RECENT NOVELS.* THE dimensions of " John Oliver Hobbes's "
new novel are so formidable as to render its adequate discussion im- possible within the limits of a short review. Hitherto a brilliant miniaturist, she now essays to unfold a panorama ; instead of dealing with an episode, she gives us a life history, and finds five hundred pages all too short for its completion,
• CO The School for Saints. By John Oliver Hobbes. London: T. Fisher Unwin.—(2 Dariel: a E0171471Ce of Surrey. By IL D. Blackmore. London : Chatto and Windus--(3.) Deborah of Tod's. By Mrs. de la Pasture. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.—(4.: A Piery Ordeal. By Tama. London : Bentley and Bon.—(5.) The Mills of God. By Francis H. Hardy. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.—(6.) This IAMB World. By David Christie Murray. London: Chatto and Windtis.—(7.) Paul Mercer. By James Adderley. London : Edward Arnold.—(8.) The Nigger of the Narcissus. By Joseph Conrad. London : W. He:nemann. promising the sequel in a subsequent volume. Moreover, the hero is a singularly many-sided man, by turns idealist, politician, adventurer, littgrateur, and sentimentalist, who mixes with the most brilliant society of his time, and enters political life under the aegis of Disraeli, of whom an exceedingly elaborate portrait is given in this volume. At an early stage in his career he becomes converted to Roman Catholicism, and throughout the book the sensuous beauty of the Roman Catholic ritual and the consolatory efficacy of the Roman Catholic creed are re- peatedly insisted on. Considerable space, again, is devoted to the Carlist outbreak of 1868, in which the hero and heroine are both perilously involved, and here we have a striking portrait of General Prim. Earlier in the book we are intro- duced to the glittering sensuality of the Second Empire; earlier still we have a picture of a wonderful " pleasure- dome " near an ancient fortress on a great rock on the northern coast of Prance, the hero's visit to which is treated in the style of a fairy-tale. At other times the narrative is as circumstantial and matter-of-fact as an obituary notice or a Blue-book, while the hero's letters to his friends are laid heavily under requisition, and these bristle with epigrams and smart sayings in the author's earlier manner. The School for Saints, in short, is a dramatised biography, and the alternation of methods resorted to lend it a somewhat kaleidoscopic character. But apart from this inequality of workmanah'p and the drawbacks involved in the exhaustive procedure adopted, this ambitious novel marks in one im- portant respect a decided advance on the previous work from the same pen. There is less self-conscious and coruscating cynicism, and more geniality and sympathy. We have alluded to the portrait of Disraeli, which is an extremely brilliant piece of literary reconstruction, and may add that the in- fluence of Disraeli's novels, whether as regards dialogue, treat- ment of politics, or atmosphere generally, is strongly felt throughout. There is not a single plebeian in the book, and there are very few commoners.
Though Mr. Blackmore has never quite repeated the success of Lorna Doone, his work is always marked by qualities of style and sentiment that distinguish him honourably from most contemporary novelists, and these qualities are certainly not lacking in Dariel, unequal and unsatisfactory though that work undoubtedly is. Mr. Blackmore styles his work in the alternative title a romance of Surrey, and in a sense the description is true, since the story is romantic and the scene is largely laid in that county. But the romantic element is only accidentally connected with England, where a noble Lesghian chief who fought with Schamyl, and was exiled from the Caucasus in consequence of a blood feud, has taken refuge with an only daughter of surpassing loveliness—heiress through her mother to the throne of Georgia—devoting his leisure to a scheme for spreading Christianity among his compatriots on his return. Mean- time George Cranleigh, an athletic young gentleman-farmer, the son of an impoverished Baronet ruined, according to Mr. Blackmore, by the "farce of Free-trade," falls in love at first sight with the beautiful Princess Daniel, and, sacrificing his prospects at home to farther the interests of his Lesghian friends, goes out on a Quixotic expedition to the Caucasus, where after all manner of adventures among Ossetian cut- throats—who fracture his skull with their clubs—he ulti- mately wins his lovely bride. Mr. Blackmore is an old hand at novel-writing, otherwise we should venture to suggest that he is far too long in getting to the Caucasus, and that the magnificent Lesghian chief and his daughter are somewhat out of place amid the placid surroundings of the rural land- scape of England. The Kachetische TVein, of which 31irza Schaffy, alias Bodenstedt, sang so delightfully, loses its glow when placed upon a luncheon-table in the heart of Surrey. Also the stormy youth of the Prince hardly prepares one for the serenity and culture of his middle age. The laying of the scene in England is a mistake ; such a plot and such personages ought to have been developed and displayed throughout against the rugged background of the Caucasus. The mixture of melodrama and idyll is a bad mixture. Mr. Blackmore's method is too leisurely, and his canvas is crowded with characters who, though very engaging in them- selves, retard the march of the story. He is to be congratu- lated on having introduced into romance that most romantic tribe in the Caucasus who with good reason trace their
origin to the Red Cross Knights of the Crusades, but he has not, as a novelist, made the most of his find. Nothing in the book is better than the courtship of Grace Cranleigh by the chivalrous stockbroker—the proposal among the butter-tubs is delightfully characteristic of Mr. Blackmore- but butter-tubs and stockbrokers are an excrescence in a novel which has for its mainspring the blood-feuds of Daghestan. In his choice of plot and principal personages Mr. Blackmore challenges comparison with the magnificent semi-Oriental melodramas of Mamma Jokai, and does not emerge triumphantly from the ordeal.
