RECENT NOVELS.* IN any survey of the novels of the
month, it is fitting that the place of honour should be given to the latest story by Mrs. Henry Wood. Mrs. Wood was in no sense of the word a great novelist ; but her work was characterised by a number of the qualities which are ranch more attractive than greatness to the majority of the middle-class reading public; and as, in addition to their other attractions, Mrs. Wood's books were thoroughly pleasant and wholesome in tone, her death may fairly be said to have closed one of the never too numerous fountains of simple and innocent pleasure. It is, however, probable that the best work possible to her had been done, and it is certain that her posthumous novel, Lady Grace—for as such we may regard it, though it was in part published during her lifetime—exhibits unmistakable indications of failing power to plan and to execute. Nothing was more noticeable in Mrs. Henry Wood's work than the neatness and finish of her plot- construction. Her range of invention was somewhat narrow, as was shown by her habit of repeating a favourite situation—such, for example, as the reappearance of a person supposed to be dead —but her workmanship within that range was always pleasantly and satisfyingly symmetrical. Her stories always had a beginning, a middle, and an end, the second growing naturally out of the first, the third out of the second ; and if, as was often the case, two really separate stories ran parallel each with each other, their balance was preserved, and their interdependence ingeniously brought out. This symmetry, which, though not one of the highest qualities of fiction, is very attractive, is altogether absent from Mrs. Henry Wood's latest novel. Lady Grace is not one story, but three stories, which are not even neatly dovetailed into one another, but are—to follow up the carpentering figure— nailed together in the roughest and clumsiest fashion. First, there is the story of Lady Grace herself, which comes to an end with the death of her 1–usband, Dean Baumgarten, in the first volume ; then there is the story of Charlie Baumgarten and Mary Dynevor, in the course of which the supposed heroine of the book is hardly even mentioned ; and lastly, there is the story of Cyrilla, which is connected with what goes before by nothing bat the tenuous and mechanical link of continuous chapter-numbering. Even when considered alone, the first story of the three is anything but satisfying, for it is clear from the opening chapters that Mrs. Wood's primary intention was to make Lady Grace an imposing, perhaps a tragical figure ; but she either changed her mind, or failed to carry out her plan, as after the marriage she has schemed for, the heroine becomes a mere nonentity, and when she fades ineffectually out of the story she is never missed. And yet, curiously enough, Lady Grace is much more readable and interesting than many novels with which comparatively no fault can be found ; for Mrs. Wood's style, though it never by any chance rises to distinction, has the ease and vivacity which always carry us pleasantly along. The narrative, too, is bright and easy to follow, and though after the first chapters the movement is rather slower—in fact, much slower—than in the author's best novels, it never stops, or even drags in that wearying manner with which we are painfully familiar even in some of the very best fiction. A book of which these
• (L) Lady Grace, and other Stories. By Mrs. Henry Wood. 3 vols. London H. Bentley and Son.—(2.) Hitherseo Here. By Lady Augusta Noel. 3 vols. Londe. Msomillan and 0o.—(3) Her Two Millions. By William Weston. 3 vols. London Ward and Downey.—(4.) Ixmay'x:Children. B the Author of Hogan, M.P.," Sc. 3 vols. London : Macmillan and Co.--(5.) Mona's Choice. By Mrs. Alexander. 3 vols. London: F. V. White and Co.—(6.) One that Wi718 : the Story of a Holiday in Italy, By the Author of " Whom Nature Leadetb." 2 vols. London T. Fisher Cu Hermosa; or, In the Valley of the Ando,. By T. B. Mani. 2 vols. London. : Sampson Low and Co.
things can be said will never be wholly dull or unattractive ; and we may add that Mrs. Wood's handling of character shows no sign of having deteriorated. The elder of the brothers Baumgarten is specially full of life, and we are sorry not to see so mach of him as we see of his comparatively colourless junior, Charles. The shorter stories, which occupy part of the second and the whole of the third volume, call for no detailed comment ; but they are, we think, better specimens of the author's average workmanship than the novel they accompany.
