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in the heroic, and reducing the extravagant to plaus-
ible detail, than the description of Alan Breck's
defence in the cabin of the ship and the really mag-
nificent chapters of "The Flight in the Heather."
Mr. Stevenson has in a high degree (and 'doubtless
for good reasons of his own) what may be called the
imagination of physical states, and this has enabled
him to arrive at a wonderfully exact translation of
the miseries of his panting Lowland hero, dragged
for days and nights over hill and dale, through bog
and thicket, without meat or drink or rest, at the
tail of an Homeric Highlander. The great superiority
of the book resides to my mind, however, in the fact
that it puts two characters on their feet with admir-
able rectitude. I have paid my tribute to Alan
Breck, and I can only repeat that he is a master-
piece. It is interesting to observe that though the
man is extravagant, the author's touch exaggerates
nothing : it is throughout of the most truthful, genial,
ironical kind ; full of penetration, but with none of
the grossness of moralising satire. The figure is a
genuine study, and nothing can be more charming
than the way Mr. Stevenson both sees through it
and admires it. Shall I say that he sees through
David Balfour 1 This would be perhaps to under-
estimate the density of that medium. Beautiful, at
any rate, is the expression which this unfortunate
though circumspect youth gives to those qualities
which combine to excite our respect and our objur-
gation in the Scottish character. Such a scene as


the episode of the quarrel of the two men on the
mountain-side is a real stroke of genius, and has the
very logic and rhythm of life ; a quarrel which we
feel to be inevitable, though it is about nothing, or
almost nothing, and which springs from exasperated
nerves and the simple shock of temperaments. The
author's vision of it has a profundity which goes
deeper, I think, than Doctor Jekyll. I know of few
better examples of the way genius has ever a surprise
in its pocket keeps an ace, as it were, up its sleeve.
And in this case it endears itself to us by making us
reflect that such a passage as the one I speak of is in
fact a signal proof of what the novel can do at its
best, and what nothing else can do so well. In the
presence of this sort of success we perceive its im-
mense value. It is capable of a rare transparency
it can illustrate human affairs in cases so delicate
and complicated that any other vehicle would be
clumsy. To those who love the art that Mr. Steven-
son practises he will appear, in pointing this inci-
dental moral, not only to have won a particular
triumph, but to have given a delightful pledge.




FLOODED as we have been in these latter days with
copious discussion as to the admission of women to
various offices, colleges, functions, and privileges,
singularly little attention has been paid, by them-
selves at least, to the fact that in one highly important
department of human affairs their cause is already
gained gained in such a way as to deprive them
largely of their ground, formerly so substantial, for
complaining of the intolerance of man. In America,
in England, to-day, it is no longer a question of their
admission into the world of literature : they are there
in force ; they have been admitted, with all the
honours, on a perfectly equal footing. In America, at
least, one feels tempted at moments to exclaim that
they are in themselves the world of literature. In
Germany and in France, in this line of production,
their presence is less to be perceived. To speak only
of the latter country, France has brought forth in the
persons of Madame de Se"vigne", Madame de Stael, and
Madame Sand, three female writers of the first rank,
without counting a hundred ladies to whom we owe


charming memoirs and volumes of reminiscence ; but
in the table of contents of the Revue des Deux Mondes,
that epitome of the literary movement (as regards
everything, at least, but the famous doctrine, in fiction,
of " naturalism"), it is rare to encounter the name of a
female contributor. The covers of American and Eng-
lish periodicals tell a different story ; in these monthly
joints of the ladder of fame the ladies stand as thick
as on the staircase at a crowded evening party.

