Modes and Morals

by Katharine Fullerton Gerould. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1920. 12mo, viii+278 pp. $1.75.
IN Modes and Morals Mrs. Gerould has collected the genial and enlightening essays which have already given stimulus and satisfaction as separate papers in the Atlantic and elsewhere. This second blooming is as though cut flowers had miraculously taken root, and could thus diffuse their aroma over a much wider field. After closing the little volume, we carry away the delightful delusion of having listened to a brilliant dinner-companion, who, although she did most of the talking, yet left us with the agreeable glow of having been very intelligent listeners and of having supplied the sympathetic atmosphere which is half of good conversation.
Mrs. Gerould neither preaches nor too obviously teaches. She merely talks with great sanity and understanding, and with much sparkling humor, about subjects that interest us all. She is not a great reformer; she is not possessed with a passion for righting wrongs, and has no social specific with which to banish injustice from the earth. But she suggests — particularly in ‘The New Simplicity,’ ‘Caviare on Principle,’ and ‘Tabu and Temperament’ —various intelligent improvements and adjustments which, if followed, might very well help to restore the equilibrium of this ill-balanced world. Unlike more violent and revolutionary agitators, she does not, in her wish to better this sorry scheme of things entire, begin by shattering it to bits; but, with skillful fingers and helpful suggestions, endeavors to remould it nearer to the heart’s desire. Her beliefs and her observations spring from good solid soil; and if there is a top-dressing of the influence of Henry James and Mrs. Wharton and the epigrammatic school of subtle expression and brilliant paradox, there need be no quarrel with the result.
There is no suggestion, in these sound yet sprightly essays, of the grimness of much of the author’s fiction; but the light touch with which she plays upon serious topics is as likely to call forth helpful response as if she bore down hard enough to hurt our consciences instead of tickling our fancies. Mrs. Gerould does not give us the feeling that we have been scolded,so much as that we have always held her own intelligent view of life, and that we were only waiting for her articulate cleverness to reveal to us our own essential common sense. P. S.