RECENT NOVELS.* A Heavy Beckoning is an exceptionally strong and
interesting novel, in which the author has succeeded in the very difficult task of carrying out an intellectual purpose without impairing the vitality and attractiveness of her book as a mere story. The scene of the novel is laid under the shadow of the German Alps ; the action is largely concerned with the construction of a railway through the valley; and the leading characters represent various embodiments of materialism and idealism, using these words in the colloquial rather than in the philo- sophical sense. Described thus briefly and baldly, the scheme of the book may not sound very appetising, for the grouping of character and arrangement of incident according to intellectual instead of imaginative suggestions, generally produces an effect which is sadly lacking in vitality and interest ; but in A Heavy Reckoning there is no such lack,— the persons in the story are not merely representatives of certain character-tendencies, but living and strongly in- dividualised men and women, who impress the imagination of the reader because they have been vividly realised by the imagination of the writer. The conclusion we are apparently intended to draw from the net result of the grouping and the action, is that no absolute preference can be given either to the life which sets itself to the achievement of material success and of what are called practical ends, or to the life which ignores or despises these things, and moves along in a groove cut, and towards a goal suggested, by inborn instincts which are altogether xmappealed to by the more ordinary objects of ambition. The nobility of the character will be determined, not by the bent towards one kind of life
• (1) A Heavy Reckoning. By E. Werner. $ vols. London H. Bentley and Son.—(2.) Without Love or Licence. By Hawley Smart. 3 vols. London : Chatto and Windne.—(3.) Part of the Property. By Beatrice Whitby. 3 vols. London, Hurst and Blackett.— (4.) Claire Brandon. By Frederick Marshall. 3 vols. Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons.—(5.) Fairfax p1 Fayston ; or, a Practice Confessl. By Mrs. Hibbert Ware. 3 vols. Lombm : F. V. White and Co.—.6.) A Lover of the Beautiful. By Katherine Carmarthen. London: Macmillan and Co.—(7.) The Holy Rose, etc. London : Chatto and Windus„
or the other, but by moral forces which may ennoble or degrade either. Nordheim, the contractor, and his ambitious- subordinate, Elmhorst, seem at first sight men of exactly the same type, for in both of them the ambition of wealth seems to be the ruling lust to which all other instincts mast be subordinated ; but when the testing-time comes, we see that behind Elmhorst's materialistic ambition there is a sense of personal honour, and that his ambition must coincide and harmonise with it or be pushed instantly and ruthlessly to the wall. While, therefore, the utterly unscrupulous Nordheim and his young fellow-worker, whom he thinks he has caught with a congenial bait, must both be classed among the materialists rather than among the idealists,, they stand on entirely different spiritual planes,—Nordheim representing materialistic ambition minus the regulating moral element, Elmhorst representing the same ambition with this element added,—an addition which operates, so to speak, chemically, and not merely mechanically. Then, again, Reinsfeld and Waltenburg may both be called idealists ; the former in the pursuit of his beneficent profession, and the latter in the indulgence of his travelling hobby, have found an interest in life which more than compen- sates them for missing its more solid prizes. But while Reinsfeld's idealism is one of expansion and sacrifice, that of Waltenburg is a concentrated egotism which knows no restraints. These four persons are very remarkable and im- pressive creations, and the drama in which they play such. important parts is rich not only in moral but in emotional and purely narrative interest. Some of the situations are imagined and realised with extraordinary power, and the descriptions both of action and scenery are of unusual excel- lence,-the vivid and vigorous chapter describing the destruc- tion of Elmhorst's railway-bridge by the avalanche which he and Nordheim have defied, being specially striking. A Heavy Beckoning is, indeed, from first to last, a novel of quite unusual ability and interest.
