Novels English and American
I DOUBT whether the American novel exists, as a phenomenon separate from the English — just as I doubt whether the English novel exists, as a phenomenon separate from the American. The same tradition prevails for both literatures; the attempt to get novelty and emancipation is in both literatures similar; and, broadly speaking, both literatures have the same gods and the same devils. It may not always be so. It may soon cease to be so. The field of the novel — far wider than any other field of inquiry for the literary critic — is so immense that many corners of it are bound to be overlooked. Nobody can cover the ground. Nobody can keep pace with the growth and change. Somewhere, in America or in Britain, there may be at this moment the beginning of a new tradition — one cannot tell. The survey is bound to be perfunctory; the conclusions are likely to be false. But in general one may say that the art of the story is still the old story, and the new schools are still at school.
Go back to the influence of Henry James. It was shed impartially on the two sides of the Atlantic. It is still felt. But all that was peculiarly Jamesian has fallen away from it. All that accumulation of mannerism, with which the later James disguised the fact that he could tell a story, counts now for nothing. There is little trace of it in those writers in whom his influence is most apparent and most beneficial. They have learned from him something of his psychological concern; they have largely discarded his verbal tortuosities. They do not — when they are most successful — so much follow the master as get on with the story. When they suffer themselves to be diverted into labyrinths, they fail. The history is typical. You can reenforce the interest of the novel if you accept the fact that first and foremost it is a story. Forget or deny that, and there is no interest to be reenforced. Complications presuppose the original and central simplicity.
The same moral can be drawn from any other trail we choose to trace. Mr. Theodore Dreiser, still insufficiently known in England, has exercised an enormous influence in the United States. Like Henry James, he has moulded writers rather than readers; but he has moulded readers through writers. The younger American novelists have learned from him courage in approach, augustness of vision, patience in elaboration of detail. That is to say, they have learned from him exactly what they have learned from any other grand-scale story-teller they happen to have read. Another generation, younger still, seems to have learned from him nothing but the resolution to put in print those things which, when he was first writing, were in many quarters pusillanimously regarded as unprintable. It is a pity; for speaking out, like listening in, is nothing meritorious in itself. All depends on what there is to listen to, and what to speak.
On this question of what to say and what to leave unsaid turns the main method of modernity. All is whether the artist is content with the soul or prefers the outside of the cup and the platter. The Pharisees thought it important to make the cup and the platter clean; many of our young men and women think it important to make them surprising — the error is the same. It is the exaltation of the empty form over the living spirit. It is the preoccupation with the irrelevant, with the inexpressive. It is the error called psychological. Blake said the last word about it in his injunction to get down to essentials: —
And a heaven in a wild flower:
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Mr. James Joyce is an Irishman, Mr. D. H. Lawrence an Englishman, but I take it that their vogue is as remarkable in America as in Great Britain. Both have genius, and each illustrates the ineffectiveness of preoccupation with one aspect of life. But what strikes an English reader of the novels which come to him from America — many of them brimming with intelligence — is that those which follow the Joyce or the Lawrence method add to it a sort of schoolboy gusto which Mr. Joyce and Mr. Lawrence most noticeably lack.
There is, in these American books, the child’s delight at being ‘naughty.’ The barriers are down, and we break into the hidden places — not with the painful inquisitiveness of the psychological adult, but with the shy, assertive boisterousness of the excited immature.
There is this paradox at the heart of the neopsychological attack — the deeper it goes, the more superficial it remains. Feverishly it cuts, hacks, probes — and does not notice that it is experimenting on a corpse. Did it think the soul dwelt between the sinews? Alas, it apparently did, and will not admit its error.
I wrote some years ago, in my English Novel of To-day, some words about modern methods, with particular reference to verse: —
Loosen the ties of art and scrap its limitations!— it is what our young poets are always inviting us to do. Rhyme, they say, is a fetter; strike it off! But it is not a fetter: it is a form. You cannot merely strike it off; you must replace it. Anybody can be negative, anybody can be reactionary. If art progresses, it must be in the direction of greater coherence; the control of the conscious mind increases; rebel chaos yields to the form conceived of God. But this modern movement is backwards towards fear and night.
