The Atlantic Bookshelf: Conclusion
A wrap up of book reviews from Edward Weeks
WHAT children in books would you adopt for your own household? Could you put up with the antics of Helen’s Babies, the Goops, or the Peterkins? Would you enjoy showing off the velvet beauty of Fauntleroy, or the sweet whimsey of the Milne brood? For myself (having a modest income), I should be content with a family of three: Tom Sawyer, the eldest; Alice next; and for the runt, Harold of Dream Days. And if I got on in the world and could afford another, I’d take Katherine Mansfield’s Kezia.
The question arises as one notices the prevalence of children in new books of this spring, There is first that unpredictable American trio, Patience, Richard and Johnny, the children of James Abbe (the international press photographer) who have half-written, half-dictated the account of their European upbringing in a wholly delicious, wholly believable volume, Around the World in Eleven Years (Stokes, $2.00). Readers who have enjoyed two slices of this in the Atlantic will not be content until they have had the whole saucy chronicle. Then there is that villageful of New England youngsters portrayed so perceptively by Frances Frost in her poetic novel, Innocent Summer (Farrar & Rinehart, $2.50). And paler because more distant are Carle’s seven youngsters, — one of them lived to be Mrs. Pearl Buck, — of whom you will read in that compassionate memoir, The Exile (Reynal & Hitchcock, $2.50). But for singularity, delicacy, and pathos you must acquaint yourself with those problem children, Henrietta and Leopold, whose fate determines that most sensitive story, The House in Paris, by Elizabeth Bowen (Knopf, $2.00).
Mrs. Bowen is immediately to be respected as a stylist. With a skill reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield she conveys you into the atmosphere of a small but unforgettable house in Paris. Within that house the English and French temperaments are arrayed in an opposition at first only hinted at; to the house come the two youngsters in transit through Paris. Henrietta is eleven, Leopold a precocious nine. In their meeting there is a discernment of childhood which readers will do well to linger over, so beautifully is it phrased. Then, as their curiosity in each other extends, so does the reader begin to wonder about the origins of these grave and nervous little voyagers — and from that point Mrs. Bowen has you in her spell. To prize this novel you must have a taste first for highly selective English, then for the creation of atmospheric pressure which remains in the mind for days, and finally an attachment to children. For they make the book.