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Title: Contemporary American Novelists (1900-1920)
Author: Doren, Carl Van
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN NOVELISTS

1900-1920


BY

CARL VAN DOREN



1922



To

FREDA KIRCHWEY



PREFACE


_The American Novel_, published last year, undertook to trace the
progress of a literary type in the United States from its beginnings to
the end of the nineteenth century; _Contemporary American Novelists_
undertakes to study the type as it has existed during the first two
decades of the twentieth century. Readers of both volumes may note that
in this later volume criticism has tended to supplant history. Only in
writing of dead authors can the critic feel that any considerable
portion of his task is done when he has arranged them in what he thinks
their proper categories and their true perspective. In the case of
living authors he has regularly to remember that he works with shifting
materials, with figures whose dimensions and importance may be changed
by growth, with persons who may desert old paths for new, reveal
unsuspected attributes, increase or fade with the mere revolutions of
time. All he can expect to do in dealing with any current type as fluid
as the novel, is, seizing upon it at some specific moment, to examine
the intentions and successes of outstanding or typical individuals and
to make the most accurate report possible concerning them. Whatever
general tendency there may be ought to appear from his examination.

The general tendency appearing most clearly among the novelists here
studied is, of course, the drift of naturalism: initiated a full
generation ago by several restless spirits, of whom E.W. Howe and Hamlin
Garland are the most conspicuous survivors; continued by those young
geniuses Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, all dead before their
time, and by Theodore Dreiser, Robert Herrick, Upton Sinclair, happily
still alive; given a fresh impulse during the shaken years of the war
and of the recovery from war by such satirists as Edgar Lee Masters and
Sinclair Lewis and their companions in the new revolt. The intelligent
American fiction of the century has to be studied--so far as the novel
is concerned--largely in terms of its agreement or its disagreement with
this naturalistic tendency, which has been powerful enough to draw
Winston Churchill and Booth Tarkington into an approach to its
practices, to drive James Branch Cabell and Joseph Hergesheimer into
explicit dissent, and to throw into strong relief the balanced
independence of Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. The year 1920, marking a
peak in the triumph of one or two species of naturalism and in some ways
closing a chapter, affords an admirable occasion to take stock. This
book, indeed, was planned and begun at the close of that year and has
firmly resisted the temptation to do more than glance at most of the
work produced since then--even at the price of giving what must seem
insufficient notice to _The Triumph of the Egg_ and _Three Soldiers_
and of giving none at all to that still more recent masterpiece
_Cytherea_. While criticism pauses to take stock, creation steadily goes
on.

Acknowledgments are due _The Nation_ for permission to reprint from its
pages those portions of the volume which have already been published
there.

CARL VAN DOREN.

March, 1922.



CONTENTS


I OLD STYLE

1. Local Color
2. Romance

II ARGUMENT

1. Hamlin Garland
2. Winston Churchill
3. Robert Herrick
4. Upton Sinclair
5. Theodore Dreiser

III ART

1. Booth Tarkington
2. Edith Wharton
3. James Branch Cabell
4. Willa Cather
5. Joseph Hergesheimer

IV NEW STYLE

1. Emergent Types

_Ellen Glasgow, William Allen White, Ernest Poole, Henry B. Fuller, Mary
Austin, Immigrants._

2. The Revolt from the Village

_Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, E.W. Howe, Sinclair Lewis, Zona
Gale, Floyd Dell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Canfield, 1921._



CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN NOVELISTS



CHAPTER I

OLD STYLE


1. LOCAL COLOR

A study of the American novel of the twentieth century must first of all
take stock of certain types of fiction which continue to persist, with
varying degrees of vitality and significance, from the last quarter of
the century preceding.

There is, to begin with, the type associated with the now moribund cult
of local color, which originally had Bret Harte for its prophet, and
which, beginning almost at once after the Civil War, gradually broadened
out until it saw priests in every state and followers in every county.
Obedient to the example of the prophet, most of the practitioners of the
mode chose to be episodic rather than epic in their undertakings; the
history of local color belongs primarily to the historian of the short
story. Even when the local colorists essayed the novel they commonly did
little more than to expand some episode into elaborate dimensions or to
string beads of episode upon an obvious thread. Hardly one of them ever
made any real advance, either in art or reputation, upon his earliest
important volume: George Washington Cable, after more than forty years,
is still on the whole best represented by his _Old Creole Days_; and
so--to name only the chief among the survivors--after intervals not
greatly shorter are Mary N. Murfree ("Charles Egbert Craddock") by _In
the Tennessee Mountains_, Thomas Nelson Page by _In Ole Virginia_, Mary
E. Wilkins Freeman by _A Humble Romance and Other Stories_, James Lane
Allen by _Flute and Violin_, and Alice Brown by _Meadow-Grass_.

The eager popular demand for these brevities does not entirely account
for the failure of the type to go beyond its first experimental stage.
The defects of local color inhere in the constitution of the cult
itself, which, as its name suggests, thought first of color and then of
form, first of the piquant surfaces and then--if at all--of the stubborn
deeps of human life. In a sense, the local colorists were all pioneers:
they explored the older communities as solicitously as they did the new,
but they most of them came earliest in some field or other and found--or
thought--it necessary to clear the top of the soil before they sank
shaft or spade into it. Moreover, they accepted almost without challenge
the current inhibitions of gentility, reticence, cheerfulness. They
confined themselves to the emotions and the ideas and the language, for
the most part, of the respectable; they disregarded the stormier or
stealthier behavior of mankind or veiled it with discreet periphrasis;
they sweetened their narratives wherever possible with a brimming
optimism nicely tinctured with amiable sentiments. Poetic justice
prospered and happy endings were orthodox. To a remarkable extent the
local colorists passed by the immediate problems of Americans--social,
theological, political, economic; nor did they frequently rise above the
local to the universal. They were, in short, ordinarily provincial,
without, however, the rude durability or the homely truthfulness of
provincialism at its best.

To reflect upon the achievements of this dwindling cult is to discover
that it invented few memorable plots, devised almost no new styles,
created little that was genuinely original in its modes of truth or
beauty, and even added but the scantiest handful of characters to the
great gallery of the imagination. What local color did was to fit
obliging fiction to resisting fact in so many native regions that the
entire country came in some degree to see itself through literary eyes
and therefore in some degree to feel civilized by the sight. This is,
indeed, one of the important processes of civilization. But in this case
it was limited in its influence by the habits of vision which the local
colorists had. They scrutinized their world at the instigation of
benevolence rather than at that of intelligence; they felt it with
friendship rather than with passion. And because of their limitations of
intelligence and passion they fell naturally into routine ways and both
saw and represented in accordance with this or that prevailing formula.
Herein they were powerfully confirmed by the pressure of editors and a
public who wanted each writer to continue in the channel of his happiest
success and not to disappoint them by new departures. Not only did this
result in confining individuals to a single channel each but it resulted
in the convergence of all of them into a few broad and shallow streams.

An excellent example may be found in the flourishing cycle of stories
which, while Bret Harte was celebrating California, grew up about the
life of Southern plantations before the war. The mood of most of these
was of course elegiac and the motive was to show how much splendor had
perished in the downfall of the old régime. Over and over they repeated
the same themes: how an irascible planter refuses to allow his daughter
to marry the youth of her choice and how true love finds a way; how a
beguiling Southern maiden has to choose between lovers and gives her
hand and heart to him who is stoutest in his adherence to the
Confederacy; how, now and then, love crosses the lines and a Confederate
girl magnanimously, though only after a desperate struggle with herself,
marries a Union officer who has saved the old plantation from a
marauding band of Union soldiers; how a pair of ancient slaves cling to
their duty during the appalling years and will not presume upon their
freedom even when it comes; how the gentry, though menaced by a riffraff
of poor whites, nevertheless hold their heads high and shine brightly
through the gloom; how some former planter and everlasting colonel
declines to be reconstructed by events and passes the remainder of his
years as a courageous, bibulous, orgulous simulacrum of his once
thriving self. Mr. Page's _In Ole Virginia_ and F. Hopkinson Smith's
_Colonel Carter of Cartersville_ in a brief compass employ all these
themes; and dozens of books which might be named play variations upon
them without really enlarging or correcting them. All of them were
kindly, humorous, sentimental, charming; almost all of them are steadily
fading out like family photographs.

The South, however, did not restrict itself wholly to its plantation
cycle. In New Orleans Mr. Cable daintily worked the lode which had been
deposited there by a French and Spanish past and by the presence still
of Creole elements in the population. Yet he too was elegiac,
sentimental, pretty, even when his style was most deft and his
representations most engaging. Quaintness was his second nature; romance
was in his blood. Bras-Coupé, the great, proud, rebellious slave in _The
Grandissimes_, belongs to the ancient lineage of those African princes
who in many tales have been sold to chain and lash and have escaped from
them by dying. The postures and graces and contrivances of Mr. Cable's
Creoles are traditional to all the little aristocracies surviving, in
fiction, from some more substantial day. Yet in spite of these
conventions his better novels have a texture of genuine vividness and
beauty. In their portrayal of the manners of New Orleans they have many
points of quiet satire and censure that betray a critical intelligence
working seriously behind them. That critical disposition in Mr. Cable
led him to disagree with the majority of Southerners regarding the
justice due the Negroes; and it helped persuade him to spend the
remainder of his life in a distant region.

The incident is symptomatic. While slavery still existed, public opinion
in the South had demanded that literature should exhibit the institution
only under a rosy light; public opinion now demanded that the problem in
its new guise should still be glossed over in the old way. In neither
era, consequently, could an honest novelist freely follow his
observations upon Southern life in general. The mind of the herd bore
down upon him and crushed him into the accepted molds. It seems a
curious irony that the Negroes who thus innocently limited the
literature of their section should have been the subjects of a little
body of narrative which bids fair to outlast all that local color hit
upon in the South. Joel Chandler Harris is not, strictly speaking, a
contemporary, but Uncle Remus is contemporary and perennial. His stories
are grounded in the universal traits of simple souls; they are also the
whimsical, incidental mirror of a particular race during a
significant--though now extinct--phase of its career. They are at once
as ancient and as fresh as folk-lore.

Besides the rich planters and their slaves one other class of human
beings in the South especially attracted the attention of the local
colorists--the mountaineers. Certain distant cousins of this backwoods
stock had come into literature as "Pikes" or poor whites in the Far
West with Bret Harte and in the Middle West with John Hay and Edward
Eggleston; it remained for Charles Egbert Craddock in Tennessee and John
Fox in Kentucky to discover the heroic and sentimental qualities of the
breed among its highland fastnesses of the Great Smoky and Cumberland
Mountains. Here again formulas sprang up and so stifled the free growth
of observation that, though a multitude of stories has been written
about the mountains, almost all of them may be resolved into themes as
few in number as those which succeeded nearer Tidewater: how a stranger
man comes into the mountains, loves the flower of all the native
maidens, and clashes with the suspicions or jealousies of her
neighborhood; how two clans have been worn away by a long vendetta until
only one representative of each clan remains and the two forgive and
forget among the ruins; how a band of highlanders defend themselves
against the invading minions of a law made for the nation at large but
hardly applicable to highland circumstances; how the mountain virtues in
some way or other prove superior to the softer virtues--almost vices by
comparison--of the world of plains and cities. These formulas, however,
resulted from another cause than the popular complacency which hated to
be disturbed in Virginia and Louisiana. The mountain people,
inarticulate themselves, have uniformly been seen from the outside and
therefore have been studied in their surface peculiarities more often
than in their deeper traits of character. And, having once entered the
realm of legend, they continue to be known by the half-dozen
distinguishing features which in legend are always enough for any type.

In the North and West, of course, much the same process went on as in
the South among the local colorists, conditioned by the same demands and
pressures. Because the territory was wider, however, in the expanding
sections, the types of character there were somewhat less likely to be
confined to one locality than in the section which for a time had a ring
drawn round it by its past and by the difficulty of emerging from it;
and because the career of North and West was not definitely interrupted
by the war, the types of fiction there have persisted longer than in the
South, where a new order of life, after a generation of clinging
memories, has moved toward popular heroes of a new variety.

The cowboy, for instance, legitimate successor to the miners and
gamblers of Bret Harte, might derive from almost any one of the states
and might range over prodigious areas; it is partly accident, of course,
that he stands out so sharply among the numerous conditions of men
produced by the new frontier. Except on very few occasions, as in Alfred
Henry Lewis's racy Wolfville stories and in Frederick Remington's vivid
pictures, in Andy Adams's more minute chronicle _The Log of a Cowboy_,
in Owen Wister's more sentimental _The Virginian_, and in O. Henry's
more diversified _Heart of the West_ and its fellows among his books,
the cowboy has regularly moved on the plane of the sub-literary--in dime
novels and, latterly, in moving pictures. He, like the mountaineer of
the South, has himself been largely inarticulate except for his rude
songs and ballads; formula and tradition caught him early and in
fiction stiffened one of the most picturesque of human beings--a modern
Centaur, an American Cossack, a Western picaro--into a stock figure who
in a stock costume perpetually sits a bucking broncho, brandishes a
six-shooter or swings a lariat, rounds up stampeding cattle, makes
fierce war on Mexicans, Indians, and rival outfits, and ardently, humbly
woos the ranchman's gentle daughter or the timorous school-ma'am. He
still has no Homer, no Gogol, no Fenimore Cooper even, though he invites
a master of some sort to take advantage of a thrilling opportunity.

The same fate of formula and tradition befell another type multiplied by
the local novelists--the bad boy. His career may be said to have begun
in New England, with Thomas Bailey Aldrich's reaction from the priggish
manikins who infested the older "juveniles"; but Mark Twain took him up
with such mastery that his subsequent habitat has usually been the
Middle West, where a recognized lineage connects Tom Sawyer and
Huckleberry Finn with Mitch Miller and Penrod Schofield and their
fellow-conspirators against the peace of villages. The bad boy, it must
be noticed, is never really bad; he is simply mischievous. He serves as
a natural outlet for the imagination of communities which are
respectable but which lack reverence for solemn dignity. He can play the
wildest pranks and still be innocent; he can have his adolescent fling
and then settle down into a prudent maturity. Both the influence of Mark
Twain and the local color tendency toward uniformity in type have held
the bad boy to a path which, in view of his character, seems singularly
narrow. In book after book he indulges in the same practical jokes upon
parents, teachers, and all those in authority; brags, fibs, fights,
plays truant, learns to swear and smoke, with the same devices and
consequences; suffers from the same agonies of shyness, the same
indifference to the female sex, the same awkward inclination toward
particular little girls. For the most part, thanks to the formulas, he
has been examined from the angle of adult irritation or amusement; only
very recently--as by Edgar Lee Masters and Sherwood Anderson--has he
been credited with a life and passions more or less his own and
therefore as fully rounded as his stage of development permits.

The American business man, with millions of imaginations daily turned
upon him, rarely appears in that fiction which sprang from local color
except as the canny trader of some small town or as the ruthless magnate
of some glittering metropolis. _David Harum_ remains his rural avatar
and _The Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son_ his most popular
commentary. Doubtless the existence of this type in every community
tends to warn off the searchers after local figures, who have preferred,
in their fashion, to be monopolists when they could. Doubtless, also,
the American business man has suffered from the critical light in which
he has been studied by the reflective novelists. But though the higher
grades of literature have refused to pay unstinted tribute and honor to
men of wealth, the lower grades have paid almost as lavishly as life
itself.

Multitudes of poor boys in popular fiction rise to affluence by the
practice of the commercial virtues. To be self-made, the axiom tacitly
runs, is to be well-made. Time was in the United States when the true
hero had to start his career, unaided, from some lonely farm, from some
widow's cottage, or from some city slum; and although, with the growth
of luxury in the nation, readers have come to approve the heir who puts
on overalls and works up in a few months from the bottom of the factory
to the top, the standards of success are practically the same in all
instances: sleepless industry, restless scheming, resistless will,
coupled with a changeless probity in the domestic excellences. Nothing
is more curious about the American business man of fiction than the
sentimentality he displays in all matters of the heart. He may hold as
robustly as he likes to the doctrine that business is business and that
business and sympathy will not mix, but when put to the test he must
always soften under the pleadings of distress and be malleable to the
desires of mother, sweetheart, wife, or daughter. Even when a popular
novelist sets out to be reflective--say, for example, Winston
Churchill--he takes his hero up to the mountain of success and then
conducts him down again to the valley of humiliation, made conscious
that the love, after all, either of his family or of his society, is
better than lucre. Theodore Dreiser's stubborn habit of presenting his
rich men's will to power without abatement or apology has helped to keep
him steadily suspected. The popular romancers have contrived to mingle
passion for money and susceptibility to moralism somewhat upon the
analogy of those lucky thaumaturgists who are able to eat their cake and
have it too.

A similar mixture occurs in the politician of popular tradition. He
hardly ever rises to the dimensions of statesmanship, and indeed rarely
belongs to the Federal government at all: Washington has always been
singularly neglected by the novelists. The American politician of
fiction is essentially a local personage, the boss of ward or village.
Customarily he holds no office himself but instead sits in some dusty
den and dispenses injustice with an even hand. Candidates fear his
influence and either truckle to him or advance against him with the
weapons of reform--failing, as a rule, to accomplish anything. Aldermen
and legislators are his creatures. His web is out in all directions: he
holds this man's mortgage, knows that man's guilty secret, discovers the
other's weakness and takes advantage of it. He is cynically illiterate
and contemptuous of the respectable classes. If need be he can resort to
outrageous violence to gain his ends. And yet, though the reflective
novelists have all condemned him for half a century, he sits fast in
ordinary fiction, where he is tolerated with the amused fatalism which
in actual American life has allowed his lease to run so long. What
justifies him is his success--his countrymen love success for its own
sake--and his kind heart. Like Robin Hood he levies upon the plethoric
rich for the deserving poor; and he yields to the tender entreaties of
the widow and the orphan with amiable gestures.

The women characters evolved by the school of local color endure a
serious restriction from the excessive interest taken by the novelists
in the American young girl. Not only has she as a possible reader
established the boundaries beyond which they might not go in speaking of
sexual affairs but she has dominated the scene of their inventions with
her glittering energy and her healthy bloodlessness. Some differences
appear among the sections of the country as to what special phases of
her character shall be here or there preferred: she is ordinarily most
capricious in the Southern, most strenuous in the Western, most knowing
in the New York, and most demure in the New England novels. Yet
everywhere she considerably resembles a bright, cool, graceful boy
pretending to be a woman. Coeducation and the scarcity of chaperons have
made her self-possessed to a degree which mystifies readers not duly
versed in American folkways. Though she plays at love-making almost from
the cradle, she manages hardly ever to be scorched--a salamander, as one
novelist suggests, sporting among the flames of life.

When native Victorianism was at its height, in the third quarter of the
nineteenth century, she inclined to piety as her mode of preservation;
at the present moment she inclines to a romping optimism which frightens
away both thought and passion. From _The Wide, Wide World_ to
_Pollyanna_, however, she has taken habitual advantage of the reverence
for the virgin which is one of the most pervasive elements in American
popular opinion. That reverence has many charming and wholesome aspects;
it has given young women a priceless freedom of movement in America
without the penalty of being constantly suspected of sexual designs
which they may not harbor. It must be remembered that the Daisy Millers
who awaken unjust European gossip are understood at home, and that the
understanding given them is a form of homage certainly no less honorable
than the compliments of gallantry. In actual experience, however, girls
grow up, whereas the popular fiction of the United States has done its
best to keep them forever children. Nothing breaks the crystal shallows
of their confidence. They are insolently secure in a world apparently
made for them. The little difficulties which perturb their courtship are
nine-tenths of them superficial and external matters, and the end comes
as smoothly as a fairy tale's, before doubt has ever had an opportunity
to shatter or passion the occasion to purge a spirit. From Hawthorne to
the beginnings of naturalism there was hardly a single profound love
story written in America. How could there be when green girls were the
sole heroines and censors?

Among the older women created by the local color generation there were
certain fashionable successes and social climbers in the large cities
who have more complex fortunes than the young girls; but for the most
part they are merely typical or conventional--as selfish as gold and as
hard as agate. On somewhat humbler levels that generation--as Mary
Austin has pointed out of American fiction at large--came nearer to
reality by its representation of a type peculiar to the United States:
the "woman" who is also a "lady"; that is, who combines in herself the
functions both of the busy housewife and of the charming ornament of her
society. The gradual reduction in America of the servant class has
served to develop women who keep books and music beside them at their
domestic tasks as pioneer farmers kept muskets near them in the fields.
They devote to homely duties the time devoted by European ladies to
love, intrigue, public affairs; they preserve, thanks to countless
labor-saving devices, for more or less intellectual pursuits the
strength which among European women is consumed by habitual drudgery.
The combination of functions has probably done much to increase
sexlessness and to decrease helplessness, and so to produce almost a new
species of womanhood which is bound eventually to be of great moment in
the national life. Local color, however, taking the species for granted,
seems hardly to have been aware of its significant existence.

Only New England emphasized a distinct type: the old maid. She has been
studied in that section as in no other quarter of the world. Expansion
and emigration after the Civil War drew very heavily upon the declining
Puritan stock; and naturally the young men left their native farms and
villages more numerously than the young women, who remained behind and
in many cases never married. Local fiction fell very largely into the
hands of women--Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rose Terry Cooke, Sarah Orne
Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Alice Brown--who broke completely with
the age-old tradition of ridiculing spinsters no longer young. In the
little cycles which these story-tellers elaborated the old maid is
likely to be the center of her episode, studied in her own career and
not merely in that of households upon which she is some sort of
parasite. The heroine of Mrs. Freeman's _A New England Nun_ is an
illuminating instance: she has been betrothed to an absent,
fortune-hunting lover for fourteen years, and now that he is back she
finds herself full of consternation at his masculine habits and rejoices
when he turns to another woman and leaves his first love to the felicity
of her contented cell.

What in most literatures appears as a catastrophe appears in New
England as a relief. Energy has run low in the calm veins of such women,
and they have better things to do than to dwell upon the lives they
might have led had marriage complicated them. Here genre painting
reaches its apogee in American literature: quaint interiors scrupulously
described; rounds of minute activity familiarly portrayed; skimpy moods
analyzed with a delicate competence of touch. At the same time, New
England literature was now too sentimental and now too realistic to
allow all its old maids to remain perpetually sweet and passive. In its
sentimental hours it liked to call up their younger days and to show
them at the point which had decided or compelled their future
loneliness--again and again discovering some act of abnegation such as
giving up a lover because of the unsteadiness of his moral principles or
surrendering him to another woman to whom he seemed for some reason or
other to belong. In its realistic hours local color in New England liked
to examine the atrophy of the emotions which in these stories often
grows upon the celibate. One formula endlessly repeated deals with the
efforts of some acrid spinster--or wife long widowed--to keep a young
girl from marriage, generally out of contempt for love as a trivial
weakness; the conclusion usually makes love victorious after a
thunderbolt of revelation to the hinderer. There are inquiries, too,
into the repressions and obsessions of women whose lives in this fashion
or that have missed their flowering. Many of the inquiries are
sympathetic, tender, penetrating, but most of them incline toward
timidity and tameness. Their note is prevailingly the note of elegy;
they are seen through a trembling haze of reticence. It is as if they
had been made for readers of a vitality no more abundant than that of
their angular heroines.

It would be possible to make a picturesque, precious anthology of
stories dealing with the types and humors of New England. Different
writers would contribute different tones: Sarah Orne Jewett the tone of
faded gentility brooding over its miniature possessions in decaying
seaport towns or in idyllic villages a little further inland; Mary E.
Wilkins Freeman the tone of a stern honesty trained in isolated farms
and along high, exposed ridges where the wind seems to have gnarled the
dispositions of men and women as it has gnarled the apple trees and
where human stubbornness perpetually crops out through a covering of
kindliness as if in imitation of those granite ledges which everywhere
tend to break through the thin soil; Alice Brown the tone of a homely
accuracy touched with the fresh hues of a gently poetical temperament.
More detailed in actuality than the stories of other sections, these New
England plots do not fall so readily into formulas as do those of the
South and West; and yet they have their formulas: how a stubborn pride
worthy of some supreme cause holds an elderly Yankee to a petty,
obstinate course until grievous calamities ensue; how a rural wife,
neglected and overworked by her husband, rises in revolt against the
treadmill of her dull tasks and startles him into comprehension and
awkward consideration; how the remnant of some once prosperous family
puts into the labor of keeping up appearances an amount of effort which,
otherwise expended, might restore the family fortunes; how neighbors
lock horns in the ruthless litigation which in New England corresponds
to the vendettas of Kentucky and how they are reconciled eventually by
sentiment in one guise or another; how a young girl--there are no Tom
Joneses and few Hamlets in this womanly universe--grows up bright and
sensitive as a flower and suffers from the hard, stiff frame of pious
poverty; how a superb heroism springs out of a narrow life, expressing
itself in some act of pitiful surrender and veiling the deed under an
even more pitiful inarticulateness.

The cities of New England have been almost passed over by the local
colorists; Boston, the capital of the Puritans, has singularly to depend
upon the older Holmes or the visiting Howells of Ohio for its reputation
in fiction. Ever since Hawthorne, the romancers and novelists of his
native province have taken, one may say, to the fields, where they have
worked much in the mood of Rose Terry Cooke, who called her best
collection of stories _Huckleberries_ to emphasize what she thought a
true resemblance between the crops and characters of New
England--"hardy, sweet yet spicy, defying storms of heat or cold with
calm persistence, clinging to a poor soil, barren pastures, gray and
rocky hillsides, yet drawing fruitful issues from scanty sources."

Alas that as time goes on the issues of such art seem less fruitful than
once they seemed; that even Mrs. Freeman's _Pembroke_, one of the best
novels of its class, lacks form and structure, and seems to encroach
upon caricature in its study of the progress and consequences of Yankee
pride. After a fecund generation of such stories Edith Wharton in _Ethan
Frome_ has surpassed all her native rivals in tragic power and
distinction of language; Robert Frost has been able to distil the
essence of all of them in three slender books of verse; Edwin Arlington
Robinson in a few brief poems has created the wistful Tilbury Town and
has endowed it with pathos at once more haunting and more lasting than
that of any New England village chronicled in prose; it has remained for
the Pennsylvanian Joseph Hergesheimer in _Java Head_ to seize most
artfully upon the riches of loveliness that survive from the hour when
Massachusetts was at its noon of prosperity; and local color of the
orthodox tradition now persists in New England hardly anywhere except
around Cape Cod, of which Joseph C. Lincoln is the dry, quaint, amusing
laureate.