And again — this time with particular reference to fiction: —
Minute psychological reactions are elaborated with such persistent reference to the one occasion dealt with that they cease to have any value as revelations of character: character, instead of being explained, is literally explained away. One gets the impression that the oddity, instead of showing So-and-so to be concretely and individually So-and-so, merely shows So-and-so to be as odd as everybody else, and odd in the same way as everybody else. . . . There is no sharpness, no differentiation, no interplay, no coherence. Individuality is dissolved ‘by the discandying of this pelleted storm.’
Examples could be quoted literally by the thousand; one may be pardoned for choosing, from contemporary and influential English fiction, one not less comic than most. There can be no doubt at all that in his novelette, Glad Ghosts, Mr. Lawrence has a profound idea; but what shall we say about his way of creating the atmosphere supposed to be appropriate to the idea? A Mr. Morier tells the story. Carlotta married Lord Lathkill, who was very unlucky. Mr. Morier went to stay with them. The dowager was there, with ‘heavy hips’ — the hips are greatly insisted upon. There was Colonel Hale, with his second wife, who had a ‘dusky, dirty-looking neck,’ and whose thighs receive honorable mention. The Colonel (who ‘seemed, somehow, to smell’) complained that he was being haunted by his first wife; she would n’t let him go near his new one. There was dancing. The Colonel went to bed, but returned in distress and a dressing gown. Lathkill explained to him that in some way he must have failed his first wife. ‘Don’t you see, you may have been awfully good to her. But her poor woman’s body, were you ever good to that?’ And again: ‘Why don’t you, even now, love her a little with your real heart?’ So the Colonel ‘unbuttoned the top of his pyjama jacket, and sat perfectly still.’ The dowager came to ask what was the matter; Lathkill explained that the family ghost was walking. In the course of his explanation he declared: ‘The Colonel’s breast is quite extraordinary.’ He said: ‘Oh, Mother, thank you for my knees and my shoulders at this moment!’ (Strange omission of hips and thighs!) ‘Don’t you forget yourself, my boy?’ asked his mother. Mr. Morier went to bed and was visited by a ghost. The following autumn he heard that both Carlotta and Mrs. Hale had become mothers. ‘The Colonel is very well, quiet, and self-possessed. He is farming in Wiltshire, raising pigs.’
All summary is unfair, all comment partial; but those familiar with Mr. Lawrence’s later manner will recognize here, even in summary, the reason why so powerful a mind so often falls to absurdity. There is a pursuit of the bizarre. There is an attempt to raise fact to poetry — without the poetic selection; and the sordid is paraded in place of the solemn.
