16 AUGUST 1930, Page 26


Man and Nature

7s. Bd.)

Mario and the Magician. By Thomas Mann. (Seeker. Is.) THOUGH none of them is a deliberately " regional " study, these five novels, each with a different country for its setting, display the passions of men against a large natural background. Nature is variously represented as the beauty and wisdom which man defiles, as the sublimely detached and indifferent observer of his follies, or as his sympathizing companion. But in each story Nature is there—the presiding and domi- nating goddess.

Ivan Alexandroviteh, in A Quiet Street, which is translated from the Russian, is an aged ornithologist who, having

spent a life of study in his secluded house in Moscow, allows his interest in birds to keep his temper sane and sweet through all the tribulations of his declining years. There is a touch —hardly more than a touch—of the idyllic in the portraits of this charming old scientist and the devoted granddaughter who lives with him. Only the cynic will say that Ivan is altogether too good to be true. For the rest, there is plenty of stark realism in this amazingly full and varied work by a writer who, of noble birth, was banished by the Bolsheviks. The book is at once a consecutive story and a kaleidoscope. Scene rapidly follows contrasting scene, and there is hardly any aspect of the War and Revolutionary years in Russia of which, through a host of minor characters, we are not given graphic and convincing glimpses. And at frequent intervals, as a foil to the senseless and ugly passions of the world at large, we are shown the old Professor in his quiet street— robbed of his comforts, bereaved of his friends, and compelled to sell his books, but maintaining cheerfulness and patience to the end, secure in the faith that the laws of Nature which he studies are for eternity, while the madness of men is but transitory.

The author, while no lover of the new Russian regime, is no apologist for the old. He credits both sides with redeeming human traits, but exposes the sordidness of the lust for power whenever it manifests itself. His little interpolated ,studies of birds and animals—carrying on their normal lives while men are frenzied with hate and stupidity—are a whimsical and attractive feature of a story which is ruthlessly, though never crudely, grim in places, and which elsewhere plumbs depths of exquisite tenderness. " Great " novels are too glibly proclaimed in these days ; but there is certainly an element of genius here.

Mr. Ellis has written a drama of the English countryside, centring around the fight between the would-be preservers and the developers " of an ancient village in Southshire. Here, again, there are many minor figures, and the writer, while not hiding his own distaste for mechanical civilization and for democracy in its present blatant form, endeavours with reasonable success to state both sides of the question. There is a touch of caricature in some of the characters and scenes ; but their liveliness and essential truth are beyond dispute. The main protagonists are Martin Furnivell, a middle-aged but old-fashioned squire, and Ray Bersted, the self-made and ambitious young manager of the road- engineering company. Though the passionate scenes are good of their kind, the story is needlessly complicated by Martin's seduction of Ray's beautiful wife. Perhaps Mr. Ellis intends to imply that, whether traditionalists or modernists, whether aristocrats or plebeians, we are all one in the primal bonds of sex. However that may be, it is for his vital handling of an urgent problem of our day, for his vivid portrayal of the opposing forces, and for his well expressed love of rural beauty and peace that his book is notable.

The scene of Keith of Kinnellan is the wild Aberdeenshire coast. Gilbert Keith lives on his ancestral farm with his good- natured but mediocre wife, Bertha. When his sensitive and piquant Franco-Scottish cousin, Anne Ogilvie, orphaned and trained in a French convent, comes to live at Kinnellan, it is obvious that Bertha has a rival. There follows, from the mere point of view of " plot," an ordinary enough tale of passion, jealousy, and disaster, softened at last by time,

the falling wind." The style is uneven and the tempo some- times too deliberate. But, at her best, Miss Mackenzie is an artist of distinction, with a grave dignity and beauty and an almost classical sense of tragedy, heightened by a feeling for Nature that makes her admirable pictures of land and sea an integral part of the story itself.

Nature in Mr. Towar's pages both reflects and reacts upon the moods of two clandestine lovers, an American business man and a French girl, who, meeting in Paris, agree to spend a month together at a coastal village near Nice. There are few passionate interludes, and the psychological analysis, with its too explicit moralizing upon the difference between American and French women, is over-elaborated rather than subtle. The incidental descriptions of landscape and the underlying human sympathy are the best qualities of a novel that promises more than it fulfils.

In Thomas Mann's brief tale—it is hardly more than a short story—Nature is felt, as it were, by her absence. It is as if

the writer says : " See what happens when Nature is shut out." The story is a delicate, yet powerful, satire upon the types of people who frequent one of those bungaloid resorts which, upon the Italian coast as elsewhere, have grown up around the quiet fishing villages of yesterday. It culminates in the exciting account of an evening's entertainment in the beach pavilion, in which a conjuror, starting upon bad terms with his patrons, gradually insinuates himself with them, until at last he can hypnotize them at will. The climax, being too melodramatic, is the only flaw in a little sketch that is

otherwise artistically perfect. GILBERT THOMAS.