Lady Augusta Noel is a novelist whose artistic methods are very different from those of Mrs. Henry Wood, and from the really cultivated reader's point of view, much more attractive. The author of East Lynne loved crude colours and broad effects ; her portraiture, though effective in its way, was somewhat slap-dash ; and her literary style, though characterised, as we have said, by easy vivacity, was never free from a certain commonness. The author of Hithersea Mere, on the other hand, has evidently an instinctive delight in subdued tints and subtle effects ; her presentation of character is achieved by means of fine, deli- cate strokes, which singly seem to do little, but in the end do everything ; and her writing is the writing of one who has that exquisite sense of proportion which forbids all crude, aggressive emphasis, and ensures that quiet charm which, in a book or a person, is always so irresistibly attractive. There is something in the sombre, flat, wide-watered landscape of the Eastern counties, where the scene of Hithersea Mere is laid, which is evidently congenial to Lady Augusta Noel's talents ; and she has, probably without definite intention, been wonderfully successful in so telling her story that the reader never loses consciousness of the pathetic and not unbeautif al background which does not merely lie behind the life of the characters, but seems to enter into and form a part of it. This is especially true with regard to Hilary Marston, one of the strongest, freshest, and most fascinating charac- ters in recent fiction, who moves before us like a living embodiment of the spirit of her outward environment,—a realisa- tion of the portrait drawn in the beautiful poem of Words- worth's, "Three years she grew in sun and shower," but with certain passionately tragic possibilities of nature which do not enter into Wordsworth's conception. Though for a long time quite a subordinate actor in the story, Hilary attracts us from the first ; and though she always stands apart from the main action of the novel, she provides the powerful and pathetic third volume with its centre of interest, and is the one character in the book whom we know by instinct that we shall find it impossible to forget. Rhona Somerville is evidently intended to be the heroine of the story, and the record of her heart-searchings in the matter of her father's biography—the duty which she feels to be laid upon her, and which partly attracts and partly terrifies—is full of pathetic interest; but there is a certain remote- ness about her, and she never captivates our imaginative sym- pathy as it is captivated by the half-boyish but wholly womanly Hilary, with whose rich, warm nature we are in touch at every point. Adrian Mowbray, again, is a character whose charm we feel, but who seems a little out of reach, and gives us the impres- sion that we have with regard to people who are obviously worth knowing, but of whom true knowledge is forbidden by limited opportunities of intercourse. His brother John, on the other hand, stands out from the canvas with wonderful distinctness, as it is natural that he should, for his character is at once narrower and ranch more strongly outlined than that of Adrian. The brothers Heathcote are equally real, and the blind sailor, Geoffrey, is a specially beautiful figure. During the past few months, we have had some exceptionally able novels, but Hithersea Metre has a charm which puts it in a place by itself.
We cannot say that we think Her Two Millions one of Mr. William Westall's beet stories. In character-delineation it is not equal to Bed Byvington, and in plot-interest it is certainly excelled by Two Pinches of Snuff. But it is a very clever and readable book nevertheless ; and if all the novels we have laboriously to read and sadly to review were nearly as good, life would be very much pleasanter than it is. Perhaps the title of the book, or rather the idea which suggested the title, is not altogether fortunate. The mere mention of such a sum as two millions is fall of imaginative promise, which the story hardly fulfils. In the admirable novel entitled Half-a-Million of Money, a popular feminine writer did wonders with only a quarter of the amount ; bat Mr. Westall sadly neglects his opportunities, and his book would have lost nothing had his heroine been dowered with a quite commonplace fortune of, say,
