Yoke of Stars, by Frances Frost (Farrar and Rinehart, $2.50), and Dorothy Canfield’s Seasoned Timber (Harcourt, Brace, $2.50) have in common, besides the Vermont scene, this striking core of resemblance: both demand their readers’ interest for characters in the most vigorous mental and moral health. They whose stories are told are persons without one fashionable modern neurosis to their names. They are even strong in what Seasoned Timber sums up as ‘the virtue (outlawed by a century which calls it weakness) of considering responsibility for others not as a burden but as an enlargement of personal life.’
This departure from the present fictional norm of specializing in abnormalities is the more startling in Miss Frost ‘s novel because its subject is creative genius. Judy York is the child of a small-town hardware merchant in Vermont. Of the piano bought for her when she was five her father remarked dryly: ‘I worked harder for that than she ever will this side of hell, I bet you two cents.’ (He was wrong, as it happened.) Her mother was a petulant gossip, abandoned to sick headaches and selfpity. The children of such environments are seldom exhibited in fiction but as starved, warped victims. Judy somehow wrests a good childhood out of her circumstances. Most of the time she even knows it to be good; and Miss Frost makes it seem the natural preface to a good and a whole womanhood.
Judy York as a woman has three necessities, with the strength to compass them all and the wit to understand that no one of them may be cheated without vitiating the other two. She must give herself thoroughly, and with laughter, as playmate, friend, wife, mother, daughter; she must drain night and day, sky and woods, of all the sustenance the natural world holds; and she must pour out upon music paper a part of herself for which there is no other outlet. A mature woman who has made tragic mistakes and refused to let them mutilate her, she asks nothing better than to be the gayest of slaves to her young children by day; faithfully to keep the house of her widowed father, who is slowly dying of a cancer; in the evening to walk bareheaded in falling snow until her body will go no farther; and then, in the sleeping house, to work half the night at the orchestration of a completed tone poem. Her life says, and I think the author means, that there is no whole art that does not come out of a whole being.
Seasoned Timber is a much longer chronicle about a much briefer span of life — disconcertingly many of its 200,000 words being accumulated by such a dotting of i’s as one does not often find in the work of so practised a writer. (‘ Standing under the frozen maples to pull his woolen gloves on — he had his gloves with him . . .’) The story is a more topical one than Miss Frost’s, and it is contrived to shove a very small, very poor community up to the firing line of current world issues. A rich city trustee of the old-fashioned semi-public academy in a Vermont village wills the institution an immense sum for endowment and new buildings on certain conditions, one of them being that no Jewish student shall in any circumstances be admitted. It devolves upon the middle-aged principal of the academy to lead a quasi-political fight for the outright rejection of the bequest — no easy campaign to win, for the community is bound to prosper as never before by the reorganization, and it very naturally sees little inducement to forgo an immense and general enhancement of income in the interest of Jews who are hardly more than hypothetical.
To at least one reader this local fight is more interesting than the Indiansummer love affair that at times overshadows it.
The book is rich in apergus touching the Vermont character, and its basic philosophy of rural education is trenchantly, often nobly, stated.