The method here considered has been carried perhaps even further, on the whole, in America. (Nobody, it is true, could go further in incoherence than Mr. Joyce — except Miss Stein!) It is illustrated in Miss Fannie Hurst, with her
The hexameter of the wide, white feet that the earth sucked unto herself in fond little marshes, as they ran through the forests surrounding the Cathedral Under the Sea;
The reality of you and me. The reality of the biology of us;
her ‘tearless fashion of a dry locked torment’; her ‘Ida, great welt of her’ — phrases in which the gush of Victorian sentimentalism wholly fails to disguise itself in the spasms of modernity. Little Nell in Lido pyjamas is still Little Nell, and from a Dombey to a ‘dumb-bell’ is but a step. But it has most curiously escaped notice that Dickens, who in the lapse and bathos of his genius ladled out his still-adhesive treacle, drew, at the height of his genius, a perfect picture of the latest thing in novelists. That broken style, that butterfly inconsequence, that readiness to be led up the garden to where the demented gentleman from next door throws vegetables and compliments over the wall — they are the insignia of the New School, as they are of Mrs. Nickleby. It is quite true that the human mind works at random, caught now by a sudden silence and now by a passing sigh: but how strange that psychologists should suppose themselves to be penetrating into the subconscious, when they record these superficial divagations of the conscious ! How strange that anybody should suppose the vaguer to be the truer! The very meaning of the word ‘ psychology,’ so widely and loosely used, has been forgotten. It is (if it is anything) a logos — a science, an order, a rational synthesis. It is treated as an excuse for mere artistic fecklessness. Listen to Mrs. Nickleby: —
‘She was n’t well for some days after that day she dined here, and I can’t help thinking, that she caught cold in that hackneycoach coming home. Hackney-coaches, my lord, are such nasty things, that it’s almost better to walk at any time, for although I believe a hackney-coachman can be transported for life, if he has a broken window, still they are so reckless, that they nearly all have broken windows. I once had a swelled face for six weeks, my lord, from riding in a hackney-coach — I think it was a hackney-coach,’ said Mrs. Nickleby reflecting, ‘though I’m not quite certain, whether it was n’t a chariot; at all events I know it was a dark green, with a very long number, beginning with a nought and ending with a nine — no, beginning with a nine, and ending with a nought. . . .’
And so on. It may be objected that this is too clear, intellectual, and coherent for Miss Stein. She said a hackneycoach. A hackney-coach. Chariots of Fire. Fire and coaches. A hackneycoach she said. It was as if as if it was. A hackney-coach. Tokens and signs that she was. Widowhood and hackneycoaches. Hackney-coaches and widowhood. A widow she was. She was a widow. Her head was swelled her head her face was swelled her head. As if . . .
It is n’t that this sort of thing is too silly so much as that it is too easy. Miss Stein’s resolve not to write like anybody else has had the result that anybody else can write like Miss Stein.
Meanwhile, the steady stream of narrative goes on. Those who have anything to say, say it. Those who have a story to tell, tell it. Mr. Sinclair Lewis is probably the most notable writer of fiction in America to-day, simply because he has enormous creative energy, and disciplines it to the forms of art. Elmer Gantry may or may not be just as a social document, — it would be impertinent for an Englishman to hold an opinion about that, — but it is a story. It is packed with character and incident. The author has so much to say that he cannot waste time in devising fanciful theories of how to say it — so much to say that he cannot say it at all until he has subdued it to ‘proportion, season, form.’ The same truth is illustrated by writers as different superficially as Miss Ruth Suckow, who deals in plain language with bare life histories, rural, domestic, and Mr. Joseph Hergesheimer, whose imagination is fired by the outlandish, and shaped by his immense knowledge of the world. It is illustrated again by Mr. Stribling, whose narrative vigor is delightfully diversified with irony. The tradition goes on, in brief; the art of the story has room for a thousand methods. But the method must be a method — not a mess.
We recognize in contemporary American fiction a main tendency, and divergences, of which two leap to the eye; these two may overlap, and often do so, but may equally well be observed apart. One is dissolution of manner; the other is dissoluteness of matter. Both are experiments, and experiments that fail. Both are attempts at adventure. Both show rawness, crudity; to neither is it possible to deny sincerity, but the latter certainly gives greater evidences of sincerity than the former. Indeed, of the former we have said enough. It is a mistake, and can come to nothing, and need not be taken seriously. But the latter has the pathos of fierce and frightened youth. It may in some cases be a sign of preoccupation with vice; in most it is more probably a sign of vigor. There seems, at any rate to the English reader, to be a great outpouring from America of sociological fiction, with the motif of the pocket flask and the ‘petting party.’ We are introduced to a world almost hysterical with drink, jazz, and the intimacies and abandons of sexual precocity. Is it a true picture? Again it would be impertinent for an Englishman to express an opinion. He can only wonder — and remember that his own country provides, though not in such profusion, a similar type. Can he understand the English product, before he ventures to survey the American?
