16 AUGUST 1935, Page 26



A CASE can be made out to suggest that it is not a bad thing for the author of a work of art or imagination to remain, anonymous, and certainly one can think of a great many beautiful things whose creators, as individuals, must be for ever unknown. On the other hand it may be argued that there is a positive advantage in knowing as much as possible about an artist. As a matter of ordinary curiosity it is natural,

to say, " This is a beautiful thing. Who made it ? A gifted and sensitive person, obviously, but I should like to know more about him or her." If the object created offers clues to the nature of the creator, knowledge of the creator certainly leads to a fuller appreciation of the object, more pleasure and more understanding. If we knew no More of Tolstoy and.

Dostoievsky, of Melville and Pi*, of Jane Austen and Emily • Bront'd, than we can guess from their books, we should not admire them less, but what we know of their lives enriches our understanding and our knowledge of human nature. Suppose that Van Gogh's letters had been lost and that we knew him only from his paintings. Think how every resource of scholar= ship has been strained to scrape up the most meagre details about the life of Shakespeare. Clearly we want to learn all we can.

When new novels come out by authors hitherto unknown; or little known, publishers are sometimes obliging enough to print little biographies on the dust-covers. If you dislike a book you can then give yourself the pleasure of saying, " Well;

I suppose that's the sort of person who would write that sort of thing." If you like it., you will be glad to know something about a person who writes so well. Mr. Frank Dorn writes well, and we are told something about him. He is 34;

a widely-travelled lieutenant in the American army, who is at present living in China in order to learn Chinese. Between 1926 and 1929 he was stationed, like many other people, in the Philippine Islands, but while they were playing poker, drinking highballs, philandering, and just doing their duty, something happened to Mr. Dorn : he became interested in the Negritos and " spent about eight months in the mountains living with or near these primitive pygmies." He studied their • life,' language, history and customs, and embodied the results in m monograph which he presented to the University of the Philippines. Perhaps seine enterprising publisher will see fit to present it to the British public, for, to judge by Forest Twilight, it must be fascinating.

Forest Twilight is about the Negritos in the Zambales Mountains, who 'represent, it is suggested, " the most con- centrated and most pure group of primitive people in existence." Mr. Dorn has been lucky enough to experience that fusion, that crystallization, of knowledge and sympathy

which leads to a clear vision,' and he has been able to present it in excellently chosen words. Not forgetting for a moment that lie is writing a novel, he so cleverly shows us the Negritos in their habitat that we forget he is there as a guide, and are soon lost in an exciting and even moving story of primitive

jealousy, in all the dancing, hunting, arguing, feasting, fighting, and marrying in the mountains .under the norm and the gogo, the &nisi vine and the nipa palm, where the little Tarzana have terrible hand-to-hand fights with ferocious snakes, catch

frogs and monstrous bats for food, and barter pigs and chickens for wives.

" These four essentials of life—sex, procreation, food, and shelter —combined with self-defence and the social organization which experience and contacts had taught thorn would make life more certain, represented the limits of, their thought-processes, . . . The simplicity and innocence of their thoughts. made them wiser in a sense than the world at large, and 'in their own way far more content. Their ignorance was like the wisdom of the chosen few who have crossed the mental void of struggling and striving, and have emerged above their fellows with a simple philosophy of living solely for each day. In a sense they represented the abysmal depths and the shining heights of human intellect—the one practically unchanged from the day the first man opened his wondering eyes on.the spectacle of the earth, the other the child of the wisdom of the few who have seen all the earth and,a little beyond,"

That is the only passage in the book which is not solely devoted to the story itself : it may be a little sentimental, but it helps to explain how the story offers a double attraction —it presents a world so remote from our own that one does not know whether to laugh or shudder or just wonder at it; and yet so like our own that we can easily enter into its feelings. This gives the book something of the force of an imaginary voyage to some allegorical country, and lends it deep impli-' cations. At the same time one has no reason to doubt that one is reading of actualities. It was with a loving hand that Mr. Dorn wrote these apparently simple conversations and descriptions, and there is no mistaking it. The rarity of his subject and experience is made more precious by his talent.

He has written what is probably the best novel of native life since The Village in the Jungle. Although it has been out for three weeks, I have scarcely seen a single notice of it, but it is worth more than a whole shelf of popular and fashionable rubbish.

Another biographical note : Mr. Berry Fleming has worked on a newspaper in the Southern States, and has written three novels, one historical, one satirical, and one an ,extravaganza. Siesta is " his first serious novel of contemporary life." Addicted to realism of the more old-fashioned Sinclair Lewis- esque kind than of the Then-He-Hit-Me-Again school, Mr. Fleming describes three months in the life of George- own in Georgia. He opens with a quotation from the Odyssey about the Lotos Eaters, and is out to convey the effect of drowsy summer heat on a variety of lives, while clouds sit on the horizon like cotton samples, and the air is full of the heavy scent of magnolias and the whirr of electric fans.

" You could look out into the burning sunlight with the blank stupidity of someone gazing at a candle. You sat there staring into tho eye of summer, charmed, hypnotized ; you had a feeling that, even if you wanted to, you couldn't arouse yourself, that your strength was running away, that you were bleeding to death. . . "

And yet a good deal happens, and as the local newspaper says, GRIM REAPER PACES STORK EsT RACE FOR SUPREMACY nc 1932. This is a longish and intelligent book to be read for pleasure and not without profit as a piece of sociology. It provides a pleasant change from those laconic, staccato records.. of acts of violence. There ..are sound touches of comedy, tragedy, and philosophizing, and as is possible with a revolving stage, frequent changes of scene. Perhaps the most engaging scene is the , one in which the lonely Mrs. Winthrop Pickens asks a musician to an excellent lunch, as a preliminary to inviting him to come and stay with her. She does not know that he has been permanently touched by the heat. After announcing, and proving, that his clothes are lined with magnolia blossoms (" There is some- thing almost childlike about genius," she tells herself), he kisses het' shaking hand• and says, " I wish I could stay longer, but I am having luncheon at one with Mrs. Winthrop Pickens. . . ."

Both Gods in Motley and The Transients, with their weak titles, seem to me examples of something very easily found— novels that are not novels. Messrs. Seamus- MacCall and Mark van Doren have all sorts of good qualities—they are human and educated, they have imaginations, special experi- ence, heads, hearts, pens, publishers, and I hope- sales— but neither of them shows himself to be a novelist. There is not the slightest sign of any urgent precipitation having taken place in the ferment of their thoughts, and their eyes remain clouded, not clear like Mr. Dorn's nor rolling voraciously and amusedly like Mr. Fleming's. Mr. MacCall's special experience enables.him to write of the troubles in 'Ireland and of the nitrate fields in Chile. His book is " always domi- netted," says Lord Dunsany in an introduction, "by the powerful presence of Irish legend brooding in Irish blood." , It depends for its point on a dream-link between the present •, and the remote past, but is' most successful in' incidentals. Mr. van Doren, an American critic of repute and a teacher of literature at Columbia University, gives, us a refined but tenuous allegory about two immortals who cohabit with human beings, the moral, as I take it, being that we do well to believe in perfection although it eludes us except at rare moments. A cool and grave tone is a very good thing in its place, and so is an allegory, but what Mr. van Doren has to say might surely have been said within the compass of a short story or fable and would have gained by even a suspicion of wit, irony or humour.