No. 26 Jayne Street

by Mary Austin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1920. 12mo, iv+353 pp. $2.00.
HERE is a feministic document which, as ill-luck will have it, is destined to gratify every smug and shallow reactionary, male or female, and equally to infuriate every smug and shallow radical. One class will see in it merely the portrait of a politically ‘advanced’ liberal and egalitarian who, in his relations with two women who have each a claim upon him, turns out to be a facile sensualist and a good deal of a bounder. This class will applaud the connection of socialistic theory with sexual laxity. The other class will resent that connection, and regard it as a low trick to discredit a set of impersonal ideas by harping on an irrelevant human weakness of their proponent. In neither reaction will there be any measure of the book’s worth. It is not a book for the smug and shallow, of whatever political complexion. No woman is good enough to read it unless she can be grateful for wounds faithfully inflicted in friendship; and probably no man is good enough to read it unless he is capable of experiencing, on behalf of his sex if not himself, that old-fashioned reality known as ‘conviction of sin.’
Examine, in diagram, the situation which Mrs. Austin develops. Adam Frear, a sociologist, economist, and labor leader, gets himself successively involved in affairs with two women. Both of the women are capable of an impersonal idealistic ardor amounting to greatness. Frear precipitates himself into a morally undignified tangle by beginning his new love-affair before he has explicitly terminated his old. Each of the two women discovers his relation with the other. Driven into a corner, he resorts to cowardly lying and evasion with the second, and tries to browbeat the first by saying that he is through with her and that he forbids her to interfere in his affairs. His attitude is exactly that of the old-fashioned possessive male. An idealist in international politics, he is a crass materialist in a test involving his own passions. Fighting implacably against the imperialism of nations, he yields to the imperialism of the senses. Preaching the self-determination of peoples, he resists that of persons: the powerful nation may not exploit the weak to gratify its own greed, but the selfish individual may exploit, and at will discard, another individual. Frear’s personal morality is a century behind his political morality. As a public character, he espouses the highest idealism evoked by the war. As a lover, he is unaware that anything has happened to the world.
The result of this dualism in his nature is to force the two women together in mutual understanding and joint resistance of his point of view. What they see is that any personal relation is a relation: that is, an affair involving two equally inalienable halves, each with its own rights. Adam Frear has no more right to trample on Rose Matlock because that is the shortest road to his possession of Neith Schuyler, than Germany had to trample on unconsenting Belgium because that was the shortest road to France.
And the point ? It is, of course, that our political idealism has no chance of success until we have the courage to apply its dictates in our private affairs. It must go all the way through, it must be continuous in grain. So long as tyranny and exploitation have their way in our secret hearts and our most intimate relationships, the stream of world-justice is poisoned at its source. You may unthrone all the kings, wipe out all the hereditary titles, and dispossess all the landlords, but you will not thereby get democracy. Democracy must begin with men and women.
H. T. E.