Through the influence, in important measure, of Howells and the
_Atlantic Monthly_ the modes of fiction which were practised east of
Albany extended their example to other districts also: to northern New
York in Irving Bacheller; to Ohio in Mary S. Watts and Brand Whitlock;
to Indiana in Meredith Nicholson; to Wisconsin in Zona Gale; to Iowa and
Arkansas in Alice French ("Octave Thanet"); to Kansas in William Allen
White; to the Colorado mines in Mary Hallock Foote; to the Virginias in
Ellen Glasgow and Henry Sydnor Harrison; to Georgia in Will N. Harben;
and to other neighborhoods in other neighborly chroniclers whose mere
names could stretch out to a point beyond which critical emphasis would
be lost. New York City clung to less tender and more incisive habits of
fiction; that city's pace for local color was set by the deft, bright
Richard Harding Davis, Henry Cuyler Bunner, Brander Matthews, O.
Henry--all well known figures; by the late Herman Knickerbocker Vielé,
too little known, in whose novels, such as _The Last of the
Knickerbockers_, affectionate accuracy is mated with smiling, graceful
humor; and by David Gray, too little known, whose _Gallops_, concerned
with the horsy parish of St. Thomas Equinus near New York City, contains
the most amusing stories about fashionable sports which this republic
has brought forth. In the Middle West Edgar Watson Howe and Hamlin
Garland, and in the Far West Frank Norris and Jack London, broke with
the customary tendency by turning away from pathos toward tragedy, and
away from discreet benevolence toward emphatic candor. The prevailing
school of naturalism has made its principal advance upon the passing
school of local color by a sacrifice of genial neighborliness; no less
exact and detailed in observation than their predecessors, the
naturalists have insisted upon bringing criticism in and measuring the
most amiable locality by wider standards. Here lies the essential point
of difference between the old style and the new.

It is by reference to this point that the credit--such as it is--of
being quite contemporary must be withheld from so earnest and varied a
novelist as Margaret Deland. That theological agonies like those in
_John Ward, Preacher_ were actually suffered a generation back and that
the book is a valuable document upon the times cannot explain away the
fact that Mrs. Deland herself appears to have been partly overwhelmed
by the storm which sweeps the parish of her story. So in her later
novels which have essayed such problems as divorce, the compulsions of
love, the inevitable clash of parents and children, she tugs at Gordian
knots with the patient fingers of goodwill when one slash with the
intelligence would cut her difficulties away. Suppose it possible, for
instance, that the heroine of _The Awakening of Helena Richie_ could
have been courageous enough to go to her lover to await the death of her
loathsome husband and then could have been so timid as to undergo the
perturbations over her conduct which almost break her heart in Old
Chester--suppose these contradictions might have dwelt together in
Helena, yet could Mrs. Deland not have noted and anatomized them in a
way to show that she saw the contradictions even while recording them?
Suppose that Elizabeth in _The Iron Woman_ was expected by her community
to pay superfluously for an hour's blind folly with a lifetime of
unhappiness and did undertake so to pay for it, yet could Mrs. Deland
not have pointed out that the situation was repugnant both to ordinary
common sense and to the very code of honor and stability which in the
end persuades David and Elizabeth to give each other up?

The conclusions of these novels, which to thousands of readers have
seemed stern and terrible, are in reality terrible chiefly because they
are soft--soft with a sentimentalism swathed in folds of piety. The
customs of Old Chester stifle its inhabitants, who take a kind of stolid
joy in their fetters; and Mrs. Deland, with all her understanding, does
not illuminate them. The movements of her imagination are cumbered by a
too narrow--however charming--cage. Her excellence belongs to the hours
when, not trying to transcend her little Pennsylvania universe, she
brings accuracy and shrewdness and felicity to the chronicles of small
beer in _Old Chester Tales_ and _Dr. Lavendar's People_. These
strictures and this praise she earns by her adherence to the parochial
cult of local color.


2. ROMANCE

If naturalism was a reaction from the small beer of local color, so, in
another fashion, was the flare-up of romance which attended and
succeeded the Spanish War. History was suddenly discovered to be
wonderful no less than humble life; and so was adventure in the
difficult quarters of the earth. That curious, that lush episode of
fiction endowed American literature with a phalanx of "best sellers"
some of which still continue to be sold, in diminished numbers; and it
endowed the national tradition with a host of gallant personages and
heroic incidents dug up out of old books or brought back from far quests
by land or water. It remains, however, an episode; the rococo romancers
did not last. Almost without exception they turned to other methods as
the romantic mood faded out of the populace. Of those who had employed
history for their substance only James Branch Cabell remained absolutely
faithful, revising, strengthening, deepening his art with irony and
beauty until it became an art exquisitely peculiar to himself.

Mary Johnston was as faithful, but her fidelity had less growth in it.
Originally attracted to the heroic legend of colonial Virginia, she has
since so far departed from it as to produce in the _Long Roll_ and
_Cease Firing_ a wide panorama of the Civil War, in other books to study
the historic plight and current unrest of women, and here and there to
show an observant consciousness of the changing world; but her
imagination long ago sank its deepest roots into the traditions of the
Old Dominion. She brings to them, however, no fresh interpretations, as
satisfied as any medieval romancer to ring harmonious changes on ancient
themes, enlarging them, perhaps, with something spacious in her language
and liberal in her sentiments, yet transmitting her material rather as a
singer than as a poet, agreeably rather than creatively.

As Miss Johnston leans upon history for her favorite staff, so James
Lane Allen leans upon "Nature." He is not, indeed, innocent of history.
His Kentucky is always conscious of its chivalric past, and his most
popular romance, _The Choir Invisible_, has its scene laid in and near
the Lexington of the eighteenth century. Nor is he innocent of the
devices of local color. His earliest collection of tales--_Flute and
Violin_--and his ingratiating comment upon it--_The Blue-Grass Region of
Kentucky_--once for all established the character which his chosen
district has in the world of the imagination. But from the first he held
principles of art which would not allow him to consider either history
or local color as ends in themselves. He believed they must be
employed, when employed, as elements contributory to some general effect
of beauty or of meaning. He has built up beauty with the most deliberate
hands, and he has sought to express the highest meanings in his art,
seeking to look through the "thin-aired regions of consciousness which
are ruled over by Tact to the underworld of consciousness where are
situated the mighty workshops, and where toils on forever the cyclopean
youth, Instinct."

In this important program, however, he has constantly been handicapped
by his orthodoxies. John Gray, in _The Choir Invisible_, loving a woman
who though in love with him is bound in marriage to another, engages
himself to a young girl, shortly afterward to find that his real love is
free again; yet with a high gesture of sacrifice he holds to his
engagement and enters upon a union of duty which is sure to make two,
and possibly three, persons unhappy instead of one, though all of them
are equally guiltless. Mr. Allen approves of this immoral arithmetic
with a sentimentalism which has drawn rains of tears down thoughtless
cheeks. So in _The Reign of Law_ he exhibits a youth extricating himself
from an obsolete theology with sufferings which can be explained only on
the ground that the theology was too strong ever to have been escaped or
the youth too weak ever to have rebelled. And in _Aftermath_, sequel to
_A Kentucky Cardinal_, the author sentimentally and quite needlessly
stacks the cards against his hero and lets his heroine die, to bring, as
he might say, "the eternal note of sadness in." All this to show how
"Nature" holds men in her powerful hands and tortures them when they
struggle to follow the mind to liberty! To prove a thesis so profoundly
true and tragic Mr. Allen can do no more than borrow the tricks of
melodrama.

Just how melodramatic his sentimentalism forces him to be has often been
overlooked because of his diction and his pictures. Though he tends to
the mellifluous and the saccharine he has in his better pages a dewy,
luminous style, with words choicely picked out and cadences delicately
manipulated. By comparison most of the local colorists of his period
seem homespun and most of the romancers a little tawdry. His method is
the mosaicist's, working self-consciously in fine materials. Movement
with him never leaps nor flows; in fact, it seems to dawdle when, too
often, he forgets to be vigilant in the interests of simplicity; it is
languid with scrupulous hesitations and accumulations. As to his
pictures, they come from a Kentucky glorified. When he says that in June
there "the warm-eyed, bronzed, foot-stamping young bucks forsake their
plowshares in the green rows, their reapers among the yellow beards; and
the bouncing, laughing, round-breasted girls arrange their ribbons and
their vows," Mr. Allen is remembering Theocritus, the _Pervigilium
Veneris_, and the silver ages of literature no less than his own state
and his own day. He uses local color habitually to ennoble it, and but
for his extravagant taste for sweetness he might have achieved pastorals
of an imperishable sort.

Even as it is, the _Kentucky Cardinal-Aftermath_ story has all the
quaint grace of pressed flowers and remembered valentines, and _Summer
in Arcady_, his masterpiece, has at once rich passion and spare form.
Here Mr. Allen is at his best, representing young love springing up
fiercely, exuberantly, against a lovely background congenial to the
human mood. He has not known, however, how to keep up that difficult
equilibrium between artifice and simplicity which the idyl demands. His
later books tend to be turgid, oppressive, cloying with sentimentalism
and amorous obsessions in their graver moments, and in their lighter
moments to fall flat from a lack of the true sinews of comedy.

Of a temper as different as possible from Mr. Allen's was Edgar Saltus,
just dead, who stood alone and decadent in a country which the _fin de
siècle_ scarcely touched with its graceful, graceless maladies. He began
his career, after a penetrating study of Balzac, with _The Philosophy of
Disenchantment_ and _The Anatomy of Negation_, erudite, witty challenges
to illusion, deriving primarily from Hartmann and Schopenhauer but
enriching their arguments with much inquisitive learning in current
French philosophers and poets. Erudition, however, was not Saltus's sole
equipment: his pessimism came, in part, from his literary masters but in
part also from a temperament which steadily followed its own impulses
and arrived at its own destinations. Cynical, deracinated, he turned
from his speculative doubts to the positive realities of sense,
becoming the historian of love and loveliness in sumptuous, perverse
phases. In _Mary Magdalen_ he dressed up a traditional courtesan in the
splendors of purple and gold and perfumed her with many quaint,
dangerous essences more exciting than her later career as penitent; in
_Imperial Purple_ he undertook a chronicle of the Roman emperors from
Julius Caesar to Heliogabolus, exhibiting them in the most splendid of
all their extravagances and sins; in _Historia Amoris_ he followed the
maddening trail of love and in _The Lords of the Ghostland_ the
saddening trail of faith through the annals of mankind.

He wrote novels, too, of contemporary life, but they are his least
notable achievements. His personages in none of these novels manage to
convince; his plots are melodrama; his worldly wisdom has smirks and
postures in it; his style, now sharp now sagging, is unequal. Saltus
could not, it seems, dispense with antiquity and remoteness in his
books. Only when buried in the deep world of ancient story or when
ranging through the widest field of time did he become most himself.
Then he invited no comparisons with familiar actualities and could
assemble the most magnificent glories according to his whims and could
drape them in the most gorgeous stuffs. What especially touched his
imagination was the spectacle of imperial Rome as interpreted to him by
French decadence: that lust for power and sensation, those incredible
temples, palaces, feasts, revelries, blasphemies, butcheries. Commencing
with a beauty which knew no bounds, he moved on to lust or satiety or
impotence for his theme; in the end he brought little but a glittering
ferocity to that cold chronicle of the czars from Ivan to Catherine,
_The Imperial Orgy_. His phrases never failed him, flashing like gems or
snakes and clasping his exuberant materials in almost the only
discipline they ever had. Wit withheld him from utter lusciousness.
Though he employed Corinthian cadences and diction, he kept continually
checking them with the cynic twist of some deft colloquialism. To
venture into his microcosm is to bid farewell to all that is simple and
kindly; it is, however, to discover the terrible beauty that lurks
behind corruption, malevolent though delirious.

Romance of the traditionary sort, it is plain, has lately lost its vogue
in the United States and is being neglected as at almost no other period
since Fenimore Cooper established its principal native modes. The
ancient romantic matters of the Settlement and the Revolution flourish
almost solely in tales for boys. There is of course still a matter of
the Frontier, but it is another frontier: the Canadian North and
Northwest, Alaska, the islands of the South Seas, latterly the battle
fields of France, and always the trails of American exploration wherever
they may chance to lead. The performers upon such themes--the Rex
Beaches, the Emerson Houghs, the Randall Parrishes, the Zane Greys, the
James Oliver Curwoods--march ordinarily under the noisy banner of "red
blood" and derive from Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, those
generous boys of naturalism whose temperaments carried them again and
again into the territories of vivid danger. Criticism notes in the later
annalists of "red blood" their spasmodic energy, their considerable
technical knowledge, their stereotyped characters, their recurrent
formulas, their uncritical, Rooseveltian opinions, their enormous
popularity, their almost complete lack of distinction in style or
attitude, and passes by without further obligation than to point out
that Stewart Edward White probably deserves to stand first among them by
virtue of a certain substantial range and panoramic faithfulness to the
life of the lumbermen represented in his most successful book, _The
Blazed Trail_.

This phase of life deserves particular emphasis for the reason that
there has recently been growing up among the lumber-camps from the Bay
of Fundy to Puget Sound the legend of a mythical hero named Paul Bunyan
who is the only personage of the sort yet invented and elaborated by the
ordinary run of men in any American calling. Paul is less a patron saint
of the loggers than an autochthonous Munchausen, whose fame has been
extended almost entirely by word of mouth among lumbermen resting from
their work and vying with one another to see who could tell the most
stupendous yarn about Paul's prowess and achievements. The process
resembles that which in the folk everywhere has evolved enormous legends
about favorite heroes; the legend concerning Paul, however, is
essentially native in its accurate geography, in its passion for
grotesque exaggeration, in its hilarious metaphors, in its dry,
drawling, straight-faced narrative method. Exaggeration such as that in
some of these stories verges upon genius. When Paul goes West he
carelessly lets his pick drag behind him and cuts out the Grand Canyon
of the Colorado; he raises corn in Kansas prodigious enough to suck the
Mississippi dry and stop navigation; he builds a hotel so high that he
has "the last seven stories put on hinges so's they could be swung back
for to let the moon go by"; he achieves such feats of eating and
drinking and working and fighting and loving as make Hercules himself
seem a pallid fellow who should have gone upon the rowdy American
frontier to learn the great ways of adventure. Though it is true that
the legend has been developing for many years without adequate literary
use of it having yet been made, it lies ready for romance to handle; and
no discussion of contemporary American fiction can go deeper than the
surfaces without at least mentioning that hilarious chapbook _Paul
Bunyan Comes West_.

That romance is just now being slighted appears from the lamentable
hiatus into which the fame of Charles D. Stewart has lately fallen. His
_Partners of Providence_ suffers from the inevitable comparison with
_Tom Sawyer_ and _Huckleberry Finn_ which it cannot stand, though it
continues the saga of the Mississippi with sympathy and knowledge; but
_The Fugitive Blacksmith_ has a flavor which few comparisons and no
neglect can spoil. Its protagonist, wrongly accused of a murder which he
by mischance finds it difficult to explain, takes to his heels and
lives by his mechanic wits among the villages of the lower Mississippi
through a diversity of adventures which puts his story among the little
masterpieces of the picaresque. Though it is clumsily garnished with
irrelevant things, it stands out above them, racy, rememberable. The
blacksmith has an ingenuity as varied as his experiences. Whereas other
picaroes cheat or fight or love their ways, this hero uses his dexterity
at unaccustomed trades until it is little less than intoxicating to see
him rise to each emergency. He is a proletarian Odysseus, and his
history is a quaint _Odyssey_ of the roving artisan.

The matter of the Civil War, though very large in the American memory,
has in literature not quite reached a parity with the older matters of
the Settlement, the Revolution, and the Frontier, principally, no doubt,
because there has been only one period--and that a brief one--of
historical romance since the war. In connection with this matter,
however, there has been created the legend which at present is surely
the most potent of all the legendary elements dear to the American
imagination.

Abraham Lincoln is, strictly speaking, more than a legend; he has become
a cult. Immediately after his death he lived in the national mind for a
time as primarily a martyr; then emphasis shifted to his humor and a
whole literature of waggish tales and retorts and apologues assembled
around his name; then he passed into a more sentimental zone and endless
stories were multiplied about his natural piety and his habit of
pardoning innocent offenders. Out of the efflorescence of all these
aspects of legend which accompanied the centenary of his birth there has
since seemed to be emerging--though the older aspects still persist as
well--a conception of him as a figure at once lofty and familiar, at
once sad and witty, at once Olympian and human. Among poets of all
grades of opinion Lincoln is the chief native hero: Edwin Arlington
Robinson has best expressed in words as firm as bronze the Master's
reputation for lonely pride and forgiving laughter; John Gould Fletcher,
with an eloquence found nowhere else in his work, likens Lincoln to a
tree so mighty that its branches reach the heavens and its roots the
primal rock and nations of men may rest in its shade; Edgar Lee Masters,
whose work is full of the shadow and light of Lincoln, has made his most
moving lyric an epitaph upon Ann Rutledge, the girl Lincoln loved and
lost; and Vachel Lindsay, in Lincoln's own Springfield, during the World
War thought of him as so stirred even in death by the horrors which then
alarmed the universe that he could not sleep but walked up and down the
midnight streets, mourning and brooding. It is precisely thus, in other
ages, that saints are said to appear at difficult moments, to quiet the
waves or turn the arrow aside. Without these more vulgar manifestations
Lincoln nevertheless lives as the founder of every cult lives, in the
echoes of his voice on many tongues and in the vibrations of his voice
in many affections.

The novelists, unfortunately, fall behind the poets in the beauty and
wisdom with which they celebrate the figure of Lincoln, though they have
produced scores of volumes associated with it, upon the life not only of
Lincoln himself but of his mother, of his children, of this or that
friend or neighbor. Of the various novels--from Winston Churchill's _The
Crisis_ to Irving Bacheller's _A Man for the Ages_--which have sought to
mingle the right proportions of rural shrewdness and honorable dignity,
no one has yet been equal to the magnitude of its theme. They have
followed the customary paths of the historical romance without seeming
to realize that in a theme so spacious they could learn from the methods
of Plato with Socrates, of Shakespeare with his kingly heroes, of the
biographers of Francis of Assisi with their gracious saint.

Few literary tasks are harder than the task of the critic holding a
steady course through the welter of novels which make a tumult in the
world and trying to indicate those which have some genuine significance
as works of art or intelligence or as documents upon the time. How shall
he dispose, for example, of such beguilers of the millions as Gene
Stratton Porter, who piles sentimentalism upon "Nature" till the soft
heap defies analysis, and Harold Bell Wright, who cannily mixes
sentimentalism with valor and prudence till the resultant blend tempts
appetites uncounted? Popularity has its arts no less than excellence;
and so has it its own kind of seriousness. Much as the advertiser and
the salesman have done to market tons of Mrs. Porter and Mr. Wright,
they could not have done it without the assistance furnished them by the
fact that their authors believe and feel the things they write. They
throb with all the popular impulses; they laugh when the multitude
laughs and weep when it weeps; and they have the gift--which is really
rare not common--of calling the multitude's attention to their books in
which is displayed, as in a consoling mirror, the sweet, rosy, empty
features of banality.

How shall the patient critic dispose of Robert W. Chambers, who,
possessing in a high degree the qualities of narrative, of costume, of
dramatic effectiveness, of satire even (as witness _Iole_), has drifted
with the fashions for a generation and has latterly allowed himself to
decline to the manufacture of literary sillibub in the guise of novels
about the smart set and Bohemia? How shall the stern critic dispose of
Gertrude Atherton, who knows so much about California, New York, and the
international scene but who somehow fails to transmute her materials to
any lasting metal and leaves the impression of a vexed aristocrat
scolding the age without either convincing it or convicting it of very
serious deficiencies? How shall the accurate critic dispose of Frank
Harris, who was born in Ireland and who had the most conspicuous part of
his career in England, but who is a naturalized American citizen and who
has written in _The Bomb_ a vivid and intelligent novel dealing with the
Chicago "anarchists" of 1886? How shall the conscientious critic dispose
of the Owen Johnsons and the Rupert Hugheses and the Gouverneur
Morrises and the George Barr McCutcheons with all their energy and
information and good intentions and yet with their fatal lack of true
distinction?

How shall the tolerant critic dispose of the writers of detective
stories whose name is legion and whose art is to fine fiction as
arithmetic to calculus--particularly Arthur Reeve, inventor of that
Craig Kennedy who with endless ingenuity solves problem after problem by
the introduction of scientific and pseudoscientific novelties? How shall
the puzzled critic dispose of Alice Duer Miller and her light, bright
stories of fashionable life; of Edward Lucas White and his vast
panoramas of South America and the ancient world; of Katherine Fullerton
Gerould, with her grim tales and her petulant conservatism; of those
energetic successors of O. Henry, Edna Ferber and Fanny Hurst; of the
late Charles Emmet Van Loan, with his intimate knowledge of sport; of
the schools and swarms of men and women who write short stories for the
most part but who occasionally essay a novel? How shall the worried
critic dispose of the more or less professional humorists who have
created characters and localities: Irvin S. Cobb, who, capable of better
things, prefers the paths of the grotesque and rolls his bulk through
current literature laughing at his own misadventures; Finley Peter
Dunne, inventor of that Mr. Dooley who makes it clear that the American
tradition which invented Poor Richard is still alive; Ring W. Lardner,
master of the racy vernacular of the almost illiterate; George Ade,
easily first of his class, fabulist and satirist?

Perhaps it is best for the baffled critic to leave all of them to time
and, singling out the ten living novelists who seem to him most
distinguished or significant, to study them one by one, adding some
account of the school of fiction just now predominant.



CHAPTER II

ARGUMENT


1. HAMLIN GARLAND

The pedigree of the most energetic and important fiction now being
written in the United States goes unmistakably back to that creative
uprising of discontent in the eighties of the last century which brought
into articulate consciousness the larger share of the aspects of unrest
which have since continued to challenge the nation's magnificent,
arrogant grand march.

The decade had Henry Adams for its bitter philosopher, despairing over
current political corruption and turning away to probe the roots of
American policy under Jefferson and his immediate successors; had the
youthful Theodore Roosevelt for its standard-bearer of a civic
conscience which was, plans went, to bring virtue into caucuses; had
Henry George for its spokesman of economic change, moving across the
continent from California to New York with an argument and a program for
new battles against privilege; had Edward Bellamy for its Utopian
romancer, setting forth a delectable picture of what human society might
become were the old iniquities reasonably wiped away and co-operative
order brought out of competitive chaos; had William Dean Howells for its
annalist of manners, turning toward the end of the decade from his
benevolent acceptance of the world as it was to stout-hearted, though
soft-voiced, accusations brought in the name of Tolstoy and the Apostles
against human inequality however constituted; had--to end the list of
instances without going outside the literary class--Hamlin Garland for
its principal spokesman of the distress and dissatisfaction then
stirring along the changed frontier which so long as free land lasted
had been the natural outlet for the expansive, restless race.

Heretofore the prairies and the plains had depended almost wholly upon
romance--and that often of the cheapest sort--for their literary
reputation; Mr. Garland, who had tested at first hand the innumerable
hardships of such a life, became articulate through his dissent from
average notions about the pioneer. His earliest motives of dissent seem
to have been personal and artistic. During that youth which saw him
borne steadily westward, from his Wisconsin birthplace to windy Iowa and
then to bleak Dakota, his own instincts clashed with those of his
migratory father as the instincts of many a sensitive, unremembered
youth must have clashed with the dumb, fierce urges of the leaders of
migration everywhere. The younger Garland hungered on the frontier for
beauty and learning and leisure; the impulse which eventually detached
him from Dakota and sent him on a trepid, reverent pilgrimage to Boston
was the very impulse which, on another scale, had lately detached Henry
James from his native country and had sent him to the ancient home of
his forefathers in the British Isles.

Mr. Garland could neither feel so free nor fly so far from home as
James. He had, in the midst of his raptures and his successes in New
England, still to remember the plight of the family he had left behind
him on the lonely prairie; he cherished a patriotism for his province
which went a long way toward restoring him to it in time. Sentimental
and romantic considerations, however, did not influence him altogether
in his first important work. He had been kindled by Howells in Boston to
a passion for realism which carried him beyond the suave accuracy of his
master to the somber veracity of _Main-Travelled Roads_, _Prairie
Folks_, and _Rose of Dutcher's Coolly_. This veracity was more than
somber; it was deliberate and polemic. Mr. Garland, ardently a radical
of the school of Henry George, had enlisted in the crusade against
poverty, and he desired to tell the unheeded truth about the frontier
farmers and their wives in language which might do something to lift the
desperate burdens of their condition. Consequently his passions and his
doctrines joined hands to fix the direction of his art; he both hated
the frontier and hinted at definite remedies which he thought would make
it more endurable.

It throws a strong light upon the progress of American society and
literature during the past generation to point out that the service
recently performed by _Main Street_ was, in its fashion, performed
thirty years ago by _Main-Travelled Roads_. Each book challenges the
myth of the rural beauties and the rural virtues; but whereas Sinclair
Lewis, in an intellectual and satiric age, charges that the villagers
are dull, Mr. Garland, in a moral and pathetic age, charged that the
farmers were oppressed. His men wrestle fearfully with sod and mud and
drought and blizzard, goaded by mortgages which may at almost any moment
snatch away all that labor and parsimony have stored up. His women,
endowed with no matter what initial hopes or charms, are sacrificed to
overwork and deprivations and drag out maturity and old age on the
weariest treadmill. The pressure of life is simply too heavy to be borne
except by the ruthless or the crafty. Mr. Garland, though nourished on
the popular legend of the frontier, had come to feel that the "song of
emigration had been, in effect, the hymn of fugitives." Illusion no less
than reality had tempted Americans toward their far frontiers, and the
enormous mass, once under way, had rolled stubbornly westward, crushing
all its members who might desire to hesitate or to reflect.

The romancers had studied the progress of the frontier in the lives of
its victors; Mr. Garland studied it in the lives of its victims: the
private soldier returning drably and mutely from the war to resume his
drab, mute career behind the plow; the tenant caught in a trap by his
landlord and the law and obliged to pay for the added value which his
own toil has given to his farm; the brother neglected until his courage
has died and proffered assistance comes too late to rouse him; and
particularly the daughter whom a harsh father or the wife whom a brutal
husband breaks or drives away--the most sensitive and therefore the most
pitiful victims of them all. Mr. Garland told his early stories in the
strong, level, ominous language of a man who had observed much but chose
to write little. Not his words but the overtones vibrating through them
cry out that the earth and the fruits of the earth belong to all men and
yet a few of them have turned tiger or dog or jackal and snatched what
is precious for themselves while their fellows starve and freeze.
Insoluble as are the dilemmas he propounded and tense and unrelieved as
his accusations were, he stood in his methods nearer, say, to the humane
Millet than to the angry Zola. There is a clear, high splendor about his
landscapes; youth and love on his desolate plains, as well as anywhere,
can find glory in the most difficult existence; he might strip
particular lives relentlessly bare but he no less relentlessly clung to
the conviction that human life has an inalienable dignity which is
deeper than any glamor goes and can survive the loss of all its
trappings.

Why did Mr. Garland not equal the intellectual and artistic success of
_Main-Travelled Roads_, _Prairie Folks_, and _Rose of Dutcher's Coolly_
for a quarter of a century? At the outset he had passion, knowledge,
industry, doctrine, approbation, and he labored hard at enlarging the
sagas of which these books were the center. Yet _Jason Edwards_, _A
Spoil of Office_, _A Member of the Third House_ are dim names and the
Far Western tales which succeeded them grow too rapidly less impressive
as they grow older. The rise of historical romance among the American
followers of Stevenson at the end of the century and the subsequent rise
of flippancy under the leadership of O. Henry have both been blamed for
the partial eclipse into which Mr. Garland's reputation passed. As a
matter of fact, the causes were more fundamental than the mere
fickleness of literary reputation or than the demands of editors and
public that he repeat himself forever. In that first brilliant cycle of
stories this downright pioneer worked with the material which of all
materials he knew best and over which his imagination played most
eagerly. From them, however, he turned to pleas for the single tax and
to exposures of legislative corruption and imbecility about which he
neither knew nor cared so much as he knew and cared about the actual
lives of working farmers. His imagination, whatever his zeal might do in
these different surroundings, would not come to the old point of
incandescence.