The best tribute we can pay to the skill of the authoress of Deborah, of Tod's is to admit that she has annoyed us con- siderably by her treatment of her heroine. For that is to admit by implication that we are interested and attracted by the central figure. Deborah is a young woman who has lived the first twenty-six years of her life on a Devonshire farm. She is an orphan, of gentle birth on her father's side, of yeoman stock on her mother's, and though richly endowed with good looks, she has preferred husbandry to a husband until the opening of the story. That she should conceive a deep devotion to the old General who had commanded her father's regiment is, in view of her passionate hero-worship of that father, not altogether unnatural ; that she should accept his attentions seriously is not improbable. But that this dandified old Pall Mall beau, almost old enough to be her grandfather, should choose this rustic Juno for his wife, and introduce her, innocent of the usages of society and handi- capped by a broad Devonshire accent, into his own smart set, is well-nigh incredible. In real life such a situation would have been intolerable to a man of the General's character and outlook. In the story it proves no slight trial to Deborah, who finds herself linked to a senile philanderer. But her simple dignity and strength of character carry the day. She soon wins first the respect and then the affection of her step-children—smart, cynical women of the world—and is rewarded for her unselfish devotion to the General by inspiring the affection of a high- minded Earl, who ultimately becomes her second husband. The unreality of the story is in great measure redeemed by the charm with which it is told. We may add that we entirely refuse to believe that so clever a woman as Deborah, after showing her powers of social adaptation in other respects, would have preserved her broad accent to the end. But the cult of dialect nowadays is carried almost to the lengths of a fetish-worship.
Ruth Fenton, the heroine of A Fiery Ordeal, is an Australian counterpart in physique and looks to the Devon- shire Juno of Mrs. de la Pasture's noveL The orphan daughter of a French political refugee and a colonial mother, she finds a refuge from the drudgery of pupil-teaching in an early marriage with the son of a New South Wales squatter. James Fenton is good-looking and well off, but incurably fond of horse-racing and gambling. Having run through all his inheritance, he starts afresh as a horse-trainer on an up- country station, but by the time Ruth is twenty-one her child is dead and her husband a bankrupt drunkard. From this slough of despond they are temporarily extricated by the generosity of the son of Fenton's principal creditor. Mr. Brewer is a hard-headed, self-made millionaire ; Donald, his only son, is a man of wide culture, refined manners, and pro- found scientific attainments. A chance meeting, when Ruth has been sent by her husband to make terms with his chief creditor, inspires the sentimental vivisectionist with an admiration which soon develops into undisguised love, and the remainder of the story is concerned with the elimination of the undesirable husband. Fenton gambles away £500 advanced for the development of his farm, and on awakening to a sense of his misdeeds, and finding that his wife has left him, disappears into the wilds, goes mad, and finally, by setting the bush on fire, nearly destroys all the other personages of the story. In the issue Ruth and her friends escape, Fenton perishes, and his widow is free to marry the man of sentiment and science. We are sorry to be unable to pronounce a high opinion of Madame Couvreur's last novel, which has appeared posthumously. Donald Brewer, who is entrusted with the role of the good genius of the plot, refrains from following the precedent established in French novels, as the author is at pains to remind us ; but his conduct cannot be regarded as either discreet, disinterested. or dignified. Mr. Francis Hardy, who, from internal evidence, should be an American writer, has given us in The Mills of God a. very clever, but exceedingly highly coloured study of filial and maternal affection