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thing!” That was one occasion; and then, at Borhedden, “when, in after days, she looked back to that quiet half-hour by the fire she saw that it was then that she had passed from girlhood into womanhood.” And as for the hero, he too has his notched stick or calendar of events, which he can even predict in advance. One time," he went upstairs with a feeling that he was on the eve of events that would change his whole world
he was conscious, as though it had been shown him in a vision, that he was on the edge of some scene that might shape for him the whole course of his future life.”
Mr. Walpole is of course a writer of great power and charm. He can handle plots, create atmosphere, invent characters and make them live as few novelists can do on either side of the Atlantic. He abounds in interesting stuff. And The Captives is by no means his finest work. But it is thoroughly characteristic, and it serves as well as any to illustrate the feeling one always has in reading him of a certain sentimental insincerity or confusion. It is nothing so obvious as the sentimentality of Mr. Hutchinson. Mr. Walpole is sentimentally clever. Like everybody else he wants to be “different”. Some achieve difference through witty cynicism; that is a part of the formula of Mr. Cabell. Mr. Walpole's line is a recherché subtlety in interpreting the mysteries of life and of human nature. He must have an enormous influence over writers less original and less critical, and I am inclined to hold him partly responsible for many false strokes in the work of writers like Mr. Hutchinson.
One characteristic symptom of English sentimentalism in our day is the tendency to make the sympathetic characters persons at odds with the established order, persons who demonstrate their own fineness and “difference" by the degree of their nonconformity, and, in a practical unsympathetic world, their inefficiency. Of course, to a certain extent, this is almost the universal stuff of romance; and so sober and responsible an artist as Mr. Galsworthy has given us a whole portrait gallery of sensitive women married to Philistines of one or another social class. But Mr. Walpole, following in the wake of his Dostoievsky, has gone much farther and has fully developed the formula used by Mr. Hutchinson for Mark Sabre. His Maggie is a kind of
foolish Percival destined to find the Grail by virtue of her very simplicity. She is as awkward and inarticulate as Sabre, making a failure of her dife with her aunts, with her husband, finding her blessedness in love for a rotten fellow; the rotten fellow, equally inept, seeking perversely some strange holiness, renouncing Maggie because of a conviction that he injures everyone he touches. The theme of the story, as given in the title, is that of misfits, "captives in a strange country, trying to find the escape, each in his or her own fashion, back to the land of their birth.”
And it is explicitly stated by Mr. Magnus, the interpreter of this philosophy, that these glorious "adventurers”, these
treasure-hunters”, are always people out of joint with the world. “It seems to be a solemn fact that you aren't a treasurehunter until there's something wrong with you, until you've got a sin that's stronger than you are, or until you've done something that's disgraceful in the eyes of the world.” And so the list includes Uncle Matthew, drunkard and sensualist and embezzler; Mr. Toms, the madman; Grace, because she is stupid and unimaginative; Paul, because he is split between his amorousness and his love of comfort; Thurston, the religious fakir; and the aunts, who look confidently for the Second Coming of Christ. There is, of course, a kind of romantic Christianism about all this—publicans and sinners—a kind of Whitmanism that appeals to a world of readers who want to find nobility in their own weakness. We all like to feel ourselves superior to an unseeing and conventional world and to feel, like Miss Toms, that “the world's view of anyone is never the right one”.
The main difference between these treasure-hunters and Mark Sabre is that he is a combination of Joseph Andrews and Mrs. Grundy as well as being inept and unappreciated.
Like him, and like us all, Mr. Walpole's Captives love to feel that their fight to realize their own vaguely conceived “different” is the fight for God. Mr. Walpole is, like Mr. A. C. Benson, a very emancipated son of a Bishop. Any particular form of religious belief seems in his view to be mistaken, some of them illusions caused by illness and underfeeding; and the Church means nothing. But, following William James, whom he
quotes on the title page, Mr. Walpole holds there is something in religion; there is a great and real fight to redeem the world, in which the chief champions are the freaks and misfits—they are those seeking the Grail.
The flattering mystery of life is pleasantly kept before us in The Captives by a constant provision of vaguenesses of feeling, unexplained reactions, and psychic intimations. Maggie has great difficulty in bending down to kiss her Aunt Elizabeth. She “had a strange feeling that her bending down would break some spell”. Mr. Walpole is very fond of “strange” feelings and of the mysterious suggestions conveyed by the indefinite adjective "some”. “She must have felt, in that instant, that she was making some plunge into hazardous waters.” Throughout the story, something is always seeming to tell someone, or a voice seems to say something; and the characters are always having swift intuitions or strange superstitions “that this was Destiny now", etc.
