The Dark Tower

by Francis Brett Young. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1926. 12mo. viii+ 284 pp. $2.50.
PERHAPS it is fantastic, while reading the first twenty pages of The Dark Tower, to allow Ethan Frome to come into one’s mind. Nothing could seem more remote from the isolated Massachusetts farm than the romantic and mysterious tower on the rugged mountain-crest dividing Wales from England. Yet in both instances chance leads the story-teller into a lonely dwelling and into the presence of a mysterious figure, uncouth and defeated, obviously blasted by tragedy, seared by internal struggle, and shut into its own secrecy by a shell of reticence that nothing can penetrate. The method of narrative is also similar, and the opening words of the New England Epic might have served to introduce the Welsh romance: —
‘I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.’
The tale of Alaric Grosmont, patched together into a coherent whole by the two or three people who had come into contact with his strange personality at various stages of his development, forms an absorbingly interesting narrative, told with a clarity of style refreshingly free from the mannerisms of many contemporary novelists. There is a clear-cut quality, an absence of the verbally rococo, which makes this picture of a personality stand out from its own romantic background like a portrait to which the broad, sure strokes of a painter have given life.
The plot of the story is not complicated, the chief interest being focused on the struggle of a temperament at war with itself. There is the inevitable material for tragedy in the lovely green-eyed maiden, half peasant and half dryad, married to a drunken lout of a husband, and loved by his brother Alaric. Like a motif from Pelléas and Mélisande an undertone of rhythmic beauty runs through this drama in which events are of far less importance than the motives which prompt them.
Mr. Young’s knowledge of psychology (he was a doctor before he was a novelist) gives him a touch of authority in analyzing the personality — more than usually dual — of his strange hero. The struggle in Alaric’s own nature to suppress an overwhelming strain of mysticism, the deliberate self-suppression and smothering of every response to beauty in a character as sensitive as an Æolian harp, form a study that is fascinating, even if at times neuropathological. The book contains none of the jargon of pseudopsychologists— there is no mention of ‘inhibitions,’ ‘complexes,’‘the subconscious,’ or ‘ suppressed desires.’ Freud is not referred to, yet we have before us a subtle and completely modern dissection of a soul, resulting in the creation of a man, none the less real for being abnormal.
Wuthering Heights suggests itself more than once as we are swept into a world of the imagination by the author’s descriptions of nature, physical and human, matching each other in stormy loneliness and elemental strength. Yet who but a modern writer would dare to make a romantic figure realistic by clothing him in a frock coat and carpet slippers, and giving him puffy cheeks, a partially bald head, and an incipient paunch!
Mr. Young has once again proved himself to be one of the English novelists most worth watching— not only as giving generous promise for the future, but as having kept the promise of his own past.