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MALE RAIMENT IN FICTION
By Castner Browder
L. GEORGE, commenting on "Clothes and the Novelist", has pointed out the necessity for the fiction writer properly to describe what his heroine wears, if he expects his feminine readers to visualize the character. It was the male novelist's own fault that critics used commonly to laugh at his descriptions of his heroine's attire. Says Mr. George:
He had a way of conveying girlish innocence by garbing Angelina in "modest white muslin". The poor fellow did not know that there are two opinions as to the modesty of white muslin, so popular with Victorian mammas who wished to marry their daughters, and therefore found it advisable to allow the suitor, shall we say a suspicion of the youthful charms that sought his appreciation. He put blondes into "pale blue", (seldom specifying the material) brunettes into "flaming yellow" and the red headed heroines into "green'
of which it was never revealed whether it was emerald, sage, bottle or apple. He seldom told whether the lady wore an afternoon frock, a luncheon frock, a demi toilette or full décolletage.
Mr. George dismisses the heroes of fiction with the remark: "I need not sketch my hero's clothes, because men dress practically alike, whatever their position or their mood, which women do not do."
How can a novelist say that? To the seeing eye men express their personalities by their dress more accurately than women. Women are frank in their avowed purpose to be as pretty as nature overwhelmed by art will allow; all their processes and methods are open and above board; they seek advice, opinions, and suggestions from all available sources and are quick to adopt any which seem good.
What does a man do? He goes off alone and without consultation or advice buys a green velour hat. He
"John, that is the most becoming tie you ever had."
John wears that tie until it falls into pieces, and then hunts for another one just like it.
Women are willing to accept the opinions of their friends about things to wear. A man rarely is. He has his own ideas and notions, and while he himself couldn't tell on what they are founded, they are closely connected with his vanity. Many a man who is apparently careless in dress takes an infinite if secret pride in his personal appearance. The tough takes pains to look tough, and the statesman never fails to look the part. And yet the attire of the city tough is as different from his fellow in Smithville as the clothes of the European ambassador are unlike those worn by the congressman from Arkansas.
On a car going into the city are fifty men, and no two of them dress practically alike. Take two extremes: a young bank clerk, who garbs himself in black and white, and a theatre ticket broker, not a single article of whose clothes is either black or white. The bank clerk belongs to the class who, let them tell it, are conservative in their tastes. The truth is they are men whose lives are controlled by fear; they fear comment or criticism, they have jobs which they fear to lose, and they fear to offend the opinions of others.
The ticket broker wears a green hat; his overcoat is henna and his suit of a similar shade; and a purple cravat, a silk shirt of rainbow hues, and violet
hose showing above his tan shoes proclaim that whatever may be thought of his taste his courage is beyond question. Judged by some standards he is probably a vulgar young man, but manifestly he has qualities that are lacking in the bank clerk.
Suppose the novelist is trying to draw a faithful picture of the villain of his story. He writes:
"He wore a black derby hat, pressed down tightly over his low forehead. His red cravat glowed like a crimson splotch of color against the sombre background of his clothing. In its folds sparkled a glittering diamond. His well cut overcoat and suit of dark tweeds fitted his heavy figure perfectly. A green and yellow striped silk shirt, with collar to match, and tan shoes polished to an incredible brightness, completed the sartorial appearance of Donald Grace."
Isn't this picture of the man's clothes so villainous that no one could possibly mistake him for any but a rascal? Every reader knows that a hero could not wear such clothes. A character like Percy can be accurately portrayed
and perhaps sufficiently by the statement that he wore fawn colored spats. Sinclair Lewis could have foreshadowed the unhappy life which Carol was to live with Dr. Will Kennicott if he had come flatly out and stated that the doctor appeared on a Sunday morning wearing a cutaway coat and tan shoes.
Mr. George says that the motto of the novelist is: "I am a man and nothing human can be alien to me." Why then should he not include in his curriculum the study of masculine raiment, than which nothing is more human? The clothes of a woman are easily described, but no writer has yet mastered the art of revealing a man by an accurate and interpretative descrip
By John Gunther
IKE H. M. Tomlinson in London, Arthur Machen in America is something of a legend - an esoteric soul dabbling in black magic, a starving journalist with inclinations toward necromancy, a prose artist of compelling merit who manages to make both himself and his prose highly mysterious. When you walk near Mr. Machen's house on a dark night, that legend becomes emphasized. It is a small house, set deep off a road in an obscure corner of St. John's Wood; and flanking this road are a series of gnarled, stunted trees, with curious malformations in their branches. It was a very dark night. Of course, purely by chance, a cat howled a long sibilant moan echoing through the stillness. Mr. Machen's house is concealed both by the curious trees and by a tall, blank brick wall; set deep in this wall, like a rampart of a castle, is a heavy, ribbed door, a very stout door; and directly in the middle of the door, that kind of bell which is not pushed, but pulled. I pulled it. Deep within a cacophonous jangle reverberated through the silence. As I looked for a nameplate, and saw only "A. Machen, Esq." scrawled against the white pier in dark blue chalk, I wondered. Perhaps after all there is something to this black magic business.