Let us consider, anyway, a Frenchman’s explanation. Says M. André Maurois, in his Études Anglaises, with a typical blending of wisdom and wit:—
Ce n’est pas seulement en religion que la jeune génération s’estimait libérée. Pour les choses du corps, le freudisme avait fourni a l’esprit anglo-saxon (en Amérique comme Angleterre) le masque dont il avait besoin pour oser.
All generalizations are to be mistrusted; but I think it will scarcely be denied that the art of fiction in the English tongue has been limited by prudery. Of course, limitation in one direction may mean enfranchisement in another; it is possible that English fiction has extended itself into new interests under compulsion of the very fact that it was debarred from regarding sexual misconduct as the allembracing and all-sufficing topic. But there is shrewdness and truth in M. Maurois’s thrust: to get free, the English writer has pleaded not preference but science. He looked askance at the bedroom — till he could pass to it through the consulting room. The release, equally pseudoscientific, has in America been even more riotous. The tradition of the story has been preserved; even the plain Tom-Jonesian biographical plot still flourishes; but its interest is sought in two adjacent, and indeed overlapping, spheres. The themes are adolescence and adultery.
Why, so, it may be said, are the themes of Tom Jones. That is true, and irrelevant. For the point is that the abstract idea of these two topics has rarely before been given the prominence it now enjoys, or been entrusted with the direction of so many imaginary lives. Looking back over recent American novels with these preoccupations, I take as typical the works of Mr. Charles Norris, Mr. Floyd Dell, and Mr. William Bullitt. I have written about these novels in various places, and I shall not shrink from quoting freely, without acknowledgment, from myself.
The very titles of Mr. Norris’s volumes indicate an attitude. ‘Brass,’ ‘bread,’ and ‘pig iron’ are substances at once special and simple. The book Pig Iron belongs, roughly, to the widespread biographical type, in which there is a boy (you are told several episodes of his boyhood); he grows into a youth (you are told several of his amorous adventures); he grows into a man, and either marries unhappily or unhappily fails to marry; he goes to Chicago and sells rails or nails, or to New York and sells bonds. Generally we end on a note of acquiescence or of adventure: the hero is fat and rich and misunderstood; he either runs away and loves and works and gets back a thin body, or stays respectably behind and has a thin time. The minor variations are innumerable, naturally, and I am not accusing Pig Iron of conforming too closely to type. Mr. Norris has sincerity, which is to say originality, and he observes things for himself. In so many books of this class one observes the results of observation; the detail is so often excellent even where the original inspiration seems faint; the books are so good that one is sorry they are not better.
Brass is definitely labeled as a novel of marriage. It might equally be called a novel of divorce. Nor does it represent divorce, the marriage substitute, as much more successful than marriage itself. But here the sheer narrative inspiration triumphs over theory, and the lesson does not matter, because nobody can tell what it is. The people live; it is all one asks of people. About Bread I feel only a little less enthusiastic, though some may think they see the cloven hoof of the theorist protruding from under the skirts of happy chance. The heroine is in business; one might almost literally say that she is in it ‘for her health.’ It appeals to something strong in her, and she loves it; and when her marriage proves a failure it is to business that she goes back. She is lucky to have it to go back to. Her husband marries again and is domesticated and happy. She is left in the end to weep over a cat. She feels the need of babies, and that is human, but it proves nothing as to the influence of business upon marriage. Plenty of women have neither the business nor the babies, but only the cat.
Mr. Bullitt, a brilliant and charming writer, has perpetrated It’s Not Done to prove that it is said. Incompatibility in marriage is here studied with a realism almost ferocious; the husband and wife cannot find common ground for their emotions, and about those emotions little is left unsaid. I hope it is not unfair to take this novel as a type of those which seek originality through plain-spokenness. I am sure the search is quite honest and not at all salacious, but I think it is based on an erroneous principle. There is nothing offensive to morality in Mr. Bullitt’s treatment of passion. His impropriety is wholly aesthetic. There are some things which can be said only by being left unsaid. A detailed description of the kind often called ‘daring’ is precisely what is not wanted to create the atmosphere of passion; there is more of that atmosphere in half a line of Othello than in all the moderns. The external fact is often the least indicative, the least æsthetically relevant, and in that case the artist should not speak out — he should leave out. Discretion is the better part of daring.
