PHYLLIS.* NOVELS illustrative of the sentimental side of married life
are becoming numerous, and though they are for the most part of an unreal kind, they are undeniably interesting. The quarrels of married people are more serious than those of lovers, and though they are not usually sentimental, but exceedingly prosaic, though they arise in real life more frequently from the weekly bills and the tiresomeness of domestic affairs than from the intricacies of feeling, the conjugal relation is never so wholly commonplace that it may not be invested with a little romance to the reader's fancy. Few writers have the combined courage and realism of Mr. Trollope, who made the jealousy of the middle-aged wife of
* Phyllis: a Need. London: Smith, Elder, and Go. a prosperous middle-aged solicitor a principal element and a very stirring interest in one of his best novels ; the lesser chroniclers of matrimonial miseries limit themselves to the vicissitudes of young couples, and artfully ignore the usually inevitable baby. In the latter respect they are wise ; the "real master of the house," as Leech exhibited him years ago, before whom his father sinks into insignificance and the family meals become disorgan- ised, is a wonderful pacificator, redresser of imaginary grievances, and dissipator of the selfish side of sentiment. The femme in- comprise is incompatible with the nursery, and if she be only a good woman, a little spoiled and nonsensical, she gets over the spoiling and the nonsense under the rectifying influence of feed- ing-bottles, short-coating, vaccination, and double-teeth. On the other hand, the fidgety, exacting husband is quietly discom- fitted by the same irresistible authority, and things right them- selves by the unconsciously tyrannical little hands which hold the reins of power ; except, of course, among people who are too rich and too fashionable to be necessarily influenced by the nursery, and are so unfortunate as to disregard it. Novel-writers do not, perhaps, define these common-sense truths, but they feel them, and so there is a remarkable absence of babies among the victims of all the delicate matrimonial distresses with which we have recently been called upon to sympathise. They are not even brought in to pile up the agony in the interesting variations on the art of bigamy, which we find in some ladies' stories ; and various other novelists, though their heroines are mostly members of large families, so that they may have either odious or angelic sisters to act as foils to their own eccentric attractions, put them through their troubles without even hinting at the misery. An excellent instinct of rationality lies at the root of this curious similarity among writers so widely diverse.
The author of Phyllis gives us a love-story of the post-nuptial period, which has a great deal of merit and interest, though it is not strikingly original, and has the one recommendation that tells most strongly for a book which is intended to be amusing,—it amuses. It would have been a better work of art if the author had not adopted the popular but detestable form of writing it all through not only in the first person but in the present tense. It is almost impossible to avoid foolishness when this method is employed, and it is quite impossible to prevent a jerky and unpleasant effect. The narrative can only proceed by a series of jumps ; it is a constant repetition of "say I," "return I," "I am informed," "I laugh," "ask I," he murmurs," and so forth. It is an essentially bad style ; it destroys the perspective which is as essential to a work as to a picture, and it makes it impossible for the narrator of the story to steer clear of the utter egotism the avoid- ance of which must always be the chief test of the skill with which an autobiographical novel is written. So we find in the case of Phyllis a very fresh and pleasant atmosphere in the first volume, while the young girl who tells her own story is one of many, and has something to say about each and all of them ; but when the action of the narrative becomes more important the freshness abates, and the reader feels that he should be much more deeply interested in the woes of Mrs. Carrington and the process by which she is brought to love her husband "better than mother, or Roby, or Billy," if that process had been revealed by somebody else, who could have let him see some- thing of the other people in whom he is interested at first, but of whom be loses sight, unavoidably, when Phyllis ceases to be able to think of anybody but Phyllis.
The author writes perfectly good English, and she possesses both refinement and humour (we say "she," because, though there is no name on the title-page, the book is evidently a woman's novel), but she is, we think, a novice in an art in which she has, we venture to predict, much future success be- fore her, and therefore she has been afraid to trust to the direct simplicity of her story for its entire interest. The story of the girl-wife, whose husband has ignorantly done her a great wrong, and who is content with the liking which an unawakened heart gives him, until he shall have been able to win a warmer and more satisfying sentiment, would have been more true and more pleasing without the incident of the illicit love of Sir Mark Gore, a common-place and overdone specimen of the false friend and unprincipled man of society. It is much to the honour of the lady who has written this clever and interesting novel, that she fails in all the scenes of dangerous flirtation, while she succeeds perfectly where the sentiments and the, difficulties with which she deals are entirely honest and natural. The name of Mr. Carrington's country-place, Strangemore, is not happy, and one does not know whether the scene is intended to be English or Irish, though the servants' dialect points to the
latter alternative ; but the place itself is very pleasantly sketched, and the party of guests assembled there--especiallj a pair of lovers, who come right after a series of well-managed afisunder- standings—make as bright and easily arranged a social pit-ture as we have had for a long time. The moderate tone of the author's character-drawing is much to be commended. She deals in no devils, angels, or monsters, perfect or otherwise,—the foreign woman who comes to trouble the peace of Phyllis is only an episode, with a tendency towards the monstrous, but she vanishes almost as soon as she is seen—but rather in human beings, not elaborated indeed, but, if superficially, brightly and skilfully drawn.
There must have been some temptation to deepen the shades in the respective characters of Dora, the sister of Phyllis—who makes mischief about the others, and secures her own position with her unamiable father by her faux air of respectability—and Lady Blanche Goring, the cousin of Mr. Carrington, who in- sinuates doubts of the perfect innocence of Phyllis's relations with Sir Mark Gore. It is a good sign for the author that she has successfully resisted this temptation, that her two mischievous young women are discriminatingly drawn. The one is just a little selfish, vain, and disposed to manoeuvre, but susceptible of ha- provement in a better moral atmosphere than that of her wretched home. She does her sister no real harm, and no one grudges her the handsome baronet who has long been recognised as the young gentlewoman's reward of merit. Lady Blanche is a stronger sketch and a worse woman, but she, too, is not over- drawn, and there is real skill in her clever use of the inexperience of Phyllis in social matters, of her unconventional ways—so charming to the lover, and so apt to be resented by the husband —when it is convenient to exasperate Mr. Carrington. Phyllis is a pleasing and clever novel, and we shall be disappointed if its author do not produce a better one next time.