good story, or any story. From Father to Son, probably her loosest performance taken as a structural whole, is not far from her best in the quality of its ingredients. It might almost be said of her, as it was of Dickens, that the characters are first-rate so long as they are kept out of the story. There is, moreover, this rather fine compensation to be got out of Mrs. Watts’s steady decline as a story-teller and just as steady growth as a delineator of individuals — that, without any loss of vividness when treating men and women as they are in themselves, she has gained power when presenting them as they are in their groups and classes, their families and communities. For instance, her really notable creation of Marshall Cook, the writer (who, by the way, steps across just enough of these pages to make the reader miss him from the rest), is in no way superior to her present treatment of all the Rudds collectively, their domestic and industrial fortunes, their staringly obvious pride and their furtive affections, their weddings and funerals and divorces and hobbies, their treatment of the occasional black sheep, their clannishness, and their fidelity to an inherited code.
From Father to Son is, in fine, the portrait of a family; and it is significant of the present direction of the author’s interest that Steven Rudd, the nominal hero, should Seem the least authentic and very much the least distinct item of the whole exhibit. The story told—that of a young idealist’s revolt against family and caste, pending the renewed mutual understanding brought about by the war — is already a cliché of popular realism. The moral continuity of the Rudds is merely travestied when it is made to turn on a national calamity, for it is inherently a force that must exert itself anyway. This novel owes its effectiveness less to the story of Steven Rudd and his father than to the great loops and festoons of Rudd history which dangle therefrom, like Spanish moss from the tree which it half conceals.
W. F.