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subdue the pit. Guilt has made him unpopular. Those who applauded now attempt to lynch; and a nasty lot they are, especially John Qualtrough, with the small eyes of a sow and the thick lips of a cod.' We must, however, quote, for Sir Hall Caine can be inimitable. Victor stands at the gaol gate.
• At the next moment he was on the ground with a roar of hoarse voices and a rush of contorted faces around him. There were screams of lewd laughter and yells of merciless derision. Arms were raised as if to strike him. He felt himself being pushed and pulled by the police through the open gate and up the passage way to the portcullis. The crowd, not yet appeased, tried to force their way past the jailer and his turnkeys as if to lynch him. But they were checked by an unexpected sight. A young woman, in the costume of a nurse, with heaving breast, quivering nostrils, and flaming eyes, gushed (sic) through the gate with outstretched arms to stop them. Then in a voice which vibrated with contempt and scorn, Fenella tried to speak to them. “ You ... you
you . .," she began, but further words would not come, and returning to the Castle she clashed its iron-studded gate in the people's faces. The crowd broke up rapidly and slank away, subdued and ashamed.'
What, then, in this novel warrants the sale of hundreds of thousands of copies? It is written in the deadliest earnest, without a spark of true heart-felt sympathy. Not a glint of humour prevails to leaven it -otherwise probably it would not have been written. It has none of the sensitiveness of touch, of style, which makes every word the only right word. At best, it is just frank melodrama devised to appeal to the crowd. As an example of high Art it is nothing. Sir Hall Caine makes with laboured persistence the gesture of greatness; but his personality is insufficient to support
We pass to Mr Locke, whose fiction, being natural to himself and not pretentious, appears sincere, in spite of its demonstrative fantasy. His scale of values is not precisely true; but the effect is sufficiently happy, for the reason that, habitually seeing mankind as a congress of unveiled eccentrics, he peoples his books with the folk of his heart, and so wins a consistency of artistic truth.
It is rather surprising, in view of his pronounced fantastical bent, to find him among the 'Best-Sellers'; yet there assuredly he is, with everything he writes proved acceptable. Sometimes his conception has fallen very flat, as with the ponderous "Jaffery' and the sickly, tiresome .Stella Maris’; but anyhow with this, his latest novel, The Mountebank,' he has done well for his devotees. His man of men, Andrew Lackaday, belongs to the attractive company of The Beloved Vagabond,' and therefore, with his peculiar calling, fits pleasantly into these pages, and is true to type. The topsyturvydom of the War provides the opportunity, it being fully in accord with the paradox of realised fact that the circus trick-artist, Le Petit Patou, of Australian birth, should enlist in the British Army and rise to the command of a brigade. Naturally, the gallant general, with his chestful of ribands, attracts the right mate, the daughter of a peer. Lady Auriol Dayne loves the transformed clown, who silently reciprocates; until, the War being over, he must return to the houp-là and Elodie. Of course, convenient opportunity then provides the necessary happy ending. Mr Locke has a bright pen, and when his theme is suitable, as it is in The Mountebank, he writes happily; but even in these fortunate pages come passages of heaviness; and, as Macaulay's schoolboy would know, even on that phase of perfection to which such omniscience has been translated, when the fantastic grows leaden it is weightier than plumber's lead.
With Gene Stratton Porter we pass to a different order of Best-Seller.' This lady has the requisite earnestness, with a very little humour, and an ardent purpose. Also, she enjoys a redeeming sincerity, and a love and knowledge of nature, deep and well-used, which proves, it seems, especially captivating to suburban dwellers with restricted gardens. Her great commercial success is the more extraordinary because of her determined American idiom, and the very different environment of her stories from that to which her readers in England are accustomed. Her Father's Daughter' is typical of the author. Linda, the heroine, is an amazing girl of seventeen. Her qualities and accomplishments would knock the old-fashioned blue-stocking into a cocked hat
(the metaphor shall not be mixed !); for, as Henry Anderson says of her,
"You're the darndest kid! One minute you're smacking your lips over cream puffs, and the next you're going to the bottom of the Yellow Peril. I never before saw your combination in one girl.'
Neither did we, except in some previous work from the same inspired pen. Linda was, indeed, darnder than the darndest—a schoolgirl, yet an authority on American politics and on world affairs; an expert botanist with a peculiar knowledge of herbs used by the Indians, and a faculty for describing them, and the soups and dishes to be made from them, profitably in journalism ; a complete motorist; an artist capable of designing and drawing for magazine covers; a young woman determined, when she has passed her "scholastic course,' to marry the right man and to have six children. And, somehow, Mrs Porter justifies the prodigy. The doubtful point in the novel is the purpose. The peaceful invasion of America by the Japanese leaves us cold; yet the author ventures to show how even Japs of thirty, men with hair dyed to obliterate the white, enter the schools to compete for prizes with young America. The purpose, as she puts it, does not march; but there is more than enough in the book to keep her infinite readers faithful.