There are, of course, two points of view from
which this free possession of the public ear may be con-
sidered as regards its effect upon the life of women,
and as regards its effect upon literature. I hasten to
add that I do not propose to consider either, and I
touch on the general fact simply because the writer
whose name I have placed at the head of these
remarks happens to be a striking illustration of it.
The work of Miss Constance Fenimore Woolson is
an excellent example of the way the door stands
open between the personal life of American women
and the immeasurable world of print, and what makes
it so is the particular quality that this work happens
to possess. It breathes a spirit singularly and essen-
tially conservative the sort of spirit which, but foi
a special indication pointing the other way, would in
advance seem most to oppose itself to the introduc-
tion into the feminine lot of new and complicating
elements. Miss Woolson evidently thinks that lot
sufficiently complicated, with the sensibilities which
even in primitive ages women were acknowledged to


possess ; fenced in by the old disabilities and pre-
judices, they seem to her to have been by their very
nature only too much exposed, and it would never
occur to her to lend her voice to the plea for further
exposure for a revolution which should place her
sex in the thick of the struggle for power. She sees
it in preference surrounded certainly by plenty of
doors and windows (she has not, I take it, a love of
bolts and Oriental shutters), but distinctly on the
private side of that somewhat evasive and exceed-
ingly shifting line which divides human affairs into
the profane and the sacred. Such is the turn of
mind of the author of Rodman the Keeper and East
Angels, and if it has not prevented her from writing
books, from competing for the literary laurel, this is
a proof of the strength of the current which to-day
carries both sexes alike to that mode of expression.

Miss Woolson's first productions were two collec-
tions of short tales, published in 1875 and 1880, and
entitled respectively Castle Nowlwre and Rodman the
Keeper. I may not profess an acquaintance with the
former of these volumes, but the latter is full of inter-
esting artistic work. Miss Woolson has done nothing
better than the best pages in this succession of care-
ful, strenuous studies of certain aspects of life, after
the war, in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. As
the fruit of a remarkable minuteness of observation
and tenderness of feeling on the part of one who
evidently did not glance and pass, but lingered and
analysed, they have a high value, especially when


regarded in the light of the voicelessness of the con-
quered and reconstructed South. Miss Woolson
strikes the reader as having a compassionate sense of
this pathetic dumbness having perceived that no
social revolution of equal magnitude had ever reflected
itself so little in literature, remained so unrecorded,
so unpainted and unsung. She has attempted to
give an impression of this circumstance, among others,
and a sympathy altogether feminine has guided her
pen. She loves the whole region, and no daughter
of the land could have handled its peculiarities more
indulgently, or communicated to us more of the sense
of close observation and intimate knowledge. Never-
theless it must be confessed that the picture, on the
whole, is a picture of dreariness ^of impressions that
may have been gathered in the course of lonely
afternoon walks at the end of hot days, when the
sunset was wan, on the edge of rice-fields, dismal
swamps, and other brackish inlets. The author is to
be congratulated in so far as such expeditions may
have been the source of her singularly exact famili-
arity with the " natural objects" of the region, includ-
ing the negro of reality. She knows every plant and
flower, every vague odour and sound, the song and
flight of every bird, every tint of the sky and murmur
of the forest, and she has noted scientifically the dialect
of the freedmen. It is not too much to say that the
negroes in Rodman the Keeper and in East Angels are a
careful philological study, and that if Miss Woolson
preceded Uncle Remus by a considerable interval, she


may have the credit of the initiative of having been
the first to take their words straight from their lips.
No doubt that if in East Angels, as well as in the
volume of tales, the sadness of Miss Woolson's South
is more striking than its high spirits, this is owing
somewhat to the author's taste in the way of subject
and situation, and especially to her predilection for
cases of heroic sacrifice sacrifice sometimes unsus-
pected and always unappreciated. She is fond of
irretrievable personal failures, of people who have had
to give up even the memory of happiness, who love
and suffer in silence, and minister in secret to the
happiness of those who look over their heads. She
is interested in general in secret histories, in the
" inner life " of the weak, the superfluous, the disap-
pointed, the bereaved, the unmarried. She believes
in personal renunciation, in its frequency as well as
its beauty. It plays a prominent part in each of her
novels, especially in the last two, and the interest of
East Angels at least is largely owing to her success in
having made an extreme case of the virtue in question
credible to the reader. Is it because this element is
weaker in Anne, which was published in 1882, that
Anne strikes me as the least happily composed of the
author's works 1 The early chapters are charming
and full of promise, but the story wanders away
from them, and the pledge is not taken up. The
reader has built great hopes upon Tita, but Tita
vanishes into the vague, after putting him out of
countenance by an infant marriage an accident in


