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THE LOVE INTEREST AND SOME

RECENT NOVELS

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F all the stereotyped, cant phrases of the uninspired reviewer, there is none more fatuous, more banale, more exasperating in its superfluity than that of the Love Interest of a novel. The words themselves are innocent enough, on the surface, reasonable, even commendable. We all of us share the weakness of the Shakespearean gentleman, whom Anatole France commends, for books that are well bound, and that speak of love. But it is the way in which the phrase is used, the thought which prompts it, that renders it unpalatable. Not a week passes that you do not run across it somewhere, in publishers' advertisements, in perfunctory notices, even in the closing paragraph of an otherwise adequate review, "there is also a Love Interest running through the volume which rivets the attention." And in nine cases out of ten the real signification of the words is simply this: that the writer of that paragraph has suddenly realised that the central thought of the novel under discussion does not concern a proposal, a courtship, a series of lovers' quarrels. It may be something bigger and more vital, something that has interested him to the exclusion of the sentimental side of the story; but will it, he asks himself, interest that wider public that cares less for big, vital issues than it does for Dolly Dialogues? And so, in conclusion, he dips his pen once more in his inkstand and writes, as a sop to that particular public, "There is also a Love Interest running through the volume which rivets the attention."

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It is worth noting that love is practically the only human passion that is thus singled out for special emphasis, even in publishers' advertisements. One is never told that there is also an engrossing Hate Interest, or Envy Interest, or Revenge Interest, or Money Interest. It is not that these motifs are rare in

fiction, but simply that they are not thought of as separate interests; they are part and parcel of the common interest of the volume as a whole, one and inseparable. For that matter, no one ever hears of the separate Love Interest in any of the world's really great fiction. Whoever tried to tell us that there was also a Love Interest running through Hamlet, or the Divine Comedy, or through the Iliad? Ophelia and Beatrice and Helen are the golden threads that help to keep the lustre of those old word-tapestries undimmed; but they are woven into the very warp and woof of the fabric. Their union is too close and vital ever to be expressed by any "also."

The truth is that the phrase Love Interest almost always implies something radically wrong either with the book or with the reviewer; possibly with both. Either the book lacks unity or the reviewer has failed to take the right point of view, from which its unity would become apparent. The modern public has been taught to expect a love story in every novel; yet the rule is not absolute. Strong fiction has sometimes been written without the presence of a woman from cover to cover take Conrad's Children of the Sea as a case in point. But if there is to be a love motif, it must go to the very heart of the book. It cannot be sprinkled on afterwards, like the salt the cook forgot in the baking. The chief interest of any episode, whether in fiction or in real life, is its relative interest, like that of a bit of coloured stone in a mosaic-the effect of its colour in a particular position, the part it plays in regard to the picture as a whole. A human emotion, good or bad, is not bounded by the four walls of a room, or hung up like your hat and coat when you come home from business. It goes with you, throughout the twentyfour hours, waking and sleeping; it influences your temper and your appetite; it colours the things you say by day, the dreams you have by night. Perhaps

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your ruling passion to-day is avarice, greed, the quest of the golden fleece. You bring it home with you at night; it makes you dull, taciturn, absent-minded; it sows the seeds of discord in the family circle. Or again, you are under the weight of a hopeless love, a gnawing jealousy; for all your strength of will, you cannot shut out your troubles during business hours; there is a face that comes between you and the letters you are trying to write; there are stinging swarms of doubts that rise between you and these business problems which demand undivided attention. Half the human interest of a man's struggle for place in the world at large is the effect that such a struggle has upon his character, his home, the few who are near and dear to him. Half the interest of a man's most intimate joys and griefs is the manner in which they react upon his relations with the outside world. And the novelist who pictures only one of these sides and neglects the other has given us only half the truth.

tures which goes far towards making Robert Herrick's Memoirs of an American Citizen the strongest book he has ever written is the fine art by which he keeps us from ever losing sight, for any length of time, of the sensitive, highminded wife whom the big, unscrupulous Chicago packer put out of his own mind as systematically as he disregarded her wishes, and yet whose disapproval of his business methods was the secret grievance that rankled persistently, destroying his pleasure in his success.

