Mape: The World of Illusion

A Blessed Companion Is a Book

by André Maurois, translated by Eric Sutton. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1926. Large 12mo. vi-j-247 pp. $2.50.
IN a Note pour le lecteur bienveillant, prefixed to Ariel, M. Maurois declared that he wished to make that book ‘œure de romancier bien plntot que d’hisforien on de critique.’ Though doubtless all the facts were true, he went on to say. the method of presenting them was that of a novel, the historical elements being arranged in such a manner as to produce the impression of progressive discovery or natural growth. If the reader did not like the method and had not a ‘lively taste for sentimental education,’he ‘should not open the book.’ The most severe criticism passed upon Ariel was that it vulgarized the life of Shelley; but everyone admitted that it was witty. There might be two opinions regarding the propriety of the method, but there could be only one regarding its interest.
In Mape: the World of Illusion, the author continues to write happily in the spirit of novelist rather than of historian or critic, applying his method to episodes — two historical and one imaginary — in the lives of a creator, a reader, and an interpreter. The first and best of these, ‘The Sorrows of the Young Werther,’has already appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. The three stories are given a rather supposititious unity by means of an amusing introduction in which we learn that Mape is a country, invented by the author’s little daughter, Françoise, in which everything happens just as one wishes it to. This land of illusion or make-believe her father identifies with the world of art, and he offers the three incidents as illustrations of how artistic creation compensates for the disappointments of life, of how life imitates art, and of how life enriches art. Strictly speaking, illusion plays an important part only in the second, a fact that makes one suspect that the conjunction of the three was an afterthought.
‘The Sorrows of the Young Werther’ retells the story of Goethe’s love for Lotte Buff, adding little to the version which biographers have long since developed from the hints given by Goethe himself in the twelfth book of Dichtung und Wahrheit — little, that is, except a charming style and a dryly restrained humor. As M. Maurois tells the story it becomes a delightful apologue of artistic egoism, in which the moral is that of Sentimental Tommy, or, as he himself says, of Lippo Lippi, who extinguished his desire for various women by painting their portraits. Goethe ‘cleansed his bosom’ by writing a book, in which he used not only Lotte but Merek, K. W. von Jerusalem, Kestner, and himself, to the bewilderment of the Wetzlar circle. The account is excellent comedy, rather tenderly done, though some of Goethe’s biographers, like Dr. Brandes, for example, might object to certain of the conclusions.
The second story, ‘It Was Monsieur De Balzac’s Fault,’ is by comparison dull. It relates how a young reader of Balzac emulated the typical Balzacian hero by seeking out a married mistress and how in his case life imitated art only too well. And the third story recounts the curious and pathetic love affair of the two daughters of Mrs. Siddons and the painter Thomas Lawrence. It is told briefly by Boaden and in detail by later biographers, but none of them draw from it the inference of M. Maurois that it was sorrow over the deaths of her daughters that made their mother a great tragic actress. Indeed it is definitely stated that she found in her art, not expression for her grief, but forgetfulness of it. And perhaps some critics would take a less contemptuous view of Lawrence. But M. Maurois is entitled to his own interpretations, and he has written an interesting and moving story.
R. M. GAY