Big and other Noises
Miss FANNY HURST iS still devoted both in style and matter to The Big Noise and The Big Idea and, on the whole, the Noise has it. Five and Ten is an obvious talkie on a well- known 'Hollywood theme : the misunderstood millionaire, his bored wife, his sensitive son and his extravagant daughter, in an atmosphere of long-distance telephone calls to Denver about the biggest single order for boys' caps in the history of the world, pyjama parties, cases of champagne, sports' models, Argentine dancers (for the wife), highbrow " drama (for the daughter), and speed-boats, and suicide (for the sensitive son). John Rarick was the thirteenth richest man in the world, the builder of an ever-increasing chain of five- and ten-cent stores. He was a stem little man, a born collector, but for all his accumulating of famous objets d'art, bought with the proceeds from five-cent rings, he desires, chiefly, wisdom. His wife and daughter, on the other hand, want all the social " splash " they can buy. It is the object of the poor, honest, broken little figure to prove to them they cannot buy wisdom and happiness. Kind hearts are more than coronets, &c., &c.—but I am unjust : Miss Fanny Hurst is not as bad as that. Her solemnity, her virtual lack of any ironical sense in a work of tremendous shrewdness, visual brilliance and vitality, are portentous : she accepts John R. Rarick's values. She believes more deeply than perhaps she knows, in the success of success.
Miss Fanny Hurst is much more interesting as a novelist than as a writer of short stories. Her novel escapes their more obvious mechanical sentimentality ; but she still vividly recalls to me the words of an excited lady against whom I was wedged in the private view of the Sargent Memorial Exhibition in Boston : " All my life I have been longing for Culture " (I take it there was a capital " C "). John R. Rarick with his son dead, his wife dead and his daughter unwanted by the man she loves, presumably finds it, as in the last pages he plays his organ and waits for the hysterical sob of Pagliacci's clown
to gulp through the million-dollar pipes. Miss Hurst's technique is a good instrument : her metaphors have the ungodly flash of machinery, its brilliance and its monotony. She has a sense of size, but little sense of proportion. A significant defect is that there is very little essential difference in quality between the talk of her characters and her own prose style. It is a Meredithian fault in a novelist who, in other respects, owes nothing to Europe.
The Comic Spirit looks down upon men ; and the Tragic Spirit looks up towards women. There is this distinct division of altitude in Miss Sylvia Thompson's otherwise sound and entertaining study of the relationship of a successful author to his wife. He is self-made ; everything is sacrificed to his career. Even their early love is essentially " copy " for him. She, on the other hand, is simple, affectionate, naturally alert in mind, completely unliterary, but she is carried along mercilessly at his Chariot Wheels. Her spirit is frozen in a lifelong amazement at his vital callousness, his blindness to his own vulgarity. Even her early death is " copy." Miss Thompson's irony is without mercy and one must admire her delightful technical subtlety and resourcefulness, but I am not sure they have not made her too successful in avoiding direct conflicts.
Mr. Martin Armstrong continues to diffuse sweetness and light but there is more satisfaction in his longer than in his shorter benedictions. His art stands like yellow, fastidious lamplight in a room, imparting tenderness even to the most grotesque and macabre of its shadows. There are six short stories in The Fiery Dive. The title story is a very pleasing example of his power of slowly turning up the lamp, as it were, upon a passionate situation, letting it blaze up suddenly, and then quietly watching it diminish. It is the story of the love of two friends for one woman, nothing more. They fade, one hears only the talking voices. " The Widow of Ephesus " is a sharper study in the macabre. A Roman sentry deserts his post at a gibbet to make love in a charnel
house. The longest story describes the conflict which rises between an older embittered, conventional woman and her younger, feckless sister, when their father dies and the young girl is quietly affirming her right to live her own life. Mr. Armstrong excels in revealing these contrasts and in illuminating the gradual _accumulation of mood. to the point of decision. He favours the decisions that are quietly made. There is even a tranquillity in his rarer impetuous people. It is a difficult thing for a collection of short stories to escape the peculiar fundamental monotony of an author's spirit.
V. S. PRITCHETT.