By all means let us recognise that fiction, the best sort of fiction, has a Love Interest in it, but let us cease speaking as though it were a thing apart from the life of the story itself. The books that drag in a romance or a flirtation that has no structural significance, but is merely so much padding, under the mistaken notion that it will help to sell the volume, are inevitably weakened by the process. The world has yet to hear of a single reader gained for David Harum by the inadequate little love affair embroidered around it, like so much imitation lace around a piece of fine old homespun. And as for the forced introduction of a woman into the rugged pages of Jack London's Sea Wolf, one of the very few books strong enough to dispense altogether with the problems of sex, it needs no great gift of prophecy to foresee that the stain of that blunder will grow darker, instead of fading, with each succeeding year.

It is easy for someone, in reply, to quote glibly, "Man's love is of man's life a thing apart," a pleasant diversion that must wait till after business hours. With some men that may be true, although it is a wilful distortion of the poet's meaning. If love is a thing apart from the routine of life, then man himself is a thing apart while it lasts. Dudu, Haidee, Donna Julia, are only agreeable episodes in the life of "our ancient friend" Don Juan, yet he, too, becomes a thing apart while the episodes endure. And even were it otherwise, even if we had a hero to whom womankind was only the toys and playthings of idle hours, who could set sex on the one side and business on the other, distinct as light from darkness, still it would be the task of the novelist to keep before us the memory of the woman whom his hero forgets, each morning as the house door slams behind him; to make us carry her image with us, as we follow him downtown and witness the part he plays in the big game of finance or of politics; and by thus keeping alive our own interest in the woman, make us better understand the coldness, the absorption, the selfishness of the man. One of the fea

Among the novels of the month, there is one which stands out rather notably, not only because it serves as a timely illustration of much that has just been said, but because also it shows a care, a thoroughness, a sympathetic comprehension of life not often encountered in the work of a newcomer in fiction - The Ballingtons, by Frances Squire. It is one of those deliberate, sincere books that seem to say to you, from the opening page, "If you have not the leisure and the patience to become thoroughly acquainted with these plain, average, genuine lives here recorded; if you do not feel enough interest in them to look beneath the surface of the quiet

"The
Ballingtons."

sphere they move in, and understand the broad significance of their trials and temptations, the human appeal of their courage and achievements, then this book is not for you, nor for those like you." Broadly stated, the central thought concerns the institution of marriage in relation to some of its most puzzling issues the problem of a wife's right to independence of thought and action; her right to a separate conscience and a separate pocket-book. The name of the book means nothing; it might just as well have been called The Sidneys, for the Ballingtons are of scarcely more social importance in the small college town of Winston than the Sidneys are in the neighbouring village of Kent and Agnes Sidney lays the substructure for the whole story, when she makes the blunder of marrying Ferdinand Ballington, instead of his cousin, Donald. If she had married Donald, she would have had a husband who would think of her before he thought of himself, and whose greatest pleasure would have been to be of service to her widowed mother, her crippled aunt, her shiftless, poverty-stricken brother-inlaw. Ferdinand, whom she marries from a mistaken notion that she loves him, is the one overdrawn figure in the story, a man of almost incredible selfishness; a born money winner, who with all his wealth will not allow his wife a single dollar, without requiring her to render as strict an account of it as any hired office clerk. Agnes must submit, month after month, year after year, to live in joyless luxury, and see those who are nearest and dearest to her suffering, slaving, starving, for need of a tithe of the money so lavishly spent all around her, the money that she herself is powerless to spend as she likes, to the extent of a single dollar. There are many other figures in The Ballingtons, single as well as married lives, cleverly chosen and logically developed, to shed interesting side. lights upon the central problem. But what gives the book its uncommon distinction is the sense that you get everywhere in it of the far-reaching effect of human passions; the sense of how love and sorrow, cruelty and unkindness, even such a negative quality as indifference,

extend their silent influence to every hour of the day, every relation of life; above all an abiding sense of the impossibility of happiness in marriage that lacks the first great requisite, mutual understanding and sympathy.