Instead, however, of diagnosing his case correctly Mr. Garland followed
the false light of local color to the Rocky Mountains and began the
series of romantic narratives which further interrupted his true growth
and, gradually, his true fame. He who had grimly refused to lend his
voice to the chorus chanting the popular legend of the frontier in which
he had grown up and who had studied the deceptive picture not as a
visitor but as a native, now became himself a visiting enthusiast for
the "high trails" and let himself be roused by a fervor sufficiently
like that from which he had earlier dissented. In his different way he
was as hungry for new lands as his father had been before him. Looking
upon local color as the end--when it is more accurately the
beginning--of fiction, he felt that he had exhausted his old community
and must move on to fresher pastures.

Here the prime fallacy of his school misled him: he believed that if he
had represented the types and scenes of his particular region once he
had done all he could, when of course had he let imagination serve him
he might have found in that microcosm as many passions and tragedies and
joys as he or any novelist could have needed for a lifetime. Here, too,
the prime penalty of his school overtook him: he came to lay so much
emphasis upon outward manners that he let his plots and characters fall
into routine and formula. The novels of his middle period--such as _Her
Mountain Lover_, _The Captain of the Gray Horse Troop_, _Hester_, _The
Light of the Star_, _Cavanagh, Forest Ranger_--too frequently recur to
the romantic theme of a love uniting some powerful, uneducated
frontiersman and some girl from a politer neighborhood. Pioneer and lady
are always almost the same pair in varying costumes; the stories harp
upon the praise of plains and mountains and the scorn of cities and
civilization. These romances, much value as they have as documents and
will long continue to have, must be said to exhibit the frontier as
self-conscious, obstreperous, given to insisting upon its difference
from the rest of the world. In ordinary human intercourse such
insistence eventually becomes tiresome; in literature no less than in
life there is a time to remember local traits and a time to forget them
in concerns more universal.

What concerns of Mr. Garland's were universal became evident when he
published _A Son of the Middle Border_. His enthusiasms might be
romantic but his imagination was not; it was indissolubly married to his
memory of actual events. The formulas of his mountain romances, having
been the inventions of a mind not essentially inventive, had been at
best no more than sectional; the realities of his autobiography, taking
him back again to _Main-Travelled Roads_ and its cycle, were personal,
lyrical, and consequently universal. All along, it now appeared, he had
been at his best when he was most nearly autobiographical: those vivid
early stories had come from the lives of his own family or of their
neighbors; _Rose of Dutcher's Coolly_ had set forth what was practically
his own experience in its account of a heroine--not hero--who leaves her
native farm to go first to a country college and then to Chicago to
pursue a wider life, torn constantly between a passion for freedom and a
loyalty to the father she must tragically desert.

In a sense _A Son of the Middle Border_ supersedes the fictive versions
of the same material; they are the original documents and the _Son_ the
final redaction and commentary. Veracious still, the son of that border
appears no longer vexed as formerly. Memory, parent of art, has at once
sweetened and enlarged the scene. What has been lost of pungent
vividness has its compensation in a broader, a more philosophic
interpretation of the old frontier, which in this record grows to epic
meanings and dimensions. Its savage hardships, though never minimized,
take their due place in its powerful history; the defeat which the
victims underwent cannot rob the victors of their many claims to glory.
If there was little contentment in this border there was still much
rapture. Such things Mr. Garland reveals without saying them too
plainly: the epic qualities of his book--as in Mark Twain's _Life on the
Mississippi_--lie in its implications; the tale itself is a candid
narrative of his own adventures through childhood, youth, and his first
literary period.

This autobiographic method, applied with success in _A Daughter of the
Middle Border_ to his later life in Chicago and all the regions which he
visited, brings into play his higher gifts and excludes his lower. Under
slight obligation to imagine, he runs slight risk of succumbing to those
conventionalisms which often stiffen his work when he trusts to his
imagination. Avowedly dealing with his own opinions and experiences, he
is not tempted to project them, as in the novels he does somewhat too
frequently, into the careers of his heroes. Dealing chiefly with action
not with thought, he does not tend so much as elsewhere to solve
speculative problems with sentiment instead of with reflection. In the
_Son_ and the _Daughter_ he has the fullest chance to be autobiographic
without disguise.

Here lies his best province and here appears his best art. It is an art,
as he employs it, no less subtle than humane. Warm, firm flesh covers
the bones of his chronology. He imparts reality to this or that
occasion, like a novelist, by reciting conversation which must come from
something besides bare memory. He rounds out the characters of the
persons he remembers with a fulness and grace which, lifelike as his
persons are, betray the habit of creating characters. He enriches his
analysis of the Middle Border with sensitive descriptions of the "large,
unconscious scenery" in which it transacted its affairs. If it is
difficult to overprize the documentary value of his saga of the Garlands
and the McClintocks and of their son who turned back on the trail, so is
it difficult to overpraise the sincerity and tenderness and beauty with
which the chronicle was set down.


2. WINSTON CHURCHILL

The tidal wave of historical romance which toward the end of the past
century attacked this coast and broke so far inland as to inundate the
entire continent swept Winston Churchill to a substantial peak of
popularity to which he has since clung, with little apparent loss, by
the exercise of methods somewhat but not greatly less romantic than
those which first lifted him above the flood. He came during a moment
of national expansiveness. Patriotism and jingoism, altruism and
imperialism, passion and sentimentalism shook the temper which had been
slowly stiffening since the Civil War. Now, with a rush of unaccustomed
emotions, the national imagination sought out its own past, luxuriating
in it, not to say wallowing in it.

In Mr. Churchill it found a romancer full of consolation to any who
might fear or suspect that the country's history did not quite match its
destiny. He had enough erudition to lend a very considerable "thickness"
to his scene, whether it was Annapolis or St. Louis or Kentucky or
upland New England. He had a sense for the general bearings of this or
that epoch; he had a firm, warm confidence in the future implied and
adumbrated by this past; he had a feeling for the ceremonial in all
eminent occasions. He had, too, a knack at archaic costume and knack
enough at the idiom in which his contemporaries believed their forebears
had expressed themselves. And he had, besides all these qualities needed
to make his records heroic, the quality of moral earnestness which
imparted to them the look of moral significance. Richard Carvel by the
exercise of simple Maryland virtues rises above the enervate young
sparks of Mayfair; Stephen Brice in _The Crisis_ by his simple Yankee
virtues makes his mark among the St. Louis rebels--who, however, are
gallant and noble though misguided men; canny David Ritchie in _The
Crossing_ leads the frontiersmen of Kentucky as the little child of
fable leads the lion and the lamb; crafty Jethro Bass in _Coniston_,
though a village boss with a pocketful of mortgages and consequently of
constituents, surrenders his ugly power at the touch of a maiden's hand.

To reflect a little upon this combination of heroic color and moral
earnestness is to discover how much Mr. Churchill owes to the elements
injected into American life by Theodore Roosevelt. Is not _The
Crossing_--to take specific illustrations--connected with the same
central cycle as _The Winning of the West_? Is not _Coniston_, whatever
the date of its events, an arraignment of that civic corruption which
Roosevelt hated as the natural result of civic negligence and against
which he urged the duty of an awakened civic conscience? In time Mr.
Churchill was to extend his inquiries to regions of speculation into
which Roosevelt never ventured, but as regards American history and
American politics they were of one mind. "Nor are the ethics of the
manner of our acquisition of a part of Panama and the Canal," wrote Mr.
Churchill in 1918 in his essay on _The American Contribution and the
Democratic Idea_, "wholly defensible from the point of view of
international democracy. Yet it must be remembered that President
Roosevelt was dealing with a corrupt, irresponsible, and hostile
government, and that the Canal had become a necessity not only for our
own development, but for that of the civilization of the world." And
again: "The only real peril confronting democracy is the arrest of
growth."

Roosevelt himself could not have muddled an issue better. Like him Mr.
Churchill has habitually moved along the main lines of national
feeling--believing in America and democracy with a fealty unshaken by
any adverse evidence and delighting in the American pageant with a gusto
rarely modified by the exercise of any critical intelligence. Morally he
has been strenuous and eager; intellectually he has been naïve and
belated. Whether he has been writing what was avowedly romance or what
was intended to be sober criticism he has been always the romancer first
and the critic afterwards.

And yet since the vogue of historical romance passed nearly a score of
years ago Mr. Churchill has honestly striven to keep up with the world
by thinking about it. One novel after another has presented some
encroaching problem of American civic or social life: the control of
politics by interest in _Mr. Crewe's Career_; divorce in _A Modern
Chronicle_; the conflict between Christianity and business in _The
Inside of the Cup_; the oppression of the soul by the lust for temporal
power in _A Far Country_; the struggle of women with the conditions of
modern industry in _The Dwelling-Place of Light_. Nothing has hurried
Mr. Churchill or forced his hand; he has taken two or three years for
each novel, has read widely, has brooded over his theme, has reinforced
his stories with solid documentation. He has aroused prodigious
discussion of his challenges and solutions--particularly in the case of
_The Inside of the Cup_. That novel perhaps best of all exhibits his
later methods. John Hodder by some miracle of inattention or some
accident of isolation has been kept in his country parish from any
contact with the doubt which characterizes his age. Transferred to a
large city he almost instantly finds in himself heresies hitherto only
latent, spends a single summer among the poor, and in the fall begins
relentless war against the unworthy rich among his congregation. Thought
plays but a trivial part in Hodder's evolution. Had he done any real
thinking or were he capable of it he must long before have freed himself
from the dogmas that obstruct him. Instead he has drifted with the
general stream and learns not from the leaders but from the slower
followers of opinion. Like the politician he absorbs through his skin,
gathering premonitions as to which way the crowd is going and then
rushing off in that direction.

If this recalls the processes of Roosevelt, hardly less does it recall
those of Mr. Churchill. Once taken by an idea for a novel he has always
burned with it as if it were as new to the world as to him. Here lies,
without much question, the secret of that genuine earnestness which
pervades all his books: he writes out of the contagious passion of a
recent convert or a still excited discoverer. Here lies, too, without
much question, the secret of Mr. Churchill's success in holding his
audiences: a sort of unconscious politician among novelists, he gathers
his premonitions at happy moments, when the drift is already setting in.
Never once has Mr. Churchill, like a philosopher or a seer, run off
alone.

Even for those, however, who perceive that he belongs intellectually to
a middle class which is neither very subtle nor very profound on the one
hand nor very shrewd or very downright on the other, it is impossible to
withhold from Mr. Churchill the respect due a sincere, scrupulous, and
upright man who has served the truth and his art according to his
lights. If he has not overheard the keenest voices of his age, neither
has he listened to the voice of the mob. The sounds which have reached
him from among the people have come from those who eagerly aspire to
better things arrived at by orderly progress, from those who desire in
some lawful way to outgrow the injustices and inequalities of civil
existence and by fit methods to free the human spirit from all that
clogs and stifles it. But as they aspire and intend better than they
think, so, in concert with them, does Mr. Churchill.

In all his novels, even the most romantic, the real interest lies in
some mounting aspiration opposed to a static régime, whether the passion
for independence among the American colonies, or the expanding movement
of the population westward, or the crusades against slavery or political
malfeasance, or the extrication of liberal temperaments from the
shackles of excessive wealth or poverty or orthodoxy. Yet the only
conclusions he can at all devise are those which history has devised
already--the achievement of independence or of the Illinois country, the
abolition of slavery, the defeat of this or that usurper of power in
politics. Rarely is anything really thought out. Compare, for instance,
his epic of matrimony, _A Modern Chronicle_, with such a penetrating--if
satirical--study as _The Custom of the Country_. Mrs. Wharton urges no
more doctrine than Mr. Churchill, and she, like him, confines herself to
the career of one woman with her successive husbands; but whereas the
_Custom_ is luminous with quiet suggestion and implicit commentary upon
the relations of the sexes in the prevailing modes of marriage, the
_Chronicle_ has little more to say than that after two exciting
marriages a woman is ready enough to settle peacefully down with the
friend of her childhood whom she should have married in the beginning.
In _A Far Country_ a lawyer who has let himself be made a tool in the
hands of nefarious corporations undergoes a tragic love affair, suffers
conversion, reads a few books of modern speculation, and resolutely
turns his face toward a new order. In the same precipitate fashion the
heroine of _The Dwelling-Place of Light_, who has given no apparent
thought whatever to economic problems except as they touch her
individually, suffers a shock in connection with her intrigue with her
capitalist employer and becomes straightway a radical, shortly
thereafter making a pathetic and edifying end in childbirth. In these
books there are hundreds of sound observations and elevated sentiments;
the author's sympathies are, as a rule, remarkably right; but taken as a
whole his most serious novels, however lifelike and well rounded their
surfaces may seem, lack the upholding, articulating skeleton of thought.

Much the same lack of spiritual penetration and intellectual
consistency which has kept Mr. Churchill from ever building a very
notable realistic plot has kept him from ever creating any very
memorable characters. The author of ten novels, immensely popular for
more than a score of years, he has to his credit not a single
figure--man or woman--generally accepted by the public as either a type
or a person. With remarkably few exceptions he has seen his dramatis
personae from without and--doubtless for that reason--has apparently
felt as free to saw and fit them to his argument as he has felt with his
plots. Something preposterous in the millionaire reformer Mr. Crewe,
something cantankerous and passionate in the Abolitionist Judge Whipple
of _The Crisis_, above all something both tough and quaint in the
up-country politician Jethro Bass in _Coniston_ resisted the
argumentative knife and saved for those particular persons that look of
being entities in their own right which distinguishes the authentic from
the artificial characters of fiction.

For the most part, however, Mr. Churchill has erred in what may be
called the arithmetic of his art: he has thought of men and women as
mere fractions of a unit of fiction, whereas they themselves in any but
romances must be the units and the total work the sum or product of the
fictive operation. Naturally he has succeeded rather worse with
characters of his own creating, since his conceptions in such cases have
come to him as social or political problems to be illustrated in the
conduct of beings suitably shaped, than in characters drawn in some
measure from history, with their individualities already more or less
established. Without achieving fresh or bold interpretations of John
Paul Jones or George Rogers Clark or Lincoln, Mr. Churchill has added a
good deal to the vividness of their legends; whereas in the case of
characters not quite so historical, such as Judge Whipple and Jethro
Bass, he has admirably fused his moral earnestness regarding American
politics with his sense of spaciousness and color in the American past.

After the most careful reflection upon Mr. Churchill's successive
studies of contemporary life one recurs irresistibly to his romances. He
possesses, and has more than once displayed, a true romantic--almost a
true epic--instinct. Behind the careers of Richard Carvel and Stephen
Brice and David Ritchie and Jethro Bass appear the procession and
reverberation of stirring days. Nearer a Walter Scott than a Bernard
Shaw, Mr. Churchill has always been willing to take the memories of his
nation as they have come down to him and to work them without question
or rejection into his broad tapestry. A naturalistic generation is
tempted to make light of such methods; they belong, however, too truly
to good traditions of literature to be overlooked.

A national past has many uses, and different dispositions find in it
instruction or warning, depression or exaltation. Mr. Churchill has
found in the American past a cause for exaltation chiefly; after his
ugliest chapters the light breaks and he closes always upon the note of
high confidence which resounds in the epics of robust, successful
nations. If in this respect he has too regularly flattered his
countrymen, he has also enriched the national consciousness by the
colors which he has brought back from his impassioned forays. Only now
and then, it must be remembered, do historical novels pass in their
original form from one generation to another; more frequently they
suffer a decomposition due to their lack of essential truth and descend
to the function of compost for succeeding harvests of romance. Though
probably but one or two of Mr. Churchill's books--perhaps not even
one--can be expected to outlast a generation with much vitality, he
cannot be denied the honor of having added something agreeable if
imponderable to the national memory and so of having served his country
in one real way if not in another.


3. ROBERT HERRICK

If the novels of Robert Herrick were nothing else they would still be
indispensable documents upon that first and second decade of the
twentieth century in America, when a minority unconvinced by either
romance or Roosevelt set out to scrutinize the exuberant complacence
which was becoming a more and more ominous element in the national
character. Imperialism, running a cheerful career in the Caribbean and
in the Pacific, had set the mode for average opinion; the world to
Americans looked immense and the United States the most immense
potentiality in it.

Small wonder then that the prevailing literature gave itself generally
to large proclamations about the future or to spacious recollections of
the past in which the note was hope unmodified. Small wonder either--be
it said to the credit of literature--that the same period caused and saw
the development of the most emphatic protest which has come from native
pens since the abolition of slavery--not excepting even the literary
rebels of the eighties. Much of that protest naturally expressed itself
in fiction, of many orders of intelligence and competence and intention.
Various voices have been louder or shriller or sweeter or in some cases
more thoroughgoing than Mr. Herrick's; but his is the voice which, in
fiction, has best represented the scholar's conscience disturbed by the
spectacle of a tumultuous generation of which most of the members are
too much undisturbed.

In particular Mr. Herrick has concerned himself with the status of women
in the republic which has prided itself upon nothing more than upon its
attitude toward their sex, and he has regularly insisted upon carrying
his researches beyond that period of green girlhood which appears to be
all of a woman's life that can interest the popular fiction-mongers. He
knows, without anywhere putting it precisely into words, that the
elaborate language of compliment used by Americans toward women, though
deriving perhaps from a time when women were less numerous on the
frontier than men and were therefore specially prized and praised, has
become for the most part a hollow language. The pioneer woman earned
all the respect she got by the equal share she bore in the tasks of her
laborious world. Her successor in the comfortable society which the
frontier founded by its travail neither works nor breeds as those first
women did. But the energy thus happily released, instead of being
directed into other useful channels, has been encouraged to spend itself
upon the complex arts of the parasite.

Ascribe it to the vanity of men who choose to regard women as luxurious
chattels and the visible symptoms of success; ascribe it to a wasteful
habit practised by a nation never compelled to make the best use of its
resources; ascribe it to the craft of a sex quick to seize its advantage
after centuries of disadvantage--ascribe it to whatever one will, the
fact remains that the United States has evolved a widely admired type of
woman who lacks the glad animal spontaneity of the little girl, the
ardent abandon of the mistress, the strong loyalty of the wife, the
deep, calm, fierce instincts of the mother; and who even lacks--although
here a change has taken place since Mr. Herrick began to chronicle
her--the confident impulse to follow her own path as an individual,
irrespective of her peculiar functions. It must be remembered, of
course, that Mr. Herrick has had in mind not the vast majority of women,
who in the United States as everywhere else on earth still fully
participate in life, but the American Woman, that traditional figure
compounded of timid ice and dainty insolence and habitually tricked out
with a wealth which holds the world so far away that it cannot see how
empty she really is. He has sought in his novels, by dissecting the
pretty simulacrum, to show that it has little blood and less soul.

At times he writes with a biting animus. In _One Woman's Life_ Milly
schemes herself out of the plain surroundings into which she was born,
lapses from her designs enough to marry a poor man for love but
subsequently wrecks his career and wears him out by her ambitious
ignorance, and before she ends the story in the arms of another husband
has contrived to waste the savings of a friend of her own sex who tries
to help her. In _The Healer_ the doctor's wife continually drags him
back from the passionate exercise of his true gift, luring him with her
beauty to live in the world which nearly destroys him, though he finally
comprehends the danger and escapes her. And in _Together_, its epic
canvas crowded with all kinds and conditions of lovers and married
couples, Mr. Herrick never spares the type. Other novelists may be
content to show her glittering in her maiden plumage; he advances to the
point where it becomes clear that the qualities ordinarily exalted in
her are nothing but signs of an arrested spiritual and moral
development. Hard and wilful enough, she never becomes mature, and she
tangles the web of life with the heedless hands of a child.

A less reflective novelist might be content with blaming or satirizing
her for her blind instinct to marry her richest suitor; for forcing him,
once married, to support her and her children at a pitch of luxury which
demands that he give up his personal aspirations in art or science or
altruism; for struggling so ruthlessly to plant her daughters in
prosperous soil which will nourish the "sacred seed" of the race
abundantly. Mr. Herrick, however, does not disapprove such instincts for
their own sake. He sees in them an element furnishing mankind with one
of its valuable sources of stability. What he assails is a national
conception which endows women with these instincts in mean, trivial,
unenlightened forms.

His criticism of the American Woman, indeed, is but an emphatic point in
his larger criticism of human life, and he has singled her out
essentially, it seems, because of the shallowness of her lovely
pretenses. It is the shallowness, not the sex, which arouses him. In
_The Common Lot_, in _The Memoirs of an American Citizen_, in _Clark's
Field_, and in certain of the strands of _Together_ it is the women who
demand that, no matter what happens, they shall be allowed to live their
lives upon the high plane of integrity from which the casual world is
always trying to pull men and women down. Integrity in love, integrity
in personal conduct, integrity in business and public affairs--this Mr.
Herrick holds to with a profound, at times a bleak, consistency which
has both worried and limited his readers. Integrity in love leads
Margaret Pole in _Together_, for instance, from her foolish husband to
her lover during one lyric episode and thereafter holds them apart in
the consciousness of a love completed and not to be touched with
perishable flesh. In novel after novel the characters come to grief from
the American habit of extravagance, which, as Mr. Herrick represents
it, seems a serious offense against integrity--springing from a failure
to control vagrant desires and tying the spirit to the need of
superfluous things until it ceases to be itself. And with never wearied
iteration he comes back to the problem of how the individual can
maintain his integrity in the face of the temptation to get easy wealth
and cut a false figure in the world.

Possibly it was a youth spent in New England that made Mr. Herrick as
sensitive as he has been to the atmosphere of affairs in Chicago, where
fortunes have come in like a flood during his residence there, and where
the popular imagination has been primarily enlisted in the game of
seeing where the next wave will break and of catching its golden spoil.
Mr. Herrick has not confined himself to Chicago for his scene; indeed,
he is one of the least local of American novelists, ranging as he does,
with all the appearances of ease, from New England to California, from
farm to factory, from city to suburb, and along the routes of pleasure
which Americans take in Europe. But Chicago is the true center of his
universe, and he is the principal historian in fiction of that roaring
village so rapidly turned town. He has not, however, been blown with the
prevailing winds. The vision that has fired most of his fellow citizens
has looked to him like a tantalizing but insubstantial mirage. Something
in his disposition has kept him cool while others were being made drunk
with opportunity.

Is it the scholar in him, or the New Englander, or the moralist which
has compelled him to count the moral cost of material expansion? In the
first of his novels to win much of a hearing, _The Common Lot_, he
studies the career of an architect who becomes involved in the frauds of
dishonest builders and sacrifices his professional integrity for the
sake of quick, dangerous profits. _The Memoirs of an American Citizen_,
a precious document now too much neglected, follows a country youth of
good initial impulses through his rise and progress among the packers
and on to the Senate of the United States. This is one of the oldest
themes in literature, one of the themes most certain to succeed with any
public: Dick Whittington, the Industrious Apprentice, over again. Mr.
Herrick, however, cannot merely repeat the old drama or point the old
moral. His hero wriggles upward by devious ways and sharp practices,
crushing competitors, diverting justice, and gradually paying for his
fortune with his integrity. In the most modern idiom Mr. Herrick asks
again and again the ancient question whether the whole world is worth as
much as a man's soul.

That mystical rigor which permits but one answer to the question
suggests to Mr. Herrick two avenues of cure from the evils accompanying
the disease he broods upon. One is a return to simple living under
conditions which quiet the restless nerves, allay the greedy appetites,
and restore the central will. The Master in _The Master of the Inn_,
Renault in _Together_, Holden in _The Healer_--all of them utter and
live a gospel of health which obviously corresponds to Mr. Herrick's
belief. When the world grows too loud one may withdraw from it; there
are still uncrowded spaces where existence marches simply. Remembering
them, Mr. Herrick's imagination, held commonly on so tight a fist, slips
its hood off and takes wing. And yet he knows that the north woods into
which a few favored men and women may withdraw are not cure enough for
the multitude. They must practise, or some one must practise for their
benefit, honorable refusals in the midst of life. The architect's wife
in _The Common Lot_, Harrington's sister in _The Memoirs of an American
Citizen_, the clear-eyed Johnstons in _Together_--they have or attain
the knowledge, which seems a paradox, that selfishness can fatally
entangle the individual in the perplexities of existence and that the
best chance for disentanglement may come from intelligent unselfishness.

_Clark's Field_ amply illustrates this paradox. The field has for many
years lain idle in the midst of a growing town because of a flaw in the
title, and when eventually the title is quieted and the land is sold it
pours wealth upon heads not educated to use it with wisdom. Here is
unearned increment made flesh and converted into drama: the field that
might have been home and garden and playground becomes a machine, a
monster, which gradually visits evil upon all concerned. Then Adelle and
her proletarian cousin, aware that the field through the corruption of a
well-meant law has grown malevolent, resolve to break the spell by
surrendering their selfish interests and accepting the position of
unselfish trustees to the estate until--if that time ever comes--some
better means may be devised for making the earth serve the purposes of
those who live upon it.

The solution does not entirely satisfy, of course. At best it is a
makeshift if considered in its larger bearings. It comes near, however,
to solving the problems as individuals of Adelle and her cousin, who
save more in character than they lose in pocket. And it might possibly
have come nearer still were it not for the handicap under which Mr.
Herrick, for all his intelligence and conscience, has labored as an
artist. That handicap is a certain stiffness on the plastic side of his
imagination. His conceptions come to him, if criticism can be any judge,
with a large touch of the abstract about them; his rationalizing
intelligence is always present at their birth. Nor do his narratives,
once under way, flow with the sure, effortless movement which is natural
to born story-tellers. His imagination, not quite continuous enough,
occasionally fails to fuse and shape disparate materials. It is likely
to fall short when he essays fancy or mystery, as in _A Life for a
Life_; or when he has a whimsy for amusing melodrama, as in _His Great
Adventure_. The flexibility which reveals itself in humor or in the
lighter irony is not one of his principal endowments. Restrained and
direct as he always is so far as language goes, he cannot always keep
his action absolutely in hand: this or that person or incident now and
then breaks out of the pattern; the skeleton of a formula now and then
becomes too prominent.

It is his intelligence which makes his satire sharp and significant; it
is his conscience which lends passion to his representation and lifts
him often to a true if sober eloquence. But in at least two of his
novels imagination takes him, as only imagination can take a novelist,
beyond the reach of either intelligence or conscience. _Together_, a
little cumbersome, a little sprawling, nevertheless glows with an
intensity which gives off heat as well as light. It is more than an
exhaustive document upon modern marriage; it is interpretation as well.
_Clark's Field_, a sparer, clearer story, is even more than
interpretation; it is a work of art springing from a spirit which has
taken fire and has transmuted almost all its abstract conceptions into
genuine flesh and blood. That _Clark's Field_ is Mr. Herrick's latest
novel heightens the expectation with which one hears that after a
silence of seven years he now plans to return to fiction.


4. UPTON SINCLAIR

The social and industrial order which has blacklisted Upton Sinclair
has, while increasing his rage, also increased his art. In his youth he
was primarily a lyric boy storming the ears of a world which failed to
detect in his romances the promise of which he himself was outspokenly
confident. His first character--the hero of _Springtime and Harvest_
and of _The Journal of Arthur Stirling_--belonged to the lamenting race
of the minor poets, shaped his beauty in deep seclusion, and died
because it went unrecognized. Mr. Sinclair, though he had created
Stirling in his own image, did not die. Instead he began to study the
causes of public deafness and found the injustices which ever since he
has devoted his enormous energy to exposing. If that original motive
seems inadequate and if traces of it have been partially responsible for
his reputation as a seeker of personal notoriety, still it has lent
ardor to his crusade. And if he had not discovered so much injustice to
chronicle--if there had not been so much for him to discover--he must
have lacked the ammunition with which he has fought.