Mr. Hawley Smart has put more substance into his latest- novel, Without Love or Licence, than is to be found in the greater number of its many predecessors, so far, at any rate, as the mere structure of the story is concerned. He has never striven to achieve the special kind of interest which is attained by originality in character-portraiture, nor does he strive to achieve it here ; but he has chosen a somewhat more elaborate plot than usual, and handles it very skilfully, without any loss of that lightness and brightness of mere narration which make. his books such very *easy reading. We cannot say we admire the literary nomenclature affected by so many minor novelists, of which the title of the book is a rather bad example, though it may be said on behalf of Mr. Hawley Smart that the name chosen for his story is supplied with a better explanation than is at all usual by the story itself. It is the first marriage of Sarah Mercer, the heartless, ambitious daughter of the land- lord of the Dragon Inn, which lacks the love, and it is her father's illicit still which lacks the licence; but there in something which always seems to us a little cheap and vulgar in this kind of name-giving, though the fashion of it was set by no less distinguished a writer than Charles Heade. Sarah Mercer and Mr. Tootell, the meddlesome Paul Pry whose insatiable curiosity helps to bring about the most striking situations in the story, are the two characters who supply the novel with its strongest element of purely human interest; and they are portrayed with real skill of a rough- and-ready kind. The inherent improbability of the bigamous marriage of so cautious and wideawake a young woman as. Sarah is very cleverly minimised ; and though the reader knows the extent of the clever schemer's peril much more fully than she knows it herself, he is able to understand. Sarah's delusive realisation of her own perfect safety in play- ing the pleasant part of the fashionable Lady Wrensley. Mr. Hawley Smart has before now held a brief for the book- making fraternity, and the portrait of Sam Mercer may be regarded by some readers as almost immorally flattering; but it is very probable that the bookmaker whose aim is simply the acquisition of a fairly settled income, is really less degraded by the gambling spirit than are the majority of hie clients who live in feverish expectation of great hauls. With- out Love or Licence is not high art, but of the class of art which it represents it is a very pleasant and satisfactory specimen. It is certainly one of its author's best stories.
For many, perhaps the majority of readers, the total effect
of that very clever novel, Part of the Property, will be largely spoiled by its gratuitously dismal conclusion. Readers of the last sentence must please lay emphasis on the word "gratuitously," for it is obvious that some novels cannot, as the common phrase has it, "end well" without a sacrifice of all artistic harmony and imaginative veracity ; and no critic worth his salt would resent the gloom which clouds the final chapters of Villette or The Mill on. the Floss. Miss Whitby's story is not, however, a book of this kind. The death of Jocelyn Carew in earning the blessing of him "that sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance," has a certain pathetic beauty of its own ; but there is nothing inevitable about it : there is no artistic demand for it, and, coming at the close of such a novel as Part of the Property, it may almost be regarded as an outrage upon the sensibilities of the reader. Apart from this, however, the book is a thoroughly good one, its only noteworthy defect being a certain want of ease in some of the conversations which are a little too elaborate, too literary, and wanting in the light turns of true colloquy. The theme of the book is a fairly familiar one,—the re- bellion of a spirited girl against a match which has been arranged for her without her knowledge or consent ; her resentment at being treated, not as a woman with a heart and will, but as "part of the property ;" and her final discovery, which is led up to with real dramatic skill, that the thing against which her whole nature had risen in revolt has become the one desire of her heart. The mutual relations each to each of the impetuous Madge, her self-willed, stubborn grand- father, who has arranged the match, and her lover Jocelyn, with his loyal, devoted, sweetly balanced nature, are portrayed with fine truth of insight ; but perhaps the author's greatest triumph is the portrait of Mrs. Lindsay, who, with the know- ledge of the terrible skeleton in the cupboard of her apparently happy home, wears so bravely the mask of light gaiety, as to deceive everybody but the one man who knows her secret. Whatever exception may be taken to Part of the Property on the grounds above indicated, it is refreshing to read a novel in which there is not a trace of slipshod work.
In the third volume of Claire Brandon, Mr. Frederick Marshall's style becomes strained, and almost femininely hysterical ; but in the main the book is decidedly well written, though it hardly fulfils the conditions of a good novel. The mere story which Mr. Marshall has to tell might have been told quite adequately in one volume, and the work is padded out to the regulation size by sketches of society on the Con- tinent, consisting largely of conversations on " topics" which, though not wanting in cleverness, are sadly deficient in ease and lightness of touch. This deficiency, combined with the slowness of the narrative movement, makes the reading of large portions of the book somewhat laborious ; but the character of Harriet Brandon, who fights so courageously and loyally for the rights of the child entrusted to her by her dead brother, is conceived with considerable power, and Mr. Marshall's treatment of some of his subsidiary personages— Countess Hohenwalden, with her almost insane pride of birth, and the Marquise de Rochedure, with her irrepressible frivolity —testifies to his possession of a very fair measure of dramatic skill. His one conspicuous failure is George Brandon, whose remorse for the part he has played in robbing his niece of her inheritance is obviously inconsistent with the type of char- acter presented to us in the early chapters ; and yet, though this is only one of various defects, there is something in the book to encourage the hope that the author may yet produce more thoroughly satisfactory work.