fifty thousand pounds. The girl who, unknown to herself, is the heiress to all this wealth, is the grand•dangbter of old Hardy, the Yorkshire millionaire, whose son has been estranged from him by marriage with an Italian wife. The younger Hardy, who has taken service under Garibaldi, is fatally wounded by the Austrians, and dies, leaving his little daughter Vera to the charge of her nurse, with strict injunctions that the child and the papers which establish her identity are to be taken at once to England, where, however, they never appear. The story proper opens, some years after this event, in a little Yorkshire town, and we are introduced to a rather miscellaneous circle, con- sisting of old Hardy's nearest kinsfolk, who are met together in the room of an inn to devise means for the establishment of their claim to the big fortune. In dealing with the homespun humanity of Lancashire and Yorkshire, Mr. Westall is always at his best, and "saintly Sam " and the rest of the claimants are sketched with his wonted vigour and humour. We leave them, however, to follow the fortunes of Arthur Balmaine, a young journalist who has been appointed sub-editor of the Helvetic News, and who starts for Geneva with a vague hope that he may discover the missing danghter of Philip Hardy. Of course, he is successful, and by his efforts Vera finally comes into possession of her own ; but a large portion of the book deals less with her affairs than with the details of Balmaine'e journalistic life, and with a number of exceedingly bright and clever sketches of his newspaper colleagues and some notables of Genevan society. Prominent among the latter is M. Senarclens, the historian and Socialist, in whom many will recognise an exceedingly lifelike counterfeit presentment of a distinguished geographer of whose revolutionary views M. Senarclens is made the mouthpiece; while another admirably drawn character is the gentlemanly adventurer, Corfe, who has accidentally dis- covered Vera's identity, and who murders his wife by pushing her down a moutin, as the first step to his marriage with the heiress. The story, as a story, is somewhat loosely knit, and there is a good deal of padding ; but as it is clever and agreeable padding, Her Two Millions can be read with pleasure.
From a story of Irish life written by the author of Hogan, M.P., and that delightful book, Flitters, Tatters, and the Coun- sellor, we expect much; and Imlay's Children fulfils our expecta- tions. Though, so far as Marion Manleverer is concerned, the story may be said to end happily, and though it has, as it could hardly fail to have, some gleams of very genuine humour, it is, as a whole, much too sad a book to be commended to people who demand cheerfulness in their reading; but those who are uontent to forego even cheerfulness for the sake of power, pathos, and unrelenting veracity of imagination, will find in Ismay's Children a novel to their mind. Of Ismay Mauleverer, the mother of Marion, Gertrude, and Godfrey, we see nothing, for she is dead when the story begins. She had run away from home with her young lover, and been united to him by a Scotch marriage, at a place the name of which is known only to her aunt, old Miss D'Arcy, who, on the death of the father of Ismay's children, constitutes herself their guardian and pro- tector. This Miss D'Arcy—who, though a little, feeble, old lady, possesses the courage of a lioness in defence of those she loves—is a pathetically heroic figure, and we have not often read anything at once so powerful and so sad as the scene in which, when brought face to face with the rival claimant to the estate which belongs of right to her adopted children, she suddenly finds that the name of the place she has repeated over and over to herself has completely vanished from her memory, and falls down, paralysed by the shock of despair. It is not, however, the ill-fortune of the wronged sisters and brother which makes the tale so very sad—though the story of poor Godfrey is 'certainly mournful enough—but the terrible picture of rural Irish life to which the larger portion of the canvas is devoted. The author is so evidently writing from intimate knowledge, that it is impossible to read otherwise than with belief, and yet Iamay's Children gives us a view of Irish nature which is just the reverse of the one currently entertained. We often hear it said that both the strength and the weakness of the Irishman's character are due to the fact that he is swayed by sentimental rather than by practical considerations, and in some respects this view is supported by the story ; bat anything more hideously and coldly unsentimental than the matrimonial arrangements which are apparently universal among the tenant- farmer class, it is impossible to conceive. Love, which we should imagine to be in the ascendant in Ireland, if anywhere, is simply pat out of court, and money, money, money reigns supreme. In other respects the traditional conception is unchallenged by the author ; but in spite of the gleams of gaiety which must find their way into any picture of Irish life, the book as a whole is a very sombre one. Still, sombre as it is, it is too rich in beauty, impressiveness, and pathos to be dismissed in any other words than those of grateful appreciation.