As the evidences have accumulated he has been spared the need of
complaining merely because another minor poet was neglected and has been
able to widen his accusations until they include the whole multitude of
oppressions which free spirits have to contend against when they face
machines and privilege and mortmain. The industrial system which true
prophets have unanimously condemned for a century and a half helped to
pack Mr. Sinclair's records from the first; the war, with its vast
hysteria and blind panic, made it superfluous for him to add much
commentary in _Jimmie Higgins_ and _100%_ to the veritable episodes
which he there recounted. On some occasions fact itself has the impetus
of propaganda. The times have furnished Mr. Sinclair the keen, cool,
dangerous art of Thomas Paine.

To mention Paine is to rank Mr. Sinclair with the ragged philosophers
among whom he properly belongs, rather than with learned misanthropes
like Swift or intellectual ironists like Bernard Shaw. An expansive
passion for humanity at large colors all this proletarian radical has
written. By disposition very obviously a poet, working with no subtle or
complex processes and without any of the lighter aspects of humor, Mr.
Sinclair simply refuses to accept existence as it stands and goes on
questioning it forever. _Samuel the Seeker_ seems a kind of allegory of
its author's own career. He, too, in the fashion of Samuel Prescott,
inquires of all he meets why they tolerate injustice and demands that
something or other be done at once. These are the methods of the ragged
philosophers, whereas the learned understand that justice comes slowly
and so rest now and then from effort; and the ironists understand that
justice may never come and so now and then sit down, detached and
cynical.

Naïve inquirers like Upton Sinclair take and give fewer opportunities
for comfort. How can any one talk of the long ages of human progress
when a child may starve to death in a few days? How can any one take
refuge in irony when agony is always abroad, biting and rending? How can
any one leave to others the obligation to assail injustice when the
responsibility for it lies equally upon all, whether victims or victors,
who permit it to continue? A questioner so relentless can very soon bore
the questioned, especially if they are less strenuous or less inflamed
than he and can keep up his pitch neither of activity nor of anger; but
this is no proof that such an inquiry is impertinent or that answers are
impossible. Indeed, the chances are that the proportions of this
boredom and the animosity resulting from it will depend upon the extent
to which grievances do exist about which it is painful to think for the
reason that they so plainly should not exist. A complacent reader of any
of Mr. Sinclair's better books can stay complacent only by shutting up
the book and his mind again.

Without doubt the various abuses which these books set forth have their
case seriously weakened by the violent quickness with which Mr. Sinclair
scents conspiracy among the enemies of justice. It is perhaps not to be
wondered at that he should so often fly to this conclusion; he has
himself, as his personal history in _The Brass Check_ makes clear
enough, been practically conspired against. But some instinct for
melodrama in his constitution has led him to invent a larger number of
conspirators than has been necessary to illustrate his contention.

In _Love's Pilgrimage_, for instance, Thyrsis suffers tortures from the
fact that it takes time for a poet, however gifted, to make himself
heard. In reality, of course, the blame for this lies in about the same
quarter of the universe as that which establishes a period of years
between youth and maturity; to complain too bitterly about either ruling
is to waste on an inscrutable problem the strength which might better be
devoted to an annoying task. Mr. Sinclair, however, cools himself in no
such philosophy. He dramatizes Thyrsis's hungry longings and cruel
disappointments on Thyrsis's own terms, making the boy out a martyr with
powerful forces arrayed against him in a conspiracy to keep ascendant
genius down. Consequently the narrative has about it something shrill
and febrile; it is keyed too high to carry full conviction to any but
those who are straining at a similar leash. So also in _The Profits of
Religion_--which is to the present age what _The Age of Reason_ was to
an earlier revolutionary generation--Mr. Sinclair excessively simplifies
religious history by reducing almost the whole process to a conspiracy
on the part of priestcraft to hoodwink the people and so to fatten its
own greedy purse. He must know that the process has not been quite so
simple; but, leaving to others to say the things that all will say, he
studies "supernaturalism as a source of income and a shield to
privilege." Here again his instincts and methods as a melodramatist
assert themselves: he warms to the struggle and plays his lash upon his
conspiring priests in a mood of mingled duty and delight.

_The Profits of Religion_ and _The Brass Check_ belong to a series of
treatises on the economic interpretation of culture which will later
examine education and literature as these two have examined the church
and journalism and which collectively will bear the title _The Dead
Hand_. Against the malign domination of the present by the past Mr.
Sinclair directs his principal assault. In the arts he sees the dead
hand holding the classics on their thrones and thrusting back new
masterpieces as they appear; in religion he sees it clothing the visions
of ancient poets in steel creeds and rituals and denying that such
visions can ever come to later spirits; in human society he sees it
welding the manacles of caste and hardening this or that temporary
pattern of life to a perpetual order. As he repeatedly suspects
conspiracy where none exists, so he repeatedly suspects deliberate
malice where he should perceive stupidity.

Now stupidity, though certainly the cause of more evils than malice can
devise, is less employable as a villain: it is not anthropomorphic
enough for melodrama. Mr. Sinclair is moral first and then intellectual.
Touching upon such a theme as the horrors of venereal disease he feels
more than a rational man's contempt for the imbecility of parents who
will not instruct their daughters in anything but the sentimental
elements of sex; he feels the fury toward them that audiences feel
toward villains. It is much the same with his rather absurd novels
written to display the follies of fashionable life, _The Metropolis_ and
_The Moneychangers_: he finds more crime than folly in the extravagant
pursuit of pleasure on the part of the few while the many endure hunger
and cold, homelessness and joblessness, ignorance and rebellion and
premature decay. Though the satirists may smile at the silly few, the
ragged philosophers must weep for the miserable many.

Class-consciousness is a great advantage to the writer of exciting
fiction, as numerous American novelists have shown--standing ordinarily,
however, on the side of the privileged orders. Mr. Sinclair in _The
Jungle_, his great success, taking his stand with the unprivileged, with
the wretched aliens in the Chicago stockyards, had the advantage that he
could represent his characters as actually contending against the
conspiracy which always exists when the exploiters of men see the
exploited growing restless. What outraged the public was the news,
later confirmed by official investigation, that the meat of a large part
of the world was being prepared, at great profit to the packers, under
conditions abominably unhygienic; what outraged Mr. Sinclair was the
spectacle of the lives which the workers in the yards were compelled to
lead if they got work--which meant life to them--at all. Thanks to the
conspiracy among their masters they could not help themselves; thanks to
the weight of the dead hand they could get no help from popular opinion,
which saw their plight as something essential to the very structure of
society, as Aristotle saw slavery. Mr. Sinclair proclaimed with a
ringing voice that their plight was not essential; and he prophesied the
revolution with an eloquence which, though the revolution has not come,
still warms and lifts the raw material with which he had to deal.

Nothing about him has done more to make him an arresting novelist than
his conviction that mankind has not yet reached its peak, as the
pessimists think; and that the current stage of civilization, with all
that is unendurable about it, need last no longer than till the moment
when mankind determines that it need no longer endure. He speaks as a
socialist who has dug up a multitude of economic facts and can present
them with appalling force; he speaks as a poet sustained by visions and
generous hopes.

How hope has worked in Mr. Sinclair appears with significant emphasis in
the contrast between _Manassas_ and _100%_; the two books illustrate the
range of American naturalism and the progressive disillusion of a
generation. _Manassas_ is the work of a man filled with epic memories
and epic expectations who saw in the Civil War a clash of titanic
principles, saw a nation being beaten out on a fearful anvil, saw
splendor and heroism rising up from the pits of slaughter. And in spite
of his fifteen years spent in discovering the other side of the American
picture Mr. Sinclair in _Jimmie Higgins_, the story of a socialist who
went to war against the Kaiser, showed traces still of a romantic pulse,
settling down, however, toward the end, to a colder beat. It is the
colder beat which throbs in _100%_, with a temperature that suggests
both ice and fire. Rarely has such irony been maintained in an entire
volume as that which traces the evolution of Peter Gudge from sharper to
patriot through the foul career of spying and incitement and persecution
opened to his kind of talents by the frenzy of noncombatants during the
war. To this has that patriotism come which on the red fields of
Virginia poured itself out in unstinting sacrifice; and, though the
sacrifice went on in France and Flanders, was it worth while, Mr.
Sinclair implicitly inquires, when the conflict, at no matter how great
a distance, could breed such vermin as Peter Gudge? Explicitly he does
not answer his question: his art has gone, at least for the moment,
beyond avowed argument, merely marshaling the evidence with ironic skill
and dispensing with the chorus. _100%_ is a document which honest
Americans must remember and point out when orators exclaim, in the
accents of official idealism, over the great days and deeds of the great
war.

The road for Mr. Sinclair to travel is the road of irony and
documentation, both of which will hold him back from ineffectual rages
and thereby serve to enlarge his influence. Such genius for controversy
as his may be neither expected nor advised to look for quieter paths; it
feels, with Bernard Shaw, that "if people are rotting and starving in
all directions, and nobody else has the heart or brains to make a
disturbance about it, the great writers must." It is fair to say,
however, that certain readers heartily sympathetic toward Mr. Sinclair
observe in him a painful tendency to enjoy scandal for its own sake and
to generalize from it to an extent which hurts his cause; observe in him
a quite superfluous gusto when it comes to reporting bloody incidents
not always contributory to any general design; observe in him a frequent
over-use of the shout and the scream. He has himself given an
example--_100%_--on which such critical strictures are based; in that
best of his novels as well as best of his arguments he has avoided most
of his own defects.

A revolutionary novelist naturally finds it difficult to represent his
world with the quiet grasp with which it can be represented by one who,
accepting the present frame of life, has studied it curiously,
affectionately, until it has left a firm, substantial image in the mind.
The revolutionist must see life as constantly whirling and melting under
his gaze; he must bring to light many facts which the majority overlook
but which it will seem to him like connivance with injustice to leave in
hiding; he must go constantly beyond what is to what ought to be. All
the more reason, then, why he should be as watchful as the most watchful
artist in his choice and use of the modes of his particular art. It
requires at least as much art to convert as to give pleasure.


5. THEODORE DREISER

Much concerned about wisdom as Theodore Dreiser is, he almost wholly
lacks the dexterous knowingness which has marked the mass of fiction in
the age of O. Henry. Not only has Mr. Dreiser never allowed any one else
to make up his mind for him regarding the significance and aims and
obligations of mankind but he has never made up his mind himself. A
large dubitancy colors all his reflections. "All we know is that we
cannot know." The only law about which we can be reasonably certain is
the law of change. Justice is "an occasional compromise struck in an
eternal battle." Virtue and honesty are "a system of weights and
measures, balances struck between man and man."

Prudence no less than philosophy demands, then, that we hold ourselves
constantly in readiness to discard our ancient creeds and habits and
step valiantly around the corner beyond which reality will have drifted
even while we were building our houses on what seemed the primeval and
eternal rock. Tides of change rise from deeps below deeps; cosmic winds
of change blow upon us from boundless chaos; mountains, in the long
geologic seasons, shift and flow like clouds; and the everlasting
heavens may some day be shattered by the explosion or pressure of new
circumstances. Somewhere in the scheme man stands punily on what may be
an Ararat rising out of the abyss or only a promontory of the moment
sinking back again; there all his strength is devoted to a dim struggle
for survival. How in this flickering universe shall man claim for
himself the honors of any important antiquity or any important destiny?
What, in this vast accident, does human dignity amount to?

For a philosopher with views so wide it is difficult to be a dramatist
or a novelist. If he is consistent the most portentous human tragedy
must seem to him only a tiny gasp for breath, the most delightful human
comedy only a tiny flutter of joy. Against a background of suns dying on
the other side of Aldebaran any mole trodden upon by some casual hoof
may appear as significant a personage as an Oedipus or a Lear in his
last agony. To be a novelist or dramatist at all such a cosmic
philosopher must contract his vision to the little island we inhabit,
must adjust his interest to mortal proportions and concerns, must match
his narrative to the scale by which we ordinarily measure our lives. The
muddle of elements so often obvious in Mr. Dreiser's work comes from the
conflict within him of huge, expansive moods and a conscience working
hard to be accurate in its representation of the most honest facts of
manners and character.

Granted, he might reasonably argue, that the plight and stature of all
mankind are essentially so mean, the novelist need not seriously bother
himself with the task of looking about for its heroic figures. Plain
stories of plain people are as valuable as any others. Since all larger
doctrines and ideals are likely to be false in a precarious world, it is
best to stick as close as possible to the individual. When the
individual is sincere he has at least some positive attributes; his
record may have a genuine significance for others if it is presented
with absolute candor. Indeed, we can partially escape from the general
meaninglessness of life at large by being or studying individuals who
are sincere, and who are therefore the origins and centers of some kind
of reality.

That the sincerity which Mr. Dreiser practises differs in some respects
from that of any other American novelist, no matter how truthful, must
be referred to one special quality of his own temperament. Historically
he has his fellows: he belongs with the movement toward naturalism which
came to America when Hamlin Garland and Stephen Crane and Frank Norris,
partly as a protest against the bland realism which Howells expounded,
were dissenting in their various dialects from the reticences and the
romances then current. Personally Mr. Dreiser displays, almost alone
among American novelists, the characteristics of what for lack of a
better native term we have to call the peasant type--the type to which
Gorki belongs and which Tolstoy wanted to belong to.

Enlarged by genius though Mr. Dreiser is; open as he is to all manner of
novel sensations and ideas; little as he is bound by the rigor of
village habits and prejudices--still he carries wherever he goes the
true peasant simplicity of outlook, speaks with the peasant's bald
frankness, and suffers a peasant confusion in the face of complexity.
How far he sees life on one simple plane may be illustrated by his short
story _When the Old Century Was New_, an attempt to reconstruct in
fiction the New York of 1801 which shows him, in spite of some
deliberate erudition, to be amazingly unable to feel at home in another
age than his own. This same simplicity of outlook makes _A Traveler at
Forty_ so revealing a document, makes the Traveler appear a true
Innocent Abroad without the hilarious and shrewd self-sufficiency of a
frontiersman of genius like Mark Twain. While it is true that Mr.
Dreiser's plain-speaking on a variety of topics euphemized by earlier
American realists has about it some look of conscious intention, and is
undoubtedly sustained by his literary principles, yet his candor
essentially inheres in his nature: he thinks in blunt terms before he
speaks in them. He speaks bluntly even upon the more subtle and
intricate themes--finance and sex and art--which interest him above all
others.

On the whole he probably succeeds best with finance. The career of
Cowperwood in _The Financier_ and _The Titan_, a career notoriously
based upon that of Charles T. Yerkes, allowed Mr. Dreiser to exercise
his virtue of patient industry and to build up a solid monument of fact
which, though often dull enough, nevertheless continues generally to
convince, at least in respect to Cowperwood's business enterprises. The
American financier, after all, has rarely had much subtlety in his
make-up. Single-minded, tough-skinned, ruthless, "suggesting a power
which invents man for one purpose and no other, as generals, saints, and
the like are invented," he shoulders and hurls his bulk through a sea of
troubles and carries off his spoils. Such a man as Frank Cowperwood Mr.
Dreiser understands. He understands the march of desire to its goal. He
seems always to have been curious regarding the large operations of
finance, at once stirred on his poetical side by the intoxication of
golden dreams, something as Marlowe was in _The Jew of Malta_, and on
his cynical side struck by the mechanism of craft and courage and
indomitable impulse which the financier employs. Mr. Dreiser writes, it
is true, as an outsider; he simplifies the account of Cowperwood's
adventures after wealth, touching the record here and there with the
naïve hand of a peasant--even though a peasant of genius--wondering how
great riches are actually obtained and guessing somewhat awkwardly at
the mystery. And yet these guesses perhaps come nearer to the truth than
they might have come were either the typical financier or Mr. Dreiser
more subtle. You cannot set a poet to catch a financier and be at all
sure of the prize. As it is, this Trilogy of Desire (never completed in
the third part which was to show Cowperwood extending his mighty foray
into London) is as considerable an epic as American business has yet to
show.

Cowperwood's lighter hours are devoted to pursuits almost as polygamous
as those of the leader of some four-footed herd. In this respect the
novels which celebrate him stand close to the more popular _Sister
Carrie_ and _Jennie Gerhardt_, both of them annals of women who fall as
easily as Cowperwood's many mistresses into the hand of the conquering
male. If Mr. Dreiser refuses to withhold his approbation from the
lawless financier, he withholds it even less from the lawless lover. No
moralism overlays the biology of these novels. Sex in them is a
free-flowing, expanding energy, working resistlessly through all human
tissue, knowing in itself neither good nor evil, habitually at war with
the rules and taboos which have been devised by mankind to hold its
amative impulses within convenient bounds. To the cosmic philosopher
what does it matter whether this or that human male mates with this or
that human female, or whether the mating endures beyond the passionate
moment?

Viewing such matters thus Mr. Dreiser constantly underestimates the
forces which in civil society actually do restrain the expansive moods
of sex. At least he chooses to represent love almost always in its
vagrant hours. For this his favorite situation is in large part
responsible: that of a strong man, no longer generously young, loving
downward to some plastic, ignorant girl dazzled by his splendor and
immediately compliant to his advances. Mr. Dreiser is obsessed by the
spectacle of middle age renewing itself at the fires of youth--an
obsession which has its sentimental no less than its realistic traits.
What he most conspicuously leaves out of account is the will and
personality of women, whom he sees, or at least represents, with hardly
any exceptions as mere fools of love, mere wax to the wooer, who have no
separate identities till some lover shapes them. To something like this
simplicity the rôle of women in love is reduced by those Boccaccian
fabulists who adorn the village taproom and the corner grocery.

Mr. Dreiser is reported to consider _The 'Genius'_, a massive, muddy,
powerful narrative, his greatest novel, though as a matter of fact it
cannot be compared with _Sister Carrie_ for insight or accuracy or
charm. His partiality may perhaps be ascribed to his strong inclination
toward the life of art, through which his 'Genius' moves, half hero and
half picaro. Witla remains mediocre enough in all but his sexual
unscrupulousness, but he is impelled by a driving force more or less
like those forces which impel Cowperwood. The will to wealth, the will
to love, the will to art--Mr. Dreiser conceives them all as blind
energies with no goal except self-realization. So conceiving them he
tends to see them as less conditioned than they ordinarily are in their
earthly progress by the resistance of statute and habit. Particularly is
this true of his representation of the careers of artists. Carrie
becomes a noted actress in a few short weeks; Witla almost as rapidly
becomes a noted illustrator; other minor characters here and there in
the novels are said to have prodigious power without exhibiting it.
Hardly ever does there appear any delicate, convincing analysis of the
mysterious behavior of true genius. Mr. Dreiser's artists are hardly
persons at all; they are creatures driven, and the wonder lies primarily
in the impelling energy. The cosmic philosopher in him sees the
beginning and the end of the artistic process better than the novelist
in him sees its methods. And the peasant in him, though it knows the
world of art as vivid and beautiful and though it has investigated that
world at first hand, still leads him to report it in terms often quaint,
melodramatic, invincibly rural. Witness the hundreds of times he calls
things "artistic."

Two of his latest books indicate the range of his gifts and his
excellences. In _Hey Rub-A-Dub-Dub_, which he calls A Book of the
Mystery and Wonder and Terror of Life, he undertook to expound his
general philosophy and produced the most negligible of all his works. He
has no faculty for sustained argument. Like Byron, as soon as he begins
to reason he is less than half himself. In _Twelve Men_, on the other
hand, he displays the qualities by virtue of which he attracts and
deserves a serious attention. Rarely generalizing, he portrays a dozen
actual persons he has known, all his honesty brought to the task of
making his account fit the reality exactly, and all his large tolerance
exercised to present the truth without malice or excuses. Here lies the
field of his finest victories, here and in those adjacent tracts of
other books which are nearest this simple method: his representation of
old Gerhardt and of Aaron Berchansky in _The Hand of the Potter_;
numerous sketches of character in that broad pageant _A Hoosier
Holiday_; the tenderly conceived record of Caroline Meeber, wispy and
witless as she often is; the masterly study of Hurstwood's deterioration
in _Sister Carrie_--this last the peak among all Mr. Dreiser's
successes.

Not the incurable awkwardness of his style nor his occasional merciless
verbosity nor his too frequent interposition of crude argument can
destroy the effect which he produces at his best--that of an eminent
spirit brooding over a world which in spite of many condemnations he
deeply, somberly loves. Something peasant-like in his genius may blind
him a little to the finer shades of character and set him astray in his
reports of cultivated society. His conscience about telling the plain
truth may suffer at times from a dogmatic tolerance which refuses to
draw lines between good and evil or between beautiful and ugly or
between wise and foolish. But he gains, on the whole, as much as he
loses by the magnitude of his cosmic philosophizing. These puny souls
over which he broods, with so little dignity in themselves, take on a
dignity from his contemplation of them. Small as they are, he has come
to them from long flights, and has brought back a lifted vision which
enriches his drab narratives. Something spacious, something now lurid
now luminous, surrounds them. From somewhere sound accents of an
authority not sufficiently explained by the mere accuracy of his
versions of life. Though it may indeed be difficult for a thinker of the
widest views to contract himself to the dimensions needed for
naturalistic art, and though he may often fail when he attempts it, when
he does succeed he has the opportunity, which the mere worldling lacks,
of ennobling his art with some of the great light of the poets.



CHAPTER III

ART


1. BOOTH TARKINGTON

Booth Tarkington is the glass of adolescence and the mold of Indiana.
The hero of his earliest novel, Harkless in _The Gentleman from
Indiana_, drifts through that narrative with a melancholy stride because
he has been seven long years out of college and has not yet set the
prairie on fire. But Mr. Tarkington, at the time of writing distant from
Princeton by about the same number of years and also not yet famous,
could not put up with failure in a hero. So Harkless appears as a mine
of latent splendors. Carlow County idolizes him, evil-doers hate him,
grateful old men worship him, devoted young men shadow his unsuspecting
steps at night in order to protect him from the villains of
Six-Cross-Roads, sweet girls adore him, fortune saves him from dire
adventures, and in the end his fellow-voters choose him to represent
their innumerable virtues in the Congress of their country without his
even dreaming what affectionate game they are at. This from the creator
of Penrod, who at the comical age of twelve so often lays large plans
for proving to the heedless world that he, too, has been a hero all
along! In somewhat happier hours Mr. Tarkington wrote _Monsieur
Beaucaire_, that dainty romantic episode in the life of Prince
Louis-Philippe de Valois, who masquerades as a barber and then as a
gambler at Bath, is misjudged on the evidence of his own disguises,
just escapes catastrophe, and in the end gracefully forgives the
gentlemen and ladies who have been wrong, parting with an exquisite
gesture from Lady Mary Carlisle, the beauty of Bath, who loves him but
who for a few fatal days had doubted. This from the creator of William
Sylvanus Baxter, who at the preposterous age of seventeen imagines
himself another Sydney Carton and after a silent, agonizing,
condescending farewell goes out to the imaginary tumbril!

Just such postures and phantasms of adolescence lie behind all Mr.
Tarkington's more serious plots--and not merely those earlier ones which
he constructed a score of years ago when the mode in fiction was
historical and rococo. Van Revel in _The Two Van Revels_, convinced and
passionate abolitionist, nevertheless becomes as hungry as any
fire-eater of them all the moment Polk moves for war on Mexico, though
to Van Revel the war is an evil madness. In _The Conquest of Canaan_
Louden plays Prince Hal among the lowest his town affords, only to mount
with a rush to the mayoralty when he is ready. _The Guest of Quesnay_
takes a hero who is soiled with every vileness, smashes his head in an
automobile accident, and thus transforms him into that glorious kind of
creature known as a "Greek god"--beautiful and innocent beyond belief or
endurance. _The Turmoil_ is really not much more veracious, with its
ugly duckling, Bibbs Sheridan, who has ideas, loves beauty, and writes
verse, but who after years of futile dreaming becomes a master of
capital almost overnight. Even _The Magnificent Ambersons_, with its
wealth of admirable satire, does not satirize its own conclusion but
rounds out its narrative with a hasty regeneration. And what can a
critic say of such blatant nonsense as arises from the frenzy of
propaganda in _Ramsey Milholland_?

Perhaps it is truer to call Mr. Tarkington's plots sophomoric than to
call them adolescent. Indeed, the mark of the undergraduate almost
covers them, especially of the undergraduate as he fondly imagines
himself in his callow days and as he is foolishly instructed to regard
himself by the more vinous and more hilarious of the old graduates who
annually come back to a college to offer themselves--though this is not
their conscious purpose--as an object lesson in the loud triviality
peculiar and traditional to such hours of reunion. Adolescence, however,
when left to itself, has other and very different hours which Mr.
Tarkington shows almost no signs of comprehending.

The author of _Penrod_, of _Penrod and Sam_, and of _Seventeen_ passes
for an expert in youth; rarely has so persistent a reputation been so
insecurely founded. What all these books primarily recall is the winks
that adults exchange over the heads of children who are minding their
own business, as the adults are not; the winks, moreover, of adults who
have forgotten the inner concerns of adolescence and now observe only
its surface awkwardnesses. Real adolescence, like any other age of man,
has its own passions, its own poetry, its own tragedies and felicities;
the adolescence of Mr. Tarkington's tales is almost nothing but
farce--staged for outsiders. Not one of the characters is an individual;
they are all little monsters--amusing monsters, it is true--dressed up
to display the stock ambitions and the stock resentments and the stock
affectations and the stock perturbations of the heart which attend the
middle teens. The pranks of Penrod Schofield are merely those of Tom
Sawyer repeated in another town, without the touches of poetry or of the
informing imagination lent by Mark Twain. The sighs of "Silly Bill"
Baxter--at first diverting, it is also true--are exorbitantly multiplied
till reality drops out of the semblance. Calf-love does not always
remain a joke merely because there are mature spectators to stand by
nudging one another and roaring at the discomfort which love causes its
least experienced victims. Those knowing asides which accompany these
juvenile records have been mistaken too often for shrewd, even for
profound, analyses of human nature. Actually they are only knowing, as
sophomores are knowing with respect to their juniors by a few years. In
contemporary American fiction Mr. Tarkington is the perennial sophomore.

If he may be said never to have outgrown Purdue and Princeton, so also
may he be said never to have outgrown Indiana. In any larger sense, of
course, he has not needed to. A novelist does not require a universe in
which to find the universe, which lies folded, for the sufficiently
perceptive eye, in any village. Thoreau and Emerson found it in Concord;
Thomas Hardy in Wessex has watched the world move by without himself
moving. But Mr. Tarkington has toward his native state the conscious
attitude of the booster. Smile as he may at the too emphatic patriotism
of this or that of her sons, he himself nevertheless expands under a
similar stimulus. The impulse of Harkless to clasp all Carlow County to
his broad breast obviously sprang from a mood which Mr. Tarkington
himself had felt. And that impulse of that first novel has been
repeated again and again in the later characters. _In the Arena_, fruit
of Mr. Tarkington's term in the Indiana legislature, is a study in
complacency. Setting out to take the world of politics as he finds it,
he comes perilously near to ending on the note of approval for it as it
stands--as good, on the whole, as any possible world. His satire, at
least, is on the side of the established order. A certain soundness and
rightness of feeling, a natural hearty democratic instinct, which
appears in the novels, must not be allowed to mislead the analyst of his
art. More than once, to his credit, he satirically recurs to the
spectacle of those young Indianians who come back from their travels
with a secret condescension, as did George Amberson Minafer: "His
politeness was of a kind which democratic people found hard to bear. In
a word, M. le Duc had returned from the gay life of the capital to show
himself for a week among the loyal peasants belonging to the old
chateau, and their quaint habits and costumes afforded him a mild
amusement." Such passages, however, may be matched with irritating
dozens in which Mr. Tarkington swallows Indiana whole.

