by Rose Macaulay. New York: Boni and Liveright. 1920. 12mo, pp. xii+ 227. $2.00.
THOSE of us who delighted in The Making of a Bigot will not be surprised to find Rose Macaulay equaling, and perhaps even surpassing, her earlier work in this delicately ironic picture of contemporary English society. It is even conceivable that her amusing applications of the word ' Potterism,’ as summing up the great mass of ‘incoherent muddled emotion that passes for thought,’should become as epoch-making (to use a phrase which is itself redolent of Potterism) as Matthew Arnold’s famous classification of a certain unenlightened section of society as Philistines.
The scene of this brilliant and searchinly truthful little tale is laid chiefly in England; for Potterism is, the Anti-Potters decided, ’mainly an Anglo-Saxon disease. Worst of all in America. . . . Less discernible in the Latin countries, . . . and hardly existing in the Slavs.'
The book is original in form as well as in matter, the first and last parts being written frankly by Rose Macaulay as spectator of the tragicomedy of life; the four intervening sections, written ostensibly by four of the characters of the story, and revealing the cleverly conceived personal slant and reaction of their varying temperaments. The style of the story is agreeably colloquial, and somewhat reminiscent of Wells, in its modem mannerism of abrupt and occasionally verbless sentences suggesting the spoken rather than the written word. The author looks at things with the unflinching eye of truth, an eye sparkling with humor, gleaming with irony, and totally undimmed by sentimentality. The Potter family, consisting both of Potters and AntiPotters, and the circle of friends belonging to the same two general divisions of society, form the subject of this entertaining story, which is too truthful to be a satire and, in spite of episodes of grim tragedy, too amusing to be a mere social study.
’Leila Yorke’ (the pen-name of the lady novelist who is the mother of both Potters and AntiPotters) becomes a masterpiece of humor, in her unconscious humorlessness. She is the apotheosis of Potterism, and the section of the story which she is supposed to write betrays an authentic banality of style completely Potteristic.
The chief characters are all portrayed with sureness and sincerity, particularly the complex, unillusioned Jane, with her repelling hardness and compelling charm - the ring-leader of AntiPotterism: also the nobly human figure of the Jew, Arthur Gideon, whose death is a symbolic sacrifice to the confusion of the hour, and not a perfunctory bit of tragedy introduced as a dramatic climax.
Potterism is a word which should go into the language, whether applied to the press or the pulpit, to institutions or individuals; for though Potters will pass away and their bones whiten — perchance in a Potter’s Field — Potterism will remain immortal while human nature persists.
P. S.
In response to requests from many librarians, the reviews printed each month in this department of the magazine will be reprinted separately in pamphlet form. Copies may be had by any librarian, without charge, on application to the Atlantic Monthly, 8 Arlington St., Boston.