Page images

a success, or if a great many people insist on going where he went first, his fame and fortune are secure, and many kind things will be said of his "vision" and "élan" by shrewd commentators.

Mr. O'Brien was the first to produce a yearbook which presumed to sort, classify, and preserve work which, in his opinion, deserved rescue from the ephemera of our creative effort of each calendar year. The particular medium which interested him was the American short story, and his judgment has had this confirmation, at least, that great numbers of book readers welcome and accept docilely an arbitrary selection of some twenty odd stories from each year's output which are dubbed by one editor "the best".

Whether this is an austere and elevated search for perfection, or a short cut to culture, and whether Mr. O'Brien's annual volume is an agency for disseminating good ideas, good taste, and a fruitful sort of creative energy rather than the contrary, I do not know. Perhaps the mission suggested is too august for anybody to accomplish between the covers of one book. Certainly it is more than Mr. O'Brien accomplishes, for he partakes of the general frailty of human nature and has his own human peculiarities; perhaps he would say that a few eccentricities, an occasional enthusiastic excursion among the esoterics, are necessary to keep his book to the front better a storm centre in the classrooms than a dead calm in the bookshops.

But I do mean to say that there is a place for such books as Mr. O'Brien's, for the two volumes edited by Richard Eaton, "The Best French Short Stories of 1923-24" and "The Best Continental Short Stories of 1923-24", and for the others of this same type. So long as the publishers and authors will grant reprint privileges and the public will

buy the book, the total effect of a yearbook, great or modest, is toward definition, clarification, and integration.

In the present volume Mr. O'Brien grants the accolade of approval to Morgan Burke, Mildred Cram, Floyd Dell, Charles Caldwell Dobie, Carlos Drake, Charles J. Finger, Zona Gale, Tupper Greenwald, Harry Hervey, Leonard L. Hess, Rupert Hughes, Gouverneur Morris, Lizette Woodworth Reese, Roger Sergel, A. B. Shiffrin, Ruth Suckow, Melvin Van den Bark, Warren L. Van Dine, Glenway Wescott, and Frances Gilchrist Wood, by reprinting one each of their stories published between October 1923 and September 1924. The book also contains, for ambitious young writers who hope to win their way between the sacred covers at some future time, a list of magazines both in the United States and Great Britain which publish short stories. Then there is a section of thumbnail biographies of contemporary short story writers, bibliographies of books and articles upon the short story, an exhaustive index of the stories appearing in magazines during 1924, and other miscellaneous information really too numerous to mention.

It is not a hard task to compile a book of good short stories. Unless you have had the experience of passing the magazines in review for a considerable length of time, you would scarcely suppose there was anything like as much good work being done as there is. But when it comes to selecting the "best" - that is a hard, at best an arbitrary task, and one from which a less resolute man than Mr. O'Brien might well shrink.

What Mr. O'Brien is after is "psychological and imaginative reality", and he finds it in these stories which, deal with human nature as it exhibits itself in crucial, climactic moments.

The moments are often sad, or bathed in irony, or even tragic in character, and the mood of the writers seems to imply that here is the real reality, la vraie vérité.

This attitude persists because of the fetters which bind the American artist, says Mr. O'Brien a pleasant fancy, and one with which numerous earlier commentators have entertained themselves.

There is something almost eighteenth century about Mr. O'Brien's references to "prisoned emotions", the tyranny of our order, and about his fealty to the abstract idea of liberty. Now it seems plain to me that while an excellent case could be made out for the standardization of our material life, there has been a corresponding accretion to the scope and pliancy of our thought and feeling. However, I shall not develop my argument, for possibly the same reason that Mr. O'Brien did not; it is not the main business at present.

The judges of the O. Henry Memorial Award Committee, whose compilation "Prize Stories of 1924" may logically be compared with Mr. O'Brien's, are more certain than the veteran anthologist that we have excellent light or humorous stories. Of the fifteen stories they reprint, four are humorous: "Horse and Horse" by Charles Caldwell Dobie, "The Tie That Binds" by George Pattullo, ""Lijah" by Edgar Valentine Smith, and "One Uses the Handkerchief" by Elinore Cowan Stone. But there is one contrast between the two volumes which is even more striking. Not a single story is duplicated in these two books which cover the same ground for the same purpose! And Charles Caldwell Dobie is the only writer represented in both. Writers other than those already mentioned who are admitted to the O. Henry Prize collection are Inez Haynes

Irwin, whose "The Spring Flight" was given the first prize, Chester T. Crowell, whose "Margaret Blake" won second place, and Frances Newman, Stephen Vincent Benét, Richard Connell, Edith R. Mirrielees, Jefferson Mosley, Elsie Singmaster, Raymond S. Spears, Wilbur Daniel Steele, and Harriet Welles.