That may have been an easier task than to perform a similar feat with
the state to the east of Indiana, which has always been a sort of
halfway house between East and West; or with that to the north, with its
many alien mixtures; or with that to the south, the picturesque,
diversified colony of Virginia; or with that to the west, which, thanks
in large part to Chicago, is packed with savagery and genius. Indiana,
at any rate till very recently, has had an indigenous population, not
too daring or nomadic; it has been both prosperous and folksy, the apt
home of pastorals, the agreeable habitat of a sentimental folk-poet
like Riley, the natural begetter of a canny fabulist like George Ade. It
has a tradition of realism in fiction, but that tradition descends from
_The Hoosier School-Master_ and it includes a full confidence in the
folk and in the rural virtues--very different from that of E.W. Howe or
Hamlin Garland or Edgar Lee Masters in states a little further outside
the warm, cozy circle of the Hoosiers. Indiana has a tradition of
romance, too. Did not Indianapolis publish _When Knighthood Was in
Flower_ and _Alice of Old Vincennes_? They are of the same vintage as
_Monsieur Beaucaire_. And both romance and realism in Indiana have
traditionally worn the same smooth surfaces, the same simple--not to say
silly--faith in things-at-large: God's in His Indiana; all's right with
the world. George Ade, being a satirist of genius, has stood out of all
this; Theodore Dreiser, Indianian by birth but hopelessly a rebel, has
stood out against it; but Booth Tarkington, trying to be Hoosier of
Hoosiers, has given himself up to the romantic and sentimental elements
of the Indiana literary tradition.

To practise an art which is genuinely characteristic of some section of
the folk anywhere is to do what may be important and is sure to be
interesting. But Mr. Tarkington no more displays the naïveté of a true
folk-novelist than he displays the serene vision that can lift a
novelist above the accidents of his particular time and place. This
Indianian constantly appears, by his allusions, to be a citizen of the
world. He knows Europe; he knows New York. Again and again, particularly
in the superb opening chapters of _The Magnificent Ambersons_, he rises
above the local prejudices of his special parish and observes with a
finely critical eye. But whenever he comes to a crisis in the building
of a plot or in the truthful representation of a character he sags down
to the level of Indiana sentimentality. George Minafer departs from the
Hoosier average by being a snob; time--and Mr. Tarkington's plot--drags
the cub back to normality. Bibbs Sheridan departs from the Hoosier
average by being a poet; time--and Mr. Tarkington's plot--drags the cub
back to normality. Both processes are the same. Perhaps Mr. Tarkington
would not deliberately say that snobbery and poetry are equivalent
offenses, but he does not particularly distinguish. Sympathize as he may
with these two aberrant youths, he knows no other solution than in the
end to reduce them to the ranks. He accepts, that is, the casual Hoosier
valuation, not with pity because so many of the creative hopes of youth
come to naught or with regret that the flock in the end so frequently
prevails over individual talent, but with a sort of exultant hurrah at
seeing all the wandering sheep brought back in the last chapter and
tucked safely away in the good old Hoosier fold.

Viewed critically this attitude of Mr. Tarkington's is of course not
even a compliment to Indiana, any more than it is a compliment to women
to take always the high chivalrous tone toward them, as if they were
flawless creatures; any more than it is a compliment to the poor to
assume that they are all virtuous or to the rich to assume that they are
all malefactors of a tyrannical disposition. If Indiana plays microcosm
to Mr. Tarkington's art, he owes it to his state to find more there than
he has found--or has cared to set down; he owes it to his state now and
then to quarrel with the dominant majority, for majorities occasionally
go wrong, as well as men; he owes it to his state to give up his method
of starting his narrative himself and then calling in popular
sentimentalism to advise him how to bring it to an end.

According to all the codes of the more serious kinds of fiction, the
unwillingness--or the inability--to conduct a plot to its legitimate
ending implies some weakness in the artistic character; and this
weakness has been Mr. Tarkington's principal defect. Nor does it in any
way appear that he excuses himself by citing the immemorial license of
the romancer. Mr. Tarkington apparently believes in his own conclusions.
Now this causes the more regret for the reason that he has what is next
best to character in a novelist--that is, knack. He has the knack of
romance when he wants to employ it: a light, allusive manner; a
sufficient acquaintance with certain charming historical epochs and the
"properties" thereto pertaining--frills, ruffs, rapiers, insinuation; a
considerable expertness in the ways of the "world"; gay colors, swift
moods, the note of tender elegy. He has also the knack of satire, which
he employs more frequently than romance. With what a rapid, joyous,
accurate eye he has surveyed the processes of culture in "the Midland
town"! How quickly he catches the first gesture of affectation and how
deftly he sets it forth, entertained and entertaining! From the
chuckling exordium of _The Magnificent Ambersons_ it is but a step to
_The Age of Innocence_ and _Main Street_. Little reflective as he has
allowed himself to be, he has by shrewd observation alone succeeded in
writing not a few chapters which have texture, substance, "thickness."
He has movement, he has energy, he has invention, he has good temper, he
has the leisure to write as well as he can if he wishes to. And, unlike
those dozens of living American writers who once each wrote one good
book and then lapsed into dull oblivion or duller repetition, he has
traveled a long way from the methods of his greener days.

Why then does he continue to trifle with his thread-bare adolescents, as
if he were afraid to write candidly about his coevals? Why does he drift
with the sentimental tide and make propaganda for provincial
complacency? He must know better. He can do better.

_February 1921._


POSTSCRIPT.--He has done better. Almost as if to prove a somewhat somber
critic in the wrong and to show that newer novelists have no monopoly of
the new style of seriousness, Mr. Tarkington has in _Alice Adams_ held
himself veracious to the end and has produced a genuinely significant
book. Alice is, indeed, less strictly a tragic figure than she appears
to be. Desire, in any of the deeper senses, she shows no signs of
feeling; what she loves in Russell is but incidentally himself and
actually his assured position and his assured prosperity. So considered,
her machinations to enchant and hold him have a comic aspect; one touch
more of exaggeration and she would pass over to join those sorry ladies
of the world of farce who take a larger visible hand in wooing than
human customs happen to approve. But Mr. Tarkington withholds that one
touch more of exaggeration. He understands that Alice's instinct to win
a husband is an instinct as powerful as any that she has and is all that
she has been taught by her society to have. In his handling she becomes
important; her struggle, without the aid of guardian dowager or
beguiling dot, becomes increasingly pathetic as the narrative advances;
and her eventual failure, though signalized merely by her resolution to
desert the inhospitable circles of privilege for the wider universe of
work, carries with it the sting of tragedy.

Mr. Tarkington might have gone further than he has behind the bourgeois
assumptions which his story takes for granted, but he has probably been
wiser not to. Sticking to familiar territory, he writes with the
confident touch of a man unconfused by speculation. His style is still
swift, still easy, still flexible, still accurate in its conformity to
the vernacular. He attempts no sentimental detours and permits himself
no popular superfluities. He has retained all his tried qualities of
observation and dexterity while admitting to his work the element of a
sterner conscience than it has heretofore betrayed. With the honesty of
his conclusion goes the mingling of mirth and sadness in _Alice Adams_
as another trait of its superiority. The manners of the young which
have always seemed so amusing to Mr. Tarkington and which he has kept on
watching and laughing at as his principal material, now practically for
the first time have evoked from him a considerate sense of the pathos of
youth. It strengthens the pathos of Alice's fate that the comedy holds
out so well; it enlarges the comedy of it that its pathos is so
essential to the action. Even the most comic things have their tears.

_August 1921._


2. EDITH WHARTON

At the outset of the twentieth century O. Henry, in a mood of reaction
from current snobbism, discovered what he called the Four Million; and
during the same years, in a mood not wholly different, Edith Wharton
rediscovered what she would never have called the Four Hundred. Or
rather she made known to the considerable public which peeps at
fashionable New York through the obliging windows of fiction that that
world was not so simple in its magnificence as the inquisitive, but
uninstructed, had been led to believe. Behind the splendors reputed to
characterize the great, she testified on almost every page of her books,
lay certain arcana which if much duller were also much more desirable.
Those splendors were merely as noisy brass to the finer metal of the
authentic inner circles. These were very small, and they suggested an
American aristocracy rather less than they suggested the aborigines of
their native continent.

Ralph Marvell in _The Custom of the Country_ described Washington
Square as the "Reservation," and prophesied that "before long its
inhabitants would be exhibited at ethnological shows, pathetically
engaged in the exercise of their primitive industries." Mrs. Wharton has
exhibited them in the exercise of industries not precisely primitive,
and yet aboriginal enough, very largely concerned in turning shapely
shoulders to the hosts of Americans anxious and determined to invade
their ancient reservations. As the success of the women in keeping new
aspirants out of drawing-room and country house has always been greater
than the success of the men in keeping them out of Wall Street, the
aboriginal aristocracy in Mrs. Wharton's novels transacts its affairs
for the most part in drawing-rooms and country houses. There, however,
to judge by _The House of Mirth_, _The Custom of the Country_, and _The
Age of Innocence_, the life of the inhabitants, far from being a
continuous revel as represented by the popular novelists, is marked by
nothing so much as an uncompromising decorum.

Take the case of Lily Bart in _The House of Mirth_. She goes to pieces
on the rocks of that decorum, though she has every advantage of birth
except a fortune, and knows the rules of the game perfectly. But she
cannot follow them with the impeccable equilibrium which is needful; she
has the Aristotelian hero's fatal defect of a single weakness. In that
golden game not to go forward is to fall behind. Lily Bart hesitates,
oscillates, and is lost. Having left her appointed course, she finds on
trying to return to her former society that it is little less
impermeable to her than she has seen rank outsiders find it. Then there
is Undine Spragg in _The Custom of the Country_, who, marrying and
divorcing with the happy insensibility of the animals that mate for a
season only, undertakes to force her brilliant, barren beauty into the
centers of the elect. Such beauty as hers can purchase much, thanks to
the desires of men, and Undine, thanks to her own blindness as regards
all delicate disapproval, comes within sight of her goal. But in the end
she fails. The custom of her country--Apex City and the easy-going
West--is not the decorum of New York reinforced by European examples.
Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska in _The Age of Innocence_ neither lose
nor seek an established position within the social mandarinate of
Manhattan as constituted in the seventies of the last century. They
belong there and there they remain. But at what sacrifices of personal
happiness and spontaneous action! They walk through their little drama
with the unadventurous stride of puppets; they observe dozens of taboos
with a respect allied to terror. It is true that they appear to have
been the victims of the provincial "innocence" of their generation, but
the newer generation in New York is not entirely acquitted of a certain
complicity in the formalism of its past.

From the first Mrs. Wharton's power has lain in the ability to reproduce
in fiction the circumstances of a compact community in a way that
illustrates the various oppressions which such communities put upon
individual vagaries, whether viewed as sin, or ignorance, or folly, or
merely as social impossibility. She has, of course, studied other
communities than New York: the priest-ridden Italy of the eighteenth
century in _The Valley of Decision_; modern France in _Madame de
Treymes_ and _The Reef_; provincial New England in _The Fruit of the
Tree_. What characterizes the New York novels characterizes these others
as well: a sense of human beings living in such intimate solidarity that
no one of them may vary from the customary path without in some fashion
breaking the pattern and inviting some sort of disaster.

Novels written out of this conception of existence fall ordinarily into
partizanship, either on the side of the individual who leaves his herd
or on the side of the herd which runs him down or shuts him out for
good. Mrs. Wharton has always been singularly unpartizan, as if she
recognized it as no duty of hers to do more for the herd or its members
than to play over the spectacle of their clashes the long, cold light of
her magnificent irony. At the same time, however, her attitude toward
New York society, her most frequent theme, has slightly changed. _The
House of Mirth_, published in 1905, glows with certain of the colors of
the grand style. These appear hardly at all in _The Age of Innocence_,
published in 1920, as if Mrs. Wharton's feeling for ceremony had
diminished, as if the grand style no longer found her so susceptible as
formerly. Possibly her advance in satire may arise from nothing more
significant than her retreat into the past for a subject. Nevertheless,
one step forward could make her an invaluable satirist of the current
hour.

Among Mrs. Wharton's novels are two--_Ethan Frome_ and _Summer_--which
unfold the tragedy of circumstances apparently as different as possible
from those chronicled in the New York novels. Her fashionable New York
and her rural New England, however, have something in common. In the
desolate communities which witness the agonies of Ethan Frome and
Charity Royall not only is there a stubborn village decorum but there
are also the bitter compulsions of a helpless poverty which binds feet
and wings as the most ruthless decorum cannot bind them, and which
dulls all the hues of life to an unendurable dinginess. As a member of
the class which spends prosperous vacations on the old soil of the
Puritans Mrs. Wharton has surveyed the cramped lives of the native
remnant with a pity springing from her knowledge of all the freedom and
beauty and pleasure which they miss. She consequently brings into her
narrative an outlook not to be found in any of the novelists who write
of rural New England out of the erudition which comes of more intimate
acquaintanceship. Without filing down her characters into types she
contrives to lift them into universal figures of aspiration or
disappointment.

In _Ethan Frome_, losing from her clear voice for a moment the note of
satire, she reaches her highest point of tragic passion. In the bleak
life of Ethan Frome on his bleak hillside there blooms an exquisite love
which during a few hours of rapture promises to transform his fate; but
poverty clutches him, drives him to attempt suicide with the woman he
loves, and then condemns him to one of the most appalling expiations in
fiction--to a slavery in comparison with which his former life was
almost freedom. Not since Hawthorne has a novelist built on the New
England soil a tragedy of such elevation of mood as this. Freed from the
bondage of local color, that myopic muse, Mrs. Wharton here handles her
material not so much like a quarryman finding curious stones and calling
out about them as like a sculptor setting up his finished work on a
commanding hill.

It has regularly been by her novels that Mrs. Wharton has attracted the
most attention, and yet her short stories are of a quite comparable
excellence. About fifty of them altogether, they show her swift,
ironical intelligence flashing its light into numerous corners of human
life not large enough to warrant prolonged reports. She can go as far
afield as to the ascetic ecstasies and agonies of medieval religion, in
_The Hermit and the Wild Woman_; or as to the horrible revenge of Duke
Ercole of Vicenza, in _The Duchess at Prayer_; or as to the murder and
witchcraft of seventeenth-century Brittany, in _Kerfol_. _Kerfol_,
_Afterward_, and _The Lady's Maid's Bell_ are as good ghost stories as
any written in many years. _Bunner Sisters_, an observant, tender
narrative, concerns itself with the declining fortunes of two
shopkeepers of Stuyvesant Square in New York's age of innocence.

For the most part, however, the locality and temper of Mrs. Wharton's
briefer stories are not so remote as these from the center of her
particular world, wherein subtle and sophisticated people stray in the
crucial mazes of art or learning or love. Her artists and scholars are
likely to be shown at some moment in which a passionate ideal is in
conflict with a lower instinct toward profit or reputation, as when in
_The Descent of Man_ an eminent scientist turns his feet ruinously into
the wide green descent to "popular" science, or as when in _The Verdict_
a fashionable painter of talent encounters the work of an obscure genius
and gives up his own career in the knowledge that at best he can never
do but third-rate work. Some such stress of conflict marks almost all
Mrs. Wharton's stories of love, which make up the overwhelming majority
of her work. Love with her in but few cases runs the smooth course
coincident with flawless matrimony. It cuts violently across the
boundaries drawn by marriages of convenience, and it suffers tragic
changes in the objects of its desire.

What opportunity has a free, wilful passion in the tight world Mrs.
Wharton prefers to represent? Either its behavior must be furtive and
hypocritical or else it must incur social disaster. Here again Mrs.
Wharton will not be partizan. If in one story--such as _The Long
Run_--she seems to imply that there is no ignominy like that of failing
love when it comes, yet in another--such as _Souls Belated_--she sets
forth the costs and the entanglements that ensue when individuals take
love into their own hands and defy society. Not love for itself but love
as the most frequent and most personal of all the passions which bring
the community into clashes with its members--this is the subject of Mrs.
Wharton's curiosity and study. Her only positive conclusions about it,
as reflected in her stories, seem to be that love cuts deepest in the
deepest natures and yet that no one is quite so shallow as to love and
recover from it without a scar. Divorce, according to her
representations, can never be quite complete; one of her most amusing
stories, _The Other Two_, recounts how the third husband of a woman
whose first two husbands are still living gradually resolves her into
her true constituency and finds nothing there but what one husband after
another has made of her.

In stories like this Mrs. Wharton occasionally leaves the restraint of
her ordinary manner to wear the keener colors of the satirist. _Xingu_,
for instance, with its famous opening sentence--"Mrs. Ballinger is one
of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as though it were dangerous
to meet alone"--has the flash and glitter, and the agreeable
artificiality, of polite comedy. Undine Spragg and the many futile women
whom Mrs. Wharton enjoys ridiculing more than she gives evidence of
enjoying anything else belong nearly as much to the menagerie of the
satirist as to the novelist's gallery. It is only in these moments of
satire that Mrs. Wharton reveals much about her disposition: her
impatience with stupidity and affectation and muddy confusion of mind
and purpose; her dislike of dinginess; her toleration of arrogance when
it is high-bred. Such qualities do not help her, for all her spare,
clean movement, to achieve the march or rush of narrative; such
qualities, for all her satiric pungency, do not bring her into sympathy
with the sturdy or burly or homely, or with the broader aspects of
comedy. Lucidity, detachment, irony--these never desert her (though she
wrote with the hysterical pen that hundreds used during the war). So
great is her self-possession that she holds criticism at arm's length,
somewhat as her chosen circles hold the barbarians. If she had a little
less of this pride of dignity she might perhaps avoid her tendency to
assign to decorum a larger power than it actually exercises, even in the
societies about which she writes. Decorum, after all, is binding chiefly
upon those who accept it without question but not upon passionate or
logical rebels, who are always shattering it with some touch of violence
or neglect; neither does it bind those who stand too securely to be
shaken. For this reason the coils of circumstance and the pitfalls of
inevitability with which Mrs. Wharton besets the careers of her
characters are in part an illusion deftly employed for the sake of
artistic effect. She multiplies them as romancers multiply adventures.

The illusion of reality in her work, however, almost never fails her, so
alertly is her mind on the lookout to avoid vulgar or shoddy romantic
elements. Compared to Henry James, her principal master in fiction, whom
she resembles in respect to subjects and attitude, she lacks exuberance
and richness of texture, but she has more intelligence than he. Compared
to Jane Austen, the novelist among Anglo-Saxon women whom Mrs. Wharton
most resembles, particularly as regards satire and decorum, she is the
more impassioned of the two. It may seem at first thought a little
strange to compare the vivid novels of the author of _The House of
Mirth_ with the mouse-colored narratives of the author of _Pride and
Prejudice_, for the twentieth century has added to all fiction many
overtones not heard in the eighteenth. But of no other woman writer
since Jane Austen can it be said quite so truthfully as of Mrs. Wharton
that her natural, instinctive habitat is a true tower of irony.


3. JAMES BRANCH CABELL

Although most novelists with any historical or scholarly hankerings are
satisfied to invent here a scene and there a plot and elsewhere an
authority, James Branch Cabell has invented a whole province for his
imagination to dwell in. He calls it Poictesme and sets it on the map
of medieval Europe, but it has no more unity of time and place than has
the multitudinous land of _The Faerie Queene_. Around the reigns of Dom
Manuel, Count and Redeemer of Poictesme, epic hero of _Figures of
Earth_, father of the heroine in _The Soul of Melicent_ (later renamed
_Domnei_), father of that Dorothy la Desirée whom Jurgen loved (with
some other women), father also of that Count Emmerich who succeeded
Manuel as ruler at Bellegarde and Storisende--around the reigns of
Manuel and Emmerich the various sagas of Mr. Cabell principally revolve.
Scandinavia, however, conveniently impinges upon their province, with
Constantinople and Barbary, Massilia, Aquitaine, Navarre, Portugal,
Rome, England, Paris, Alexandria, Arcadia, Olympus, Asgard, and the
Jerusalems Old and New. As many ages of history likewise converge upon
Poictesme in its ostensible thirteenth or fourteenth century, from the
most mythological times only a little this side of Creation to the most
contemporary America of Felix Kennaston who lives at comfortable
Lichfield with two motors and with money in four banks but in his mind
habitually bridges the gap by imagined excursions into Poictesme and the
domains adjacent.

Nothing but remarkable erudition in the antiquities as Cockaigne and
Faery could possibly suffice for such adventures as Mr. Cabell's, and he
has very remarkable erudition in all that concerns the regions which
delight him. And where no authorities exist he merrily invents them, as
in the case of his Nicolas of Caen, poet of Normandy, whose tales
_Dizain des Reines_ are said to furnish the source for the ten stories
collected in _Chivalry_, and whose largely lost masterpiece _Le Roman
de Lusignan_ serves as the basis for _Domnei_. One British critic and
rival of Mr. Cabell has lately fretted over the unblushing anachronisms
and confused geography of this parti-colored world. For less dull-witted
scholars these are the very cream of the Cabellian jest.

The cream but not the substance, for Mr. Cabell has a profound creed of
comedy rooted in that romance which is his regular habit. Romance,
indeed, first exercised his imagination, in the early years of the
century when in many minds he was associated with the decorative Howard
Pyle and allowed his pen to move at the languid gait then characteristic
of a dozen inferior romancers. Only gradually did his texture grow
firmer, his tapestry richer; only gradually did his gaiety strengthen
into irony. Although that irony was the progenitor of the comic spirit
which now in his maturity dominates him, it has never shaken off the
romantic elements which originally nourished it. Rather, romance and
irony have grown up in his work side by side. His Poictesme is no less
beautiful for having come to be a country of disillusion; nor has his
increasing sense of the futility of desire robbed him of his old sense
that desire is a glory while it lasts.

He allows John Charteris in _Beyond Life_--for the most part Mr.
Cabell's mouthpiece--to set forth the doctrine that romance is the real
demiurge, "the first and loveliest daughter of human vanity," whereby
mankind is duped--and exalted. "No one on the preferable side of Bedlam
wishes to be reminded of what we are in actuality, even were it
possible, by any disastrous miracle, ever to dispel the mist which
romance has evoked about all human doings." Therefore romance has
created the "dynamic illusions" of chivalry and love and common sense
and religion and art and patriotism and optimism, and therein "the ape
reft of his tail and grown rusty at climbing" has clothed himself so
long that as he beholds himself in the delusive mirrors he has for
centuries held up to nature he believes he is somehow of cosmic
importance. Poor and naked as this aspiring ape must seem to the eye of
reason, asks Mr. Cabell, is there not something magnificent about his
imaginings? Does the course of human life not singularly resemble the
dance of puppets in the hands of a Supreme Romancer? How, then, may any
one declare that romance has become antiquated or can ever cease to be
indispensable to mortal character and mortal interest?

The difference between Mr. Cabell and the popular romancers who in all
ages clutter the scene and for whom he has nothing but amused contempt
is that they are unconscious dupes of the demiurge whereas he, aware of
its ways and its devices, employs it almost as if it were some
hippogriff bridled by him in Elysian pastures and respectfully
entertained in a snug Virginian stable. His attitude toward romance
suggests a cheerful despair: he despairs of ever finding anything truer
than romance and so contents himself with Poictesme and its tributaries.
The favorite themes of romance being relatively few, he has not troubled
greatly to increase them; war and love in the main he finds enough.

Besides these, however, he has always been deeply occupied with one
other theme--the plight of the poet in the world. That sturdy bruiser
Dom Manuel, for instance, is at heart a poet who molds figures out of
clay as his strongest passion, although the world, according to its
custom, conspires against his instinct by interrupting him with love and
war and business, and in the end hustles him away before he has had time
to make anything more lovely or lasting than a reputation as a hero. In
the amazing fantasy _The Cream of the Jest_ Mr. Cabell has embodied the
visions of the romancer Felix Kennaston so substantially that
Kennaston's diurnal walks in Lichfield seem hardly as real as those
nightly ventures which under the guise of Horvendile he makes into the
glowing land he has created. Nor are the two universes separated by any
tight wall which the fancy must leap over: they flow with exquisite
caprice one into another, as indeed they always do in the consciousness
of a poet who, like Kennaston or Mr. Cabell, broods continually over the
problem how best to perform his function: "to write perfectly of
beautiful happenings."

Of all the fine places in the world where beautiful happenings come
together, Mr. Cabell argues, incomparably the richest is in the
consciousness of a poet who is also a scholar. There are to be found the
precious hoarded memories of some thousands of years: high deeds and
burning loves and eloquent words and surpassing tears and laughter.
There, consequently, the romancer may well take his stand, distilling
bright new dreams out of ancient beauty. And if he adds the heady tonic
of an irony springing from a critical intelligence, so much the better.
When Mr. Cabell wishes to represent several different epochs in _The
Certain Hour_ he chooses to tell ten stories of poets--real or
imagined--as the persons in whom, by reason of their superior
susceptibility, the color of their epochs may be most truthfully
discovered; and when he wishes to decant his own wit and wisdom most
genuinely the vessel he normally employs is a poet.

If the poets and warriors who make up the list of Mr. Cabell's heroes
devote their lives almost wholly to love, it is for the reason that no
other emotion interests him so much or seems to him to furnish so many
beautiful happenings about which to write perfectly. Love, like art, is
a species of creation, and the moods which attend it, though illusions,
are miracles none the less. Of the two aspects of love which especially
attract Mr. Cabell he has given the larger share of his attention to the
extravagant worship of women ("domnei") developed out of chivalry--the
worship which began by ascribing to the beloved the qualities of purity
and perfection, of beauty and holiness, and ended by practically
identifying her with the divine. This supernal folly reaches its apogee
in _Domnei_, in the careers of Perion and Melicent who are so uplifted
by ineffable desire that their souls ceaselessly reach out to each other
though obstacles large as continents intervene. For Perion the most
deadly battles are but thornpricks in the quest of Melicent; and such is
Melicent's loyalty during the years of her longing that the possession
of her most white body by Demetrios of Anatolia leaves her soul
immaculate and almost unperturbed. In this tale love is canonized:
throned on alabaster above all the vulgar gods it diffuses among its
worshipers a crystal radiance in which mortal imperfections perish--or
are at least forgotten during certain rapturous hours.

