23 DECEMBER 1905, Page 21

MR. FORSTER, who is, to the best of our belief,

a newcomer in the field of fiction, has at once revealed himself as a writer to be reckoned with in his exceedingly clever but decidedly painful story. When, however, we say " painful," the epithet needs reserves and explanations. Where Angels Fear to Trecul is not a story written with the deliberate aim of challenging attention by giving offence, nor is it disfigured • Where Angels Fear to Tread. By E. M. Forster. London: W. Blackwood and Sons. [be.] by the wanton intrusion of disagreeable or repulsive details. On the contrary, in handling a difficult theme the author has shown in the main remarkable tact and reticence, while the chief practical lessons of the story—the dangers of inter- national marriages, the need of 'domestic tolerance, and the futility of ill-considered rebellion against convention—are unimpeachable in their strong if indirect confirmation of orthodox views. All this we cordially admit; but though Mr. Forster is neither cruel nor anarchical in his attitude, he deals largely with those elements in modern society which make for domestic disintegration rather than solidarity. Above all, the story is steeped in disillusionment. Steele, giving a new lease of life to a famous Greek maxim, said in reference to a good woman that "to love her was a liberal education." Mr. Forster, on the other hand, has shown how the love felt by a good woman, so far from exerting an educational influence, may be a relapse to a primitive and barbaric instinct, a mark of degradation rather than elevation.

The personages concerned in Mr. Forster's story are in no case of a truly or consistently heroic cast, indeed, there is only one who is in any way capable of rising to the occasion, and in her case the disillusionment excited in the reader is in some ways the keenest. As for the plot, it centres in the unfortunate remarriage of Lilia Herriton, a young widow, a good-natured, impulsive, but second-rate woman, who has lived with her husband's people after his death, and has at every turn been made to feel her intellectual and social shortcomings by her mother-, brother-, and sister-in-law. When, therefore, she thinks of having a Wanderjahr in Italy, they encourage the plan, and a companion is found in Caroline Abbott, an excellent young lady who is ap- parently -devoted to good works, district visiting and the like, but in reality is just as anxious as Lilia to escape from her dull surroundings and see something of real life. They are both intoxicated by the sense of freedom and the charm of Italy, and Lilia, without protest from her companion, falls in love with a handsome young Italian, the son of a dentist, half Faun, half Satyr. The Herritons are horrified at the news, and Lilia's brother-in-law Philip—an ineffectual aesthete whose strong critical faculty and sense of humour are not backed by any force of character—is despatched in hot haste by his mother to break off the match, but arrives to find that the lovers are alread; secretly married, and returns in disgust with Miss Abbott, leaving Lilia to her fate. Alternately cowed and neglected by ber husband, who had only married her for her money, which he squanders on dissipation, and disowned by her relatives and connections, Lilia, in spite of her vulgarity, attains to a tragic pitch of desolation and misery before she dies in giving birth to a son. The only person, indeed, who feels the slightest compunction is Caroline Abbott, who, smitten with remorse at her lack of foresight in encouraging the match and her cowardice in deserting her friend, resolves to rescue the child from its surroundings. Mrs. Herriton, insensible to the call of natural affection, is at once roused from her indifference to the fate of the "beastly Italian baby " by wounded pride, and a second rescue party is orga- nised, in which Philip's sister, a narrow-minded religious fanatic, takes a leading and disastrous part. There is only one bright spot in the squalid tragedy of this episode, the courage and tact shown by Caroline Abbott, who saves the situation when it had become well-nigh desperate, awakens Philip to a sense of his worthlessness, and inspires him with the resolve to abandon the role of the cynical onlooker. But Caroline, having placed herself on a pedestal, abruptly shatters her claims to rever- ence by the humiliating confession that she too had been fascinated by the Faun-Satyr, though fully conscious of his cruelty and baseness, and was only prevented from declaring her feelings by the fact that he regarded her as a being on a wholly higher plane.

