NOVELS OF THE WEEK.*
Br way of an American pendant to Miss Mary Findlater's Betty Musgrave—noticed a fortnight back in these columns —in which the heroine is cruelly handicapped by a drunken mother, Mrs. Atherton gives ns in A Daughter of the Vine another study of Californian life, with a dipsomaniac as heroine. We have so often expressed our admiration for Mrs. Atherton's brilliant if occasionally undisciplined talent, that she can hardly resent our inability to congratulate her on her latest achievement, which is neither a good pamphlet nor a good work of art, though it contains many vivid passages and some striking dialogue. The plot, as usual, is Mrs. Atherton's weak point. In order to secure the com- pleteness of the ultimate moral debdcle of the heroine, the aid of heredity is clumsily invoked. Nina Randolph is the daughter of a Yorkshire gentleman of good family and excellent abilities and attractive manners, who emigrated to California after being entrapped into a marriage with a barmaid who could neither read nor write and was possessed with an insatiable thirst for liquor. Nina is their only child, and inherits everything from her father, except the passion for drink, which the mother, inspired by diabolical desire to wound the man she has wronged so deeply, has secretly gratified from earliest infancy. Other- wise Nina is as beautiful and bewitching as any of the Californian belles to whom Mrs. Atherton has introduced us. The real tragedy of her life begins with the appearance at San Francisco of a young and eligible Englishman named Thorpe, who, with a blindness incredible in a person of his alleged intelligence and opportunities, fails to discover the family skeleton in the Randolph household until mastered by his passion. They part for awhile, but the war intervenes, and Nina, misinterpreting Thorpe's silence and despairing of herself, marries a disreputable doctor, and on his death rejoins her mother (whom she detests) and yields herself a willing victim to the fatal habit. After ten years Thorpe revisits California, and, after a painful chance meeting with Nina—a hideous wreck of her former self—is summoned to her death- bed and helps to soothe her last moments. Although Mrs. Atherton is sparing of realistic details, the last chapters are quite intolerably sordid; the story inspires repulsion rather than pity. It is an arbitrary, not an irresistible, tragedy. All this, however, must not blind us to the incon- testable excellence of the opening chapters. We may note, as a sort of motto for all this Californian series of Mrs. Atherton, the sentiment she puts into the mouth of her ill-starred heroine :—" You will find that Cali- fornia is a country with a peculiar influence. Some few natures it leaves untouched—but they are precious few. In the others, it quickens all the good and evil they were born with." We have only to add that the reference to Branwell Bronte, who is dragged in as exercising an evil influence on the heroine's father, seems to us most gratuitous. For that we suppose we have to thank the cult established by our native literary rag-pickers.
Of Fru Amalie Skram a formidable account has been given in Madame Marholm Hansson's book an modern women. This is supplemented in the preface to Professor Hieronimus by a few of those characteristic personal paragraphs with which the modern novelist finds it so hard to dispense. From
• (l.) A Daughter of the Pine. By Gertrude Atherton. London : Service and Paton. [68.1—(2.) Professor Hieronimus. Translated from the Danish of Amalie Skram by Alice Stronach and G. B. Jacobi. London : John Lane. Ris.)—(3.) David Hort1711 a Story of American Life. By B. Noyes Westeott. London: 0. A. Pearson. [6:14—(4.) The Kingdom of Hate : a Romance. By TOM Gallon. London: Hutchinson and 00. [6s.)—(5.) Ho. 6 John S,re:t. By Richard Whiteing. London: Grant Richards. [Ss.1—(8.) Contraband of War. By N. P. Spiel. London : Grant Richards. les.]—(7_) Prank Bedland. Recruit. By Mrs. Coulson Rernahlsn. London : John Lung. (6..)—(8.) Bran. By Nellie S. Blissetf London: Hutchinson and Co. tels.)—(1).) The Doom of sum. By T. W. Speight. London: Ohatto and Windua 6E14— (10 ) Athelstane Ford. By Allen Upward. London : 0. L. Pearson. • MO these we learn that the circumstances of Fria Skram's early life were "favourable to her development as a naturalist." In other words, she married young, went round the world with her husband, a sea captain, and when seafaring life became monotonous, separated from her spouse. The genesis of the present work is remarkable. "Seeking quiet and treatment for a nervous affection, Frn Skram of her own free will became an inmate of a lunatic asylum. Thus she had a chance of studying one of those specialists in mental disease who are too apt to mistake rebelliousness for a sign of mental derangement. Of this doctor, of the patients, the nurses, her whole environment, she gives a picture so vivid and of such absorbing interest that it can vie with the most thrilling romance." The book, in short, is admittedly a roman a clef "fall of life-like portraits," and as such enjoyed a sensational success in Denmark. With English readers it must stand on its merits, literary and psychological, since as a novel with a purpose it has been effectively forestalled by Charles Reade in Hard Oash, and describes a state of affairs happily impossible in this country. These merits, though undoubted, can hardly be said to neutralise the horror of the situation, which continues unchanged throughout the narra- tive. Amateurs of the gruesome, or those persons, if any such exist, who may need some artificial means of abating the exuberance of their animal spirits, may safely embark on Fru Skram's recital of the sufferings of the tortured wife and the diabolical cruelty of the unscrupulous "alienist." But we cannot honestly recommend the volume to normally constituted readers, least of all to those recovering from influenza. As a monument of the enterprise of the modern " documentator," the work is probably unique. The design on the cover, which recalls the pictorial advertisement of the " Turkish Bath at Home," is quite as abnormal as the contents of the book.
