by Henry Holt and Company. 1925. 12mo. X+363 pp. $2.50.. Translated by and . New York:
SUMMER in the life of Annette Rivère — rich, matronly, and passionate; summer of mellow sunshine and slow fruition; and summer of those sudden and terrific storms brewed by that very sunshine and torpid heat. She has had the courage (or rashness: at present it comes to much the same thing) to have a child out of wedlock. The inevitables follow: she is declassed, reduced to fight for her own livelihood and her child’s, exposed to privateering males, and to the perils of her own unsatisfied emotional needs. The child proves none too harmonious. There comes an unavoidable breach with her one remaining staunch friend and relative. Her own heart finally betrays her to a passion which means shipwreck but for an effort of will and suffering totally beyond the powers of any woman who is weak. But weak Annette is not. Her search has been for reality. Is it rewarded? It is rewarded, as all such high errands are, not by the thing sought, but by the strength and discipline bred of the search itself.
In craftsmanship M. Rolland is impatient of the Chinese puzzles of the conventional novel plot. This narrative is an heroic biography of a free woman, vividly externalized, where need is, with fiery touches of nature and poetry; but, for the rest, the focus is on the inner drama. The skill of this is uncanny. Such work can have been done only by deliberate reliance on intuitional meditation. Imagine a Henry James able and willing to write simply and to feel keenly with human beings not of one class only but of all classes; a Henry James dowered alike with subtlety and with simplicity. Add to this the deadly cut and stab that go with the practised swordsman of socialist thinking; for, unlike the average mere story-telling novelist, M. Rolland is able to score the melody of his narrative above a ground-bass of economics, statecraft, art, and science.
In reading Emerson or Nietzsche the first wonder is how they can so surprise us by wording our inmost thoughts. There is a stream of unconscious thinking which flows steadily in us from birth to death, thinking so taken for granted that we seldom give it a thought. It is into this undercurrent that the aphorist dips and fishes up what is common to all. And each of us naturally recognizes his own. More continuously than any other writer of fiction in our time M. Rolland writes this drama of our unconscious underthought. These are Annette’s experiences, thoughts, passions; yes, and Sylvie’s, and Marc’s and Julien’s; but they are also yours and mine — perhaps our studiously disowned also; for M. Rolland, to borrow the phrase of his own Colas, does not flinch the spectacle of ‘human nature without its chemise.’ French ironist he is, as truly as ever Anatole, but it is an irony blessedly free from pessimistic cynicism, and, as redoubtably as ever Anatole himself, he pays the traditional ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’ mongering of Pauline Christianism a devastating call.
M. Rolland is an architect who builds in large units. When Jean-Christophe was finished his position was eminent but awkward. He was still in the prime of his powers. Was the best of his life work done? Could a man create two such epics? Or must his cathedral remain with one spire only? He has met the challenge. The Soul Enchanted is erecting the twin tower. It is a cathedral for free spirits: Jean-Cristophe is a tower of strength for free men; Annette Rivère is a tower of aspiration for free women.