Jericho Sands

by Mary Borden. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1926. 12mo. vi+311 pp. $2.50.
IN Jane Our Stranger Mary Borden turned her insight upon the structure of modern French society in relation to its acceptance of an American woman. In Three Pilgrims and a Tinker she presented a somewhat disjointed but. on the whole an extremely attractive picture of hunting life in England — a scene so crowded with horses, riders, and hunting incident, that it left little room for any of the usual obligations of life, whether pecuniary, civic, or familiar. In Jericho Sands hunting, like everything else, has taken its proper place in a balanced picture of British country life. However much various individuals have sacrificed to or been sacrificed by the ‘system,’one feels that the social order, as it is described in Jericho Sands, is eminently worth while. Perhaps Mary Borden’s American mind experiences the same thrill of gratified sensibilities that Henry James enjoyed in England thirty-five years ago. But whether or no England is her mental heaven, as it was James’s, she conveys a refreshing belief in the stability of the old order, which persists in spite of the war and the changes that it has wrought.
The story of Jericho Sands may not be told in a few words. Its bare outline is too commonplace and its treatment too subtle to admit of a summary. Yet for purpose of discussion the case must be put. Priscilla Birch, wife of Simon Birch, Vicar of Creech, falls in love and runs away with John Edward Cranbourne, Viscount Willing (commonly known us ‘Crab’).
The book is written in exoneration of Priscilla, and is told partly by the pen of an elderly family friend, and partly by the injured husband. The character of Priscilla is happily drawn by both. What a rare delight it is to find an attractive heroine in modern fiction! Priscilla has most of the faults charged to her contemporaries. She is boyish, untidy, bored by housekeeping, and ‘ too out-doorish ‘ for a minister’s wife. She first deceives and then leaves her husband. Yet Mary Borden convinces you of her true womanliness. She might have been a most loyal wife, you catch yourself thinking, — a staunch supporter of her race and tradition, — had she not been frightened into an early and uncongenial marriage by circumstance.
With the exception of Crab, all the characters are individual, Crab is a more obvious type. Probably he would not have interested the author if he had not been the man Priscilla loved. Yet even when she is describing Crab, who bored her a little, Mary Borden seems rather to be condoning the faults and mistakes of a friend than to be describing a creature of her imagination.
No kindliness is behind her analysis of Simon Birch, the mystic. The gradual disintegration of his character, torn as he is between the literal interpretation of his religion and his love for Priscilla, is a grave theological and psychological problem that each reader may decide if he can.
There are not many modern writers of English prose that have so just an appreciation of the pitfalls and of the niceties of language as has Mary Borden.
‘For a word, she says, ‘has many existences. It is an aged bawd that has been bandied about on a thousand slovenly tongues. Its echoes are myriad, its connections unmentionable, its ultimate significance nil. It means one thing to you, another to me, a third to the man who is eavesdropping. If I speak to a hundred people I am creating a hundred fictions.’