regard to which, on the whole, throughout her stories,
Miss Woolson shows perhaps an excessive indulgence.
She likes the unmarried, as I have mentioned, but she
likes marriages even better, and also sometimes hurries
them forward in advance of the reader's exaction.
The only complaint it would occur to me to make
of East Angels is that Garda Thorne, whom we cannot
think of as anything but a little girl, discounts the
projects we have formed for her by marrying twice ;
and somehow the case is not bettered by the fact
that nothing is more natural than that she should
marry twice, unless it be that she should marry three
times. We have perceived her, after all, from the
first, to be peculiarly adapted to a succession of
pretty widowhoods.

For the Major has an idea, a little fantastic per-
haps, but eminently definite. This idea is the secret
effort of an elderly woman to appear really as young
to her husband as (owing to peculiar circumstances)
he believed her to be when he married her. Nature
helps her (she happens to preserve, late in life, the
look of comparative youth), and art helps nature, and
her husband's illusions, fostered by failing health and
a weakened brain, help them both, so that she is able
to keep on the mask till his death, when she pulls it
off with a passionate cry of relief ventures at last,
gives herself the luxury, to be old. The sacrifice in
this case has been the sacrifice of the maternal in-
stinct, she having had a son, now a man grown, by a
former marriage, who reappears after unsuccessful


wanderings in far lands, and whom she may not permit
herself openly to recognise. The sacrificial attitude
is indeed repeated on the part of her step-daughter,
who, being at last taken into Madam Carroll's con-
fidence, suffers the young man a shabby, compro-
mising, inglorious acquaintance to pass for her lover,
thereby discrediting herself almost fatally (till the
situation is straightened out), with the Rev. Frederick
Owen, who has really been marked out by Providence
for the character, and who cannot explain on any
comfortable hypothesis her relations with the mys-
terious Bohemian. Miss Woolson's women in general
are capable of these refinements of devotion and exal-
tations of conscience, and she has a singular talent
for making our sympathies go with them. The con-
ception of Madam Carroll is highly ingenious and
original, and the small stippled portrait has a real
fascination. It is the first time that a woman has
been represented as painting her face, dyeing her hah",
and " dressing young," out of tenderness for another :
the effort usually has its source in tenderness for her-
self. But Miss Woolson has done nothing of a neater
execution than this fanciful figure of the little ringleted,
white-frocked, falsely juvenile lady, who has the toilet-
table of an actress and the conscience of a Puritan.

The author likes a glamour, and by minute touches
and gentle, conciliatory arts, she usually succeeds in
producing a valid one. If I had more space I should
like to count over these cumulative strokes, in which
a delicate manipulation of the real is mingled with


an occasionally frank appeal to the romantic muse.
But I can only mention two of the most obvious :
one the frequency of her reference to the episcopal
church as an institution giving a tone to American
life (the sort of tone which it is usually assumed
that we must seek in civilisations more permeated
with ecclesiasticism) ; the other her fondness for family
histories for the idea of perpetuation of race, especi-
ally in the backward direction. I hasten to add
that there is nothing of the crudity of sectarianism
in the former of these manifestations, or of the
dreariness of the purely genealogical passion in the
latter ; but none the less is it clear that Miss Wool-
son likes little country churches that are dedicated
to saints not vulgarised by too much notoriety,
that are dressed with greenery (and would be with
holly if there were any), at Christmas and Easter ;
that have "rectors," well connected, who are properly
garmented, and organists, slightly deformed if pos-
sible, and addicted to playing Gregorian chants in
the twilight, who are adequately artistic ; likes also
generations that have a pleasant consciousness of a
few warm generations behind them, screening them
in from too bleak a past, from vulgar draughts in
the rear. I know not whether for the most part we
are either so Anglican or so long-descended as in
Miss Woolson's pages we strike ourselves as being,
but it is certain that as we read we protest but little
against the soft impeachment. She represents us at
least as we should like to be, and she does so with


