A NEW work by the author of Mademoiselle de Mersac is always looked forward to with hope ; and that hope is less
likely to be disappointed in his case than in that of most of his contemporaries. Mr. Norris has—at all events he has shown up to the present time—too much respect for his art and for himself, to write under the guidance of any of the more sordid impulses which, it is to be feared, are responsible for much of the present over-production in fiction. His English is almost invariably clear, cultured, and undisfigured by anything savouring of trickiness. Above all things, be per- petuates the Thackerayan tradition, although his style resembles Trollope's much more than it does Thackeray's. We should say, in fact, that Adrian Vidal is more Thackerayan than any of its predecessors. It is not that the hero recalls both Arthur Pen- dennis and Clive Newcome. It is not even that Heriot, Vidars friend, counsellor, and benefactor, is, in his generosity of disposi- tion, his kindly stoicism, and his hopeless love, another George Warrington, suffering from angina pectoris. It is rather that Mr. Norris claims for himself the right exercised by Thackeray of retiring into a quiet corner of Vanity Fair, and criticising the cheap-Jacks and their dupes, or even of preaching a little over the walnuts and the claret.
It is the serious or didactic side of Adrian Vidal, and not its plot, which is, indeed, of the slightest, that is especially attractive.
Because of this, and because Mr. Norris writes best when he is most serious, we shall illustrate his Thackerayanism before dealing with the story to which it is the sauce. Adrian Vidal has left Heriot in a dying condition, conscious that he is dying, and resigned to his fate :—
" He could not conceive of a state of mind in which perfect rest should seem to be the chief good. He endeavoured to imagine what the probable awakening of the spirit, set free from the body, would be, and found, of course, that there is nothing upon which to base even the shade of probability. Who has not, at one time or another, striven with aching eyes to see through the impenetrable darkness which hangs over the grave ? Who has not learned that such strivings are vain ? 'They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire,' say the orthodox, and are content with that ; death is at least the end of pain,' say the heterodox, and seek to know no more ; while those who halt between two opinions—are they not the majority ?—can only turn away with a sigh, and try to think of something else."
Here we notice the echo, or perhaps we should say the dilution, of' the Thackerayan gospel. Is it not the old—and inaccurate
—story that because all flesh is grass, therefore all the higher speculation must end in a cal de sac ? As for us "men of the world," let us try to be as busy as we can in the realisation of mundane ideals, winking at the fact "that somewhere in the waste the Shadow sits and waits for us," yet in our inmost hearts knowing it all the time. But, whatever we do, let us not, with our melancholy, spoil the play of the children, poor things; let us not, with sceptical questionings, much less with the harsh, Swiftian cry that "churches are the dormitories of the living as well as of the dead," disturb the women, dear good souls, at their devotions. Yet Mr. Norris is capable, we think, of a higher than such a Thackerayan strain as this. Adrian is moved by his feelings to go into Westminster Abbey and seek consolation there :—
"His senses were soothed and his nerves quieted by the gloom and Adrian Vidal. By W. E. Norris. 3 vols. London : Smith, Elder, and Co. coolness, by the shafts of coloured light that streamed through the stained windows, by the thick London atmosphere which penetrated into the building and lent additional height and space to the pillars and arches and the vaulted roof. He felt the charm of the clear, sweet singing, and of the dignity and refinement which seem to raise the Anglican cathedral service to a somewhat higher religious plane than can be reached by the ceremooies of the older Catholio communion, with its strange mixture of grandeur and tawdriness, and its still stranger insensibility to bathos. His wandering thoughts,—led thither, perhaps, by the familiar channts and cadences,—had drifted away to his schooldays ; to those old days when everything had been so plain and simple, and when the broad black and white distinguished right from wrong, and truth from falsehood, had been obscured by no perplexing inter- mediate tints. 'After all,' he reflected, 'we must go back to that blind faith or no faith at all.' In that solemn ancient cathedral, the faith to which it owed its existence, the faith of childhood, the faith of the saints and martyrs, was less difficult to lay hold of, and the heaven of the Revelation, which Heriot had said that no man could desire to accept literally, did not seem a mere allegorical vision. And when Adrian had mechanically risen to his feet, and had looked up the anthem, what was it they began to sing ? Behold, I show you a mystery. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.' Great is the power of words ; upon Adrian it was some- thing greater than upon the ordinary run of mortals. Those magnificent rolling sentences, wedded to music not less magnificent, lifted him out of himself ; he seemed to see the gates of heaven open and time lost in eternity, and could understand that of such a man as Heriot it might well be said, more janua
Such writing as this, heartily to be welcomed in any case, may be taken as a hopeful symptom of Mr. Norris's doing justice to the too little regarded element of "high seriousness" in fiction, rather than as finally conclusive on the subject. We may be quite sure that, if he has the courage of this capacity, his other and equally noticeable faculty, of appreciating the ridiculous, would prevent it from becoming, or even appearing, maudlin.