Mr. Floyd Dell, in The Briary-Bush, made a courageous and delicate study of the modern couple who marry on an arrangement that they shall be free and adventurous — as if you could arrange freedom or adventure! The author faces the resultant crash with an admirable honesty — before dwindling to a ‘ happy end.’ In Janet March, a more ambitious book, the childhood is well done; when the heroine grows up we are introduced to the now too familiar atmosphere of prostitution, drunkenness, and abortion. Almost might one choose out this one volume as typical of thousands, in its conventionality of matter and audacity of manner. The English critic is puzzled by these studies in American social life. Are we to believe in the New York ‘flapper,’ her cocktails and kisses, her fads and her amours? It is a question not strictly relevant to the artistic merits of the novels which portray her, but it has its interest. The novelists who portray her do often, however, make an artistic mistake. They forget that the romantic aspect of things may be the essential reality — a point to be specially remembered when we are dealing with the exquisite and pathetic years of youth. The young may be irritating and flamboyant and egotistical and contemptuous and hard, but at least they believe in their own right to happiness and beauty. The very thing which tends to make them hard tends also to make them idealistic; they judge too easily precisely because they expect too much. Do young men and maidens deliberately enter into loveless love affairs for the sake of ‘experience’? Normally, naturally, as a physiological fact, youth conceives of the experience of love as a romantic one; and you cannot hope to get the experience by leaving out the love.
Mr. Floyd Dell, in his later books, has become unashamedly romantic and pretty. The reaction is significant, and in more forceful writers one could perhaps find reactions no less forcible. So far, I have been trying to illustrate mass movements by examples expressive of the mass, for I am in pursuit of tendencies, not of individuals. Now, however, I have to ask whether there are not individuals big enough to modify, or even to create, tendencies. We must inquire whether the reaction toward normality is discoverable in bright particular stars as well as in what we may call the general representative. If it is so discoverable, it will reenforce the lesson. The return will be not to prettiness but to beauty.
Men of indisputable genius, such as Mr. Hergesheimer and Mr. Sherwood Anderson, are bound by the very surge of that genius to make a law unto themselves. They do not necessarily stand outside a tradition. The most important of all, Mr. Sinclair Lewis, has in fact shaped and imposed one, giving the color of satire and poetry to the ordinary details of American twentieth-century life as Thackeray gave it to the ordinary details of English life in the century before. But then the tradition of his shaping was already there, in shapes not so very different, for his use. It is the old one, and much has been said about it. We are on the track of the new. And we are concerned with Mr. Sherwood Anderson and Mr. Hergesheimer, at the moment, not for their direct achievements, but for their experiments; not for the heartrending and unforgettable pathos of the old man in the beginning of Windy McPherson’s Son, or the splendid movement and color of The Bright Shawl, but for the queerness of Many Marriages and Cytherea. In Many Marriages a quiet, respectable, middle-aged manufacturer of washing machines grows tired of his wife and goes off with his stenographer; but first he walks up and down naked in his bedroom in front of an image of the Virgin, which seems quite unnecessary. In Cytherea there is a similar basic situation: a middleaged married man hungers and thirsts for romance, but in his case the romance is typified by a doll. It must be added that Mr. Hergesheimer’s excursion into oddity is more successful than any of Mr. Anderson’s; his treatment of the doll theme shows subtlety, and one can believe. Yet it is only in special cases that the abnormality fits the norm, and he has been wise in his return to a more usual conception of romance.