But once inside the house, before a bubbling orange fire, talking to Mr. Machen himself, the illusion vanished. It was just as well. There is nothing of black magic in Mr. Machen's external
makeup. Half a dozen people were seated around the fire, most of them old cronies; and one of them, when I heard him talk, I thought might well be the discursive interlocutor of "Hieroglyphics". Later, though, Mr. Machen told me that the speaker in that notable book was quite imaginary. Mrs. Machen was there, and suddenly from the floor above came a yell. It was a realistic yell. It was one of the children.
"Hilary is crying", explained Mrs. Machen.
"Cause him", rolled Mr. Machen in reply, "to cease.
Now that little remark, I discovered later, was very characteristic of the author of "The Hill of Dreams" and "The House of Souls". He didn't say, "Tell him to stop", because he doesn't think or talk in commonplace language. Instead, he intoned deeply, "Cause him to cease. At first I thought, listening to him, that Mr. Machen was a Johnsonian, an eighteenth century wit talking in rolling latinized phrases; that he should have sat 150 years ago with the good Samuel and his heady crew. But later, talking to him again in a friendly pub, it struck me that this modern spirit really wore the clothes of Coleridge. It was talk much like that reported from Coleridge; and I fancy that deep in his inmost heart Mr. Machen perhaps thinks so too.
At any rate, it is an enchanting performance. I have seldom listened to a better voice deep, sonorous, something like Carl Sandburg's but with more flavor and variation. Later I wasn't surprised to hear that for many years Mr. Machen had been an actor. And I have seldom listened to better conversation fluent, rhythmic, salty with wit, highly intoned. It is not a monologist's conversation; this speaker can stand interruptions; but if you close
your eyes you can see rank on rank of audience before him.
What did he talk about? For one thing, his books.
Those books, like the work of so many artists of similar nature, are chapters, I think, in one long book. Perhaps Mr. Machen himself thinks this way about them. I don't know. But it seems fairly obvious that "The Hill of Dreams", his first major book, is but the primary section of a long romance which by its very nature must be continued in each successive book as long as the author lives and writes. That is, as a very young man, oǹe theme compelled his attention to the exclusion of other themes; and his work shows little but a series of variations on that theme. With Mr. Machen it has always been a search for the relation of the inner realities of man, to put it crudely, to the outer realities: a search for and a compromise between the life of the spirit and the life of the flesh. In his own phrase, he has attempted in all his books a picaresque romance of the soul.
And this reminds me that Mr. Machen told me how he chanced across that phrase; and how it was the ultimate genesis of "The Hill of Dreams".
"Very many years ago," he said, "so many years ago that I shudder, I chanced across an edition of 'Tristram Shandy', edited by Charles Whibley. In his preface Whibley said that 'Gil Blas' was a picaresque of the body, that 'Don Quixote' was a picaresque of the body and mind, and that 'Tristram' was a picaresque, still again, purely of the mind. It seemed to me that Whibley had made a very nice distinction; and it also occurred to me what a supreme performance could be a picaresque of neither mind nor body but of those inner realities we can enclose with
neither category - a picaresque of the soul a 'Robinson Crusoe' of the spirit."
Thus began "The Hill of Dreams", That was in 1895. Mr. Machen said that writing it was pure torture, harrowing, unending pain. It was almost nine years before the book was published.
He had written other things, before "The Hill of Dreams". Living, he told me, in a cell ten feet by five near Notting Hill Gate, he had done his translations of Casanova and the "Heptameron" and had finished his 'Anatomy of Tobacco". But even before that he had been writing. Let me raise no false hopes in collectors' bosoms; but I should like to announce that there is extant a bona fide Machen item which has never been collected, which was written at seventeen years of age and published in the remote far away of 1881 - and that it was a poem.
"What is more," said Mr. Machen, "it was an extremely bad poem. It was called 'Eleusinia'. I wrote it when I left school, within measuring distance of half a century ago, and there is only one copy in the world, a copy I myself am fortunate enough exclusively to possess.
