AMONG the crowd of clever modern novels it is delightful to come upon one which, like Mr. Robert Buchanan's Effie Hetherington, is above all things a work of imagination. The story is the very old one of the magnanimous passion of a strong man for a girl who is not worthy of his love, and cannot return it, but who, when her life is spoilt, throws herself upon the sure refuge of his tenderness. Bat old and hackneyed as the situation is, Mr. Buchanan makes it fresh and living again in this abort but powerful tale, of which every scene and character stands out clear, sharp, and convincing, as do only the creations of a strong imagination. A great merit of the book is the simple and harmonious concentration of its construction. It has no superfluous personages, no unimportant scenes, no excess, and no padding. It gives the impression of having been worked off at a white-heat of inspiration, though not improbably this effect is the resalt of
• (1.) Effie Hetherington. By Robert Buchanan. 1Lonroe. London:
Matto and Weida:.—(3.) &CU !SOTS to the Title. By L. B. Wallord. Lendon: Methuen and Co.—(4) The Riddle Meg. By Justin MacCarthy. S vole. London: Ghetto and Wiedas.—(5.) Redaviva. By Marion Comyn. 2 vole. London : Hurst and Blackett —(6.) Lvetioae's Girt. By Mrs. Herbert Marta:. 1 vol. London: Jerrold abd Soaa.—(7.) Our Widow. By Florence Ws, den. 1 voL London: F. V. White and Co.—(8 ) The Beautiful White Devil. B7 Gay Boothby. London: Wald, Luck, and Borden.
careful art. We can imagine a realistic critic quarrelling with the carelessness that gives Effie a lace petticoat falling round her pretty bare feet, when she certainly must have been wearing a riding-habit,—under which garment no lady could possibly have worn a lace petticoat in the year 1870. But the lace is in keeping with the sentiment of the scene, and the anachronism does not matter. That scene is in itself a masterpiece of dramatic presentment, in which all the story to come is prophesied. Richard Douglas, the impoverished laird, is keeping Hallowe'en in bitter loneliness of heart, in the tumble-down farmhouse which is his ancestral home. Tortured by the scoldings of his old servant Elspeth, who wants him to go up to Lord Lindsay's castle, and take his part with the neighbouring gentry in the gay doings that are to the fore, he has taken refuge in Boccaccio ; and, while he reads, his heart is set aflame by the old love-stories, and he curses his poverty, his ungainliness, his pride, and his loneliness. Suddenly a party of riders, on their way to the castle, are driven by a terrific thunderstorm to ask for shelter at his house. Elspeth ushers them in, two ladies dripping with rain—Lady Bell (Lord Lindsay's daughter) and her poor cousin Effie—and three men, of whom one is Arthur Lamont, the betrothed, or, in Scotch, "contracted," of Lady Bell— but the lover of Effie. Effie has already met Douglas, and made her mark for ever on his heart. She is hysterical with fear, and the attention of the whole party concentrates itself upon her to the annoyance of Lady Bell, who waits in proud and fretful impatience while the frightened girl allows her shoes and stockings to be drawn off and warms her bare feet at the fire, carrying on a double game of coquetry with her rival lovers through all her tears and fears. Finally, Effie refuses to mount again, and the rest of the party ride on to the castle without her, and Douglas has to drive her across country in a ramshackle gig drawn by an unkempt mare. She resents the indignity of the turn-out, and having got her own way, is immediately cross and stand-offish to Douglas. We will not follow the story further, except to say that, though it ends tragically for Effie and Lamont, the book is not pessimistic. Douglas's passion burns itself into a per- fectly pure and unselfish affection, and we leave him seven- teen years later standing by Effie's grave—a suicide's grave in Paris—with a younger Effie by his side, by whom, though she is no child of his, he has faithfully done a father's part.