as illustrated in the domestic life of a New England homestead. The father is a coarse-fibred farmer who devotes his entire leisure to gluttony and religions exercises. His character is accurately summed up in the following sentences : " John Rudderow kept Sunday in rigid covenanter fashion, but loved a good Sunday dinner. There- fore, Ma Kate, his slow-moving, quiet-spoken little wife, always remained away from the house of God to do the Sunday cooking." "Ma gate's" sole solace in life is her youngest son Jim, who shares the burden of her daily drudgery and brightens her scanty leisure by his merry companionship. But Jim, a mere boy of seventeen, loses his heart to a strolling actress, and is persuaded by her to rob his father and elope. At the earliest opportunity this light- fingered harpy steals his purse and deserts him for a former lover. Jim, reduced to destitution and far from home, is befriended by an express messenger, and eventually eaves his patron's life in a deadly struggle with two train-robbers. In reward for his services Jim is presented by the railway com- pany with a handsome honorarium, and returns home, to be welcomed with open arms by his mother, while his unforgiving father, maddened by the sight of the outcast, is struck dead by apoplexy. Those of our readers who have witnessed the dumb show play, L'Enfant Prodigue, cannot fail to be struck by the close parallelism of the story. Jim is the Pierrot, and the only new feature is the relentlessness of the father. The incident of the robbery and the elopement are common to both plots. Of course the surroundings are widely different from the fantastic unreality of the French version, and excessive pro- minence is given by Mr. Hardy to the intolerant Calvinism of the community. The mutual devotion of mother and son, temporarily interrupted by the latter's wild infatuation for the "black-eyed woman," is prettily but effusively portrayed. Indeed, a more striking contrast to the delicate methods of Miss Wilkins in treating the life of the same class of New England folk it would be difficult to imagine. Mr. Hardy has power, but it frequently degenerates into violence and extraagavnce.
Long and agreeable experience has taught us to turn to a new novel by Mr. Christie Murray with a certainty of finding good and wholesome entertainment therein, and This Little World has not tended to impair that cheerful and comforting expec- tation. It is a long time since we have read anything better in its way than Mr. Murray's racy portraiture of the great little men of a Midland village, or his loving delineation of the beauties of the Midland landscape. Old Leonard White- house, the gentle old " general dealer," with his amiable weakness for black-letter volumes ; George Cutler, the retired Quixote of the ring, who " fowt forty-sivin times i' the ring, and nivir won a fight in his life," because he disdained the poor honoar of beating men less able than himself ; the pompons but vindictive egotist, Waddel ; and the sardonic Solly,—these are all portraits conceived and executed in the true spirit of comedy, and the chapter which describes the ale-house humours of a summer's evening spent by these worthies at the Dancing Bear,' is a delightful literary reconstruction of what we fear is a vanishing phase of English rural life. The hero, Jack Cutler—a self-taught genius of the brush—is a most engaging specimen of the rough diamond, and there is pathos in the account of his struggles to attain artistic expression. It is, perhaps, rather lavish of Mr. Murray to endow the same village with two heaven-born geniuses, for the heroine, the granddaughter of the old shopkeeper, develops a wonderful voice, and for a while is the bright particular star at the Paris Opera. But these improbabilities can easily be over- looked in a novel so rich in geniality and humour as This Little World. Besides, Hope Whitehouse loses her voice, and after being most fortunately jilted by a dandified dilettante called Bassett Piercey, is free to revise her former decision against Jack, now no longer a rough diamond, but a most presentable as well as eminent painter, and a first-rate fellow into the bargain.