After "The Hill of Dreams", as I say, Mr. Machen has been extending it, adding chapters to it. "The House of Souls" was an exploration of some of the curious byways of experience opened up, almost furtively, by the first masterpiece. "Hieroglyphics", which I find the most charming and readable of his books, is a corollary discourse on some of the problems of "The Hill of Dreams". Mr. Machen's last published novel, "The Secret Glory", is a further manifestation of the same ecstatic pursuit. The culmination, I think, has not been reached. But it never will be reached,
I asked Mr. Machen what further books we might expect from him. And he said:
"None. I shall write no more. I am sixty two and am very tired. My literary career, if you want to call it a literary career, is over, over for good and all. I am done. It has been a long day almost forty five years long."
He is, by the way, a remarkably picturesque man, not only in conversation but in appearance. He reminded me of David Lloyd George, the Sphinx, a Benda mask, George Washington, Pan, W. J. Bryan, and his own Lucian in "The Hill of Dreams". There is grotesquerie in his face, and also beauty. Snow white hair, long and thick, cut horizontally in a heavy bob. Clouded blue very tired. Beautifully kept, waxlike hands. Red, glazed cheeks, which ball up and jell when he laughs. He met me at the friendly pub, which he said was one of the last of its kind in London, on a black day streaming with rain; he wore a long cape, what the Viennese call a Loden, tossed carelessly over his shoulders and reaching nearly to his ankles and a hat perched on the snowy bob like a bird riding a wave.
He took off the hat and lifted a ruby liquid.
"This", he intoned, "is called a Garnet. It was not named, however, for its color. In fact, quite to the contrary, it was named for an American who drank it in place of breakfast." It was delicious.
"The composition", he went on, "is an art. I find its ingredients satisfying and alluring, composed as it is of the austerity of angustura, the warmth of vermuth, the infinite and profound stability of gin."
Also, I have tasted another drink
with Mr. Machen. The recipe is a mortal secret. He calls it "Dog and Duck" punch.
I wish I could quote some of Mr. Machen's obiter dicta. He has a savage wit. I should love, for instance, to put down his story telling how a Chicago firm and a Chicago journalist pirated two of his books, or his opinions-atlarge on American literature, or his memories of Max Beerbohm, Aubrey Beardsley, and others of the Nineties, or what he thinks of Frank Harris, or his panacea for the Irish question ("Shoot them all, by God!"), or his miscellaneous recollections of the men he has met, friends and enemies, during his generation and a half of literary life. Mr. Machen is a profound admirer of Hawthorne and Poe, among American authors, and for the work of Willa Cather, among the moderns. But many he has not read.
"As for Sherwood Anderson", he said, "he is naught."
Also, he has a low opinion of journalism. I asked him what his ten years on Fleet Street were like:
"Death", he said, "and damnation." All writing is infinitely painful to him. The tortures of the composition of "The Hill of Dreams" are described in his preface to the American edition of that book. "Hieroglyphics" he wrote easily it is his only book, he said, conceived in pleasure. He omitted 20,000 words from "The Secret Glory", by the way, this portion of the manuscript now being in the hands of Vincent Starrett.
"And I hope as the everlasting God looks on us both", said Mr. Machen, "that Mr. Vincent Starrett never violates my wish by printing it."
It is an ironic chance that his war tales, "The Bowman" and "The Angel of Mons", his only two slight fictions, are the only things he has ever written
which have sold well. "The Angel of Mons", vividly and plausibly written, so convinced the British public of the existence of such angels that frequently, even now, soldiers and former soldiers claim to have seen them. But the tale was entirely Mr. Machen's invention. "Anyone who says otherwise", he told me, “lies."
He is of the opinion that "The Hill of Dreams" is his best book, although now, he admitted, he could not bear to reread it. His phrase for it is that “it most nearly answers its design". That is a good phrase, I think, and a modest
"I am against liberty, progress, liberalism, education, and most of what is called civilization." This was the credo he gave me when I asked for one. But there was a twinkle in those cloudy blue eyes when he said it.
THE INWARDNESS OF THE COMIC STRIP
By Frank Weitenkampf
T has become the thing to defend the comic supplement. There seems to be a fear of being considered highbrow if one does not smile approvingly on Babbitt as, in his Main Street home, "with the solemn face of a devotee, breathing heavily", he plods "nightly through every picture" of the comic section. We are told that the present day comics are funny some of them are, very. That they express innocent, harmless fun some of them do. That the strip artists "absolutely study and know their public"; that there is a demand for that sort of thing, therefore it exists. Quite so; much of the humor is of the street and subway, but often not of the best of that kind. And the dose is a bit strong when an entire page,