Mr. John Gunther is not to be compared with Mr. Hergesheimer or Mr. Anderson for importance; but on his own level he illustrates the same reaction. The Red Pavilion was violently concerned with neurotics; his later Peter Lancelot is an attempt to be romantic. Everywhere the tide sets back. Freud and flapper have had their fling; the norm, the story, reasserts itself.
These tendencies are paralleled in England. Neither country can in such matters claim the lead. Perhaps it may be said that America, being the larger, more various, and more rapidly developing country, pursues the lead, once it has been given, with greater vehemence; and we in England, taking advantage of that vehemence, may see our own tendencies more clearly as America displays them for us. It is interesting to remark in passing, however, that the little band of distinguished writers who seem, on the Henry James model, to represent America and England alike — so intimate is their acquaintance with the one country and the other — are not as a rule experimentalists. They preserve tradition with double tenacity, though here and there they accommodate a fashion. I speak of Mrs. Edith Wharton, Miss Elizabeth Robins, Miss Anne Douglas Sedgwick, Miss Susan Ertz, Mrs. Ray Strachey, Mr. H. W. Yoxall. And does not Mr. P. G. Wodehouse bestride the narrow Atlantic like a colossus, even as he unites ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ in a common adoration of imbecility?
Mr. Arnold Bennett inclines nowadays toward the parergon, and Mr. H. G. Wells toward the didactic experiment, but their influence on the storytellers of the younger generations is still in the plain direction of story-telling. So with Mr. Galsworthy, who has never deviated from the main current. Mr. Hugh Walpole, Mr. Compton Mackenzie, Mr. St. John Ervine, wear with their respective airs a mantle which their elders show happily no notion of resigning to them—that mantle can be shared without diminution!
Among new writers, Miss Pauline Smith of South Africa has given us, in The Beadle, the tale most purely and simply beautiful of all. It is unnecessary to praise Mr. Mottram of The Spanish Farm, that subtle epic of war, and Our Mr. Dormer, that shorter but ampler epic of peace; nor indeed must I allow myself, by a fatuous attempt at covering the ground, to fall into mere enumeration.
There is among contemporary English writers a strong strain of fantasy. That label will apply to a group — if group it can be called — of the brilliant writers who differ strongly from one another in all save a genius for the fantastic: Mr. Aldous Huxley, Mrs. Virginia Woolf, Miss Romer Wilson, Mr. Geoffrey Dennis, Mr. Ronald Fraser, and, most quietly and completely successful of all, Mr. David Garnett. Each of these has set, or is setting, a fashion. None of the fashions will endure, as fashions, however enduring the original examples prove. And to say this is not to dismiss the writers as uninfluential; it is to recognize their specialties. Each of them can do something rare, precious, unique, but the uniqueness cannot be copied. Actors used to wear their hair long like Henry Irving, without acting like Henry Irving before audiences. We are probably in for a number of books about ladies turning, more or less, into foxes; they will not be written with the austere excellence of Mr. David Garnett’s prose.
But consider these fantasists for a lesson. They fall into two groups: those who write 4 differently’ because of a theory, and those who do so because they must. I will not particularize beyond what is necessary for the argument; but it is clear that Mrs. Woolf belongs to the former school, and Mr. Garnett to the latter. That is why Mrs. Woolf, with all her wealth of intellect and the lyric beauty of her style, does not succeed in giving her novels unity. There are two Mr. Aldous Huxleys: the sophisticated experimentalist and the writer of genius. All, for his future, depends on whether his good angel can be trusted to fire his bad one out. But these particulars are only for illustration. My central contention is that you can have a sudden inspiration which will take you aside from tradition, but cannot successfully depart from tradition in the attempt to do better, on a theory, what the traditional writers have already done with success. With Mrs. Woolf, as with Mr. James Joyce and Mr. Sherwood Anderson, we are conscious of method at war with material. When she is most deliberate to catch the essence of a soul, it eludes her. Times do indeed change, and modes, but only with the changing of the substance. You cannot, if you are a story-teller, evade the obligation of story-telling by any dexterity, however dazzling.
