Blind: A Story of These Times

by Ernest Poole. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1920. 12mo, iv+—416 pp. $2.50.
CONSIDERED as a piece of fictional art, Blind is found to pay the penalty of a strain of evasiveness in its fundamental design. The ex-journalist and playwright who is its hero tells his own life-story in the first person. In 1917 he has spent some months on a journalistic mission to Russia. In 1918, as an officer of artillery, he has been blinded by a splinter of shrapnel on the western front. In 1919 he sits down at his typewriter to tell the story of his life. He does this at the urgent suggestion of a surgeon, his life-long friend, who assures him that by yielding to pessimism and despair he is spoiling his one faint chance of recovering his sight.
Mr. Poole’s book, ostensibly the autobiography produced under this impulsion, endeavors to utilize the theory that, because the writer is physically blind, his spiritual vision is keener than that of other men. His present blindness is deemed to qjst a revealing light backward upon all that lie has seen or known, done or been. The trouble is, the character is not sufficiently created, not sufficiently dissociated from Mr. Ernest
Poole, the presiding author, to achieve very much of this effect. The character’s insight is pretty much that of all mature liberalism in these times, and it is not stamped with the authenticity of a tragic personal deprivation. The blindness, then, becomes largely factitious. It degenerates into a mere figure of speech for a practical world’s insensibility to idealistic ends. And, conveniently, it enables the author to convey his message— a message being, in fact, the chief article of his entire baggage— without the embarrassment of any plot to unfold or any sort of fictional coherence to preserve.
Accepting the book for what it is, — a piece of social criticism no more than perfunctorily disguised as a novel,— one finds it to be telling addition to the library of that liberalism which, having supported our country’s official war aims of 1917-18, is saddened and embittered by our country’s and the world’s lapse of fidelity to those aims. Side by side, in the two decades before the war, there developed the contending forces of revolution and reaction— on one side a class-hatred more and more articulate, on the other an economic tyranny more and more nearly absolute; on both sides a materialism so pervasive that it corroded even the arts.
Having missed its lesson from the war, the world must learn it of the centuries instead; for life itself, which eventually compromises all extremes, will strike a balance of civilization between the red fool-fury of the Volga and the blindness of those who will not see through property rights to human rights. H. T. F.