Adrian Vidal is a novel which one ought to be grateful for, if only because its plot is so delightfully slight, and.
because the characters that figure in it are delightfully few. The story is concerned entirely with the essen- tially trifling misunderstandings that for a time cloud the married life of Adrian Vidal, a smart, though essentially second-rate, novelist, who, at a Lucerne Hotel, falls in, and falls in love with, Clare Irvine, a charming Cornish girl. She is ignorant of the moral fashions of the frivolous portion of London Society, which second-rate novelists like Vidal persist in styling "the world," and is, therefore, quite as capable of mis- trust and jealousy as she is of love. He marries her in spite of the warnings of Heriot, a well-to-do invalid, and the good angel of both ; but before doing so, he omits to tell her— partly because he does not think it worth his while—of a
difficulty he had got into, when a boy, with Susan Bowman, an ambitious lady's-maid, some years older than himself, and from which he had been extricated with the help of Heriot,. It was no vulgar liaison; and as Vidal was never really in love with
Susan, and from the beginning of this story to the end, is thoroughly in love with Clare, he had no reason to be reticent.
Susan, of course, reappears on the scene, intent on blackmail and vengeance. A greater source of trouble, however, to Clare's peace of mind than Susan Bowman is Lady St. Austell, a married. syren, more notable for affectation than beauty, with whom
Adrian's superabundant good humour permits him to get up what appears, to spectators, to be a flirtation. The misunderstanding between husband and wife reaches a climax when Clare sees, as she fancies, Adrian kissing Lady St.
Anstell. It is Susan she sees, who is now the attendant of Lady St. Austell, and who, having personated her mistress. implores Adrian to give her a final embrace at an interview she has implored him to make,—an opportunity which he is exceedingly loath to take advantage of. Meanwhile, she has, by means of an anonymous letter, secured Clare as a spectator of this scene. Mr. Norris is but little of a playwright, and this scene is stagey and farcical. There is a forced look, too, about the incident—Susan's being run over by a cab, and sending from the hospital to which she has been taken to Mrs. Vidal to
make confession—which brings about a happy ending. Some- what better managed is an imitation of the screen-scene in The School for Scandal, in which Clare and Lord St. Austell, an old. brute and libertine who brings the Marquis of Steyne rather
too readily to remembrance, surprise, or rather seem to surprise, their respective spouses together. But Mr. Norris might have spared us this episode, even although it leads to the richly deserved punishment of Lord St. Austell, whc, attempting to make love to Clare, is thus dismissed
"Lord St. Austell, if you were not snob an old man,--.-such a very Old man,—I would ring the bell, and have you turned out of the house. As it is, I can only suppose that you have become imbecile. Is it possible that you can imagine that any woman, whether married Or single, could be in love with you—pout I dare say many people would not be able to help laughing at you ; but to me you are too horribly repulsive to be ludicrous. Of course, you will understand that I cannot receive you again after this."
There is a good deal of humour in Mr. Norris's account of Vidal's journalistic experiences, as critic to, and part-proprietor of, the Anglo-Saxon; but what we like best in Adrian Vidal are the small and carefully reproduced details of the life of Adrian and
Clare. It is amusing to watch them fall out of sympathy ; it is pleasant to see them fall into love with each other again. Some of the subordinate characters are, as is, indeed, the rule with Mr. Norris, admirable portraits. On the side of Clare there are her father, Mr. Irvine, an absent-minded numismatist, and her mother, an active, good-hearted woman, who is, however, always being taken in by people she takes up, and who, because she has heard of a novel bringing in 25,000 to the writer, fancies that this will be her son-in-law's regular income, and that he will turn out a second Thackeray or George Eliot. On the side of Adrian there are his mother, who lives at Brighton, and airs a cynical disbelief in humanity which, perhaps, she does not feel, and his sister Georgina, who is nearly as great a traveller as Lady Brassey, and of whom her own mother says :—
"I believe she means to write a book on her return, if she ever returns; but it would not surprise me in the least to hear that she had married a native chief. She has had several chances, which she has thought proper to despise, of marrying well in this country ; but, judging by her appearance, when she came back from her last journey into the interior of Zanzibar, nobody is likely to ask her again. A more deplorable object I never beheld, mere skin and bone; and such a complexion that I really thought at first she might have been staining her face with walnut-juice in order to pass herself off as a Rottentot."
Some very sprightly comedy is given in the passages between Georgina and her good-natured little Government-office admirer, De Wynt. Heriot, who would have loved Clare Irvine himself if he durst, and who leaves her and her husband an independence, supplies to the story an element of pathos in which, however, there is nothing of unmanliness. Heriot might be described as a Christian who believes himself to be only a Stoic. Heriot's leave-taking of Vidal—which, as we have seen, sends that not 'Very romantic hero into Westminster Abbey, and still more of Graves, his half-friend, half-attendant—as told by Mr. Norris, shows him at his best. Speaking generally, we may say that
Adrian Vidal will add considerably to its author's reputation, and will encourage his readers to hope for even better things from him.