With similar confidence, it may be said that David Graham Phillips has done his strongest piece of work, up to the present time, in his new volume, The Deluge. Unlike The Ballingtons, this is not a book which requires leisure and patience to read-if you once open it, it almost reads itself. It is the fashion nowadays for the Self-made Man in fiction to tell his story in the first person; and that is what Matthew Blacklock does in The Deluge, in his own easy, breezy vernacular, that is reminiscent of the days when he began life shining shoes, and before he ever dreamed that his enemies would one day call him "the biggest bucket-shop gambler in the world." The Deluge is not a novel of bucketshops, but it is one of the few strong, vivid pictures of a war to the death between the great powers of finance; a reign of chaos in the business world, banks and trust companies going down like so many card houses; pandemonium broken loose in Wall Street. And all because Matt Blacklock, with the arrogance of youth, not only dares to thwart the plans of older, craftier brains than his, but unwittingly offends in an even deadlier way, by seeking for his wife the woman whom his smoothest, wariest, most dangerous opponent secretly loves. Matt Blacklock is not a ladies' man; he is not a man to shine in a drawing-room; he makes you think, first of all, of a big, strong, proud-tempered bull, that is liable to lower its head and rush, and then things around him will begin to break. Once in a while, he wants something very badly, and when he wants anything in that way, he ends by getting it. When he met Anita Ellersly, he wanted her in just that way. But Anita had all those elusive, indefinable qualities that Matt Blacklock knew too little about to realise his own deficiencies - the qualities that accompany birth and breeding. Matt had just one thing that Anita lacked,

"The Deluge."

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critical hour when she is to learn from the great Madame Bonanni whether she has a fortune in her voice or not. If there were nothing else in this book than the portrait of this big-hearted, Junoesque, voluble French woman, who has been a great soprano for thirty years, and a vulgar peasant all her life, it would still be one of the books that Mr. Crawford might justly be very proud of. But there is more in the book, a good deal more. There is many a delicious glimpse of the life behind the scenes, on the operatic stage; there are memorable types, such as Schreiernteyer, the manager, who knows that he has found a bonanza in Margaret's voice; Lushington, the critic, who would gladly give his life to keep her off the stage, but for reasons closely connected with the central plot, feels that he is not quite good enough for her to marry; Logotheti, the Greek capitalist, with the instincts of a Turk about women, who cares not at all whether he is good enough for her, but means to have her one way or another, marriage being an unimportant detail; and a score of minor characters that give life and reality to the setting. The book really ends before Margaret's début, and we must wait for the sequel promised in the closing paragraph before we may learn whether she scores the triumph that she hopes for, and which, if either, of her lovers she finally accepts.

'There are just a few writers who have succeeded in reducing to paper the atmosphere of a news

paper office, and since the appearance of A Yellow Journalist, Miriam Michelson must be numbered among them. Rhoda Massey does not tell us that she is the star reporter on the News-she does not need to. She does tell us that her great rival is Ted Thompson of the Times-Record, against whom it is the one ambition of her life to score a beat-and before the close of her first adventure we have shrewdly guessed that her interest in Ted Thompson is something more than professional and something different from platonic. It was good judgment on the author's part not to insist too strongly upon this mild little romance of the city room.

and that was money; and her parents, for all their Knickerbocker ancestry, are only too ready to sell her. He knows that he can force her into a marriage, even though she hates and despises him for forcing her. His confidence in his own powers is so great, that he never once doubts that he will be able to change that hatred into love. But during the months that follow, his clear, shrewd brain is less alert than usual; a woman's face haunts him in his Wall Street office, looks up at him from the ribbon in the ticker, blinds him to the familiar rules of the great game he is playing. That is why, when the big crash comes, he narrowly escapes being borne down in the general ruin. As already said, it is an uncommonly readable story of the more breezy type, and its chief merit lies in the cleverness with which the pulse of the stock market and the beat of the human heart are made to blend and harmonise.

