All Kneeling

by Anne Parrish. New York: Harper & Bros. 1928. 8vo. 323 pp. $2.50.
As smooth, soft, and alluring as a lady’s taffeta boudoir is this story of Christabel, the angel-faced egotist. Against a background of gently adoring parents, equally adoring and opulent great-aunts, and one quizzical, but quiet, great-uncle, the exquisite child Christabel felt herself a ‘flower in a November garden.’ Only, unfortunately, that was the sort of thing one could n’t say about one’s self: sturdy Germantown lacked sufficient poetic imagination to realize fully how poetic her rare spirit was against its substantial mundane setting. At an age when she should have been relishing pepper pot, scrapple, and Philadelphia ice cream, Christabel began to draw her chief nourishment from the dangerous nectar of adulation. Her addiction took her far, and her skill in satisfying it brought her much. It impelled her to write slender volumes of verse, exotic novels; it led her through the giddy playground of New York’s Bohemia to a marriage so safely insulated with wealth that she might play with fire as she pleased without endangering the
alabaster pedestal on which she had reared herself. For Christabel was a genius in self-dramatization: she was the woman (if such can exist) who never for an instant is honest with herself.
Miss Parrish tells Christabel’s story with the freshness and drollery which the friends of her first two novels will readily anticipate. Like a silken boudoir, it is all gay, clear colors, and the soft surfaces of down cushions offset by frills of humor. Sooner or later Christabel’s little mean manœuvres become evident, but in so finished a world nothing, apparently, can be of very great moment, and her worst peccadillos have the charm of an enfant médiant. Perhaps this is because the other characters — her lovers, husband, children, and other admirers — are not firmly enough rooted in a validity of their own for their ‘discombobulation’ to seem of much importance. Being fooled by an adept has its rewards, and these seem to be all t hey deserve.
In its analysis of the dry rot of self-dramatization, All Kneeling invites comparison with Sarah Gertrude Millin’s An Artist in the Family. Beside the compassionate understanding of the latter story, Christabel’s little cycle is polished but bloodless, almost too neatly finished to sustain even its fragile weight. As a comedy of manners, it might be paralleled with The Romantic Comedians, but beneath its pleasing contours there lies no hard framework of irony such as sustains Miss Glasgow’s sparkling novel. Yet, since the human soul thirsts for perfection, it is subtly flattering to one’s own self-esteem to believe that there could have existed so unmitigated a ‘yellow-belly’ as Christabel. Let her chronicle be labeled penetrating and pretty.