In Sir Walter Besant's pleasant romance of Wapping-on- the-Wall, the hundred-year-old mystery of the bag of jewels snakes a delightful background of fairy-tale to a plot and motive thoroughly modern and realistic. And the advantage of having this sort of background, is that when the realism of the tale seems to us to be getting a little unreal (as repeatedly happens in the political and social progress of Robert Burnikel), we can say to ourselves that Sir Walter is, after all, only writing the allegory of the ways of social ascent and descent, and that therefore he does not mean every detail to be accurately true to life. In this allegory Robert Burnikel, the boat-builder born and bred, typifies the go-a-head principle tbat sticks at nothing and makes a brilliant career ; and his cousin, Sir George Burnikel, repre- sents what we may call the limiting factor in the principle of noblesse oblige which engenders a distaste for many con- ventionally respected ways of repairing fallen fortunes, and keeping in the swim in spite of fate. Something of the same idea that ran through the Children of Gibeon —where the girl who was born of gentle parents chose the poverty which the other girl who belonged to it by birth could not endure—we End again in this story. Sir George, being left with a pittance when he had reason to expect a large fortune, declines to make capital out of a political career or a good marriage ; but when the opportunity offers of exchanging lots with his ambitions cousin, the Wapping boat-builder, he falls in with the idea, and—being the most amiable of men—finds pleasure in coaching Robert for the part he refuses for himself. Sir George is charming, and much the most natural character of the two. But Robert is a good study, and his career is full of quiet and not unpleasant satirical suggestion. The cousins even exchange their matrimonial prospects. Lady Frances, the great lady, who has begun by loving Sir George, but has much regretted his want of ambition, finds her ideal realised in Robert ; while Robert's gentle fiancée falls very prettily in love with Sir George, whose kindness and chivalry are a wonderful revelation to her ; and as the men's affections
make the corresponding cross-moves, all ends as happily as a story with a bag of jewels at the bottom of it, should do.
The good tradition of a happy ending and a wholesome motive is followed again in Mrs. Walford's really delight.. ful story, Successors to the Title. Dolly and May are the simplest and most unaffected young couple imaginable; they are also the moat unimportant people in the world till, by the operation of three unlooked-for deaths, they suddenly find themselves Earl and Countess of St. Bees. They are as innocent of the ways of smart and fashionable society, as they are ignorant of the duties of great personages and rich land- owners. They have no circle of friends; and Dolly (or Adolphus), though of course related by blood to the St.. Bees family, has been neglected and looked askance at by his kindred as the son of a not very creditable member of the connection. Their gradual initiation in the duties and privileges of their position is admirably described by Mrs. Walford, who touches with her light and kindly humour the shortcomings and blunders of the hero and heroine, and the many prejudices of the variously important personages whose critical regard meets them on the threshold of the new life. Mrs. Walford's talent for rendering the finest shades of good-breeding, under-breeding, and ill-breeding is well known. So is her delicate perception of the cross- currents of good and bad feeling that modify the influences of breeding. The ideal nice woman in this story is Henrietta Milner, the thoroughly well-born, well-bred girl, whose heart goes out in sympathy to the young Countess, and is very near to breaking, when things begin to look as if poor May was going to turn out fast and even improper. Henrietta's mother is the great lady, with a little unnecessary starch about her ; her aunt, Mrs. Courtenay, as great a lady with no starch, who makes everything go well. Sir Thomas Milner is delightful in the little scene when he lectures the good but prejudiced vicar, and astonishes him by suggesting that he is in danger of playing the part of the Levite who passed by, when he refuses to give a helping hand to this helpless Earl and Countess. But most delightful of all is Dolly—that is to say, Lord St. Bees himself—when he at last solves the problem and announces with much modesty that he thinks the best thing he and May can do is to hunt up all the outlying branches of the family—especially the old maids and the schoolboys—and make the family house the sort of place where they may all stay on and on, without feeling that they are wished away. It gives a pleasant point to this happy thought that it is the outcome of Dolly's recollection of how much he wished, when he was a boy, that he might be some- times given an opportunity of shooting and fishing at the big place.
In The Biddle Bing Mr. Justin MacCarthy gives us a good story with a well-managed mystery at the centre of it. And by a well-managed mystery we mean one that is mysterious enough to be exciting without becoming a tormenting nuisance. Sir Francis Rose, the villain of the book, is the wholesome conventional type of villain. Brilliant, unscrupu- lous, and charming, he imposes for a time on the simpler natures of the other people of the story ; but the author is always quite clear about him, and the reader is never in danger of being duped. The three women are all nice. Rose's accomplice Waley is quite a good fellow, and his friendship with the hero makes a very nice little bit of cross-purpose. It seems to us that the story would have been a better one if Gertrude Morefield, the second heroine, could have been either left out altogether, or married to the hero. In a plot of this sort no marriageable person should be left unmated at the end ; and after the death-bed scene between Rose and Clelia, it would have been only in keeping with Clelia's romantio character if she had declared her intention of remaining a perpetual widow.
