The Closed Garden

by Julian Green. Translated from the French by Henry Longan Stuart. New York: Harper and Bros. 1928. 12mo. ix+398 pp. $2.50.
THE lonely soul is fertile ground for obsessions, and the seed may be planted and tended unawares. Adrienne Mesurat was marked for solitude by the circumstances of her middle-class life in a small French town, and by the austere independence which she inherited from the Mesurats. Her mother was dead: her father was a household tyrant and her much older sister had no sympathy. The Closed Garden is the story of an obsession. Adrienne encountered a stranger on the road one day; he bowed to her as a matter of provincial courtesy, and her life converged upon this memory as a focus. The rest of existence receded and became insignificant. One by one her acts were directed by her thought of him. She secretly returned each day to the place where she had seen him; she watched for him from the window hour after hour. Learning that lie was a doctor, she put her arm through the pane in the hope that he would be called in to dress the wound. When a friendly word or a single interest in life might have cured her, they were not offered. She encouraged her sister to run away from home, knowing that her sister’s room had a better view of the doctor’s window. Her father became suspicious and threatened to intervene; and in a sudden fury she pushed him downstairs to his death. Her solitude increased. She was unable to reach out for the contacts that would make her whole again. It Could end only in a death of the mind more tragic and conclusive than the death of the body.
Julian Green is a psychologist in tracing the finespun course of Adrienne’s obsession. He is an artist in presenting it through the medium of minute outward details. The motion of an eyelid is noted for its comment on the thought within; every sigh must be recorded, each telling gesture plotted. The setting, too, has a complete reality built of the same careful observation.
This concentration is the strength and weakness of the hook. Even more than in his previous novel, Avarice House, the author sets his characters apart and cuts them off from normal life. They live in a walled precinct in which their obsessions become plausible and their absurdities have a logic of their own. Here they can sit absorbed in their desires, without intrusion from the world outside. He makes one feel the terrible importance to Adrienne of such little acts as passing the doctor’s closed gate at a certain hour, or watching for his lamp to be lighted. These are the meat and drink of the obsession. Within its own precinct it thrives and has impressive strength; but a touch of the natural world would destroy it. The story is no less true on tins account, but it is less important. Julian Green’s powers of observation have now been proved, and he has asserted lib full command of one human category. His knowledge of a wider range of emotion remains to be tested.
It is to he hoped that the merits of The Closed Garden will not he falsified by the circumstances under which it comes to America. Those who are impressed with paradoxes will not be able to forget that Julian Green is a Frenchman of American parentage who might as well have chosen English as French for his language. France has been flattered by his choice, and the echo of French praise for his work is already loud in America. Now the judges of one of the large book clubs have named The Closed Carden as the monthly choice for their seventy-five thousand members. Whatever such readers may think of this girl who murders her father and goes mad for love, they should he held by the force of the details and the spell that inheres in a morbid subject skillfully handled.
a subject MARSHALL A. BEST