by Joseph Hergesheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1922. 8vo, 871 pp. $2.50.
THIS novel ought to be considered as embodying an extremely vivid and typical modern instance. But it will be so accepted only by those who take it for what it tries to be, and who measure the performance by the intention. This seems to be, however, the last thing that current criticism is inclined to do. Novels, like other varieties of human achievement, are always being judged by criteria to which they have never submitted themselves — by the critic’s preconception of what they ought to amount to. In Cytherea Mr. Hergesheimer has, for the first time, deliberately exposed himself by signing what can easily enough be viewed, if one choose, as a sort of problem novel about modern marriage. He has all but offered to run the gantlet of every possible misconception; and if he comes through without being made to smart for it, he will be as singular in his good luck as, ever since The Lay Anthony, he has been in the delicate integrity of his art.
What, and all, he offers in Cytherea is the story of a man. The marriage is only incidental to the man, Lee Randon; the wife, Fanny, is only incidental to the marriage; the mistress, Savina Grove, with whom Randon, in a paroxysm of revolt, runs away to Cuba, is hardly less incidental. We see the marriage and the two women with a harsh, almost unbearable distinctness: but it is only the distinctness of Randon’s seeing them. There is, in the whole longish book, not the smallest implication that we are supposed to be beholding them as they are in themselves. Even Randon is to be judged, if at all, outside the book and by us. The entire transcript is frankly nothing but a record of how modem marriage strikes a certain sort of husband and father who, for a variety of reasons, palpable and impalpable, finds that marriage is getting on his nerves. There is no pretense that abstract justice is done to wife, mistress, Randon himself, or the institution of marriage. The cards are stacked against poor Fanny and for poor Savina; but this is only to say that Lee Randon looks at the one through a blackening scowl and at the other through a rose-colored mist of passion.
It is baffling, perhaps even a little sad, when the same pen that signed The Three Black Pennys, Wild Oranges, and Java Head applies itself, with a no less exquisitely patient fidelity, to the linked scenes of a drama of which the ultimate challenge is merely: ‘Make what you will of them, these tilings are so.’ Only at the last, in the episode of Savina Grove’s death in the dingy hotel of a filthy Cuban village, — as moving a piece of tragedy as Mr, Hergesheimer has ever
contrived, — does Cytherea mount for an exalted moment to the sphere of those transcendent realities which are above the scope and the touch of realism.