Ordinarily one cynical touch will break such pretty bubbles; but Mr.
Cabell, himself a master of cynical touches and shrewdly anticipant of
them, protects his invention with the competent armor of irony, and now
and then--particularly in the felicitous tenson spoken by Perion and
Demetrios concerning the charms of Melicent--brings mirth and beauty to
an amalgam which bids fair to prove classic metal. A much larger share
of this mirth appears in _Jurgen_, which narrates with phallic candor
the exploits of a middle-aged pawnbroker of Poictesme in pursuit of
immortal desire. Of course he does not find it, for the sufficient
reason that, as Mr. Cabell understands such matters, the ultimate magic
of desire lies in the inaccessibility of the desired; and Jurgen, to
whom all women in his amorous Cockaigne are as accessible as bread and
butter, after his sly interval of rejuvenation comes back in the end to
his wife and his humdrum duty with a definite relief. He may be no more
in love with Dame Lisa than with his right hand, and yet both are
considerably more necessary to his well-being, he discovers, than a
number of more exciting things.

Love in _Jurgen_ inclines toward another aspect of the passion which Mr.
Cabell has studied somewhat less than the chivalrous--the aspect of
gallantry. "I have read," says John Charteris, "that the secret of
gallantry is to accept the pleasures of life leisurely, and its
inconveniences with a shrug; as well as that, among other requisites,
the gallant person will always consider the world with a smile of
toleration, and his own doings with a smile of honest amusement, and
Heaven with a smile which is not distrustful--being thoroughly persuaded
that God is kindlier than the genteel would regard as rational." These
are the accents, set to slightly different rhythms, of a Congreve; and
if there is anything as remarkable about Mr. Cabell as the fact that he
has represented the chivalrous and the gallant attitudes toward love
with nearly equal sympathy, it is the fact that in an era of militant
naturalism and of renascent moralism he has blithely adhered to an
affection for unconcerned worldliness and has airily played Congreve in
the midst of all the clamorous, serious, disquisitive bassoons of the
national orchestra.

In _The Cords of Vanity_ Robert Townsend goes gathering roses and
tasting lips almost as if the second Charles were still the lawful ruler
of his obedient province of Virginia; and in _The Rivet in Grandfather's
Neck_ Rudolph Musgrave, that quaint figure whittled out of chivalry and
dressed up in amiable heroics, is plainly contrasted with the glib rogue
of genius John Charteris, who, elsewhere in Mr. Cabell's books generally
the chorus, here enters the plot and exhibits a sorry gallantry in
action. Poictesme, these novels indicate, is not the only country Mr.
Cabell knows; he knows also how to feel at home, when he cares to, in
the mimic universe of Lichfield and Fairhaven, where gay ribbons
perpetually flutter, and where eyes and hands perpetually invite, and
where love runs a deft, dainty, fickle course in all weathers.

That Felix Kennaston inhabits Lichfield in the flesh and in the spirit
elopes into Poictesme may be taken, after a fashion, as allegory with an
autobiographical foundation: _The Cream of the Jest_ is, on the whole,
the essence of Cabell. The book suggests, moreover, a critical
position--which is, that gallantry and Virginia have so far been
regrettably sacrificed to chivalry and Poictesme in the career of Mr.
Cabell's imagination. Not only the symmetry expected of that career
demands something different; so does its success with the gallantries of
Lichfield. In spite of all Mr. Cabell's accumulation of erudite
allusions the atmosphere of his Poictesme often turns thin and leaves
his characters gasping for vital breath; nor does he entirely restore it
by multiplying symbols as he does in _Jurgen_ and _Figures of Earth_
until the background of his narrative is studded with rich images and
piquant chimeras that perplex more than they illuminate--and sometimes
bore. These chivalric loves beating their heads against the cold moon
are, after all, follies, however supernal; they are as brief as they are
bright; in the end even the greedy Jurgen turns back to honest salt from
too much sugar.

Now in gallantry as Mr. Cabell conceives and represents it there is
always the salt of prudence, of satire, of comedy; and his gifts in this
direction are too great to be neglected. The comic spirit, let it be
remembered, has led Mr. Cabell from the softness and sweetness which in
spots disfigured his earlier romances--such as _The Line of Love and
Chivalry_--before he recently revised them; it has happily kept in hand
the wild wings of his later love stories; now it deserves to have its
way unburdened, at least occasionally. While it almost had its way in
Jurgen, where it behaved like a huge organ bursting into uproarious
laughter, it still had to carry the burden of much learning. It would be
freer of such delectable plunder could it once burst into uproar in the
midst of Virginia. Mr. Cabell has singled out two very dissimilar poets
for particular compliment: Marlowe and Congreve. As regards the still
more particular compliment of imitation, however, he has done Congreve
rather less than justice.


4. WILLA CATHER

When Willa Cather dedicated her first novel, _O Pioneers!_, to the
memory of Sarah Orne Jewett, she pointed out a link of natural piety
binding her to a literary ancestor now rarely credited with descendants
so robust. The link holds even yet in respect to the clear outlines and
fresh colors and simple devices of Miss Cather's art; in respect to the
body and range of her work it never really held. The thin, fine
gentility which Miss Jewett celebrates is no further away from the rich
vigor of Miss Cather's pioneers than is the kindly sentiment of the
older woman from the native passion of the younger. Miss Jewett wrote of
the shadows of memorable events. Once upon a time, her stories all
remind us, there was an heroic cast to New England. In Miss Jewett's
time only the echoes of those Homeric days made any noise in the
world--at least for her ears and the ears of most of her literary
contemporaries. Unmindful of the roar of industrial New England she
kept to the milder regions of her section and wrote elegies upon the
epigones.

In Miss Cather's quarter of the country there were still heroes during
the days she has written about, still pioneers. The sod and swamps of
her Nebraska prairies defy the hands of labor almost as obstinately as
did the stones and forests of old New England. Her Americans, like all
the Agamemnons back of Miss Jewett's world, are fresh from Europe,
locked in a mortal conflict with nature. If now and then the older among
them grow faint at remembering Bohemia or France or Scandinavia, this is
not the predominant mood of their communities. They ride powerfully
forward on a wave of confident energy, as if human life had more dawns
than sunsets in it. For the most part her pioneers are unreflective
creatures, driven by some inner force which they do not comprehend: they
are, that is perhaps no more than to say, primitive and epic in their
dispositions.

Is it by virtue of a literary descent from the New England school that
Miss Cather depends so frequently upon women as protagonists? Alexandra
Bergson in _O Pioneers!_, Thea Kronborg in _The Song of the Lark_,
Ántonia Shimerda in _My Ántonia_--around these as girls and women the
actions primarily revolve. It is not, however, as other Helens or
Gudruns that they affect their universes; they are not the darlings of
heroes but heroes themselves. Alexandra drags her dull brothers after
her and establishes the family fortunes; Ántonia, less positive and more
pathetic, still holds the center of her retired stage by her rich,
warm, deep goodness; Thea, a genius in her own right, outgrows her
Colorado birthplace and becomes a famous singer with all the fierce
energy of a pioneer who happens to be an instinctive artist rather than
an instinctive manager, like Alexandra, or an instinctive mother, like
Ántonia. And is it because women are here protagonists that neither
wars, as among the ancients, nor machines, as among the moderns, promote
the principal activities of the characters? Less the actions than the
moods of these novels have the epic air. Narrow as Miss Cather's scene
may be, she fills it with a spaciousness and candor of personality that
quite transcends the gnarled eccentricity and timid inhibitions of the
local colorists. Passion blows through her chosen characters like a
free, wholesome, if often devastating wind; it does not, as with Miss
Jewett and her contemporaries, lurk in furtive corners or hide itself
altogether. And as these passions are most commonly the passions of
home-keeping women, they lie nearer to the core of human existence than
if they arose out of the complexities of a wider region.

Something more than Miss Cather's own experience first upon the frontier
and then among artists and musicians has held her almost entirely to
those two worlds as the favored realms of her imagination. In them,
rather than in bourgeois conditions, she finds the theme most congenial
to her interest and to her powers. That theme is the struggle of some
elect individual to outgrow the restrictions laid upon him--or more
frequently her--by numbing circumstances. The early, somewhat
inconsequential _Alexander's Bridge_ touches this theme, though Bartley
Alexander, like the bridge he is building, fails under the strain,
largely by reason of a flawed simplicity and a divided energy. Pioneers
and artists, in Miss Cather's understanding of their natures, are
practically equals in single-mindedness; at least they work much by
themselves, contending with definite though ruthless obstacles and
looking forward, if they win, to a freedom which cannot be achieved in
the routine of crowded communities. To become too much involved, for her
characters, is to lose their quality. There is Marie Tovesky, in _O
Pioneers!_, whom nothing more preventable than her beauty and gaiety
drags into a confused status and so on to catastrophe. Ántonia, tricked
into a false relation by her scoundrel lover, and Alexandra, nagged at
by her stodgy family because her suitor is poor, suffer temporary
eclipses from which only their superb health of character finally
extricates them. Thea Kronborg, troubled by the swarming sensations of
her first year in Chicago, has to find her true self again in that
marvelous desert canyon in Arizona where hot sun and bright, cold water
and dim memories of the cliff-dwelling Ancient People detach her from
the stupid faces which have haunted and unnerved her.

Miss Cather would not belong to her generation if she did not resent the
trespasses which the world regularly commits upon pioneers and artists.
For all the superb vitality of her frontier, it faces--and she knows it
faces--the degradation of its wild freedom and beauty by clumsy towns,
obese vulgarity, the uniform of a monotonous standardization. Her heroic
days endure but a brief period before extinction comes. Then her
high-hearted pioneers survive half as curiosities in a new order; and
their spirits, transmitted to the artists who are their legitimate
successors, take up the old struggle in a new guise. In the short story
called _The Sculptor's Funeral_ she lifts her voice in swift anger and
in _A Gold Slipper_ she lowers it to satirical contempt against the dull
souls who either misread distinction or crassly overlook it.

At such moments she enlists in the crusade against dulness which has
recently succeeded the hereditary crusade of American literature against
wickedness. But from too complete an absorption in that transient war
she is saved by the same strength which has lifted her above the more
trivial concerns of local color. The older school uncritically delighted
in all the village singularities it could discover; the newer school no
less uncritically condemns and ridicules all the village
conventionalities. Miss Cather has seldom swung far either to the right
or to the left in this controversy. She has, apparently, few revenges to
take upon the communities in which she lived during her expanding youth.
An eye bent too relentlessly upon dulness could have found it in
Alexandra Bergson, with her slow, unimaginative thrift; or in Ántonia
Shimerda, who is a "hired girl" during the days of her tenderest beauty
and the hard-worked mother of many children on a distant farm to the end
of the story. Miss Cather, almost alone among her peers in this decade,
understands that human character for its own sake has a claim upon human
interest, surprisingly irrespective of the moral or intellectual
qualities which of course condition and shape it.

"Her secret?" says Harsanyi of Thea Kronborg in _The Song of the Lark_.
"It is every artist's secret ... passion. It is an open secret, and
perfectly safe. Like heroism, it is inimitable in cheap materials." In
these words Miss Cather furnishes an admirable commentary upon the
strong yet subtle art which she herself practises. Fiction habitually
strives to reproduce passion and heroism and in all but chosen instances
falls below the realities because it has not truly comprehended them or
because it tries to copy them in cheap materials. It is not Miss
Cather's lucid intelligence alone, though that too is indispensable,
which has kept her from these ordinary blunders of the novelist: she
herself has the energy which enables her to feel passion and the honesty
which enables her to reproduce it. Something of the large tolerance
which she must have felt in Whitman before she borrowed from him the
title of _O Pioneers!_ breathes in all her work. Like him she has tasted
the savor of abounding health; like him she has exulted in the sense of
vast distances, the rapture of the green earth rolling through space,
the consciousness of past and future striking hands in the radiant
present; like him she enjoys "powerful uneducated persons" both as the
means to a higher type and as ends honorable in themselves. At the same
time she does not let herself run on in the ungirt dithyrambs of Whitman
or into his followers' glorification of sheer bulk and impetus. Taste
and intelligence hold her passion in hand. It is her distinction that
she combines the merits of those oddly matched progenitors, Miss Jewett
and Walt Whitman: she has the delicate tact to paint what she sees with
clean, quiet strokes; and she has the strength to look past casual
surfaces to the passionate center of her characters.

The passion of the artist, the heroism of the pioneer--these are the
human qualities Miss Cather knows best. Compared with her artists the
artists of most of her contemporaries seem imitated in cheap materials.
They suffer, they rebel, they gesticulate, they pose, they fail through
success, they succeed through failure; but only now and then do they
have the breathing, authentic reality of Miss Cather's painters and
musicians. Musicians she knows best among artists--perhaps has been most
interested in them and has associated most with them because of the
heroic vitality which a virtuoso must have to achieve any real eminence.
The poet may languish over verses in his garret, the painter or sculptor
over work conceived and executed in a shy privacy; but the great singer
must be an athlete and an actor, training for months and years for the
sake of a few hours of triumph before a throbbing audience. It is,
therefore, not upon the revolt of Thea Kronborg from her Colorado
village that Miss Cather lays her chief stress but upon the girl's hard,
unspeculative, daemonic integrity. She lifts herself from alien
conditions hardly knowing what she does, almost as a powerful animal
shoulders its instinctive way through scratching underbrush to food and
water. Thea may be checked and delayed by all sorts of human
complications but her deeper nature never loses the sense of its proper
direction. Ambition with her is hardly more than the passion of
self-preservation in a potent spirit.

That Miss Cather no less truly understands the quieter attributes of
heroism is made evident by the career of Ántonia Shimerda--of Miss
Cather's heroines the most appealing. Ántonia exhibits the ordinary
instincts of self-preservation hardly at all. She is gentle and
confiding; service to others is the very breath of her being. Yet so
deep and strong is the current of motherhood which runs in her that it
extricates her from the level of mediocrity as passion itself might fail
to do. Goodness, so often negative and annoying, amounts in her to an
heroic effluence which imparts the glory of reality to all it touches.
"She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize as
universal and true.... She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her
hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel
the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last.... She was
a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races." It is not easy
even to say things so illuminating about a human being; it is all but
impossible to create one with such sympathetic art that words like these
at the end confirm and interpret an impression already made.

_My Ántonia_, following _O Pioneers!_ and _The Song of the Lark_, holds
out a promise for future development that the work of but two or three
other established American novelists holds out. Miss Cather's recent
volume of short stories _Youth and the Bright Medusa_, striking though
it is, represents, it may be hoped, but an interlude in her brilliant
progress. Such passion as hers only rests itself in brief tales and
satire; then it properly takes wing again to larger regions of the
imagination. Vigorous as it is, its further course cannot easily be
foreseen; it has not the kind of promise that can be discounted by
confident expectations. Her art, however, to judge it by its past
career, can be expected to move in the direction of firmer structure and
clearer outline. After all she has written but three novels and it is
not to be wondered at that they all have about them certain of the
graceful angularities of an art not yet complete. _O Pioneers!_ contains
really two stories; _The Song of the Lark_, though Miss Cather cut away
an entire section at the end, does not maintain itself throughout at the
full pitch of interest; the introduction to _My Ántonia_ is largely
superfluous. Having freed herself from the bondage of "plot" as she has
freed herself from an inheritance of the softer sentiments, Miss Cather
has learned that the ultimate interest of fiction inheres in character.
It is a question whether she can ever reach the highest point of which
she shows signs of being capable unless she makes up her mind that it is
as important to find the precise form for the representation of a
memorable character as it is to find the precise word for the expression
of a memorable idea. At present she pleads that if she must sacrifice
something she would rather it were form than reality. If she desires
sufficiently she can have both.


5. JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER

Joseph Hergesheimer employs his creative strategy over the precarious
terrain of the decorative arts, some of his work lying on each side of
the dim line which separates the most consummate artifice of which the
hands of talent are capable from the essential art which springs
naturally from the instincts of genius. On the side of artifice,
certainly, lie several of the shorter stories in _Gold and Iron_ and
_The Happy End_, for which, he declares, his grocer is as responsible as
any one; and on the side of art, no less certainly, lie at least _Java
Head_, in which artifice, though apparent now and then, repeatedly
surrenders the field to an art which is admirably authentic, and _Linda
Condon_, nearly the most beautiful American novel since Hawthorne and
Henry James.

Standing thus in a middle ground between art and artifice Mr.
Hergesheimer stands also in a middle ground between the unrelieved
realism of the newer school of American fiction and the genteel moralism
of the older. "I had been spared," he says with regard to moralism, "the
dreary and impertinent duty of improving the world; the whole discharge
of my responsibility was contained in the imperative obligation to see
with relative truth, to put down the colors and scents and emotions of
existence." And with regard to realism: "If I could put on paper an
apple tree rosy with blossom, someone else might discuss the economy of
the apples."

Mr. Hergesheimer does not, of course, merely blunder into beauty; his
methods are far from being accidental; by deliberate aims and principles
he holds himself close to the regions of the decorative. He likes the
rococo and the Victorian, ornament without any obvious utility, grace
without any busy function. He refuses to feel confident that the passing
of elegant privilege need be a benefit: "A maze of clipped box, old
emerald sod, represented a timeless striving for superiority, for, at
least, the illusion of triumph over the littorals of slime; and their
destruction in waves of hysteria, sentimentality, and envy was
immeasurably disastrous." For himself he clings sturdily, ardently, to
loveliness wherever he finds it--preferring, however, its richer, its
elaborated forms.

To borrow an antithesis remarked by a brilliant critic in the work of
Amy Lowell, Mr. Hergesheimer seems at times as much concerned with the
stuffs as with the stuff of life. His landscapes, his interiors, his
costumes he sets forth with a profusion of exquisite details which gives
his texture the semblance of brocade--always gorgeous but now and then a
little stiff with its splendors of silk and gold. An admitted personal
inclination to "the extremes of luxury" struggles in Mr. Hergesheimer
with an artistic passion for "words as disarmingly simple as the leaves
of spring--as simple and as lovely in pure color--about the common
experience of life and death"; and more than anything else this conflict
explains the presence in all but his finest work of occasional heavy
elements which weight it down and the presence in his most popular
narratives of a constant lift of beauty and lucidity which will not let
them sag into the average.

One comes tolerably close to the secret of Mr. Hergesheimer's career by
perceiving that, with an admirable style of which he is both conscious
and--very properly--proud, he has looked luxuriously through the world
for subjects which his style will fit. Particularly has he emancipated
himself from bondage to nook and corner. The small inland towns of _The
Lay Anthony_, the blue Virginia valleys of _Mountain Blood_, the
evolving Pennsylvania iron districts of _The Three Black Pennys_, the
antique Massachusetts of _Java Head_, the fashionable hotels and houses
of _Linda Condon_, the scattered exotic localities of the short
stories--in all these Mr. Hergesheimer is at home with the cool
insouciance of genius, at home as he could not be without an erudition
founded in the keenest observation and research.

At the same time, he has not satisfied himself with the bursting
catalogues of some types of naturalism. "The individuality of places and
hours absorbed me ... the perception of the inanimate moods of place....
Certainly houses and night and hills were often more vivid to me than
the people in or out of them." He has loved the scenes wherein his
events are transacted; he has brooded over their moods, their
significances. Neither pantheistic, however, nor very speculative, Mr.
Hergesheimer does not endow places with a half-divine, a half-satanic
sentience; instead he works more nearly in the fashion of his master
Turgenev, or of Flaubert, scrutinizing the surfaces of landscapes and
cities and human habitations until they gradually reveal what--for the
particular observer--is the essence of their charm or horror, and come,
obedient to the evoking imagination, into the picture.

Substantial as Mr. Hergesheimer makes his scene by a masterful handling
of locality, he goes still further, adds still another dimension, by his
equally masterful handling of the past as an element in his microcosm.
"There was at least this to be said for what I had, in writing, laid
back in point of time--no one had charged me with an historical novel,"
he boasts. Readers in general hardly notice how large a use of history
appears in, for instance, _The Three Black Pennys_ and _Java Head_. The
one goes as far back as to colonial Pennsylvania for the beginning of
its chronicle and the other as far as to Salem in the days of the first
clipper ship; and yet by no paraphernalia of languid airs or archaic
idioms or strutting heroics does either of the novels fall into the
orthodox historical tradition. They have the vivid, multiplied detail of
a contemporary record. And this is the more notable for the reason that
the characters in each of them stand against the background of a highly
technical profession--that of iron-making through three generations,
that of shipping under sail to all the quarters of the earth. The
wharves of Mr. Hergesheimer's Salem, the furnaces of his Myrtle Forge,
are thick with accurate, pungent, delightful facts.

If he has explored the past in a deliberate hunt for picturesque images
of actuality with which to incrust his narrative, and has at
times--particularly in _The Three Black Pennys_--given it an exaggerated
patina, nevertheless he has refused to yield himself to the mere spell
of the past and has regularly subdued its "colors and scents and
emotions" to his own purposes. His materials may be rococo, but not his
use of them. The conflict between his personal preference for luxury and
his artistic passion for austerity shows itself in his methods with
history: though the historical periods which interest him are bounded,
one may say, by the minuet and the music-box, he permits the least
possible contagion of prettiness to invade his plots. They are fresh and
passionate, simple and real, however elaborate their trappings. With the
fullest intellectual sophistication, Mr. Hergesheimer has artistically
the courage of naïveté. He subtracts nothing from the common realities
of human character when he displays it in some past age, but preserves
it intact. The charming erudition of his surfaces is added to reality,
not substituted for it.

Without question the particular triumph of these novels is the women who
appear in them. Decorative art in fiction has perhaps never gone
farther than with Taou Yuen, the marvelous Manchu woman brought home
from Shanghai to Salem as wife of a Yankee skipper in _Java Head_. She
may be taken as focus and symbol of Mr. Hergesheimer's luxurious
inclinations. By her bewildering complexity of costume, by her intricate
ceremonial observances, by the impenetrability of her outward demeanor,
she belongs rather to art than to life--an Oriental Galatea radiantly
adorned but not wholly metamorphosed from her native marble. Only at
intervals does some glimpse or other come of the tender flesh shut up in
her magnificent garments or of the tender spirit schooled by flawless,
immemorial discipline to an absolute decorum. That such glimpses come
just preserves her from appearing a mere figure of tapestry, a fine
mechanical toy. The Salem which before her arrival seems quaintly formal
enough immediately thereafter seems by contrast raw and new, and her
beauty glitters like a precious gem in some plain man's house.

Much the same effect, on a less vivid scale, is produced in _The Three
Black Pennys_ by the presence on the Pennsylvania frontier--it is almost
that--of Ludowika Winscombe, who has always lived at Court and who
brings new fragrances, new dainty rites, into the forest; and in
_Mountain Blood_ by the presence among the Appalachian highlands of that
ivory, icy meretrix Meta Beggs who plans to drive the best possible
bargain for her virgin favors. Meta carries the decorative traits of Mr.
Hergesheimer's women to the point at which they suggest the marionette
too much; by his methods, of course, he habitually runs the risk of
leaving the flesh and blood out of his women. He leaves out, at least,
with no fluttering compunctions, any special concern for the simpler
biological aspects of the sex: "It was not what the woman had in common
with a rabbit that was important, but her difference. On one hand that
difference was moral, but on the other aesthetic; and I had been
absorbed by the latter." "I couldn't get it into my head that
loveliness, which had a trick of staying in the mind at points of death
when all service was forgotten, was rightly considered to be of less
importance than the sweat of some kitchen drudge."

Such robust doctrine is a long way from the customary sentimentalism of
novelists about maids, wives, mothers, and widows. Indeed, Mr.
Hergesheimer, like Poe before him, inclines very definitely toward
beauty rather than toward humanity, where distinctions may be drawn
between them. In Linda Condon, however, his most remarkable creation, he
has brought humanity and beauty together in an intimate fusion. Less
exotic than Taou Yuen, Linda, with her straight black bang and her
extravagant simplicity of taste, is no less exquisite. And like Taou
Yuen she affords Mr. Hergesheimer the opportunity he most desires--"to
realize that sharp sense of beauty which came from a firm, delicate
consciousness of certain high pretensions, valors, maintained in the
face of imminent destruction.... In that category none was sharper than
the charm of a woman, soon to perish, in a vanity of array as momentary
and iridescent as a May-fly." It is as the poet musing upon the fleet
passage of beauty rather than as the satirist mocking at the vanity of
human wishes that Mr. Hergesheimer traces the career of Linda Condon;
but both poet and satirist meet in his masterpiece.

A woman as lovely as a lyric, she is almost as insensible as a steel
blade or a bright star. The true marvel is that beauty so cold can
provoke such conflagrations. Granted--and certain subtle women decline
to grant it--that Linda with her shining emptiness could have kindled
the passion she kindles in the story, what must be the blackness of her
discovery that when her beauty goes she will have left none of the
generous affection which, had she herself given it through life, she
might by this time have earned in quantities sufficient to endow and
compensate her for old age! Mr. Hergesheimer does not soften the blow
when it comes--he even adds to her agony the clear consciousness that
she cannot feel her plight as more passionate natures might. But he
allows her, at the last, an intimation of immortality. From her
unresponding beauty, she sees, her sculptor lover has caught a madness
eventually sublimated to a Platonic vision which, partially forgetful of
her as an individual, has made him and his works great. Without, in the
common way, modeling her at all, he has snared the essence of her spirit
and has set it--as such mortal things go--everlastingly in bronze.

If Mr. Hergesheimer offers Linda in the end only the hard comfort of a
perception come at largely through her intellect, still as far as the
art of his novel is concerned he has immensely gained by his refusal to
make any trivial concession to natural weaknesses. His latest conclusion
is his best. _The Lay Anthony_ ends in accident, _Mountain Blood_ in
melodrama; _The Three Black Pennys_, more successful than its
predecessors, fades out like the Penny line; _Java Head_ turns sharply
away from its central theme, almost as if _Hamlet_ should concern itself
during a final scene with Horatio's personal perplexities. Now the
conclusions of a novelist are on the whole the test of his judgment and
his honesty; and it promises much for fiction that Mr. Hergesheimer has
advanced so steadily in this respect through his seven books.

He has advanced, too, in his use of decoration, which reached its most
sumptuous in _Java Head_ and which in _Linda Condon_ happily began to
show a more austere control. The question which criticism asks is
whether Mr. Hergesheimer has not gone as far as a practitioner of the
decorative arts can go, and whether he ought not, during the remainder
of the eminent career which awaits him, to work rather in the direction
marked by _Linda Condon_ than in that marked by _Java Head_. The rumor
that his friends advise him to become a "period novelist" must disquiet
his admirers--even those among them who cannot think him likely to act
upon advice so dangerous to his art. Doubtless he could go on and write
another _Salammbô,_ but he does not need to: he has already written
_Java Head_. When a novelist has reached the limits of decoration there
still stretches out before him the endless road--which Mr. Hergesheimer
has given evidence that he can travel--of the interpretation and
elucidation of human character and its devious fortunes in the world.



CHAPTER IV

NEW STYLE


1. EMERGENT TYPES

_Ellen Glasgow_

Fiction, no less than life, has its broad flats and shallows from which
distinction emerges only now and then, when some superior veracity or
beauty or energy lifts a novelist or a novel above the mortal average.
Consider, for example, the work of Ellen Glasgow. In her representations
of contemporary Virginia she long stood with the local colorists,
practising with more grace than strength what has come to seem an older
style; in her heroic records of the Virginia of the Civil War and
Reconstruction she frequently fell into the orthodox monotone of the
historical romancers. By virtue of two noticeable qualities, however,
she has in her later books emerged from the level established by the
majority and has ranged herself with writers who seem newer and fresher
than her early models.

