by The Macmillan Co. 1922. 12mo. 297 pp. $2.00.. New York:
THE novel-reading public of America has recently learned to think of E. M. Delafield as an exceptionally clever interpreter of certain types of modern English society — one who has an agreeably ironic humor, and a touch which, though light, yet presses with relentless certainty on our pet prejudices and foibles.
It is interesting to find that a book like The Optimist, Miss Delafield’s latest work, in which a love motif plays a comparatively unimportant part, and neither hero nor heroine is of the conventional type, can yet hold one’s interest to the last page.
The important character is a middle-aged clergyman, the father of two sons and two daughters. The real interest of the narrative lies in the study of the contrasting generations, and the effect on four young lives of the Victorian virtues and religions certainties of their optimistic parent, whose faith that ’all things work together for good’ very nearly wrecks the lives of his children by the reversal, in actual facts, of the beliefs of his ardent soul.
The other important character of the book is a disillusioned young friend of the family, Owen Quentillian, a pessimist who may be said to ‘play opposite’ to the Canon. There is much excellent character-drawing in the book; the effect of the optimist’s influence on the different temperaments of his children is suggested with insight and subtlety; and the author shows a rare detachment from an accepted ‘point of view’ by revealing a sympathy for what is best in the old blindness as well as for what is true in the new clear-sightedness.
But we should believe in Canon Morchard more completely if he were a little less exaggerated in his clericalism, a little less insistent in his constant professions of faith, in his trite quotations, and his banal clichés. He has so much the quality of a Dickens character in making invariably the same gestures and uttering the same blindly optimistic platitudes that the reader suspects him of containing germs of Chadband or Pecksniff, and finds it hard to believe in the high-mindedness and nobility of a character that is wholly free from hypocrisy.
The lady doth protest too much. Had the author said less, we should have believed more; but even as it is, the effect produced on other characters by the cramping limitations of the unseeing optimist, who lived in a world of his own imaginings, is powerfully and sympathetically portrayed.
The last page leaves the reader wondering whether the devoted daughter to whom the Canon’s death seemed to bring freedom was really to find greater happiness in the companionship of an intolerant Pessimist than in that of an intolerable Optimist.
A. L. GRANT.