During the twenty years and more that Mr. Marion Crawford has been producing his uniformly popular novels, he has shifted. his setting to one city after another of Europe, Asia and America-but he never has departed from his first conception of a novel as primarily a love story. The theory and the technique of story telling he has reduced to a very fine point indeed, and that is why he often dares attempt scenes and incidents of such glaring improbability that in less skilful hands they would develop into very broad farce. There are two or three such scenes in his latest volume, Fair Margaret-scenes that only Mr. Crawford's persuasive touch and unblushing insistence upon specific details forces us to accept as real. Nevertheless, since his Saracinesca trilogy he has produced no novel which approaches Fair Margaret in point of careful workmanship, none in which the characters are all so clearly drawn, so individualised, or so enjoyable; none that was so evidently as great a pleasure to the author himself to write about as for us to read. The atmosphere is Paris, on the fringe of the musical and operatic world. We meet Margaret Donne just at the

"Fair Margaret."

"A Yellow Journalist."

What the reader will care for, first of all, is the stories themselves - stories that take her across country with a murderer, in an open buggy, with a lynching party in full pursuit; that make her masquerade as a Chinese slave girl in Chy Fong's restaurant; that tell how she secured a verbatim report of the Senate's secret session that the whole State was wild to see; and a dozen other escapades equally audacious, equally preposterous, yet told with a self-assurance that gives the mental palate the sensation of a new and savoury condiment. The placid little romance with Ted Thompson was needed to give the separate stories a certain cohesion and unity; but the stories themselves are not love stories and their interest is independent of anything approaching sentiment.

In the decline of the historical novel, the great advantage that has resulted is that whereas a few years ago every writer must have his fling at that much-abused type of fiction, at present no one attempts it unless firmly convinced that his talent runs in that direction and in no other. Robert Chambers is one of the few who seem justified in such a belief; and his stories of the revolutionary period in particular show a care in historic detail that put them in a different class from the rank and file of colonial novels. The Reckoning is the closing volume of the series that began with Cardigan and The Maid-at-Arms. The opening chapters picture New York under British occupation, with such a scrupulous insistence on details of topography, dress and social usage, that it almost gives the illusion of looking through a collection of old-time coloured prints. The later portions draw freely for their interest upon the mystic rites of the Iroquois Indians, the rites of the WolfČlan, among the Oneidas, the Mohawks, the Cayugas, the various tribes who made up the Great League. But when we turn from the careful setting, the ingeniously idealised redskin, the equally ingenious realism of colonial New York,-the story itself has the unblushing romanticism, the stereotyped extravagance of its class. Carus Renault is a spy in Wash

"The Reckoning."

ington's service, residing with Sir Peter Colville at Wall Street and Broadway. It is here he meets Elsin Gray, the dainty Canadienne loyalist, whom he loves at first sight, in the facile manner of romanticism, and who consents to flee with him, after the briefest possible sort of acquaintance, although she knows he is a spy, and she herself is secretly married to his personal enemy, the notorious Captain Butler, whose Rangers are a synonym for cruelty. It is good realism where a man carries the memory of the woman he loves into the thick of the strife; but this does not satisfy your romanticist. He is not happy until he has the lady herself in boots and spurs, galloping boldly beside her lover, through pathless forests, with arrows and tomahawks threatening from behind every tree that they pass. Such is the substance of at least a third part of The Reckoning. Indeed, it leaves you with a sense of puzzled doubt just where erudition ceases and the dime novel begins.

There is no uncertainty about such a book as The Edge of Circumstance, by Edward Noble. It is first and foremost a man's novel; it will never by any chance be accused of having a love. interest; and although it contains in some measure the sort of tense excitement that one associates with the dime novel, it can never by any mistake be classed as such, because it is so obviously genuine there is the ring of truth in every snapping spar, in every loosening rivet, in every boisterous wave that threatens to send that ill-omened ship, the Schweinigel, to the bottom. To the bottom her owners devoutly hope she will go; indeed, they have insured her with that end in view. But Shirwill, the captain, and M'Grabbut, the engineer, have a prejudice against drowning, if they can avoid it, not to speak of a desire to pay off a long-treasured grudge against their employers. Deserted by their crew, with the ship hopelessly disabled, they find and rescue another vessel in mid-ocean, with the help of which they tow their own craft back to England, and crown their audacity by entering a claim

"The Edge of

Circumstance."

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