One quality is her sense for the texture of life, which imparts to _The
Miller of Old Church_ a thickness of atmosphere decisively above that of
most local color novels. She has admitted into her story various classes
of society which traditional Virginia fiction regularly neglects; she
has enriched her narrative with fresh and sweet descriptions of the soft
Virginia landscape; she has bound her plot together with the best of all
ligatures--intelligence. If certain of her characters--Abel Revercomb,
Reuben Merryweather, Betsey Bottom--seem at times a little too much like
certain of Thomas Hardy's rustics, still the resemblance is hardly
greater than that which actually exists between parts of rural Virginia
and rural Wessex; Miss Glasgow is at least as faithful to her scene as
if she had devoted herself solely to a chronicle of rich planters, poor
whites, and obeisant freedmen. Without any important sacrifice of
reality she has enlarged her material by lifting it toward the plane of
the pastoral and rounding it out with poetic abundance instead of
whittling it down with provincial shrewdness or weakening it with
village sentimentalism.

That she does not lack shrewdness appears from the evidences in _Life
and Gabriella_ and still more in _Virginia_ of her second distinctive
quality--a critical attitude toward the conventions of her locality. In
one Miss Glasgow exhibits a modern Virginia woman breaking her medieval
shell in New York; in the other she examines the subsequent career of a
typical Southern heroine launched into life with no equipment but
loveliness and innocence. Loveliness, Virginia finds, may fade and
innocence may become a nuisance if wisdom happens to be needed. She
fails to understand and eventually to "hold" her husband; she gives
herself so completely to her children that in the end she has nothing
left for herself and is tragically dispensable to them. _Virginia_ is at
once the most thorough and the most pathetic picture extant of the
American woman as Victorianism conceived and shaped and misfitted her.
But the book is much more than a tract for feminism to point to: it is
unexpectedly full and civilized, packed with observation, tinctured with
omen and irony.


_William Allen White_

If Miss Glasgow emerges considerably--though not immensely--above the
deadly levels of fiction, so does William Allen White. What lifts him is
his hearty, bubbling energy. He has the courage of all his convictions,
of all his sentiments, of all his laughter, of all his tears. He has a
multitude of right instincts and sound feelings, and he habitually
reverts to them in the intervals between his stricter hours of thought.
Such stricter hours he is far from lacking. They address themselves
especially to the task of showing why and how corruption works in
politics and of tracing those effects of private greed which ruin souls
and torture societies. The hero-villains of _A Certain Rich Man_ and of
_In the Heart of a Fool_ tread all the paths of selfishness and come to
hard ends in punishment for the offense of counting the head higher than
the heart.

These books being crowded with quite obvious doctrine it is fair to say
of them that they directly inculcate the life of simple human virtues
and services and accuse the grosser American standards of success. They
do this important thing within the limits of moralism, progressivism,
and optimism. John Barclay, the rich man, when his evil course is run,
hastily, unconvincingly divests himself of his spoils and loses his life
in an heroic accident. Thomas Van Dorn, the fool, finally arrives at
desolation because there has been no God in his heart, but he has no
more instructive background for a contrast to folly than the spectacle
of a nation entering the World War with what is here regarded as a vast
purgation, a magnificent assertion of the divinity in mankind. How such
a conclusion withers in the light and fire of time! Right instincts and
sound feelings are not, after all, enough for a novelist: somewhere in
his work there must appear an intelligence undiverted by even the
kindliest intentions; much as he must be of his world, he must be also
in some degree outside it as well as above it.

Yet to be of his world with such knowledge as Mr. White has of Kansas
gives him one kind of distinction if not a different kind. His two
longer narratives sweep epically down from the days of settlement to the
time when the frontier order disappeared under the pressure of change.
He has a moving erudition in the history and characters and motives and
humors of the small inland town; no one has ever known more about the
outward customs and behaviors of an American state than Mr. White. His
shorter stories not less than his novels are racy with actualities: he
has caught the dialect of his time and place with an ear that is
singularly exact; he has cut the costumes of his men and villages so
that hardly a wrinkle shows. In particular he understands the pathos of
boyhood, seen not so much, however, through the serious eyes of boys
themselves as through the eyes of reminiscent men reflecting upon young
joys and griefs that will shortly be left behind and upon little pomps
that can never come to anything. _The Court of Boyville_ is now
hilariously comic, now tenderly elegiac. None of Mr. White's
contemporaries has quite his power to shift from bursts of laughter to
sudden, agreeable tears. That flood of moods and words upon which he can
be swept beyond the full control of his analytical faculties is but a
symptom of the energy which, when he turns to narrative, sweeps him and
his readers out of pedestrian gaits.


_Ernest Poole_

By comparison the more critical Ernest Poole suffers from a deficiency
of both verve and humor. He began his career with the happy discovery of
a picturesque, untrodden neighborhood of New York City in _The Harbor_;
he consolidated his reputation with the thoughtful study of a troubled
father of troubling daughters in _His Family_; since then he has sounded
no new chords, strumming on his instrument as if magic had deserted him.
Perhaps it was not quite magic by which his work originally won its
hearing. There is something a little unmagical, a little mechanical,
about the fancy which personifies the harbor of New York and makes it
recur and reverberate throughout that first novel. The matter was
significant, but the manner seems only at times spontaneous and at times
only industrious. Intelligence, ideas, observations, perception--these
hold up well in _The Harbor_; it is poetry that flags, though poetry is
invoked to carry out the pattern. Over humor Mr. Poole has but moderate
power, as he has perhaps but moderate interest in it: his characters are
themselves either fiercely or sadly serious, and they are seen with an
eye which has not quite the forgiveness of laughter or the pity of
disillusion. Roger Gale in _His Family_ broods, mystified, over what
seems to him the drift of his daughters into the furious currents of a
new age. Yet they fall into three categories--with some American
reservations--of mother, nun, courtesan, about which there is nothing
new; and all the tragic elements of the book are almost equally ancient.
Without the spacious vision which sees eternities in hours _His Family_
contents itself too much with being a document upon a particular hour of
history. It has more kindliness than criticism.

Mr. Poole, one hates to have to say, is frequently rather less than
serious: he is earnest; at moments he is hardly better than merely
solemn. Nevertheless, _The Harbor_ and _His Family_--_His Family_ easily
the better of the two--are works of honest art and excellent documents
upon a generation. Mr. Poole feels the earth reeling beneath the
desperate feet of men; he sees the millions who are hopelessly
bewildered; he hears the cries of rage and fear coming from those who
foretell chaos; he catches the exaltation of those who imagine that
after so long a shadow the sunshine of freedom and justice will shortly
break upon them. With many generous expectations he waits for the
revolution which shall begin the healing of the world's wounds.
Meanwhile he paints the dissolving lineaments of the time in colors
which his own softness keeps from being very stern or very deep but
which are gentle and appealing.


_Henry B. Fuller_

The peculiar strength and the peculiar weakness of Henry B. Fuller lie
in his faithful habit of being a dilettante. A generation ago, when the
aesthetic poets and critics were in bloom, Mr. Fuller in _The Chevalier
of Pensieri-Vani_ and _The Chatelaine of La Trinité_ played with
sentimental pilgrimages in Italy or the Alps, packing his narratives
with the most affectionate kind of archaeology and yet forever
scrutinizing them with a Yankee smile. A little later, when Howells's
followers had become more numerous, Mr. Fuller joined them with minute,
accurate, amused representations of Chicago in _The Cliff-Dwellers_ and
_With the Procession_. Then, as if bored with longer flights, he settled
himself to writing sharp-eyed stories concerning the life of art as
conducted in Chicago--_Under the Skylights_--and of Americans traveling
in Europe--_From the Other Side, Waldo Trench and Others_. After _Spoon
River Anthology_ Mr. Fuller took such hints from its method as he
needed in the pungent dramatic sketches of _Lines Long and Short_. One
of these sketches, called _Postponement_, has autobiography, it may be
guessed, in its ironic, wistful record of a Midwestern American who all
his life longed and planned to live in Europe but who found himself
ready to gratify his desire only in the dread summer of 1914, when peace
departed from the earth to stay away, he saw, at least as long as he
could hope to live. There is the note of intimate experience, if not of
autobiography, in these lucid words spoken about the hero of _On the
Stairs_: "he wanted to be an artist and give himself out; he wanted to
be a gentleman and hold himself in. An entangling, ruinous paradox."

Fate, if not fatalism, has kept Mr. Fuller, this dreamer about old
lands, always resident in the noisiest city of the newest land and
always less, it seems, than thoroughly expressive. Had there been more
passion in his constitution he might, perhaps, have either detached
himself from Chicago altogether or submerged himself in it to a point of
reconciliation. But passion is precisely what Mr. Fuller seems to lack
or to be chary of. He dwells above the furies. As one consequence his
books, interesting as every one of them is, suffer from the absence of
emphasis. His utterance comes in the tone of an intelligent drawl.
Spiritually in exile, he lives somewhat unconcerned with the drama of
existence surrounding him, as if his gaze were farther off. Yet though
deficiency in passion has made Mr. Fuller an amateur, it has allowed him
the longest tether in the exercise of a free, penetrating intelligence.
He is not lightly jostled out of his equilibrium by petty irritations
or swept off his feet by those torrents of ready emotion which sweep
through popular fiction by their own momentum. Whenever, in _A Daughter
of the Middle Border_, Hamlin Garland brings Mr. Fuller into his story,
there is communicated the sense of a vivid intellect somehow keeping its
counsel and yet throwing off rays of suggestion and illumination.

Without much question it is by his critical faculties that Mr. Fuller
excels. He has the poetic energy to construct, but less frequently to
create. Such endowments invite him to the composition of memoirs. He
has, indeed, in _On the Stairs_, produced the memoirs, in the form of a
novel, of a Chicagoan who could never adapt himself to his native
habitat and who gradually sees the control of life slipping out of his
hands to those of other, more potent, more decisive, less divided men.
But suppose Mr. Fuller were to surrender the ironic veil of fiction
behind which he has preferred to hide his own spiritual adventures!
Suppose he were avowedly to write the history of the arts and letters in
Chicago! Suppose he were, rather more confidingly, to trace the career
of an actual, attentive dilettante in his thunderous town!


_Mary Austin_

Criticism perceives in Mary Austin the certain signs of a power which,
for reasons not entirely clear, has as yet failed to express itself
completely in forms of art. She herself prefers less to be judged by any
of her numerous books than to be regarded as a figure laboring somewhat
anonymously toward the development of a national culture founded at all
points on national realities. Behind this preference is a personal
experience which must be taken into account in any analysis of Mrs.
Austin's work. Born in Illinois, she went at twenty to California, to
live between the Sierra Nevada and the Mohave Desert. There she was soon
spiritually acclimated to the wilderness, studied among the Indians the
modes of aboriginal life, and in time came to bear the relation almost
of a prophetess to the people among whom she lived. Her first book, _The
Land of Little Rain_, interpreted the desert chiefly as landscape. Since
then she has, it may be said, employed the desert as a measure of life,
constantly bringing from it a sense for the primal springs of existence
into all her comment upon human affairs. _The Man Jesus_ examines the
career of a desert-dweller who preached a desert-wisdom to a confused
world. Her play _The Arrow Maker_ exhibits the behavior and fortunes of
a desert-seeress among her own people. _Love and the Soul-Maker_
anatomizes love as a primal force struggling with and through
civilization. From Paiute and Shoshone medicine men, the only poets Mrs.
Austin knew during her formative years, she acquired that grounding in
basic rhythms which led her to write free verse years before it became
the fashion in sophisticated circles and persuaded her that American
poetry cannot afford to overlook the experiments and successes of the
first American poets in fitting expression to the actual conditions of
the continent.

It has been of course a regular tradition among novelists in the United
States to weigh the "settlements" in a balance and to represent them as
lacking the hardy virtues of the backwoods. Mrs. Austin goes beyond this
naïve process. Whether she deals with the actual frontier--as in
_Isidro_ or _Lost Borders_ or _The Ford_--or with more crowded, more
complex regions--as in _The Woman of Genius_ or _26 Jayne Street_--she
keeps her particular frontier in mind not as an entity or a dogma but as
a symbol of the sources of human life and society. She creates, it
seems, out of depths of reflection and out of something even deeper than
reflection. She has observed the unconscious instincts of the individual
and the long memories of the race. The effect upon her novels of such
methods has been to widen their sympathies and to warm and lift their
style; it has also been to render them sometimes defective in structure
and sometimes obscure in meaning. If they are not glib, neither are they
always clean-cut or direct. Along with her generous intelligence she has
a good deal of the stubborn wilfulness of genius, and she has never
achieved a quite satisfactory fusion of the two qualities. She wears
something like the sibyl's robes and speaks with something like the
sibyl's strong accents, but the cool, hard discipline of the artist or
of the exact scholar only occasionally serves her. Much of her
significance lies in her promise. Faithful to her original vision, she
has moved steadily onward, growing, writing no book like its
predecessor, applying her wisdom continually to new knowledge, leaving
behind her a rich detritus which she will perhaps be willing to consider
detritus if it helps to nourish subsequent generations.


_Immigrants_

The newer stocks and neighborhoods in the United States have their
fictive records as well as the longer established ones, and there is
growing up a class of immigrant books which amounts almost to a separate
department of American literature. From Denmark, Germany,
Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Russia, Rumania, Syria, Italy have come
passionate pilgrims who have set down, mostly in plain narratives, the
chronicles of their migration. As the first Americans contended with
nature and the savages, so these late arrivals contend with men and a
civilization no less hostile toward them; their writings continue, in a
way, the earliest American tradition of a concern with the risks and
contrivances by which pioneers cut their paths. Even when the immigrants
write fiction they tend to choose the same materials and thus to fall
into formulas, which are the more observable since the writers are the
survivors in the struggle and naturally tell about the successes rather
than the failures in the process of Americanization.

Not all the stocks, of course, are equally interested in fiction or
gifted at it: the Russian Jews have the most notable novels to their
credit. Though these are generally composed by men not born in this
country, in Yiddish, and so belong to the history of that most
international of literatures, certain of them, having been translated,
belong obviously as well as actually to the common treasure of the
nation. Shalom Aleichem's _Jewish Children_ and Leon Kobrin's _A
Lithuanian Village_ surely belong, though their scenes are laid in
Europe; as do Sholom Asch's vivid, moving novels _Mottke the
Vagabond_--concerned with the underworld of Poland--and _Uncle
Moses_--concerned with the New York Ghetto--the recent translations of
which are slowly bringing to a wider American public the evidence that a
really eminent novelist has hitherto been partly hidden by his alien
tongue.

There is no question whatever that the work of Abraham Cahan, Yiddish
scholar, journalist, novelist, belongs to the American nation. As far
back as the year in which Stephen Crane stirred many sensibilities with
his _Maggie_, the story of an Irish slum in Manhattan, Mr. Cahan
produced in _Yekl_ a book of similar and practically equal merit
concerning a Jewish slum in the same borough. But it and his later books
_The Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories_ and _The White Terror and
the Red_ have been overwhelmed by novels by more familiar men dealing
with more familiar communities. The same has been true even of his
masterpiece, the most important of all immigrant novels, _The Rise of
David Levinsky_. It, too, records the making of an American, originally
a reader of Talmud in a Russian village and eventually the principal
figure in the cloak and suit trade in America. But it does more than
trace the career of Levinsky through his personal adventures: it traces
the evolution of a great industry and represents the transplanted
Russian Jews with affectionate exactness in all their modes of work and
play and love--another conquest of a larger Canaan. Here are fused
American hope and Russian honesty. At the end David, with all his New
World wealth, lacks the peace he might have had but for his sacrifice of
Old World integrity and faith. And yet the novel is very quiet in its
polemic. Its hero has gained in power; he is no dummy to hang maxims on.
Moving through a varied scene, gradually shedding the outward qualities
of his race, he remains always an individual, gnawed at by love in the
midst of his ambitions, subject to frailties which test his strength.

The fact that Mr. Cahan wrote _David Levinsky_ not in his mother-tongue
but in the language of his adopted country may be taken as a sign that
American literature no less than the American population is being
enlarged by the influx of fresh materials and methods. The methods of
the Yiddish writers are, as might be expected, those of Russian fiction
generally, though in this they were anticipated by the critical
arguments of Howells and Henry James and are rivaled by the majority of
the naturalistic novelists. Their materials, as might not be expected,
have a sort of primitive power by comparison with which the orthodox
native materials of fiction seem often pale and dusty. The older
Americans, settled into smug routines, lack the vitality, the industry
of the newcomers. They are less direct and more provincial; they are
bundled up in gentilities and petty habits; they hide behind
old-fashioned reticences which soften the drama of their lives. With the
newer stocks an ancient process begins again. Their affairs are
conducted on the plane of desperate subsistence. Struggling to survive
at all, they cry out in the language of hunger and death; almost naked
in the struggle, they speak nakedly about livelihood and birth and
death. Sooner or later the immigrants must be perceived to have added
precious elements of passion and candor to American fiction.


2. THE REVOLT FROM THE VILLAGE

_Edgar Lee Masters_

The newest style in American fiction dates from the appearance, in 1915,
of _Spoon River Anthology_, though it required five years for the
influence of that book to pass thoroughly over from poetry to prose. For
nearly half a century native literature had been faithful to the cult of
the village, celebrating its delicate merits with sentimental affection
and with unwearied interest digging into odd corners of the country for
persons and incidents illustrative of the essential goodness and heroism
which, so the doctrine ran, lie beneath unexciting surfaces. Certain
critical dispositions, aware of agrarian discontent or given to a
preference for cities, might now and then lay disrespectful hands upon
the life of the farm; but even these generally hesitated to touch the
village, sacred since Goldsmith in spite of Crabbe, sacred since
Washington Irving in spite of E.W. Howe.

The village seemed too cosy a microcosm to be disturbed. There it lay in
the mind's eye, neat, compact, organized, traditional: the white church
with tapering spire, the sober schoolhouse, the smithy of the ringing
anvil, the corner grocery, the cluster of friendly houses; the venerable
parson, the wise physician, the canny squire, the grasping landlord
softened or outwitted in the end; the village belle, gossip, atheist,
idiot; jovial fathers, gentle mothers, merry children; cool parlors,
shining kitchens, spacious barns, lavish gardens, fragrant summer dawns,
and comfortable winter evenings. These were elements not to be discarded
lightly, even by those who perceived that time was discarding many of
them as the industrial revolution went on planting ugly factories
alongside the prettiest brooks, bringing in droves of aliens who used
unfamiliar tongues and customs, and fouling the atmosphere with smoke
and gasoline. Mr. Howe in _The Story of a Country Town_ had long ago
made it cynically clear--to the few who read him--that villages which
prided themselves upon their pioneer energy might in fact be stagnant
backwaters or dusty centers of futility, where existence went round and
round while elsewhere the broad current moved away from them. Mark Twain
in _The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg_ had more recently put it bitterly
on record that villages which prided themselves upon their simple
virtues might from lack of temptation have become a hospitable soil for
meanness and falsehood, merely waiting for the proper seed. And Clarence
Darrow in his elegiac _Farmington_ had insisted that one village at
least had been the seat of as much restless longing as of simple bliss.
_Spoon River Anthology_ in its different dialect did little more than to
confirm these mordant, neglected testimonies.

That Mr. Masters was not neglected must be explained in part, of course,
by his different dialect. The Greek anthology had suggested to him
something which was, he said, "if less than verse, yet more than prose";
and he went, with the step of genius, beyond any "formal resuscitation
of the Greek epigrams, ironical and tender, satirical and sympathetic,
as casual experiments in unrelated themes," to an "epic rendition of
modern life" which suggests the novel in its largest aspects. An
admirable scheme occurred to him: he would imagine a graveyard such as
every American village has and would equip it with epitaphs of a
ruthless veracity such as no village ever saw put into words. The effect
was as if all the few honest epitaphs in the world had suddenly come
together in one place and sent up a shout of revelation.

Conventional readers had the thrill of being shocked and of finding an
opportunity to defend the customary reticences; ironical readers had the
delight of coming upon a host of witnesses to the contrast which irony
perpetually observes between appearance and reality; readers militant
for the "truth" discovered an occasion to demand that pious fictions
should be done away with and the naked facts exposed to the sanative
glare of noon. And all these readers, most of them unconsciously no
doubt, shared the fearful joy of sitting down at an almost incomparably
abundant feast of scandal. Where now were the mild decencies of
Tiverton, of Old Chester, of Friendship Village? The roofs and walls of
Spoon River were gone and the passers-by saw into every bedroom; the
closets were open and all the skeletons rattled undenied; brains and
breasts had unlocked themselves and set their most private treasures out
for the most public gaze.

It was the scandal and not the poetry of _Spoon River_, criticism may
suspect, which particularly spread its fame. Mr. Masters used an
especial candor in affairs of sex, an instinct which, secretive
everywhere, has rarely ever been so much so as in the American villages
of fiction, where love ordinarily exhibited itself in none but the
chastest phases, as if it knew no savage vagaries, transgressed no
ordinances, shook no souls out of the approved routines. Reaction from
too much sweet drove Mr. Masters naturally to too much sour; sex in
Spoon River slinks and festers, as if it were an instinct which had not
been schooled--however imperfectly--by thousands of years of human
society to some modification of its rages and some civil direction of
its restless power. But here, as with the other aspects of behavior in
his village, he showed himself impatient, indeed violent, toward all
subterfuges. There is filth, he said in effect, behind whited
sepulchers; drag it into the light and such illusions will no longer
trick the uninstructed into paying honor where no honor appertains and
will no longer beckon the deluded to an imitation of careers which are
actually unworthy.

Spoon River has not even the outward comeliness which the village of
tradition should possess: it is slack and shabby. Nor is its decay
chronicled in any mood of tender pathos. What strikes its chronicler
most is the general demoralization of the town. Except for a few saints
and poets, whom he acclaims with a lyric ardor, the population is sunk
in greed and hypocrisy and--as if this were actually the worst of
all--complacent apathy. Spiritually it dwindles and rots; externally it
clings to a pitiless decorum which veils its faults and almost makes it
overlook them, so great has the breach come to be between its practices
and its professions. Again and again its poet goes back to the heroic
founders of Spoon River, back to the days which nurtured Lincoln, whose
shadow lies mighty, beneficent, too often unheeded, over the degenerate
sons and daughters of a smaller day; and from an older, robuster
integrity Mr. Masters takes a standard by which he morosely measures the
purposelessness and furtiveness and supineness and dulness of the
village which has forgotten its true ancestors.

Anger like his springs from a poetic elevation of spirit; toward the end
_Spoon River Anthology_ rises to a mystical vision of human life by
comparison with which the scavenging epitaphs of the first half seem,
though witty, yet insolent and trivial. It is perhaps not necessary to
point out that the numerous poets and novelists who have learned a
lesson from the book have learned it less powerfully from the difficult
later pages than from those in which the text is easiest.

Mr. Masters himself has not always remembered the harder and better
lesson. During a half dozen years he has published more than a half
dozen books which have all inherited the credit of the _Anthology_ but
which all betray the turbulent, nervous habit of experimentation which
makes up a large share of his literary character. There comes to mind
the figure of a blind-folded Apollo, eager and lusty, who continually
runs forward on the trail of poetry and truth but who, because of his
blindfoldedness, only now and then strikes the central track. Five of
Mr. Masters's later books are collections of miscellaneous verse; during
the fruitful year 1920 he undertook two longer flights of fiction. In
_Mitch Miller_ he attempted in prose to write a new _Tom Sawyer_ for the
Spoon River district; in _Domesday Book_ he applied the method of _The
Ring and the Book_ to the material of Starved Rock. The impulse of the
first must have been much the same as Mark Twain's: a desire to catch in
a stouter net than memory itself the recollections of boyhood which
haunt disillusioned men. But as Mr. Masters is immensely less boylike
than Mark Twain, elegy and argument thrust themselves into the chronicle
of Mitch and Skeet, with an occasional tincture of a fierce hatred felt
toward the politics and theology of Spoon River. A story of boyhood,
that lithe, muscular age, cannot carry such a burden of doctrine. The
narrative is tangled in a snarl of moods. Its movement is often thick,
its wings often gummed and heavy.

The same qualities may be noted in _Domesday Book_. Its scheme and
machinery are promising: a philosophical coroner, holding his inquest
over the body of a girl found mysteriously dead, undertakes to trace the
mystery not only to its immediate cause but up to its primary source and
out to its remotest consequences. At times the tale means to be an
allegory of America during the troubled, roiled, destroying years of the
war; at times it means to be a "census spiritual" of American society.
Elenor Murray, in her birth and love and sufferings and desperate end,
is represented as pure nature, "essential genius," acting out its fated
processes in a world of futile or corrupting inhibitions. But Mr.
Masters has less skill at portraying the sheer genius of an individual
than at arraigning the inhibitions of the individual's society. When he
steps down from his watch-tower of irony he can hate as no other
American poet does. His hates, however, do not always pass into poetry;
they too frequently remain hard, sullen masses of animosity not fused
with his narrative but standing out from it and adding an unmistakable
personal rhythm to the rough beat of his verse. So, too, do his heaps of
turgid learning and his scientific speculations often remain undigested.
A good many of his characters are cut to fit the narrative plan, not
chosen from reality to make up the narrative. The total effect is often
crude and heavy; and yet beneath these uncompleted surfaces are the
sinews of enormous power: a greedy gusto for life, a wide imaginative
experience, tumultuous uprushes; of emotion and expression, an acute if
undisciplined intelligence, great masses of the veritable stuff of
existence out of which great novels are made.


_Sherwood Anderson_

_Spoon River Anthology_ has called forth a smaller number of deliberate
imitations than might have been expected, and even they have utilized
its method with a difference. Sherwood Anderson, for example, in
_Winesburg, Ohio_ speaks in accents and rhythms obstinately his own,
though his book is, in effect, the _Anthology_ "transprosed." Instead of
inventing Winesburg immediately after Spoon River became famous he began
his career more regularly, with the novels _Windy McPherson's Son_ and
_Marching Men_, in which he employed what has become the formula of
revolt for recent naturalism. In both stories a superior youth, of
rebellious energy and somewhat inarticulate ambition, detaches himself
in disgust from his native village and makes his way to the city in
search of that wealth which is the only thing the village has ever
taught him to desire though it is unable to gratify his desires itself;
and in both the youth, turned man, finds himself sickening with his
prize in his hands and looks about him for some clue to the meaning of
the mad world in which he has succeeded without satisfaction. Sam
McPherson, after a futile excursion through the proletariat in search of
the peace which he has heard accompanies honest toil, settles down to
the task of bringing up some children he has adopted and thus of forcing
himself "back into the ranks of life." Beaut McGregor, refusing a
handsome future at the bar, sets out to organize the workers of Chicago
into marching men who drill in the streets and squares at night that
they may be prepared for action if only they can find some sort of goal
to march upon.

These novels ache with the sense of a dumb confusion in America; with a
consciousness "of how men, coming out of Europe and given millions of
square miles of black fertile land mines and forests, have failed in the
challenge given them by fate and have produced out of the stately order
of nature only the sordid disorder of man." Out of this ache of
confusion comes no lucidity. Sam McPherson is not sure but that he will
find parenthood as petty as business was brutal; Beaut McGregor sets his
men to marching and their orderly step resounds through the final
chapters of his career as here recorded, but no one knows what will come
of it--they advance and wheel and retreat as blindly as any horde of
peasants bound for a war about which they do not know the causes, in a
distant country of which they have never heard the name. Mr. Anderson
worked in his first books as if he were assembling documents on the eve
of revolution. Village peace and stability have departed; ancient
customs break or fade; the leaven of change stirs the lump.

