Adam and Eve: Though He Knew Better

A Blessed Companion Is a Book.

by John Erskine. Indianapolis: The BobbsMerrill Co. 1927. 12mo. viii+327 pp. $2.50.
ADDISON ably demonstrated that in writing Paradise Lost Milton was confronted by an excessively difficult problem, and that was a serious shortage of characters. To fill twelve books with the adventures of a pair who, so far as we know, did nothing but eat the forbidden fruit seemed a hopeless task. And so Milton was driven to explore Heaven and Hell for persons and incidents more picturesque than the Garden of Eden provided.
Professor Erskine is unaffected by the difficulties that Addison thought inherent in the subject. He rigorously excludes Satan, Belial, and Beelzebub and never even mentions God after the first chapter. The only serpent is apparently a garter snake, which Adam kills without compunction. And although Eve eats apples, as well as a variety of other fruits and several vegetables, she is quite able to bring ‘sin into the world and all our woe’ without either serpent or apple to help her. But he does introduce that third person without whom one can hardly have a novel at all in Lilith, whom he portrays as not at all the demon of rabbinical legend, but as every inch a woman.
His fantasia, then, deals with the primordial triangle: Adam, an idealist without humor and of an academic cast of mind, like an undraped professor; Lilith, a realist, who lives in the light of nature, whatever that may be; and Eve, a sentimentalist and therefore a flirt, and a singularly disagreeable person. Lilith, as we know, early disappeared from the Garden, her history being expunged entirely from the account in Genesis. She was, in fact, according to our author, routed by Eve, who unscrupulously used what are known as feminine wiles, indulging in temperamental tactics which poor Lilith, following the light of nature, was too honest to employ, The moral of the tale seems to be that Liliths — that is to say, women without ‘temperament ’ — are all but extinct; while the Eves, or the women who are what is popularly known as feminine, — Hie possessive, philoprogenitive, and ‘moral’ females, — have possessed the earth.
As was perhaps to be expected, the book consists mostly of talk. Indeed, in the retrospect, it impresses one as a prolonged debate, seldom dull and often highly amusing, concerning love. In it poor Adam is sometimes an object, sometimes a subject, and sometimes a horrible example, but seldom a successful contestant. After the entrance of Eve he is in the case of the poet who exclaimed, —
‘How happy here should I,
And one dear she, live, and embracing die!’
and often enough he would, no doubt, if he had not lived too early, have sighed with the other old poet, —
‘Two paradises ‘t were in one.
To live in paradise alone
the subtitle suggests, ‘though he knew better’ lie permitted himself to be captured by the wrong woman.
The main argument is enlivened by many subsidiary ironies. Adam, though first-born of the three, enters the world without experience, while the two women are endowed by nature with all the knowledge necessary not only to manage him but to manage nearly everything else. There is doubtless dark satire in this. The trouble is that the author, like so many contemporary masculine authors, is bent on flattering the ladies with one hand, so to speak, and scolding them with the other. In the process man figures as something of a fool. But perhaps that is as it should be.