On the whole I think Mr. O'Brien has chosen more wisely than did the O. Henry Committee. Yet no one but a case hardened classicist would dare lift his voice in these days to say dogmatically that this is intrinsically and irrefragably better than that, and that the personal equation is inconsequential. Suffice it to say that an excellent book could be made out of the stories which were included in neither of these quasiofficial collections. Let us leave this dangerous topic.

Just as I am cognizant of the greater difficulty Richard Eaton faced in assembling "The Best French Short Stories of 1923-24" and "The Best Continental Short Stories of 1923-24", so am I also doubtful about the value of his point of view, which is more than a little pedantic. "The stories", he remarks in a preface, "have been graded on a basis of seventy five per cent for literary value in France and twenty five per cent for conformity with the principles of the American short story." Does it not seem a mistaken idea to suppose that mathematics can be applied to the study and criticism of literature? Who knows — who ever did know what a college instructor in composition means when he marks one theme B or 85, and another A or 90?

In the French collection there are stories by Marcel Boulanger, Paul Bourget, Frédéric Boutet, Colette, P. Drieu La Rochelle, Georges Duhamel, Henri Duvernois, Claude Farrère, Paul Geraldy, Pierre Guitet-Vauquelin, J.

Kessel, Jacques Lacrételle, Georges Lechartier, R. H. LeNormand, André Lichtenberger, Pierre MacOrlan, Paul Morand, the Countess of Noailles, Gaston Picard, J. H. Rosny Aîné, J. and J. Tharaud. Some of the stories are in what Mr. Eaton would recognize as the American mode. Others are in the French tradition of the feuilleton, the conte, and the nouvelle, and are admitted because in the opinion of counsel they have merit in France.

Many of the authors represented in "The Best Continental Short Stories of 1923-24" are strangers to the American public, which is interested in Continentals only after they are translated. But of course we know Schnitzler, Capek, Johannes V. Jensen, Pirandello, Her Majesty, Marie, Queen of Rumania, and V. Blasco Ibáñez. Both of Mr. Eaton's books follow the O'Brien pattern closely, and contain such yearbook features as magazine addresses, rolls of honor, and bibliographies.

[blocks in formation]

naive, and decidedly amusing, in his efforts to reflect a sensitive appreciation of such cultural subjects as painting and sculpture. As W. C. Brownell has noted, he seemed to think that sculpture was a matter of marble, and, of course, it had to be something classical. The urbane Autocrat, too, gave little indication of being at all up on such matters. And our purest æsthete, Poe, was seemingly indifferent in this respect. Nowadays, however, one is tempted to fancy that the very considerable audience for the most intelligent novelists of the day is a remarkable society of connoisseurs of the whole field of arts and crafts. Hergesheimer, Van Vechten, Aldous Huxley, Michael Arlen, Elinor Wylie, to mention just these is there any æsthetic erudition too esoteric for them to call upon the reader to savor? rather diverting idea occurs to one that the elegant author of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" would himself be perhaps a bit stumped by this rampant cosmopolitan sensitivity to the delicate nuances of everything precious, from priceless gems to exotic viands. And if the reader cannot when he sees it recognize such an obvious thing as a Pont-Aven canvas, or some such thing, how can he get on at all?


Well, in connection with the various praiseworthy educational activities now going which should aid in equipping the popular understanding to follow the strikingly enlightened fiction of the time, is the happy fact that art books designed for the general reader are all in all of a much better character than they were a few years ago. At the moment, it is agreeable to note the appearance of a new series of monographs dealing with modern painters, which, indeed, may be highly recommended "to those who wish quickly to be introduced to the life and work of these

artists without having to peruse long and complicated treatises" - and, further, to students as well.

We get our most authoritative styles in men's clothes from London, most of our standard children's toys from Germany, our smartest women's fashions from Paris. And France is the prime source of art criticism. Thus a piquant interest may be felt in the circumstance that, as a flyleaf line states, these little volumes in English have been "made and printed in France". The subjects of the four volumes of the "Masters of Modern Art" series now issued are French painters, the authors are Frenchmen. The general theme, which may very loosely be termed Impressionism, has been a very ticklish


Camille Mauclair, who writes the "Claude Monet", is one of the most sensitive, charming, thoughtful, and penetrating writers on painting anywhere to be found today; his little study of Watteau, published a number of years ago, stands as a gem of art criticism of the first water. A good deal has gone under the mill since Monet first opened the windows of painting and let in the sunlight. From being attacked as an insane radical he has come to be questioned as an established master. M. Mauclair presents with admirable clarity and justness both the

case for Monet and the truth of great

painting which preceded him.