From such arguments he turned aside to follow Mr. Masters into verse
with _Mid-American Chants_ and into scandal with _Winesburg, Ohio_. But
touching scandal with beauty as his predecessor touched it with irony,
Mr. Anderson constantly transmutes it. The young man who here sets out
to make his fortune has not greatly hated Winesburg, and the imminence
of his departure throws a vaguely golden mist over the village, which is
seen in considerable measure through his generous if inexperienced eyes.
A newspaper reporter, he directs his principal curiosity towards items
of life outside the commonplace and thus offers Mr. Anderson the
occasion to explore the moral and spiritual hinterlands of men and women
who outwardly walk paths strict enough.

If the life of the tribe is unadventurous, he seems to say, there is
still the individual, who, perhaps all the more because of the rigid
decorums forced upon him, may adventure with secret desires through
pathless space. Only, the pressure of too many inhibitions can distort
human spirits into grotesque forms. The inhabitants of Winesburg tend
toward the grotesque, now this organ of the soul enlarged beyond all
symmetry, now that wasted away in a desperate disuse. They see visions
which in some wider world might become wholesome realities or might be
dispelled by the light but which in Winesburg must lurk about till they
master and madden with the strength which the darkness gives them.
Religion, deprived in Winesburg of poetry, fritters its time away over
Pharisaic ordinances or evaporates in cloudy dreams; sex, deprived of
spontaneity, settles into fleshly habit or tortures its victim with the
malice of a thwarted devil; heroism of deed or thought either withers
into melancholy inaction or else protects itself with a sullen or
ridiculous bravado.

Yet even among such pitiful surroundings Mr. Anderson walks tenderly. He
honors youth, he feels beauty, he understands virtue, he trusts wisdom,
when he comes upon them. He broods over his creatures with affection,
though he makes no luxury of illusions. Much as he has detached himself
from the cult of the village, he still cherishes the memories of some
specific Winesburg. Much as he has detached himself from the hazy
national optimism of an elder style in American thinking, he still
cherishes a confidence in particular persons. _Winesburg, Ohio_ springs
from the more intimate regions of his mind and is consequently more
humane and less doctrinaire than his earlier novels. It has a similar
superiority over the book he wrote for 1920, _Poor White_, which returns
to the device of a bewildered strong man rising from a dull obscurity,
successful but unsatisfied. At the same time _Poor White_ proceeds from
an imagination which had been warmed with the creation of Winesburg and
its people and is richer, fuller, deeper than the angular sagas of
McPherson and McGregor. It does not yet show that Mr. Anderson can
construct a large plot or that his vision comes with a steady gleam; it
shows, rather, that he is still fumbling in the confusion of current
life to get hold of something true and simple and to make it clear.

Perhaps he tried in _Poor White_ to manipulate a larger bulk than he is
yet ready for. Perhaps because he was aware of that he has worked in his
latest book, _The Triumph of the Egg_, with a variety of brief themes
and has excelled even _Winesburg_ in both poetry and truth. At least it
is certain that he keeps on advancing in his art. Although life has not
hardened for him, and he sees it still flowing or whirling, he steadily
sharpens his outlines and perfects the fierce intensity of his style.
Will his wisdom ever catch up with his passion and his observation? In
each successive book he has revealed himself as still hot with the fever
of his day's experiences. He has yet to show that he can go through the
confusion of new spiritual adventures and then set them down,
remembering, in tranquillity.


_E.W. Howe_

With _The Anthology of Another Town_ E.W. Howe, obviously on the
suggestion of Spoon River, returned to the caustic analysis of American
village life which he may be said to have inaugurated in _The Story of a
Country Town_ almost forty years before. Then he had been young enough
to feel it necessary to invent romantic embroideries for his grim tale,
somewhat as Emily Brontë under somewhat similar circumstances has done
for _Wuthering Heights_--the novel which Mr. Howe's story most
resembles. But all his inventions were stern, full of a powerful
dissatisfaction, merciless toward the idyllic versions of country life
which sweetened the decade of the eighties. Even among the pioneers whom
Mr. Masters idealizes there were, according to the older man, slackness
and shabbiness, and at the first opportunity to take their ease in the
new world they had won from nature they sank down, too nerveless for
passion or violence, into the easy vices: idleness, whining, gossip,
drunkenness, sodden inutility. Against such qualities Mr. Howe has from
the first proceeded with the doctrines of another Franklin, but of a
Franklin without whimsical persuasions or elegant graces. Having
apparently come to the conclusion that he was a failure as a novelist
because he made no great stir with his experiments in that trade, he
confined himself to more or less orthodox journalism for a generation,
and then, retiring, founded his organ of "indignation and
information"--_E.W. Howe's Monthly_--and began to pour forth the stream
of aphoristic honesty which makes him easily first among the rural
sages.

In no sense, of course, does he assume the cosmopolitan and
international attitude which most of the naturalists assume:
"Provincialism," he curtly says, "is the best thing in the world." Nor
is he in any of the casual senses a radical: "In everything in which man
is interested, the world knows what is best for him.... Millions of men
have lived millions of years, and tried everything." Neither has he any
patience with speculation for its own sake: "There are no mysteries.
Where does the wind come from? It doesn't matter: we know the habits of
wind after it arrives." As to politics: "The people are always worsted
in an election." As to altruism: "The long and the short of it is,
whoever catches the fool first is entitled to shear him." As to love:
"We cannot permit love to run riot; we must build fences around it, as
we do around pigs." As to money: "In theory, it is not respectable to be
rich. In fact, poverty is a disgrace." As to literature: "Poets are
prophets whose prophesying never comes true." As to prudence: "Trying to
live a spiritual life in a material world is the greatest folly I know
anything about." As to persistent hopefulness: "Pessimism is always
nearer the truth than optimism."

When the author of such aphorisms undertook to write another anthology
about another town he naturally avoided the mystical elevation of Spoon
River as well as its verse; he used the irony of a disillusioned man and
the directness of a bullet. His scheme was not to assemble epitaphs for
the dead of the village but to tell crisp anecdotes of the living. He
had no iniquities in the human order to assail, since he believes that
the order is just and that it rarely hurts any one who does not deserve
to be hurt by reason of some avoidable imbecility. He made no specialty
of scandal; he did not inquire curiously into the byways of sex; he let
pathology alone. He appears in the book to be--as he is in the flesh--a
wise old man letting his memory run through the town and recalling bits
of decent, illuminating gossip. He is willing to tell a fantastic yarn
with a dry face or to tuck a tragedy in a sentence; to repeat some
village legend in his own low tones or to puncture some village bubble
with a cynical inquiry.

Yet for all his acceptance and tolerance of the village he is far from
helping to continue the sentimental traditions concerning it. The common
sense which he considers the basis of all philosophy--"If it isn't
common sense, it isn't philosophy"--he has the gift of expounding in a
language which is piercingly individual. It strips his village of
trivial local color and reduces it to the simplest terms--making it out
a more or less fortuitous congregation of human beings of whom some work
and some play, some behave themselves and some do not, some consequently
prosper and some fail, some are happy and some are miserable. His
village is not dainty, like a poem, for the reason that he believes no
village ever was; at least he has never seen one like that.
Downrightness like his is death to mere pretty notions about tribes and
towns quite as truly as are the positive indictments brought against
them by Mr. Masters and Mr. Anderson. If Mr. Howe is less vivid than
those two, because he distrusts passion and poetry, he is also quieter
and surer. "I am not an Agnostic; I _know_.... I have lived a long time,
and my real problems have always been simple."


_Sinclair Lewis_

_Spoon River Anthology_ was a collection of poems, _Winesburg, Ohio_ was
a collection of short stories, _The Anthology of Another Town_ was a
collection of anecdotes. It remained for a novel in the customary form,
Sinclair Lewis's _Main Street_, to bring to hundreds of thousands the
protest against the village which these books brought to thousands.

Mr. Lewis, like Mr. Masters, clearly has revenges to take upon the
narrow community in which he grew up, nourished, no doubt, on the
complacency native to such neighborhoods and yet increasingly resentful.
Less poetical than his predecessor, the younger novelist went further in
both his specifications and his generalizations. Instead of brooding
closely, ironically, profoundly, under the black wings of the thought of
death, Mr. Lewis satisfies himself with a slashing portrait of Gopher
Prairie done to the life with the fingers of ridicule. He has
photographic gifts of accuracy; he has all the arts of mimicry; he has a
tireless gusto in his pursuit of the tedious commonplace. Each item of
his evidence is convincing, and the accumulation is irresistible. No
other American small town has been drawn with such exactness of detail
in any other American novel. Various elements of scandal crop out here
and there, but the principal accusation which Mr. Lewis brings against
his village--and indeed against all villages--is that of being dull. "It
is contentment ... the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful
of the living for their restless walking. It is negation canonized as
the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is
slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dulness made God."

Not dulness itself so much as dulness militant and prospering arouses
this satirist. The whole world, he believes, is being leveled by the
march of machines into one monotonous uniformity, before which all the
individual colors and graces and prides and habits flee--or would flee
if there were any asylum still uninvaded. Thus Mr. Lewis's voice
continues the opposition which Wordsworth raised to the coming of a
railroad into his paradise among the Lakes and which Ruskin and Matthew
Arnold and William Morris raised to the standardization of life which
went on during their century. The American voice, however, speaks of
American conditions. The villages of the Middle West, it asseverates,
have been conquered and converted by the legions of mediocrity, and now,
grown rich and vain, are setting out to carry the dingy banner, led by
the booster's calliope and the evangelist's bass drum, farther than it
has ever gone before--to make provincialism imperialistic; so that all
the native and instinctive virtues, freedoms, powers must rally in their
own defense.

Mr. Lewis hates such dulness--the village virus--as the saints hate sin.
Indeed it is with a sort of new Puritanism that he and his
contemporaries wage against the dull a war something like that which
certain of their elders once waged against the bad. Only a satiric anger
helped out by the sense of being on crusade could have sustained the
author of _Main Street_ through the laborious compilation of those
brilliant details which illustrate the complacency of Gopher Prairie and
which seem less brilliant than laborious to bystanders not particularly
concerned in his crusade. The question, of course, arises whether the
ancient war upon stupidity is a better literary cause to fight in than
the equally ancient war upon sin. Both narrow themselves to doctrinal
contentions, apparently forgetting for the moment that either being
virtuous or being intelligent is but a half--or thereabouts--of
existence, and that the two qualities are hopelessly intertwined. There
are thoughtful novelists who, as they do not condemn lapses of virtue
too harshly, so also do not too harshly condemn deficiencies of
intelligence, feeling that the common humanity of men and women is
enough to make them fit for fiction. Mr. Lewis must be thought of as
sitting in the seat of the scornful, with the satirists rather than with
the poets, must be seen to recall the earlier, vexed, sardonic _Spoon
River_ rather than the later, calmer, loftier.

Satire and moralism, however, have large rights in the domain of
literature. Had Mr. Lewis lacked remarkable gifts he could never have
written a book which got its vast popularity by assailing the populace.
The reception of _Main Street_ is a memorable episode in literary
history. Thousands doubtless read it merely to quarrel with it; other
thousands to find out what all the world was talking about; still other
thousands to rejoice in a satire which they thought to be at the
expense of stupid people never once identified with themselves; but that
thousands and hundreds of thousands read it is proof enough that
complacency was not absolutely victorious and that the war was on.


_Zona Gale_

Before _Main Street_ Sinclair Lewis, though the author of such promising
novels as _Our Mr. Wrenn_ and _The Job_, had been forced by the neglect
of his more serious work to earn a living with the smarter set among
American novelists, writing bright, colloquial, amusing chatter for
popular magazines. If it seems a notable achievement for a temper like
Mr. Masters's to have helped pave the way to popularity for Mr. Lewis,
it seems yet more notable to have performed a similar service for Zona
Gale, who for something like a decade before _Spoon River Anthology_ had
had a comfortable standing among the sweeter set. She was the inventor
of Friendship Village, one of the sweetest of all the villages from Miss
Mitford and Mrs. Gaskell down. Friendship lay ostensibly in the Middle
West, but it actually stood--if one may be pardoned an appropriate
metaphor--upon the confectionery shelf of the fiction shop, preserved in
a thick syrup and set up where a tender light could strike across it at
all hours. In story after story Miss Gale varied the same device: that
of showing how childlike children are, how sisterly are sisters, how
brotherly are brothers, how motherly are mothers, how fatherly are
fathers, how grandmotherly and grandfatherly are grandmothers and
grandfathers, and how loverly are all true lovers of whatever age, sex,
color, or condition. But beneath the human kindness which had permitted
Miss Gale to fall into this technique lay the sinews of a very subtle
intelligence; and she needed only the encouragement of a changing public
taste to be able to escape from her sugary preoccupations. Though the
action of _Miss Lulu Bett_ takes place in a different village, called
Warbleton, it might as well have been in Friendship--in Friendship seen
during a mood when its creator had grown weary of the eternal
saccharine. Now and then, she realized, some spirit even in Friendship
must come to hate all those idyllic posturings; now and then in some
narrow bosom there must flash up the fires of youth and revolution. It
is so with Lulu Bett, dim drudge in the house of her silly sister and of
her sister's pompous husband: a breath of life catches at her and she
follows it on a pitiful adventure which is all she has enough vitality
to achieve but which is nevertheless real and vivid in a waste of
dulness.

Here was an occasion to arraign Warbleton as Mr. Lewis was then
arraigning Gopher Prairie; Miss Gale, instead of heaping up a multitude
of indictments, categorized and docketed, followed the path of
indirection which--by a paradoxical axiom of art--is a shorter cut than
the highway of exposition or anathema. Her story is as spare as the
virgin frame of Lulu Bett; her style is staccato in its lucid brevity,
like Lulu's infrequent speeches; her eloquence is not that of a torrent
of words and images but that of comic or ironic or tragic meaning packed
in a syllable, a gesture, a dumb silence. Miss Gale riddles the tedious
affectations of the Deacon household almost without a word of comment;
none the less she exhibits them under a withering light. The daughter,
she says, "was as primitive as pollen"--and biology rushes in to explain
Di's blind philanderings. "In the conversations of Dwight and Ina," it
is said of the husband and wife, "you saw the historical home forming in
clots in the fluid wash of the community"--and anthropology holds the
candle. Grandma Bett is, for the moment, the symbol of decrepit age, as
Lulu is the symbol of bullied spinsterhood. Yet in the midst of
applications so universal the American village is not forgotten, little
as it is alluded to. If the Friendships are sweet and dainty, so are
they--whether called Warbleton or something less satiric--dull and
petty, and they fashion their Deacons no less than their Pelleases and
Ettares. Thus hinting, Miss Gale, in her clear, flutelike way, joins the
chorus in which others play upon noisier instruments.


_Floyd Dell_

The year which saw the appearance of _Main Street_ and _Miss Lulu Bett_
saw also that of _The Age of Innocence_, Edith Wharton's acid
delineation of the village of Manhattan in the genteel seventies, given
over to the "innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the
heart against experience"; saw Mary Borden's _The Romantic Woman_, with
its cosmopolitan amusement at the village of Iroquois, otherwise
Chicago; and saw Floyd Dell's _Moon-Calf_, which, standing on the other
side of controversy, lacks not only the disposition to sentimentalize
the village but even the disposition to ridicule it.

Mr. Dell's emancipation is the fruit of a revolutionary detachment from
village standards which is too complete to have left traces of any such
rupture as is implied in almost every paragraph of _Main Street_.
_Moon-Calf_, recounting the adventures of a young poet in certain river
counties and towns and villages of Illinois, touches without heat upon
the spiritual and intellectual limitations of those neighborhoods. It
settles no old scores. It relates an unconventional career without
conventional reproaches and also without conventional heroics. Felix Fay
dreams and blunders and suffers but he goes on growing like a tree,
pushing his head up through one level of development after another until
he stands above the minor annoyances of his immaturity and looks out
over a broader world. He has a soul which is naturally socialist and yet
he never loses himself in proclamations or statistics. He can be fresh
and hopeful and yet learn from the remarkable old men he encounters. He
lives and loves with an instinctive freedom and yet he holds himself
equally secure from devastating extravagances and devastating
repressions. Mr. Dell writes as if he had steadier nerves than most of
the naturalists; as if he regarded their war upon the village as an
ancient brawl which may now be assumed to have been as much settled as
it ever will be. At least, it seems scarcely worth wrangling over. The
spirit seeking to release itself from trivial conditions behaves most
intelligently when it discreetly takes them into account and concerns
itself with them only enough to escape entanglements. Mr. Dell leaves it
to the moralists and the satirists to whip offenders, while he himself
goes on to construct some monument of beauty upon the ground which
moralism and satire are laboring to clear.

_Moon-Calf_ is very beautiful. Felix has a poetic gift sufficient to
warm the record with fine verses and delicate susceptibilities upon
which his adventures leave exquisite impressions. Even when his
rebellion is at its highest pitch he wastes little energy in hating and
so avoids the astringency and perturbation of a state of mind which is
always perilous. To say Felix Fay is more or less to mean Floyd Dell,
for the narrative is obviously autobiographic at many points. But were
it entirely invention it would testify none the less to the affection
with which this novelist feels his world and the lucidity with which he
represents it. He has a genuine zest for human life, enjoying it, even
when it invites mirth or anger, because of the form and color and
movement which he perceives everywhere and particularly because of the
solid texture of reality of which he is admirably aware. Hatred closes
the eyes to a multitude of charms. If Mr. Dell suffered from it he
could never have enriched his fabric as he has with so many
circumstances chosen with an unargumentative hand; he could never have
extracted so much drama out of dusty people. Had he been a
sentimentalist he might have fallen into the soft processes of the local
color school when it came to portraying the various communities through
which Felix takes his way. Instead, the story is everywhere stiffened
with intelligence. Felix has no adventures more exciting than his
successive discoveries of new ideas. Even the women he loves fit into
the pattern of his career as a thinking being, and he emerges, however
moved, with a surer grasp of his expanding universe. That grasp would
lack much of its confidence if Mr. Dell employed a style less masterly.
As it is, he writes with a candid lucidity which everywhere lets in the
light and with a grace which rounds off the edges that mark the pamphlet
but not the work of art. He can be at once downright and graceful, at
once sincere and impersonal, at once revolutionary and restrained, at
once impassioned and reflective, at once enamored of truth and
scrupulous for beauty.

When Felix Fay had escaped his original villages and had taken to the
wider pursuit of freedom in Chicago there was another chapter of his
career to be recorded; and that Mr. Dell sets down in _The Briary-Bush_,
wherein Felix finds that the trail of freedom ends, for him, in madness
and loneliness. From the first, though this moon-calf has steadily
blundered toward detachment from the common order, some aching instinct
has left him hungry for solid ground to stand on. The conflict troubles
him. He can succeed in his immediate occupations but he cannot
understand his powers or feel confident in his future. His world whirls
round and round, menaces, eludes, threatens to vanish altogether. Thrown
by dim forces into the arms of Rose-Ann, who seeks freedom no less
restlessly than he, he is married, and the two begin their passionate
experiment at a union which shall have no bonds but their common
determination to be free. Charming slaves of liberty! Felix is at heart
a Puritan and cannot take the world lightly, as it comes. His blunders
bruise and wound him. He punishes himself for all his vagaries. Rose-Ann
is not a Puritan, but she too has instincts that will not surrender, any
more than Felix's, to the doctrines which they both profess: jealousy
sleeps within her, and potential motherhood. She and Felix come to feel
that they have shirked life by their deliberate childlessness and that
life has deserted them. Yet separation proves unendurable. So they
resume marriage, vowing "not to be afraid of life or of any of the
beautiful things life may bring." Among these, of course, are to be
children and a house.

Is this merely a return to their villages, merely domestic
sentimentalism in a lovely guise? Mr. Dell has gone a little too deep to
incur the full suspicion. He has got very near to the biological
foundations of two lives, where, for the moment, he rests his case.
There is more to come, however, in this spiritual history, whether
Felix Fay knows it or not. Let the house be built and the children be
born, and Felix and Rose-Ann, though citizens and parents, will still be
individuals and will still have to find out whether these complicated
threads of loyalty last better than the simple threads which broke.
Felix, in discovering the lure of stability, has not necessarily
completed the circle of his life. Freedom may allure him again.

_The Briary-Bush_, less varied than _Moon-Calf_, is decidedly
profounder. It hovers over the dark waters of the unconscious on perhaps
the surest wings an American novel has ever used. Though it has probed
difficult natures and knows them thoroughly it does not flaunt its
knowledge but brings it in only when it can throw some revealing light
upon the outward perplexities of the lovers. Thus it gives depth and
timbre to the story, and yet allows the characters to seem actual
persons actually walking the world. At the same time, Mr. Dell does not
possess a too vivid sense of externality. In both his novels all facts
come through the mist of Felix's habitual confusion, and in that mist
they lose dramatic emphasis; muted, they are not able to break up the
agreeable monotone in which the narrative is delivered. But underneath
these surfaces, seen so poetically, there is a substantial bulk of human
life, immemorial folkways powerfully contending with the new rebellion
of reason.


_F. Scott Fitzgerald_

_Domesday Book_, _Poor White_, _The Anthology of Another Town_, _Main
Street_, _Miss Lulu Bett_, _The Age of Innocence_, _The Romantic Woman_,
and _Moon-Calf_ would make 1920 remarkable even if that year had not
brought forth other novels of equal rank; if it had not brought forth
James Branch Cabell's richly symbolical romance _Figures of Earth_ and
Upton Sinclair's bitter indictment _100%_. And though most of these seem
somber, there came along with them another novel in which were gaiety
and high spirits and the fires of youth.

F. Scott Fitzgerald in _This Side of Paradise_ also had broken with the
village. He wrote of his gilded boys and girls as if average decorum
existed only to be shocked. But he made the curious discovery that
undergraduates could have brains and still be interesting; that they
need not give their lives entirely to games and adolescent politics;
that they may have heard of Oscar Wilde as well as of Rudyard Kipling
and of Rupert Brooke no less than of Alfred Noyes. Mr. Fitzgerald had
indeed his element of scandal to tantalize the majority, who debated
whether or not the rising generation could be as promiscuous in its
behavior as he made out. It is the brains in the book, however, not the
scandal, which finally count. His restless generation sparkles with
inquiry and challenge. When its elders have let the world fall into
chaos, why, youth questions, should it trust their counsels any longer?
Mirth and wine and love are more pleasant than that hollow wisdom, and
they may be quite as solid.

_This Side of Paradise_ comes to no conclusion; it ends in weariness and
smoke, though at last Amory believes he has found himself in the midst
of a wilderness of uncertainties. Yet how vivid a document the book is
upon a whirling time, and how beguiling an entertainment! The narrative
flares up now into delightful verse and now into glittering comic
dialogue. It shifts from passion to farce, from satire to lustrous
beauty, from impudent knowingness to pathetic youthful humility. It is
both alive and lively. Few things more significantly illustrate the
moving tide of which the revolt from the village is a symptom than the
presence of such unrest as this among these bright barbarians. The
traditions which once might have governed them no longer hold. They
break the patterns one by one and follow their wild desires. And as they
play among the ruins of the old, they reason randomly about the new,
laughing.


_Dorothy Canfield_

If Floyd Dell seems in _The Briary-Bush_ to hint at the human necessity
to turn back by and by from freedom, Dorothy Canfield in _The Brimming
Cup_ pretty clearly argues for that necessity. Doubtless it is to go too
far to claim, as certain of her critics do, that she had made a
counter-attack upon the assailants of the village and the established
order, but it is sure that she gave comfort to many spirits disturbed
by the radical outbursts of 1920. Already in _The Squirrel Cage_ and
_The Bent Twig_ she had shown an affectionate knowledge of the ways of
households in small communities; and in _Hillsboro People_ she had added
another hardy, kindly neighborhood to the American array of villages in
fiction. _The Brimming Cup_ sounded a deeper note than any she had yet
struck. Suppose, the novel says, there were a woman who had been trained
in the wide world but was now living in a distant village; suppose she
had heard and felt the tumult of the age and had begun to question the
reality of her contentment; suppose, to make the conflict as dramatic as
possible, she should find herself tempted by a new love to give up the
settled companionship of her husband and the heavy burden of her
children to seek joy in a thrilling passion.

Here Dorothy Canfield had an admirable theme and she rose to it with
power, but she permitted herself so easy a solution that her argument
stumbles lamentably. The lover who disrupts the warm circle of Marise's
life is after all only a selfish bounder, a mere villain; stirred as she
is by the promises he holds out of rapture and of luxury, she would be
simply foolish not to comprehend, as in the end she does, that she must
lose far more than she could gain by the exchange she contemplates.
Surely this is no argument in favor of loyalty as against love: it is
only a defense of loyalty, which does not need it, as against a fleeting
instability; and so it is hardly half as significant as it might have
been had the conflict been squarely met, great love contending with
great loyalty. Yet while the novel thus falls short of what it might
have undertaken it has numerous excellences. It is eloquent and
passionate and, very often, wise. Rarely have a mother's relations with
her children been so subtly represented; rarely have the manners of a
New England township been more convincingly portrayed. The setting glows
among its green hills and valleys, its snow and flowers. There are minor
characters that stand up vividly in the memory, like persons known face
to face. The atmosphere is at once tense with desire and spacious with
understanding. Though the materials come from an old tradition they have
been heated with the fires of the scrutinizing mind which burn beneath
the newer novelists.


_1921_

That memorable year of fiction which saw so many superior books produced
saw them successful beyond any reasonable expectation; and it is
scarcely to be wondered at that the year following--with which this
chronicle does not undertake to deal--should have responded to such
encouragement. If Dorothy Canfield challenged the tendency, Booth
Tarkington saw it and ventured _Alice Adams_. Sherwood Anderson in _The
Triumph of the Egg_ and Floyd Dell in _The Briary-Bush_ proceeded to
other triumphs. Half a dozen competent novelists followed naturalism
into the "exposure" of small towns or cramped lives: particularly C.
Kay Scott with the hard, crisp _Blind Mice_ and Charles G. Norris, rival
of his brother Frank Norris in veracity if not in fire, with _Brass_.
John Dos Passos in _Three Soldiers_, the most controverted novel of the
year, dealt brilliantly with the unheroic aspects of the American
Expeditionary Force. Evelyn Scott in _The Narrow House_ and Ben Hecht in
_Erik Dorn_ attempted, as Waldo Frank had already done in _The Dark
Mother_ and as some others now did less notably, to find a more elastic,
a more impressionistic technique, breaking up the "gray paragraph" and
quickening the tempo of their narratives. At the same time romance once
more showed its perennial face, suggesting that the future does not
belong to naturalism entirely. Donn Byrne in _Messer Marco Polo_ played
in a bright Gaelic way with the story of Marco Polo and his quest for
Golden Bells, the daughter of Kubla Khan. Robert Nathan wrote, in
_Autumn_, an all but perfect native idyl, grounded well enough in local
color, as suggestive of the soil as an old farmers' almanac, and yet
touched with the universal fingers of the pastoral. If American fiction
cannot long escape the village, at least here is a village of a sort
hardly thinkable before the revolt began. No matter what a flood of
angry truth _Spoon River Anthology_ let in, beauty survives. Many waters
cannot quench beauty. What truth extinguishes is the weaker flames.





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