A rough outline such as the foregoing, while it gives what we hope is not an inaccurate sketch of the contents of the book, must inevitably fail to convey any impression of the persuasive skill with which Mr. Forster has contrived to lend an engrossing interest to a disconcerting, and even distressing, study of contemporary civilisation. As we have said at the outset, one can read half-a-dozen excellent orthodox morals into the story, but the dominant impression left on the mind of the present writer is that under the stress of opportunity primitive instincts reassert themselves in the most carefully

educated and studiously repressed natures. The cruelty and callousness of old Mrs. Herriton is even more sinister, because more unexpected, than the frank inhumanity, tempered with graceful animalism, of the young Italian. Mr. Forster has succeeded, with a cleverness that is almost uncanny, in illustrating the tragic possibilities that reside in insignificant and unimportant characters when they seek to emancipate themselves from the bondage of convention, or to control those who are dominated by a wholly different set of traditions. He has done 'this in a manner which is void of offence, but is none the less painful and disquieting. Let us hope that so original and searching a talent may yet give us a story in which the fallibility of goodness and the callousness of respectability are less uncompromisingly insisted upon.

Wild Wheat : a Dorset Romance. By M. E. Francis (Mrs. Francis Blundell). (Longmans and Co. 6s.)—Mrs. Blundell writes once more of "Dorset Dear," and as usual transports into her pages much of the charm of the West Country. It may be said of her that she is among the few people who are able in the printed page to give the reader a vivid impression of the charm of country life, and of the attraction of the "song of the open road." The hero of this book (Peter Hounsell) indeed resists the temptation to become a wanderer, but as he takes up the profession of a gamekeeper, the author still has room for many descriptions of what the Dorsetshiro poet calls "Lonesome woodlands, zunny woodlands." Whether the figure of Prue, the gamekeeper's daughter, whom Peter marries, is quite true to life may be doubted; and, indeed, neither of Peter's two love stories strikes us as being convincing. But, owing to the peculiar charm alluded to above, this book will give far more pleasure to its readers than many realistic and conscientious novels in which the actions of the personages introduced are entirely true to the sordid experiences of life. If it be granted that one of the missions of fiction is to carry its readers' thoughts far afield on to the blue hills and into the wild woods, Mrs. Blundell is owed a debt of gratitude by all those who, with a quiet hour before them, sit down to read one of her West Country books.

Oxendale. By Ella MacMahon. (Chapman and Hall. 6s.)— Miss MacMahon's work is always interesting, and the readers of her new novel will find it fully up to her standard. With the sophistries of the solution of the story most people will hardly be inclined to agree. Self-sacrifice is an admirable quality, but when two people who are passionately in love with each other resolve that the woman shall immediately marry a third party, it is impossible not to consider such a proceeding most immorally sophistical. The book is otherwise very good reading, and the portrait of the musical Italian virtuoso who is forced into the English Peerage is both convincing and interesting. Rabailliatti is a singularly attractive figure, and (like that of all musicians who perform in the pages of contemporary fiction) his playing is most miraculous. The figure of the heroine, Vera, is also well drawn, though perhaps a little stiff, while that of her lover, Jack Vansittart, is somewhat colourless. But the minor characters are excellent, and all stand out in an extremely lifelike and generally very entertaining fashion. The book, in fine, is well worth reading, and has a great deal of thought and observation in its pages.

The First Mrs. Moilivar. By Edith Ayrton Zang,will. (Smith, Elder, and Co. 6s.)—It must be acknowledged that this book, though interesting, is anything but agreeable reading. It con- tains a sub-flavour of the supernatural, which, however, is so well managed that the reader is in constant doubt as to whether any- thing out of the ordinary is intended. "The first Mrs. Mollivar " dominates both the pages of the book and the household of her successor, but it is doubtful whether or not the author intends to hint that some psychical trace of her presence remains in the house in which she lived. The different events in the book could be quite easily taken as mere coincidences, exaggerated by the disordered nerves of Valeria, the heroine. It would indeed be a tragedy to most women to find themselves, on marrying a widower, obliged to keep on the household of his first wife with no power of dismissing a single member of it. And if, further, the lady's hideous decorations of her house were also to remain inviolate, the double catastrophe would be sufficient to account for the failure of any second marriage. The dramatic scene of the husband's death while taking down the huge portrait of his first wife can, of course, be explained by coincidence. But all the same, it is an undoubted fact that Mrs. Zangwill's story leaves a most eerie sensation in the minds of her readers. The book is well and carefully written, and it is to be hoped that Mrs.