by Della T. Lutes
[Little, Brown, $2.50]
WHEN in a Beethoven scherzo we hear a clear echo of lusty country dancing, big shoes clumping rhythmically, calloused hands joyously clapping out the accents, or in a Grieg song catch the wistfulness of a lonely saeter-girl, or when Dvorak uses Negro spirituals in the ‘New World Symphony,’ we nod in approving recognition and tell ourselves, ’Ah yes, use of country folklore by the artist.’ Why has it, I wonder, taken us so long to emerge from an uneasy, embarrassed self-consciousness about our own country folklore? We have always loved it, — what people does not love its own folkstuff? — but our enjoyment of it has been rather furtive, as if we cast an apprehensive look over our shoulder to make sure that no superior sophisticate was laughing at our pleasure.
Mrs. Lutes, honest, humorous, unpretentious good American that, she is, would be the first to say that she is not, as an artist, to be compared with Beethoven or Grieg. But her enchanted readers claim for her quite as warm and vital a capacity to appreciate the savor of folklore as those great creators. She dearly loved the sights and sounds and smells of the old-American scene; she is sturdily unashamed of its narrow and sincere social and moral traditions, which are the source of so much of the tang and flavor and modeling of its daily life. Without self-consciousness, with perfect naturalness and marvelous zest, she re-creates the world—cooking, prejudices, clothes, moral standards, furniture, manners, hair-dos, ideals, and underwear — inhabited by rural Americans of two generations ago.
She sees no reason, if an account of a tribal folkway in Samoa should be serious, objective, and respectful, why an account of our country grandmothers’ horror of rouge need be grinning and mocking. The social consequences of the marriage out of his tribe by a young Indian are studied and set down by scholarly anthropologists as interesting examples of the mechanics by which human beings attempt to shape the chaos of unregulated life into some kind of workable order. Mrs. Lutes does not see why a marriage by a young member of a pious, churchgoing, static, rural group to a woman who recognizes none of their tabus should need to be told with the implication that his tribe were all wrong and she was all right — or indeed with the implication of blame for anybody.
The plot of this old-American novel is as homegrown and simple as the tasty food its women cooked and its men ate with smacking relish. I think it will be enjoyed by many readers, even sophisticated ones who eat filet mignon and crêpes Suzettes, as they would enjoy (if only they could get it!) one of the exquisitely savory old-American meals prepared by Mrs. Lutes’s mother in the old days.