The main purpose of Mr. Adderley's new novel, Paul Mercer, is, no doubt, excellent, but we fear he has defeated his aim by his signal want of tact and tolerance. Paul Mercer is the millionaire son of a parvenu Nonconformist soap-boiler, and no pains are spared to exhibit the vulgarity and bigotry of
his parents and their circle in the most odious light. Paul, educated at Eton and Oxford, revolts against the chapel- worship of his father, professes atheism, is welcomed in smart society, spends his money lavishly in extravagant entertain- ment, gambling, and fine clothes, and is then converted by the ministrations of an Anglican priest. His father dies of apoplexy, and Paul reorganises the soap-works in conjunction with the priest and a Labour leader in accordance with the principles of Christian Socialism. The book is written with obvious sincerity, but it is steeped in class prejudice and aristocratic intolerance of dissent. Paul's smart, pleasure- seeking acquaintances and South African millionaires are roughly handled, but they are occasionally amusing. On the other hand, the portraits of the leading Christian Pilgrims and Primitive Sons of Love are simply repulsive caricatures. Mr. Adderley cannot even refrain from emphasising the physical unloveliness of the champions of dissent. He dwells on the minister's "paucity of teeth and superfluity of nose-flesh ; " of Paul's mother he observes that " her fishy eyes were sunk into a wobbling mass of mushroom coloured flesh." The meeting of the Pilgrims is treated in the same strain ; and the sermon of the Rev. Peter Gowle—the name is obviously chosen, as we see from p. 53, as an offensive indication of the owner's character—concludes, after a reference to the joys of heaven, with the words : " Ah,' he said, ' if I'm not there, there'll be precious few, I can tell yer !' " We find it hard to reconcile this acrimonious satire with the dedication of the book, .in which the author proclaims his belief that " Jesus is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever."
Mr. Joseph Conrad, whose intimate knowledge of the Malay Archipelago was impressively illustrated in those two power- ful but sombre novels, Almayer's Folly and An Outcast of the Islands, has given us in The Nigger of the Narcissus an extra- ordinarily vivid picture of life on board of a sailing-vessel in the merchant marine. The incidents described all take place during a single cruise from Bombay to London ; there is no heroine in the plot—for the excellent reason that there is no woman in the ship's company—no love interest, and prac- tically no hero. The central figure is a negro, who ships as a new hand at Bombay, is soon invalided, but rather than admit the truth—for he is dying of consumption—accuses himself of malingering, and when the captain refuses to let him work, appeals so successfully to the feelings of his ship- mates as nearly to stir up a mutiny. Eventually he dies in sight of land, having been robbed while in his death-agony by a villainous guttersnipe named Donkin ; and at the very moment his body plunges into the sea the long spell of calm ends and a favouring breeze springs up. " Jimmy Wait," alternately the mascot and the Jonah of the ' Narcissus,' is a type of West Indian negro—he comes from St. Kitt's—that we confess ourselves wholly unacquainted with, in or out of books, but Mr. Conrad's portraiture in every other instance is so convincing that we are content to admit its accuracy here also. As a picture of rough seafaring life, frank yet never offensively realistic, and illustrating with singular force the collective instincts of a ship's crew, as well as the strange and unlikely alliances that spring up on shipboard, this book is of extraordinary merit. What is more, Mr. Conrad has an abiding sense of the mystery of the immortal sea, and the happy gift of painting her changing moods in words that glow with true poetic fire. Lest this should seem exaggerated praise, let us quote the passage describing the view from the
• Narcissus' as she entered the Channel :— " Below its the lighthouse's] steady glow, the coast,
stretching away straight and black, resembled the high side of an indestructible craft riding motionless on the immortal and unresting sea. The dark land lay alone in the midst of the waters, like a mighty ship bestarred with vigilant lights—a ship carrying the burden of millions of lives—a ship freighted with dross and with jewels, with gold and with steeL She towered up immense and strong, guarding priceless traditions and untold suffering, sheltering glorious memories and base for- getfulness, ignoble virtues and splendid transgressions. A great ship ! For ages had the ocean battered in vain her enduring sides ; she was there when the world was vaster and darker, when the sea was great and mysterious, and ready to surrender the prize of fame to audacious men. A ship-mother of fleets and nations ! The great flagship of the race ; stronger than the storms ! and anchored in the open sea."
Mr. Conrad is a writer of genius ; but his choice of themes, and the uncompromising nature of his methods, debar him from attaining a wide popularity. Illumined though it is by such shining moments as the passage just quoted, we own to having found The Nigger of the Narcissus at times almost unbearably depressing.