There is no need to say much of Mona's Choice, except that it is a very good specimen of Mrs. Alexander's familiar work- manship, less ambitious than one or two of its predecessors, but very much more satisfactory. The "choice" is, we need hardly say, a choice of lovers. Mona, who is an orphan, is introduced into society by a wealthy aunt, and frequently meets a certain Captain Lisle, a singularly attractive man, to whom, believing that he loves her, she gives her heart. Lisle, on his side, has not been untouched; but when her aunt loses her fortune, and Mona is left destitute, the Captain is too self- regardful to risk marriage with a penniless girl, and instead of proposing to her himself, suggests that she should accept the addresses of his rich but very clumsy and shy friend, Leslie Waring. Out of consideration for her aunt, Mona accepts Waring's offer, though she frankly tells him that she has no love to give ; but when, just before the marriage, her aunt dies, she feels that she cannot go on with the sacrifice, and breaks off the engagement. She sees nothing of either Lisle or Waring for some years, which are spent partly with an old friend, whom she assists in giving music-lessons, and partly with an eccentric old Scotch uncle, who takes her with him to his Northern home. At this place the two men reappear, and Lisle now claims her love; but Mona, having discovered the difference between gold and pinchbeck, rejects his suit, and gives herself, this time finally and unreservedly, to the faithful, loyal Waring. The story is pleasantly told, and some of the subsidiary characters are specially good. Mr. Craig, Mona's uncle, is, indeed, a triumph of truthful and humorous delineation ; and we think that on the whole Mona's Choice must be considered Mrs. Alexander's best novel.
One that Wins—would not" One who Wins" be more correct P —is a very clever, very fascinating, and yet very perplexing book. As a matter of fact, it is rather overdone with cleverness. All the characters talk so brilliantly, and the author writes so brilliantly about them, that we are irresistibly reminded of the old saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees ; we are captivated by the spirited manipulation of the portraiture, bat we come away with a very vague impression of the persons portrayed. This ie especially true in the case of the woman- painter, tEnone, whom the author poses in every one of her numerous mental and moral attitudes, but without impressing upon our minds any clear impression. She is a strange com- pound of good and evil tendencies, with moods answering to both ; and each mood in its turn we can partly or wholly realise ; what we fail to realise being the entirety of the personality which all the moods—diverse as they are—somehow reflect. The evil in her is, we should say, less powerful than she bitterly proclaims it to be. True, she is, once at least, apparently on the verge of a terrible crime ; but she pulls up so suddenly, that it seems as if she had been simply trying the experiment of letting herself go, to see how far an unchecked impulse would carry her, having at the same time her hand well upon the brake. She rejects Lancelot Sumner, because she believes that he loves the artistic inspirer and helper, rather than the pure woman in her ; and yet when he loves another woman, obviously for her own sake, she is devoured, not by jealousy—at any rate, this is what we are led to believe—but by a tormenting fear that his life will be cramped and ruined ; though, when this fear is removed, the emotion that supervenes is jealousy nnadulterate; and it is at this point that she gives way, or appears to give way, for a moment to the evil spirit struggling for the mastery. Here and there we seem really to come into vital contact with her, but generally she eludes us ; and this is true also of Lancelot and his fiancee, who are represented as being much lees complex persons. The book is rendered more puzzling by the fact that it is apparently written partly to advocate certain ethical or non-ethical notions which seem very like those of the late James Hinton ; but concerning this matter we will say nothing, as, where clear apprehension fails, misrepresentation is almost inevitable. In spite, however, of its bewildering character, which in a brief notice it is very easy to exaggerate, One that Wins is fall of strong, intellectual interest, and we could easily fill columns with the good things we have marked as worthy of quotation.
We cannot say that we have got on very well with our reading of Hermosa. It is a nondescript book, which may perhaps be most accurately described as a sort of Swiss Family Robinson written for grown-up people. If this be so, we do not think that it will altogether hit the taste of the audience for which it is intended ; bat as some of the adventures of the English travellers in South America are imagined and described with a good deal of spirit, "our boys" may find in it something to snit them. We cannot think, however, that the author will prove a formidable rival to Mr. Henty or Mr. Manville Fenn.