by Cornelia James Cannon. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1928. (An Atlantic Monthly Press Publication.) 12mo.x+320 pp. $2.50.
IN Charlotte Brontë’s preface to a later edition of her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights, which Stevenson calls ‘that powerful, miserable novel,’ she replies somewhat conclusively to the hundreds of skeptical readers who have questioned the likelihood of such a novel’s arising from the provincial experience of Emily Brontë. The possessor of a creative gift, she asserts, owns something of which he himself is not master, something which at times will work for itself. Mr. E. M. Forster in an article called ’Anonymity— An Inquiry,’most happily published some two years and a half ago in the Atlanlic Monthly, makes more fully the same contention.
One recalls rather wistfully such statements and such faith as one reads Mrs. Cannon’s new and interesting novel. Red Rust. Mrs. Cannon is too much mistress of the situation. One wishes she would not hold her characters by such tight reins, not drive them with such curbed bits. If they could just once get away from her— Matts Swenson, Mrs. Jensen, the children, Olga, the Minnesota cold, the early Christmas service in the little Swedish church, the wheat fields in July —if they could move more freely and act for themselves, we should close the book with a more satisfied feeling. As it is, we take up cudgels in their behalf. Matts, we say, is not allowed to show his enthusiasm sufficiently; little Jens, the solace of his mother in the last pages, should not have been so kept in the background throughout the preceding chapters; Lena’s sufferings would touch us more if Mrs. Cannon would get out of the way.
Mr. Rölvaag’s Giants in the Earth comes instinctively to mind. Per Hansa, that indomitable Norse pioneer, ran away with Mr. Rölvaag. Like the wild ass in the Book of Job, he insisted on going his own gait, and go he did, with the result that we shall not soon forget him. Not so Beret, his wife. She never escaped Mr. Rölvaag. and tragic she never became. In spite of all her tragedy she is merely pathetic. We cannot summon up a tear for her.
Yet there are admirable things about Red Rust, born of the very qualities suggested above. The book never slumps. It goes steadily on its way, evincing as much care and thought in the last as in the first chapter. It is never dull, in spite of the fact that neither its characters nor its incidents are in themselves engrossing. It is built around the only idea or ideal of life worth having. It is a patient and an honest book, born in an age so largely dedicated to parades and ballyhooing on the part of authors and critics alike.
Perhaps we ask too much when we still wish it had run away with its author!