A Hind Let Loose
by Doubleday, Page & Co. 1924. 12mo.Garden xiv+264 pp. $2.00. City:
ALTHOUGH for over a decade Mr. Montague has been known to some few readers in America as the author of Dramatic Values, an admirable book of dramatic theory and criticism, his recognition as a writer of Action really began here with the publication last year of Fiery Particles, a volume of short stories of unusual quality.A Hind Let Loose, though it is marked as a ‘first edition,’ was published in England in 1910. Its republicantion is, however, fully deserved and is certain to be welcomed by those who have come to look upon its author as the possessor of a rare spirit of comedy.
It is perhaps well to explain that the ‘hind’ of the title means a bondservant or slave, not a female deer. This hind is Colum Fay, an Irish hack-journalist of astonishing flow of language but no convictions, who is engaged in writing leaders for two bitterly rival English newspapers, neither of the editors being aware, of course, who is the author of the scurrilous attacks of the opposing sheet. The culprit is discovered and is discharged by both editors; but the latter soon realize that they cannot get along without him. The ironical conclusion is that he is not only reengaged by both but on the same evening is hired by a third to write editorials for a new paper that has just been set up in opposition to the other two.
The simple plot gives no indication of the rich comedy of the telling, for the irony really plays about the two nationalities of the Irish and English. In his prefatory chapter, the author draws a contrast between the Englishman of ‘slowly and majestically moving mind, sadly prone to splutter, choke, and become unimposing when Fate calls upon him to find, at short notice, lofty utterance for one of his own profound dislikes or ardent desires,’ and the Irishman, of ‘apt and eloquent words, like a hungry and overstocked cow in a market, with the pure milk of rhetoric almost running from him in waste.’ And he concludes that the two were made for each other, ‘the man with the fine flow of words to his pen, but no topic at all, and the man with the grand things to say if he had not aphasia.’ But there are also many overtones of satire, such as that on the journalistic style of solemnly saying nothing at all, on the popular fear of originality, and on the ways of forming public opinion, all of which keep the reader in a constant mood of true comedy, ‘the laughter of the mind.’
One could wish that the style of the novel were not so labored and so quotational. It is, in fact, a curious study. The author, who has evidently an astonishing verbal memory, has stocked his mind with phrases from the Bible, Shakespeare, and the greater poets, with the result that his pages are dotted with veiled or adapted quotations. Some of his chapters might be set as college examination questions, the problem being to detect and identify as many literary echoes as possible. As a device it is open to censure as suggesting immaturity, but at least it suggests the source of a style so meaty and flavorsome as his.
The book is certainly one to keep and return to. The character of Fay especially is a piece of subtle comedy with more than a touch of pathos, and the sketch of his wife is one to love. Nothing in the story is better than the very last page on which Mrs. Fay, totally unconscious that Colum is doing anything immoral, is only afraid that he may inadvertently do some injustice to Ireland.
R. M. GAY.