Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard

by Elinor Wylie. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1928. 12mo, xviii+-256 pp. $2.50.
To the present reviewer it seems odd and not a little sad that so many readers of Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard have experienced curiosity as their uppermost emotion. They seem baffled and reproachful, like children who are asked to guess riddles beyond them or like amateur detectives whose promising clues have disputed themselves. Apparently unwilling to accept the word of the author, who in the preface of her book assures them that it is ’not a disguised biography but a brief, symbolic romance of the mind,’ they persist in proclaiming, orally or in print, that Mr. Hartleigh is assuredly Leigh Hunt and Mr. Hazard, Shelley, or at least a composite of him and his romantic contemporaries.
Perhaps the curiosity in itself should not be disappointing;; it could hardly be unexpected after The Orphan Angel; but to one reader at least the knowledge that in many minds it triumphed over that complete satisfaction which was, and is, her own was more than a little disillusioning, Curiosity intruding its high, insistent voice above a delight in humor, which ranges from mere absurdity to the subtlest irony, in word and sentence rhythms, in the most delicate of imagery, in a wealth and beauty of figures, in the most soothing and reassuring of conceptions? Curiosity not put to ignominious rout by a character more true than truth?
There will doubtless be many, however, besides the curious, who will hold the phrase ‘completely satisfying’ to be misplaced, superlative, and absurd. Among this number will be all those who demand that a story ‘mean something’ and ‘get somewhere,’ they themselves being all the while supremely unconscious that the meaning and the somewhere are alike beyond their grasp and reach. They will never see that the excellent Annamaria is funny rather than stupid, or that the momentary and desperate laughter of poor Mr. Hazard, watching the sweating Mr. Hodge pack his heavy books for him. is in reality that mirth which has it s wellspring in Eternity and is, in the end, free from the troubling of all surface waters. Nor will they, it is to be feared, revel in the rhythmic vision of soap bubbles, ‘created out of childish breath and a basin of cloudy water, floating upward with the tints of a pigeon’s wing upon their curves, melting in light against a sapphire sky’; nor in the delicate tracery of the silver and crystal pattern which holds this book together-willows silvered in the wind, the crystal chalice of Allegra’s face, her blue and silver arrow; nor yet in the exquisite, frail reality of the figures, a dragon fly like a driftwood flame, Tristram’s laughter, ‘cold and bright as sleigh bells in the summer air.’ As they cannot sense the mirth of Mr. Hazard, so will they never sense his triumph, which is the pain-ridden yet eternal and unassailable triumph of the intangible over the tangible, of the unsubstantial over the material. And finally Mr. Hazard himself, ‘the sort of man who saves a commonplace woman from a binning house at the casual cost of his own life, but is spiritually exhausted by a quarter of an hour’s conversation with her,’will hardly prove engrossing or yet convincing to those who like ‘a good story with something doing.’
And yet we cling stubbornly to our own phrase. Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard is a completely satisfying book to those for whom the author doubtless wrote it. It brings back from here and there other completely satisfying pages: Richard Feverel and Lucy Desborough by the river in the early morning; Euripides’ picture of the sad sisters of Phaethon weeping tears of amber into the clear waters of Eridanus; Tess and Angel Clare in the crystal mists of Talbot hay’s dairy farm; the sunny dome and caves of ice of Kubla Khan. Such comparisons as these, which spring almost instinctively to the mind, would suggest. that it is to be read more for its imagery than for its incongruities, its pathos, its irony, its ‘silver scorn.’ One is tempted to say that such must be the case. If not, why that delicate and shimmering pattern, and why those charming chapter headings culled from the romantic poets?