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Hutchinson we simply see that Mark Sabre is a hysterical type of nationalism, and a type of that war hysteria of almost a decade past, which all sensible men have agreed to leave to oblivion, or at least to give its scientific description. England was in trouble, but all was bound to come out well, how or why we cannot say. And when it does come out well, we are wiser than we were. Sadly wise, with an obscure wisdom vaguely reminiscent of Ruskin. It seems to have some religious basis; but when we ask for specifications, we get nothing more novel or enlightening than “God Is Love”. That we have long known, but what we want to know is how to apply that principle to the present state of things, how to tap that river of healing. Mark Sabre has no more to give us than the nearest Bishop. (There is something about the selfishness of profiteers, and we gather that Mark Sabre would have the Bishops instructed to admonish the profiteers and ask them to be good.)
Rather more germane to the story, perhaps, is Sabre's doctrine about conventions. “In their application they're often unutterably wrong, cruel, hideously cruel and unjust, but when you examine them, even at their cruellest, you can't help seeing that fundamentally they're absolutely right and reasonable and necessary.” Such absolute validity for even conventions is a little hard to admit under the present reign of relativity and evolution. It is as if we had no proverb, “Circumstances alter cases.”
It is as if there had been no study of anthropology, as if Fraser had never written The Golden Bough, or the word tabu had never been called in to clarify our thought. But Sabre examines these conventions (the English ones), and finds them reasonable and necessary. There is the convention about the girl with a baby, who must be taken into no one's home. "You can't help seeing that the convention is fundamentally right and essential. Where on earth would you be if girls with babies could find homes as easily as girls without babies.
You'd have babies pouring out all over the place. See it?” How many see it? The logic is simple.
It is the violation of this very convention, as it turns out, which makes the most trouble in the private life of Mark Sabre, but which also makes possible the happy ending to which the
author is pledged by his title. That and the war. The girl with the baby takes care of Mrs. Sabre, and the war takes care of Lord Tybar. Such is not, to be sure, the language of Mr. Hutchinson or of any of the characters in his book. They never descend to such plainness of statement. For the whole story is guided by the well known sentimental principle, generally converted by experience and common sense, of Eat Your Cake and Have It. Make all the sacrifices of a Christian martyr, and become a prince of this world. Play for years the role of abused King Mark, and have your Iseult like any Tristram. Take all the vows, like St. Francis, and end up in purple and fine linen. This is a well-known formula of fairy tales and has received its romantic apotheosis in The Winter's Tale, where the Elizabethan lover of romance was offered the two highest gratifications possible to one plot. It was very delightful for Prince Florizel to fall in love with a mere shepherd's daughter, to flout his royal father, and assert the eternal equality of prince and peasant in their souls. But it would hardly do to leave it so for the subjects of Queen Elizabeth, or King James, who were hard-headed even in romance. So after every thrill had been expressed from that piquant situation, a new set of thrills was furnished by simply revealing that the shepherd's daughter was really a princess and fit mate for a king's son. We have had plenty of stories in which lovers athwart the law have made a noble sacrifice to honor, good faith, convention or compassion,-The Age of Innocence, An Autumn Sowing, Le Gentleman, The Duchess of Wrexe. Mr. Hutchinson is of the more generous tribe of romancers who, when the lovers have chosen his right hand, heaps upon them the contents of both, honor and happiness at once.
If Mr. Hutchinson is one of a tribe, he has leaped at one stride to its headship. No one since 1850 has so consistently sentimentalized every episode of his story, and yet succeeded in taking in the “highbrows". He has taken for his hero an amiable and long-suffering Christian gentleman such as we all like to think of ourselves as being, and set him in a world that does not understand him. In every outward encounter with life he is defeated; his feelings are lacerated almost beyond endurance by things which less sensitive beings take more stolidly; but he keeps his
spirit clear. And he saves from worldliness the spirit of his soul-mate unhappily married to a devil. In this he is greatly assisted by the war. Lady Tybar was on the point of declaring her independence of the cruel, cynical, unfaithful man to whom she was married. But as soon as he goes to the colors, he is “my man to stand by in this”. The sentiment is one that does her credit; but the grandiose gesture! the nauseating phrase! Sabre at least had no great reason to be concerned over the fate of the man who had caused so much suffering to the woman he loved; but the news of Tybar's death makes him nearly faint away with grief. It “came careering and headlong, as though malignity, bitter and wanton, had loosed a savage bolt”. And later he learns from the weeping wife the circumstances of her husband's death. On his deathbed he was gloating over the message conveyed to her which let her know of his continued and cynical unfaithfulness. “Poor Tony!
He died like that Marko, you know I'm very glad he just had his old mocking way while he died.
