The Little French Girl

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick. Boston: The Houghton Mifflin Company. 12mo. viii+508 pp. $2.00.
IT happened that I had just read Mr. Snaith’s There Is a Tide, and the resemblance — and contrast — of the two stories is curious. Mr. Snaith takes a raw American girl from the Middle West, and plunges her into the densest atmosphere of London and England. Miss Sedgwick does much the same for a girl who has all the high breeding, all the exquisite tradition of age-old France. Mr. Snaith has vivacity, but the advantage of depth and power is with Miss Sedgwick.
Madame Verviers, who is divorced and has had many lovers, yet remains a lady and refined and charming in a way that Anglo-Saxons cannot understand, sends her daughter Alix to get English training and English respectability and an English husband. Alix clings to France with true national loyalty, rather shudders at English respectability, and in getting an excellent English husband, as she finally does, runs into intense, passionate, tragic climaxes of discovery as to her mother’s past and all the strange challenges and complexities and incoherences of life and love that are involved in it.
And, as always with Miss Sedgwick, one rests securely in a surpassing perfection of workmanship. There are no slips, no blurs, no blunders. The narrative is conducted with that highest ease of art by which the reader forgets that there is art in it at all. The background, whether animate or inanimate, is laid in with finished delicacy of touch at all times, perhaps not always with the intensest brevity, but always with apt significance, and especially with profound acquaintance with both the English and the French worlds that are depicted. The talk is subtle and suggestive and always carries on the action.
Again, as in all Miss Sedgwick’s books, there is
the constant interest in human character and motive, and most varied skill in analyzing them. But in this case the author has been more successful in making her heroine attractive. Tante, Camelia Paton, Persis Fennamy, are not very lovable — to me at any rate. Alix might be.
Whether she is more real than the abovementioned young ladies may be a question. ‘Hang it!’ says her lover, ‘how do you manage to think these things at your age?’ One cannot help sometimes echoing the lover’s query’. Yet even a certain unreality in a creature so subtle and so graceful has its charm. And one feels that, as with Henry James, the unreality in the concrete case is only the expression of a profounder unreality in life itself, the sense of which makes Miss Sedgwick’s books so teasingly attractive. She seizes the objective world with the closest, keenest grasp of observation. No detail of the varied surface of things escapes her. Yet she makes you feel this objective reality as a mere veil of the unplumbed abysses of possibility and fate. She plays with life as an exquisite toy, or, if you prefer, she labors hard with it as a tragic problem, but all the time with the brooding sense of the terrible insecurity of petty, frail human souls adrift in the Unknown.