Illustrations of this accumulate. Miss May Sinclair, a writer of deservedly high reputation, seems to show the influence of one school after another. Freud, Miss Dorothy Richardson, Mr. Joyce, and Mr. Lawrence have apparently contributed to her development, whether she has felt their inspiration consciously and directly or subconsciously and indirectly. The merits of her books vary inversely with the amount of theory they embody. Or consider again Mr. Ford Madox Ford, a man of genius, now, I believe, even more influential in America than in England. How admirably does his manner express the atmospheres to which it is appropriate, how lamentably does it lapse when theory drives it on! Or, finally, contrast the historical novels of Mr. John Erskine, who interprets the past by the present, with those of Mrs. Naomi Mitchison. who interprets the past by the past! Contrast, that is, the ‘stunt’ which amuses with the truth which moves.
In one connection, it must be added, Paris now appears as a suburb of New York; we may yet live to learn that New York is where good Frenchmen go when they die. There is a school of writers, American or partly American, which has, so I am told, found its spiritual home, and even its physical home, in the: Quartier and on the boulevards. I am not sure of my facts here, for I know nothing of the writers concerned in their private capacity; but Mr. Ernest Hemingway, whose short stories show originality and power, though his novel merely disappointed, writes with first-hand and intimate acquaintance of the cosmopolitan life of Paris; and Mr. Julian Green, despite his name and the American subject of his first novel, Avarice House, wrote that novel in French. From these two we may expect considerable things. They have both, in their different ways, given new life, and new material, to the old method of stark statement. They have intellectual reality. They may be balanced against the English fantasists, for proof that, in the one literature as in the other, the tradition of storytelling can accommodate variations of form to fit novelty of approach.
But, on the whole, the impression with which we are left is not one of novelty.
Who are in America the writers of good, established, safe reputations? Mr. Sinclair Lewis, Mr. Upton Sinclair, Mrs. Edith Wharton, Mr. Booth Tarkington; they tell stories. Who arE the people of indiscreet and adventurous genius? Mr. Sherwood Anderson and Mr. Hergesheimer; they are at their best when they tell stories. Who arc the new writers likely to become classics? Miss Ruth Suckow and Mr. Thornton Wilder. They too, without parade or pretense, tell stories. Miss Suckow indeed achieves greatness through her very refusal of color and variety. So, in England, we have, for safety, Mr. Galsworthy and Mr. Bennett and Mr. Walpole; for indiscreet and adventurous genius, Mr. Huxley and Mrs. Woolf; for new writers likely to become classics, Mr. Mottram and Mrs. Mitchison. All these names, American and English, are but casually selected specimens; my argument has included others. But one, which might have been expected, has been omitted. Mr. E. M. Forster, himself so delightful a story-teller, has a little blasphemed against the story. Let him stand at the end here as the type of those whose practice is better than their teaching. Mr. Forster asks of the novel that it shall render the story subsidiary; and we agree that it must give us much beside the bare story, just as a poem must give us much beside the bare theme. Only — the poet clothes the theme by expressing it; the novelist cannot transcend the story save by telling it.
Of course, a story in this sense is more than a story. Let me make that clear by two quotations, which I put together for a close, one from Mr. Sherwood Anderson’s Many Marriages, one from Mr. Dreiser’s The Titan. They describe the wrong way and the right— the experiment that is bound to fail because it is merely an experiment, and the spirit which keeps alive the ancient glory of the tale.
‘Or rather,’ says Mr. Sherwood Anderson, casually, ‘to be a bit fancy and speak of the matter more in the modern spirit. . . .’
Mr. Dreiser says, ‘Life rises to a high plane of the dramatic, and hence of the artistic, whenever and wherever in the conflict regarding material possession there enters a conception of the ideal.’