21 NOVEMBER 1908, Page 45

The Climber. By E. F. Benson. (W. Heinemann. 68.)—From certain

points of view the heroine of Mr. Benson's new novel, The Climber, may be likened to the immortal figure of Becky Sharp. Like Becky, Lucia is absolutely unscrupulous, cold-hearted, and selfish. Like Becky, she is brilliantly successful in the early part of her career, and, again like Becky, she comes to absolute grief in the end. She has not, however, Becky's financial excuses for her downfall, her brilliant marriage and subsequent magnificent establishment being extremely unlike Becky's elopement and the house in Curzon Street owned by Mr. and Mrs. Rawdon Crawley. The whole of Mr. Benson's story is occupied with the figure of the heroine ; and if it is necessary to portray in great detail so unattractive a figure, it must be acknowledged that Mr. Benson's study is eminently successful. But this is whore we find the great difference between clever modern novels and that great classic to whose heroine we have compared Lucia. In "Vanity Fair" Becky Sharp, though marvellously drawn, is only one figure in a gallery of masterly portraits. In a modern story, if the author takes the trouble to give one character drawn in careful detail, he builds up the whole structure round this figure and makes the rest of the book entirely subsidiary to it. There- fore, while "Vanity Fair" is read with ever-renewed pleasure, books like The Climber are merely painful and morbid studies of social disease. Mr. Benson has his good heroine—her name is Maud—but she is only drawn in outline, the one attractive figure in the story being Lucia's aunt Cathie. The Climber is not an immoral book in the sense of vice being triumphant, but, inasmuch as the overthrow of the heroine is due to the imprudence of being found out, it can hardly be said to be what our forefathers would have called "improving reading."