David Sarum, which comes to us with a great reputation from America, is essentially a "one-man show," the sort of novel, in fact, that might be written by an actor-manager. David Harum is a shrewd self-made man who keeps a sort of bank at Homeville, Freeland County, and engages as his cashier John Lenox, a young New Yorker of good family and education reduced by his father's failure and death to earn a livelihood. Lenox settles down to his new life courageously and contentedly enough, though at first he is inclined to accept Harum at his own valuation as a closefisted driver of hard bargains and grinder of the faces of the poor. David, of course, is only playing the game so dear to novelists, i.e., that of assuming the role of skinflint, a in Golden Dust- man, in order to test the character of his assistant, and in due course emerges in his true colours as a generous crypto- philanthropist. The plot is of very small account, the chief feature of the book being the series of autobiographical monologues delivered on the smallest provocation by Harum, whose great foible is his omniscience in regard to horseflesh. As he puts it : "A hose-trade ain't like anythin' else. A feller may be straighter'n a string in ev'rythin' else, an' never tell the truth—that is, the hull truth—about a hose." Some of the yarns are excellent, but the mode of their narra- tion, as may be gathered from the above sample, is somewhat fatiguing.
Mr. Tom Gallon, who has shown himself so apt a disciple of Dickens in his ultra-sentimental moods, takes hi The Kingdom of Hate an excursion into the realm of mock-Royal romance, which most people, strangely oblivious of Steven- son's delightful Prince Otto, are inclined to think was first explored by Mr. Anthony Hope. The kingdom to which Mr. Gallon introduces us is called Labyrinthia, on the confines of Bohemia ; and the heroine is the Princess Viviana, heiress to the throne, who is married at midnight in London in the first chapter to a young English artist named Bernard Aubanel, neither having seen the other until a few moments before the ceremony. The time—according to the rules of mock-Royal romance—is, of course, the present, the idea being. we suppose, that romance is heightened by its juxtaposition with railways, omnibuses, machinery, and other "actuali- ties," and the story is a very fair specimen of its kind.
No. 5 John Street purports to be the narrative of a young man of fortune who, desiring to learn the true inwardness of slum life at first hand, resolves to live for six weeks on half- seirown a day, and, what is more, to earn the half-a-crown.
Accordingly he quits his chambers and valet in. Piccadilly, giving out that he has, gone duck-shooting on the Caspian, hires a garret in the nearest slums, and contrives to get a situation as clerk at a rubber factory. Such a narrative can only be really convincing when it is a transcript from life, as in the case of Mr. Wyckoff, the American gentleman who actually carried out the programme of the hero of Mr. Whiteing's romance; and has embodied his experiences in a very interesting book. As an appeal to the conscience of the reader the book challenges and suffers from comparisons with such matter-of- fact recitals as that we have just mentioned. None the less, the book before us, though valueless as evidence, bears -the im- press of faithful, sympathetic, and humorous observation. The narrator's slum friends—Tilda, the Amazonian flower-girl, Low Covey, and the old Anarchist—are not only drawn from the quick, but interesting as well. The sketches of Mayfair life which alternate with those of the slums are on stereo- typed lines, and Tilda's heroic self-sacrifice is worked in rather like the prima donna's high note. Still, it is a pleasant change nowadays to find a writer on slum life who is not wholly pessimist in his outlook. — Mr. Shiel's new romance, Contraband of War, has for one of its joint heroes an American financier who weighed thirty - two stone. His rival is a wonderful Spaniard, Immanuel Appadacca by name, who appears at an suction in a "tunic of very thick plushy dark-blue velvet and a wide hat pinned with a dagger of gold." We cannot help thinking it a mistake on Mr. Shell's part to dovetail into his narrative scenes from the recent war. With such a genius as Appadacca on her side, Spain could not possibly have been worsted.—Sentiment, verging on effusiveness, is the pre- vailing characteristic of Frank Redland, Recruit, in which we are introduced to a port-drinking old squire who is married on his death-bed to his discarded mistress, a Frenchwoman named Madame Lafitte ! The ineptitude of novelists' nomen- clature could hardly go any further than this.—Brass is a somewhat lurid romance of high life with a Machiavellian Cardinal as its most imposing figure. Christian Hubert, having been baulked of his hopes of succeeding to an English ' peerage, becomes a priest, and is ultimately elected Pope. The plot of the story is mainly concerned with the vagaries of a young woman who marries his nephew, Lord Bourne- mouth, elopes with an Austrian Archduke, takes to the variety stage, and is rescued by an eminent impressionist painter, a perfect monster of magnanimity. Miss Blissett has a sense for melodramatic effects, but her style is not im- peccable. For example, she talks on p. 30 of "sails bellow- ing," a deliciously euphemistic malaprop for " bellying."
Mr. Speight is an adept in the art of mystery-weaving, and The Doom of Siva' is a very favourable specimen of his skill Here we have a sinister Hindoo for chief villain, a mysterious conjuror named Paul Zuphelius Cazalis, a Woman in Black, and a heroine who dons male attire amongst the dramatis per- souz ; and a mysterious murder, a missing heir, and a historic Oriental gem as elements of interest or incentives to excitement. Mr. Speight's style is not exactly distinguished. He calls eyes "visual organs," and doctors " medicos." But he is good enough company on a railway journey.—Indian treasures also play their part in Mr. Allen Upward's Atheistane Ford, in. which the hero serves under Clive, falls into the hands of Surajah Dowlah, and with his lady-love survives the ordeal of the Black Hole. Mr. Upward is liberal with his horrors, but the long and bloody rivalry of the two cousins, Athelstane and Rupeit Ford, is told with skill as well as vigour.