The curious and interesting story of Fairfax of Fuyston is not a work of pure invention, being founded on a narrative diary of personal experience written in the seventeenth century, but not published till 1882, and entitled " Demonologia : a Discourse on Witchcraft, as it was acted in the Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax of Fayston, in the County of York, in the year 1621." The principal characters in the romance are real persons who are mentioned in this Fairfax Diary, and in the structural lines of Mrs. Hibbert Ware's book the original seems to have been pretty closely followed; but various subor- dinate characters and subsidiary incidents are drawn from other works dealing with witchcraft, or else are purely fictitious. The character-interest is comparatively slight, though several of the figures, notably those of the poet and scholar, Edward Fairfax, and Peg Waite, the reputed witch, are well drawn and lifelike ; but the book as a whole is characterised by real fresh- ness, and the story from first to last is told with considerable vivacity and studious attention to local colouring. Perhaps a slight strain is noticeable in the attempt to preserve the antique air of the original narrative, but it is not obvious enough to interfere with pleasure ; and in the main, the author must be congratulated upon her always graphic and occasionally weird literary handling. Either as a mere romance, or as a study of a superstition which influenced so powerfully the thought and life of a bygone generation, Fairfax of Fuyston is rich in interest.
We do not mean to detract from the marked originality of the Marchioness of Carmarthen's delicately wrought story, A Lover of the Beautiful, when we say that in various ways it reminds us of two notable predecessors. Its intellectual motive recalls that of The Birth-Mark, one of the most curious and striking of the short tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne ; while its literary manner will recall to many readers the manner of Dante Rossetti's early prose romance, Hand and Soul. Guido della Varazia is a painter and a worshipper of ideal beauty, the beauty of soul made manifest in symbols of sense, mere physical beauty of form or colour being interesting to him only for its expressional value as a vehicle for the presentation of the higher, the only perfect and satisfying loveliness. And just as he despises what ordinary men call beauty, so does he despise what ordinary men call love; and when he is irresistibly drawn to Amore da Costa, it is not because she is a girl, young, beautiful, and good, but because her face has fascinated him by its hints of intellectual and spiritual possibilities, which under his care may be so developed that he shall be able to see in visible breathing form an embodiment of that dimly apprehended spiritual beauty which he has so long vainly endeavoured to fix upon his canvas. They are married, and she gives to him a girl's first pure and passionate devotion, while he gives only the worship of his intellectual nature for the ideal which he sees before him in the future. In external chivalry of devotion he never fails; but while he is feeding her with culture she is hungering for love, and he knows not that while the spirit is growing the woman is dying, until the day comes when be is left alone with an unavailing remorse. Here, as in Hawthorne's tale, the wife is sacrificed to the husband's mad and subtly selfish passion for unattainable perfection ; and Lady Carmarthen has worked out her conception with much grace, pathetic beauty, and exquisiteness of touch. All other lovers of the beautiful will find something which will irresistibly appeal to them in the story of Guido della Varazia's terrible mistake.
The five stories in Mr. Walter Besant's new volume are pleasant average specimens of their author's work, and they provide examples of the various kinds of fiction in which he has achieved a more or less marked success. Two of the tales, the title-story, and that amusing satirical romance, "The Inner House," are about the length of an ordinary one- volume novel, while the remaining three are shorter and, on the whole, less striking, though there is some impressively picturesque work in "The Last Mass," a Norfolk story of the time of the Spanish Armada; and there is something decidedly original in the rather creepy conception of the colony of social outcasts in "Even with This." " Camilla's Last String," the story of a widow who, after trying to catch an old lover as a second husband, has to content herself with welcoming him as a stepson-in-law, is amusing in a way, but very slight; and it is pretty certain that the two longer tales will be the general favourites. "The Holy Rose" has passages of grace and humour which are in Mr. Besant's most charming manner, and the story of a son's atonement for a father's crime is told with both power and pathos. In his satirical treatment of certain social and scientific tendencies of the time in "The Inner House," Mr. Besant returns to the manner of The Revolt of Man and of certain passages in the longer novels; and the story of the rebellion against the scientific doctrinaires which is, of course, set on foot by a beautiful girl of the type of Phyllis Fleming in The Golden Butterfly, is told with that fresh intensely human humour of which Mr. Besant has so often proved himself a master. The volume does not, perhaps, take a very high place among its author's works, but it is very pleasant and interesting reading.