such discretion and taste that we have no fear of in-
curring ridicule by assent. She has a high sense of
the picturesque ; she cannot get on without a social
atmosphere. Once, I think, she has looked for these
things in the wrong place at the country boarding-
house denominated Caryl's, in Anne, where there
must have been flies and grease in the dining-room,
and the ladies must have been overdressed ; but as
a general thing her quest is remarkably happy. She
stays at home, and yet gives us a sense of being
"abroad"; she has a remarkable faculty of making
the new world seem ancient. She succeeds in repre-
senting Far Edgerly, the mountain village in For the
Major, as bathed in the precious medium I speak of.
Where is it meant to be, and where was the place
that gave her the pattern of it 1 We gather vaguely,
though there are no negroes, that it is in the south ;
but this, after all, is a tolerably indefinite part
of the United States. It is somewhere in the midst
of forests, and yet it has as many idiosyncrasies as
Mrs. GaskelFs Cranford, with added possibilities of
the pathetic and the tragic. What new town is so
composite 1 What composite town is so new ? Miss
Woolson anticipates these questions ; that is she pre-
vents us from asking them : we swallow Far Edgerly
whole, or say at most, with a sigh, that if it couldn't
have been like that it certainly ought to have been.

It is, however, in East Angels that she has been
most successful in this feat of evoking a local tone,
and this is a part of the general superiority of that


very interesting work, which to my mind represents
a long stride of her talent, and has more than the
value of all else she has done. In East Angels the
attempt to create an atmosphere has had, to a con-
siderable degree, the benefit of the actual quality of
things in the warm, rank peninsula which she has
studied so exhaustively and loves so well. Miss
Woolson found a tone in the air of Florida, but it is
not too much to say that she has left it still more
agreeably rich converted it into a fine golden
haze. Wonderful is the tact with which she has
pressed it into the service of her story, draped the
bare spots of the scene with it, and hung it there
half as a curtain and half as a background. East
Angels is a performance which does Miss Woolson
the highest honour, and if her talent is capable, in
another novel, of making an advance equal to that
represented by this work in relation to its predeces-
sors, she will have made a substantial contribution to
our new literature of fiction. Long, comprehensive,
copious, still more elaborate than her other elabor-
ations, East Angels presents the interest of a large
and well-founded scheme. The result is not flawless
at every point, but the undertaking is of a fine, high
kind, and, for the most part, the effect produced is
thoroughly worthy of it. The author has, in other
words, proposed to give us the complete natural
history, as it were, of a group of persons collected,
in a complicated relationship, in a little winter-city
on a southern shore, and she has expended on her


subject stores of just observation and an infinite deal
of the true historical spirit. How much of this
spirit and of artistic feeling there is in the book, only
an attentive perusal will reveal. The central situa-
tion is a very interesting one, and is triumphantly
treated, but I confess that what is most substantial
to me in the book is the writer's general conception
of her task, her general attitude of watching life,
waiting upon it and trying to catch it in the fact. I
know not what theories she may hold in relation to
all this business, to what camp or league she may
belong ; my impression indeed would be that she is
perfectly free that she considers that though camps
and leagues may be useful organisations for looking
for' the truth, it is not in their own bosom that it is
usually to be found. However this may be, it is
striking that, artistically, she has had a fruitful in-
stinct in seeing the novel as a picture of the actual,
of the characteristic a study of human types and
passions, of the evolution of personal relations. In
East Angels she has gone much farther in this direc-
tion than in either of her other novels.