In Mr. Walpole's books, too, the private fortunes of the characters are likely to be bound up in some mysterious way with the great events in the political world. Mark Sabre's somewhat tenuous social philosophy of the post-war period has its counterpart in The Duchess of Wrexe, with its use of the Boer War. The Duchess of Wrexe is a remarkable study in social types made familiar to us in Victorian days by Thackeray. But I was never able to understand the social revolution which came about within the covers of that book. If any social revolution has come about in England during the last generation, I suspect it is in the East End rather then the West, as Miss Sidgwick intimates in Madam, and that Sidney and Beatrice Webb are in a better position to explain it to us than any of the romancers. Again in The Dark Forest Mr. Walpole has given a vivid account of how certain Russian Red Cross men went, in the Great War, to their "rendezvous with death”. We are ready since Dostoievsky to credit almost any craziness to Russian psychology; but, on cool reflection, we find it hard to swallow this tale of how two men raced each other to death, each in hopes of being the first to meet and woo in the other world the woman who had gone before!
VOL. CCXVI.--NO. 800
The language of Mr. Walpole is more sober than that of many of his contemporaries; but it does betray his determination to work the springs of feeling for all they are worth. There is one passage in The Wooden Horse that shows up rather amusingly the neglect of sense characteristic of sentimental writing in general. We read of a certain young man that he had “an overmastering desire for a companion", and, since his desire is overmastering, and since in any case it is an innocent desire, we expect him forthwith to gratify it. But instead we read the laconic statement, “This desire he conquered.” It is evident that Mr. Walpole did not really mean an overmastering desire, but a very strong one. There was a time in English fiction when words were used with some sense of their actual values. Exhaustion 'was exhaustion, implying in itself an extreme condition of weakness, such as might have been experienced by Robinson Crusoe after shipwreck. Robinson Crusoe, as a matter of fact, was not exhausted, but merely “excessively fatigued”. Defoe would, in any case, never have spoken, like Mr. Walpole, of “utter exhaustion”. The silence of a person meant, in the time of Scott, a complete abstention from speech; and he would never have felt it necessary to say, with Mr. Walpole, “For a moment they were utterly silent.” All our romancers have been fond of good-looking heroes-handsome men, with white teeth, attractive mouths and piercing eyes. But not even Bulwer Lytton or Disraeli would have seen any point in making his hero, as does Mr. Swinnerton in September, “quite strikingly handsome,” with "very piercing eyes”, and “extremely attractive mouth” and “very white and even teeth”.
There is probably no reason to suppose that the elemental passions are experienced in present-day England more violently than in the days of Tom Jones or Jane Eyre. And yet our very nicest writers describe the symptoms of passion in terms that would have caused Charlotte Brontë or Henry Fielding to turn a little sick. Mr. Walpole tells us twice on a page that his hero crushed the heroine to him in a grip so tight that we expect her to fall to the earth like a broken flower. Even Mark Sabre, a
model of propriety, was seized with “most passionate desire" to take another man's wife in his arms, “and on her lips to crush to fragments the barriers of conduct he had in damnable sophistries erected." In Mr. Hergesheimer we are not surprised at such brutalities of thought and act. He is dealing boldly with the elemental passions of unprincipled people, living in the wilderness. And the crushing of a lady, or the crushing to fragments of the barriers of conduct, is naturally the every-day occupation of Black Pennys. But Mark Sabre and Harry Trojan, people with whom we might any of us take tea at Cambridge or spend the week-end in the country!
The extraordinary thing, if I may borrow an adjective from these gentlemen, is that all this violence of feeling seems to go always with a singular refinement. In using the word singular, again, I use their own word; there is little in the feelings of these people which is not strange, or odd, or exquisite, or subtle, or singular; adjectives signalizing in every case their separation from the vulgar. They feel both more strongly and more finely (subtly is the word) than other mortals. They are the perfect realization of the Fine Shades and the Nice Feelings on which Meredith lavished so much irony in Sandra Belloni. The heroine of Mr. Swinnerton's September is a woman capable of a "frenzy of jealousy”, of an “anguish of hatred”, of a state of mind in which “every reserve and every reservation was torn away in this sharp naked venom of hatred”—that is the author's figure. And she is at the same time a woman of singular spiritual delicacy and insight, and is set apart in this story with one young man of equal fineness of nature. He was a pianist:
Marian, sitting aside, realized quickly that some composers especially those composers who reflected mood and reverie at their most subtle had an extraordinary fascination for him. He played one study of Debussy's with an air of absorption that deeply impressed her.
Then Nigel played two pieces of Chopin'sa Fantasie (sic) Impromptu and the exquisite Ballade in A flat, -and for the first time for many months she was moved beyond the power of expression. Not alone the melancholy—the loneliness of the music, nor the sadness of the memories to which it was the key; but a quite singular perception that through all emotion there runs the incessant current of bitter unhappiness, tinged her thoughts and made the evening a poignant experience. It was with warm eyes of liking that Marian bade