He was just utterly untouched by anything all his life, not to be judged as ordinary people are judged, and I know perfectly well he'd have wished to go out just his mocking, careless self to the last. He was utterly splendid. All that was between us, that was nothing once the war came.' Never has been carried to such extreme the Roman motto not to speak evil of the dead. As for the war, it seems to have been a universal solvent of all natural feelings and standards of judgment. For myself, I cannot imagine how, with such sentiments for poor Tony, his widow could ever have consented to be another's wife.
Mr. Hutchinson can be trusted to take advantage of every form of sentimentalism which followed in the wake of the war. And so we have added to the pudding that death-bed scene inspired by Sir Oliver Lodge, in which Mark turns medium and brings to dying Mrs. Perch the spirit of her dead son Freddie. Dickens was a master of pathos, and of death-bed scenes; but his time would not admit of this particular bit of theatricality. And it comes now, one would suppose, at least a year too late.
Only a little less absurd is the fit of hysteria which seizes Mark Sabre when he learns that his wife is suing him for divorce. He has long ago known, if words have meaning, that she regards him as an adulterer, and that her opinion is shared by the whole community. He is a man who, in a dozen contingencies, has shown himself willing to flout general opinion when conscious of being right. He is a certificated doctor in the philosophy of convention, and ought to understand its ways. His wife's action will leave him free to join the only person who has ever understood his sensitive soul. And yet the news of it comes to him as another "bolt" loosed by the powers of darkness. Then follows the intolerable melodrama of Effie's murdered baby and the coroner’s inquest, with our broken-down hero totally incapable of uttering a word except his childish, reiterated “Look here".
Such fools for heroes we do not find even in the mystic narratives of Dostoievsky. A man who, without an effort, allows himself to be crowded out of a business in which he has an hereditary interest. A defender of convention who has no more sense than to take into his house a girl with a baby which his wife believes to be his own, as if humanity could find no other way of meeting the situation; and who, taking her in, has no more sense than to let the servants go. A person still deeply concerned with the feelings of his wife, and what she and the world may think of him, who has not the sense to keep the letter that proves his innocence, and save his wife from the shame of his supposed unfaithfulness. One is again reminded of Dickens and his fondness for helpless innocence in the clutches of designing
clutches of designing evils. But it is with children and inexperienced women that Dickens works his natural pathos. If Sabre is to be the object of pity like Little Nell and Paul Dombey, well and good. But then he must not claim our admiration for a strong man in the toils.
Mr. Hutchinson is merely the most prominent, this year, of those who lead the cult of feeling for feeling's sake. I do not refer to the underworld of writers who take their inspiration from East Lynne and its kind, in whom the emotion is really proportioned to the experience it accompanies, writers who do not hesitate to give us the melodramatic stuff of tears. Towards the end of the book, indeed, Mr. Hutchinson does enter into competition with these honest folk. But in general he belongs to the school of those (like Mr. Walpole) who derive their thrills from the more ordinary matter of experience, whose people are more highly sensitized than the rest of us, and who register as "frightful” or “unbearable” what the rest of us register as sad or distressing. These people are, like schoolgirls, frankly out for experience; and we feel that, like schoolgirls, in their solemn self-consciousness they make epoch-making experiences at every opportunity. All stories have now become adventurestories. Soon after he was married Mark Sabre “had a sudden sense of the poignant and tremendous adventure on which they were embarked together”—he and his wife. Well, that is a common experience. Marriage is no joke. Traveling in Europe is no joke. Matthew Arnold wrote sadly of “fighting the battle of life with waiters in foreign hotels”. When Isabel Archer left Albany to try life in London, Florence and Rome, James tells us, what interested him most was the spiritual adventure which she was destined to undergo He does not call it a poignant and tremendous adventure. This language has come in since the time of James. You will find it strewn all over the novels of the last decade both in text and title. In Mr. Walpole's The Captives, when the hero says to the heroine he's glad she has come, the heroine's “heart thundered in her breast. She felt as though she were at the beginning of some tremendous adventure-an adventure enthralling, magnificent—and perilous.” Mr. Wells holds, I believe, the original patent on this formula.
Mr. Walpole's people, like Mr. Hutchinson's, keep careful record of the moments that make epochs in their lives. Something is forever happening to change the whole current of lives hardly yet started. Maggie in her bedroom says she must get away. “That moment
altered for Maggie the course of all her future life.” That was in 1907. The story closes, as near as I can make out, in about 1910. So we realize how long a course of years was affected by her momentous decision! But we have at least two more recorded moments of equal importance. “Everything had been changed from that moment when Martin pressed her hand in the theatre. Every