The book has, to my sense, two defects, which I
may as well mention at once two which are per-
haps, however, but different faces of the same. One
is that the group on which she has bent her lens
strikes us as too detached, too isolated, too much on
a desert island. Its different members go to and
fro a good deal, to New York and to Europe, but
they have a certain shipwrecked air, as of extreme


dependence on each other, though surrounded with
every convenience. The other fault is that the
famous " tender sentiment " usurps among them a
place even greater perhaps than that which it holds
in life, great as the latter very admittedly is. I
spoke just now of their complicated relationships,
but the complications are almost exclusively the
complications of love. Our impression is of sky and
sand the sky of azure, the sand of silver and be-
tween them, conspicuous, immense, against the low
horizon, the question of engagement and marriage.
I must add that I do not mean to imply that this
question is not, in the very nature of things, at any
time and in any place, immense, or that in a novel
it should be expected to lose its magnitude. I take
it indeed that on such a simple shore as Miss Wool-
son has described, love (with the passions that flow
from it), is almost inevitably the subject, and that the
perspective is not really false. It is not that the
people are represented as hanging together by that
cord to an abnormal degree, but that, there being
few accessories and circumstances, there is no tangle
and overgrowth to disguise the effect. It is a question
of effect, but it is characteristic of the feminine, as
distinguished from the masculine hand, that in any
portrait of a corner of human affairs the particular
effect produced in East Angels, that of what we used
to call the love-story, will be the dominant one. The
love-story is a composition in which the elements are
distributed in a particular proportion, and every tale


which contains a great deal of love has not neces-
sarily a title to the name. That title depends not
upon how much love there may be, but upon how
little of other things. In novels by men other
things are there to a greater or less degree, and I
therefore doubt whether a man may be said ever to
have produced a work exactly belonging to the class
in question. In men's novels, even of the simplest
strain, there are still other references and other ex-
planations ; in women's, when they are of the category
to which I allude, there are none but that one. And
there is certainly much to be said for it.

In East Angels the sacrifice, as all Miss Woolson's
readers know, is the great sacrifice of Margaret
Harold, who immolates herself there is no other
word deliberately, completely, and repeatedly, to a
husband whose behaviour may as distinctly be held
to have absolved her. The problem was a very
interesting one, and worthy to challenge a superior
talent that of making real and natural a transcen-
dent, exceptional act, representing a case in which the
sense of duty is raised to exaltation. What makes
Margaret Harold's behaviour exceptional and trans-
cendent is that, in order to render the barrier between
herself and the man who loves her, and whom she
loves, absolutely insurmountable, she does her best to
bring about his marriage, endeavours to put another
woman into the frame of mind to respond to him in
the event (possible, as she is a woman whom he has
once appeared to love) of his attempting to console


himself for a bitter failure. The care, the ingenuity,
the precautions the author has exhibited, to make us
accept Mrs. Harold in her integrity, are perceptible on
every page, and they leave us finally no alternative
but to accept her ; she remains exalted, but she
remains at the same time thoroughly sound. For it
is not a simple question of cleverness of detail, but
a question of the larger sort of imagination, and
Margaret Harold would have halted considerably if
her creator had not taken the supreme precaution of
all, and conceived her from the germ as capable of a
certain heroism of clinging at the cost of a grave
personal loss to an idea which she believes to be a
high one, and taking such a fancy to it that she en-
deavours to paint it, by a refinement of magnanimity,
with still richer hues. She is a picture, not of a
woman indulging in a great spasmodic flight or moral
tour de force, but of a nature bent upon looking at life
from a high point of view, an attitude in which there
is nothing abnormal, and which the author illustrates,
as it were, by a test case. She has drawn Margaret
with so close and firm and living a line that she seems
to put us in the quandary, if we repudiate her, of deny-
ing that a woman may look at life from a high point of
view. She seems to say to us : "Are there distinguished
natures, or are there not ? Very well, if there are,
that's what they can do they can try and provide for
the happiness of others (when they adore them) even
to their own injury." And we feel that we wish to be
the first to agree that there are distinguished natures.


Garda Thorne is the next best thing in the book
to Margaret, and she is indeed equally good in this,

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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 11 of 24)