Bediviva is rather a poor book, with a plot out of which better things might have been made. The character-drawing is conventional, and the conversations are cast in a tiresome style of elaborate and pbrasy emptiness, which gives the im- pression that the author has formed her manner by reading too many second-rate novels, instead of by observation of life, and reflection upon it. And yet there are in the book indica- tions of a capacity for better things. The character of Sir Denis Conyers, the odious baronet, is altogether theatrical and exaggerated. And his disaffected wife, Rediviva, who has married to escape the drudgery of life in a needy vicarage, is
not much better. Valentine Conyers and Philip Borlase are both rather impossible. But there are touches of reality about the homely Pamela. And Mildred, the happy nice girl for whom everything turns out well in the end, is not at all badly done. Again, there is a good idea in Oliver Lawson, the schoolmaster, though it is rather clumsily carried out. We should like to know what precise meaning the author attaches to the name " Laocoon " when she describes a man as "wrestling with a very laocoon of conflicting feelings," and how she means us to understand the unusual adverb " sequently " when she tells us that Pamela opened conversa- tion by "asking sequently" whether her sister expected visitors that afternoon.
Lindsay's Girl, by Mrs. Herbert Martin, is the story of the development of a high-spirited, affectionate, but spoilt and selfish girl's character under the influence of a good man, who is her guardian, and finally becomes her husband. Valentine Lindsay is the illegitimate daughter of a notoriously dissipated man, who has the happiness to possess the friendship of a man who is a model of all the virtues, including the virtue of not being a prig. To this admirable person, who is called Lord St. George—except in the East of London where he drops his title and does a world of good as plain Mr. George—Mr. Lindsay bequeaths the care of his daughter and the painful duty of telling her the story of her birth. St. George is passionately in love with Valentine, but being much older than she is, and a plain and serious man, he does not come forward as her lover until the difficulties of her circumstances and character make it impossible for him to protect her in any other way. Then he marries her, and in time, after she has burnt her wings in a flirtation with a man she was in love with before her marriage, she learns to love her good husband as thoroughly as he deserves. The book is sensible and in- teresting throughout ; but by far the most vital part of it is the beginning, when Mr. Lindsay is still alive. One has a little feeling that the author has not dealt quite fairly by Lindsay's legitimate son, Marmaduke, in making him such an unbearable prig.
In Our Widow we have an exceedingly lively picture of a household of fast girls who sow their wild oats with a great deal of "spunk" and dash, but on the whole innocently. They all have good hearts and pure minds, and though in seeking to extract the utmost possible amount of fun out of life, they overleap all conventional restraints and get themselves into very awkward situations, yet their own innocence and the good feeling of most of the men they have to do with, preserve them from real evil. Sam is a charming character, and the part of the widow who is engaged to chaperone the girls is very cleverly contrived. There is a wonderful mystery in the book which no reader, who is not unprincipled enough to peep forward, can possibly guess until the author reveals it. Altogether the book is a good specimen of the comedy novel, a variety of fiction we should like to see more of. It is so much better for one's temper than the satirical novel, quite as likely to reform the world, and infinitely more amusing.
In Mr. Guy Boothby's Beautiful TVhite Devil there is none of the sinister element suggested by the title. The lady who bears that terrible designation is a delightful and romantic heroine, who is Queen of a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean where her subjects worship her. Circumstances have made her an outlaw, and nature has made her a genius and a beauty. She is a sort of female Robin Hood, ranging the seas in a yacht (which is almost as miraculously endowed as herself), and doing Lynch-law justice on her own enemies and the oppressors of the poor. The history of the battle with the small-pox epidemic on Alie's island is a delightful episode, in which we do not know which to admire most, the adventurous physician or the heroic lady.