Any real appreciation of Cézanne is necessarily bound up with more than a little comprehension of the processes of painting, and so it is quite appropriate that the brief essay on him here, by Tristan L. Klingsor, should stress, in language not overtechnical, this aspect of a painter who "drew by color", whose method of work was quite unsuitable for the expression of contours, and who, at the same time, was much

more of a realist than an Impressionist, recording "the solidity of things". The value of the text on Renoir, by François Fosca, unfortunately is pretty negligible; about the only thing given the reader worth taking away is the recognition of the affiliation between Renoir and the painters of the eighteenth century, such as Fragonard and Boucher.

Though that strange genius Gauguin had some picturesque affiliation with the Impressionist group at the beginning, he later turned into very much of another story, being deeply of the decorative temperament, "classically minded without knowing it". The essay on him, by Robert Rey, is both decidedly illuminating as a study and highly colorful as a biographical narrative. The reader becomes increasingly aware that the trouble with Gauguin was that he had too much to say to be a painter only.

Each volume of this series contains a bibliography and includes forty illustrations in colotype.

Masters of Modern Art. First four volDodd, Mead and Company.



By Ernest Boyd

at novels testifies to the diver

HE variety of this group of trans

sity as well as the keenness of American interest in European fiction. The books range from the "very latest thing" by Jean Cocteau, "Thomas the Impostor", to J. P. Jacobsen's classic, "Marie Grubbe", first published in 1876, translated in 1917 by Hanna Astrup Larsen for the American-Scandinavian Foundation's series, and now reprinted from the original plates of the "Scandinavian Classics", but without

the notes which adorned it on its first appearance there. That this charming story of seventeenth century Denmark should have two incarnations in Miss Larsen's version may be regarded as evidence of a continued demand for it. As a matter of fact, only one of these six volumes, "Thomas the Impostor", is by an author not already presented in English to the American public. And Cocteau's "Le Grand Ecart" is announced for publication by another publisher, who is still, apparently, baffled by the problem of rendering that title in English, a problem which is a mere foretaste of the exceedingly difficult problem which the book as a whole offers to the translator.

Jules Romains will be remembered by discriminating readers as the author of "The Death of a Nobody", translated some years ago, but without more than a success of esteem. I still meet people who speak of it, but it would be rash to pretend that Jules Romains is known to the general public. Waldo Frank has made an excellent translation of this most recent of the novels of Romains, which nearly won the Goncourt Prize in 1922, an achievement whose publicity value almost equals that of winning the Prize! If I am not mistaken, "Lucienne” turned out to be the most successful, or least unsuccessful, of all his works, which enjoy high esteem and critical praise rather than popularity. Mr. Frank rightly says that it is "as easy an approach as Romains could have contrived to the terror and mystery of his vision", for we must not forget that the author is the leader of a school known as the Unanimistes. The translator explains the term by saying that it is "roughly an æsthetic expression for the sense of the actual organic unity of life beyond the conventional units of individual things and persons". "Lucienne",

however, will appear to the uninitiated as the story of how Lucienne comes to teach music to two young girls in a provincial town, of the rivalry of the two sisters for a cousin, of his preference for the music teacher, who becomes engaged to him, and who barely succeeds in saving one of her pupils from suicide.

There is a curious fascination in the telling of this banal story which will make the reader who expected more of Jules Romains continue out of an old allegiance, while its very lack of originality will endear it to the new reader in search of an exciting story. Mr. Frank hints that there is more in the novel than meets the eye, but I confess all I can see is that Romains can do that sort of thing extremely well, but not so well as the kind of work to which "The Death of a Nobody" belongs. Jean Cocteau, on the other hand, positively gains by being introduced through such a book as "Thomas the Impostor", for the excellent reason that this story can be translated, whereas "Le Grand Ecart" must be recreated in English and become variations on a theme of Jean Cocteau's by Lewis Galantière, the skilled translator both of this book and the one announced. "Thomas the Impostor" is what the author calls "a text without psychology, or with a psychology so rudimentary that it corresponds to the captions of a well made film”. William Fontenoy, known as Thomas, is a bizarre creature who thrives only on imposture, and who finds in the topsyturvy world of wartime France just such an opportunity for the employment of his peculiar talents as most charlatans crave in vain. In "the vacuum of the early stages of the war" Thomas runs the whole gamut of unreality, and by carrying his imposture to the point of heroism and

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »