The Strong Hours
by Houghton Mifflin Company. 1919. 12mo, x+ 497 pp. $1.90.. Boston:
The Strong Hours is an incomparable reduction of one fixed type of novel to its ultimate distillate. The reduction is accomplished, in some 175,000 words, by a firm professional hand as guiltless of mannerism as of style, and working with a touch neither light nor heavy, but just neat. The type reduced is that species of popular melodrama in which the mirror is held up to the common consciousness of us all. The average qualities are exhibited to average persons in a light which neither enhances nor upsets the average human being’s self-esteem. What is noteworthy about this book, even among its own kind, is the inclusiveness with which it accepts and utilizes all the common traits, overlooking no possible opportunity to reassure us common readers that we are being approved of and patted on the back, and in no sense patronized or made game of. Every aspiration and sentiment and prejudice is recognized, every loyalty applauded. The ordinary human limitations arc standardized. This book should achieve the ideal rapprochement between author and audience. Morally and intellectually, the author is the audience.
The plot crystallizes about Schonberg, an Anglo-German financier who exerts a considerable leverage in British political and commercial life before the war, and who, during the war, works with stealthy power as a centre of defeatism and, presumably, espionage. He represents, of course, the Prussian character and the German ante-bellum methods of ‘peaceful penetration.’ Bound up with his destiny are the personal fortunes of the chief protagonists, a peer’s two sons and their friends and associates. The peer is busy governing India, and conies home at the end only to die. His elder son, Van, an amiable drifter, is fast in the toils of Schonberg. The younger son, Derek, an energetic patriot, after being shattered in France and reconstructed at home, wins the girl his brother had aspired to, foils the machinations of Schonberg, takes his brother’s place in the father’s esteem, saves the family honor, and in brief partakes of every fortune appropriate to the hero of poetically just melodrama.
Throughout these 500 pages one is deftly prompted to despise or hate, admire or pity, in precisely those ways which are best calculated to put one on genial terms with one’s self. Schonberg is not only wicked: he has slightly dirty finger-nails. Derek is a more than normally inarticulate young Britisher; but the author or someone always stands ready to reveal the treasures of meaning underneath his silences. A part of the implied argument is anti-demoeratic: but all the aristocrats are made personally more democratic than democracy. And — final proof of the author’s dexterity in establishing terms with her public — the characters whom we are made to respect hope and pray throughout the war for exactly the kind of peace which Versailles did in the end formulate.
Not in the period of and since the war have we seen so perfect a matching of the demand by the supply. Whoever, wishes to make the acquaintance of the vast novel-reading public as it is, can compass the task in a day by reading The Strong Hours, and thereby save himself many laborious researches. W. F.