22 FEBRUARY 1930, Page 28


Five Frontiers

To the adventurous-minded, the beginning of every book is a frontier which he must cross if he is desirous of entering. a new ry count of the mind. He may be required to relinquish_ some- thing—say; a prejudice, to expend 'something—say a great deal of time, and, unless he will do this there are certain frontiers that it would be more profitable to avoid. Herr Wassermann's country is not suited for the hurried excursionist, but only for those who have leisure enough to tarry and patience enough to wander down the lanes that lead from the central highway. It is a vast, dark country in which lovers of Tolstoy will find themselves most at home. It is populated by heavy, serious people, among whom the boy Etzel flits like a bright figure, illuminated .by the torch of his own enthusiasms. He is the son of a judge who is responsible for the iniprilonment of a man—Maurizius=years ago convicted of murder. Etzel pieces together the history of the crime ; is convinced of the man's innocence in spite of his father, that cold embodiment of the law, who thinks : " Innocent ! A crazy and impertinent word when the law and the court have spoken. Innocent, when the criminal has been found guilty and is still expiating his crime, and human and divine justice is being done 1 " The boy, at the age of sixteen, sets out in search of the one man who can prove the guiltlessness of Maurizius.. The story of the quest is painstakingly devel- oped. All the people he meets are given their elaborate back- grounds, are shown not only as they are but how they came to be what they are. The valour of the boy and his pitiful belief in justice are the only lovely things in a great but terrible book, which contains so much that is sordid and so many accounts of the bestiality of life in a convict prison, that as we read we become as enraged as Etzel at the confusion of law with justice and at the smugness that finally pardons innocence. Travellers through Herr Wassermann's dark country will be exhausted when they reach the farthest boundary, but as they look back on the heights of romance and -valleys of despair they will realize its magnificence.

The land in which the Fire Sisters (daughters of the late Brigadier-General Watkin-Munroe-Bartlett) go their incon- sequent ways is far more easily entered and far more difficult to believe in. Its inhabitants are actors and its towns seem made of cardboard—stage properties set against a back-cloth intended to represent the Mediterranean. The five sisters themselves are like creatures from a Tchekov play ; anyone of them might most appropriately quote from The Cherry Orchard, "We shall never get to Moscow 1" They never would : they never could get anywhere. They are, all of them, excessively unhappy ; one is a dipsomaniac, one a novelist who behaves like a nymphomaniac, one is miserably married, one is consumptive and requires her sister's husband, and one is really nothing at all. They alternately prattle and rage about the difficulties of life, trying in different ways to express their staccato souls. Like flies in a web, they struggle in a tangle of emotionalism. They are so vain and self- important that it is impossible to believe in their quite real tragedies. Miss Kazarine's country is an amusing one to pass through. It is bright, bizarre and modern, littered with people who live in delirium.

The mind must travel a long way from the hastily painted Mediterranean back-cloth before it can reach Mr. Williamson's county (it is hardly a country), in which Willie, hero of The Beautiful Years and The Pathway, passes his adolescence, and which is rather too botanically described. Mr. Williamson reminds me of the man in the parody :—

A primrose by the river's brim Dicotyledon t'was to him ! "

He can and does convey the atmosphere of the English countryside just as he can and does describe all the rather wearying emotions of boyhood. Willie Madison, like so many other young heroes, is unhappy at school. He has a romantic friendship for a boy, a reverent love for a girl. He is mis- understood. It is a great tragedy, but we knew it all by heart before Mr. Williamson wrote of it. No, not all 1 We did not know this speech made to a glow-worm by Willie, after the girl had refused his love : " You and I, glow-worm. It's ended, little glow-worm. Ended. Thank you for shining in the darkness, glow-worm." Let us be thankful at least that the dumb glow-worm cannot answer back.

Mr. Bernard Newman's country is a strange, wild Land That Might Have Been. The traveller who crosses the frontier will find himself amazed, for he will see a Flanders as it was and as it was not in 1915. He will be shown what might have happened if a superman had been put in sole charge of the Allied Forces. He will actually see that superman—(is he Sir Henry Wilson ?)—rising from Colonel to Commander-in-Chief amazingly quickly. He will see the Rt. Hon. Worton Spender (surely Mr. Winston Churchill) being given another chance to organize the Gallipoli Campaign. And will see how the War might have been won (as it was in the book) in 1917. Mr. Newman has produced a most curious blend of fantasy and reality, but his book is well worth reading. It is written with such verve that we almost find ourselves believing that time has been set back.

There is no space to do more than mention Mr. La Farge's Laughing Boy, and to assure those readers who are anxious to enter the Hiawatha country of their childhood that they will find much to entertain and enthrall them in the story of thi beautiful Squaw, Slim Girl, and her adventurous lover.