Such is the Best-Seller' as tested by these examples. The only sure essentials seem to be a full plot and a complete story of adequate length with a happy ending, led up to in convincing earnestness; plain lucidity and no subtleties of humour, wit or phrase; conventional circumstance; recognisable people, even although they may not be humanly true; a handsome strong hero, with, if possible, a square jaw; a heroine altogether lovely and amenable to suffering, but with a shrewd vein of common sense; an ardent love-interest, occasional emotionalism a little lime-lit, and (possibly most important) consistency in kind with the earlier efforts of the same pen. It has no greatness, and no promise of futurity. At the best, these books are journeyman work done by fortunate journeymen; and so, too, with the next and lesser group of Best-Sellers,' of whom the most prominent examples are Miss Ethel Dell, with her hectic heroics and violently over-coloured scenes and persons ; Mr Horace Vachell, with his constructive adroitness and the good average of quality which he never can surmount; and Mrs Elinor Glyn, with her frankness of the key-hole and the counterpane and the snigger of rich vulgarity. May they enjoy their golden day; for them there is no to-morrow !
And what of the rest of the world of fiction of those, not Best-Sellers, who yet have an established position ? Facts continue disquieting. Mediocrity continues to rule, with the standard of excellence decreasing. Here is a simple test. How many of the writers who, in 1913, were accepted and recognised, are achieving work of a quality equal to their earlier best? Is there improvement, as should be with the true artist? Simple questions, not to be comfortably answered. An individual here and there--as Miss Sheila Kaye-Smith-meets the test; but the rest, comparatively legion, are generally lost in faded echoes of their former selves. Two causes of this condition are indifferent reviewing and, in an actual though less evident degree, the misinformed babble of the coteries. The newspapers have yielded shamefully to the pressure of their commercial side,' and give smaller space than ever to the critical appreciation of books; while some have closed entirely their literary columns. This loss to letters is accentuated by the poverty of the reviewing that prevails. No book by an accepted author can be so bad but somebody with a pen and the opportunity will range it with perfection, allowing it to blaze for a moment in company with the mightiest before it falls to oblivion.
Such want of discrimination is harmful. The hungry sheep look up and are not-guided; with the result that the lending libraries, especially in the provinces, are loaded increasingly with literary lumber, and the general taste, as well as the knowledge of the coteries, is vitiated. Of sound and stimulating criticism there is little. Even the accepted guides have tendencies to partiality, so that, unless a writer's name is known to the literary editor-the commercial reasoning of the Book Trade penetrating even to the nobler sphere-his work is hardly likely to be noticed at all. Between the bathos
of the incompetent reviewers and the prejudice of those who know, even a brilliant book by an unknown has small chance of recognition. Often originality is proved a drawback. Instead, the author must have a preliminary publicity. Let him get into the paragraphs or write head-lined journalism for a time, when everything becomes possible; but, meanwhile, the space grudged to reviewing is spent on the hackwork of the favourites, with occasional parentheses of complaint that inspiration is dead and the future of literature a prospect of fungus and dust.
Then the coteries. An actual, though less definite, influence in the building of literary reputations are the well-meaning people who meet in crowded rooms and restaurants, somewhere between Bedford Park and Peru. If the critical standard of this Intelligentsia were based on a sound knowledge of the established works of the mind, the most useful of forums for the sifting and enrichment of popular opinion would abound, and worth might look for a reward which at present is squandered on the unworthy; for, much as certain cliques in politics go about fondly repeating particular words—proletariat, propaganda, etc.—so these coteries of the pseudo-literary busily murmur the names of passing realists; not the great realists but the small, present-day passengers, who see in their own emotions and habits tremendous natural forces and work out prose threnodies of their own dingy passions, expressed with an infinitude of trivial incident. These self-portraitists—they have no dream, or glimpse of ennobling imagination, or any ideal, only a passing trick of the pen, the ink of melancholy, and an enormous self-conceit.
Every aspect of life is worthy of artistic expression. As Whistler claimed that a painter should master all the departments of his art and practise them, realising the true, whether particular or impressionist-portraits, nocturnes, anything else-so the writer of fiction should not be content to plough in one rut, following his own footsteps with a fatal iteration. To portray the personal and the spiritual amid the habits and emotions of every day is, therefore, a good thing, so long as it is not the only thing; for, besides Reality, there is Romance in the world, and it must win expression. But to the writers of the
Vol. 236.—No. 469.