16 NOVEMBER 1907, Page 40


VALERIE UPTON.t Miss SEDGWICK is a writer of such undeniable charm that we welcome her return in her new novel to paths in which she is able to give full play to her most engaging qualities. So gracious a talent as hers consorts ill with the handling of ugly and distressful problems ; but her delicate touch is * The Science of Dry Fly Fishing and Salmon Fly Fishing. By Fred. G. Shaw, F.G.S. With Illustrations. London : John Murray. [10s. ed.] Co..1' Valerie Upton. By Anne Douglas Sedgwic.k. London : A. Constable and Lead

admirably adapted to the sympathetic presentation of the minor tragedies or tragi-comedies of a somewhat artificial society. Thus it is noteworthy that in the book before us none of the dramatis personae belong to the strenuous or adventurous type. They are all either rich or well-to-do, enjoying unearned incomes, freed from the necessity of labouring for a liveli- hood, and devoting their leisure to art, travel, mild philan- thropy, and, above all, conversation and the study of each other. In a word, they belong in the main to that curious category of social products to the dissection of which Mr.

Henry James has devoted his talent in his later novels, and the influence of his example has not been without its effect on

Miss Sedgwick's style,—witness the following fragment of conversation :- "Mrs. Pakenham smiled over her friend's self-exposure, and helped her to greater comfort with a still more crude : It will be perfect, you know, if he does succeed. I suppose there's no doubt that he will.'—` I don't know; I really don't know,' Mrs. Wake mused. 'One knows well enough that she's tremendously fond of him. It's just that she has taken her stand on, so beautifully, se gracefully.'—' Yes, so beautifully and so gracefully, that while one does know that, one can't know more ; he least of all. He, I'm pretty sure, knows not a scrap more.'—' But, after all, now that she's free, that is enough.'—' Yes, except—'—' Really, my dear, I see no exception. He is a delightful creature, as sound, as strong, as true—; and if he isn't very clever, Valerie is far too clever herself to mind that, far too clever not to care for how much more than clever he is.'"

Let us hasten to add that these occasional exercises in con- versational evasion are clearly the result of unconscious discipleship, and do not affect the general tone and temper of the book. Things really do happen in Miss Sedgwick's book; and whenever plain and direct speaking is called for, the characters do not hesitate to speak with a quite refreshing frankness.

It would be an interesting subject for statisticians to note the steady advance in age of the heroines of fiction. In the days of Fielding they were commonly still in their teens. But the apotheosis of middle age is one of the striking features of our own times, and here we have a heroine—and a very charming heroine—of forty-six. Valerie Upton, like all the characters but one, is (nominally) an American, but only so by birth. She was educated in France, and after deciding to leave her husband's roof, made her home for the most part in Surrey, paying periodical visits to the States to see her son and daughter, both grown up at the beginning of the story.. No breath of scandal has touched her before or after this separation ; but until she appears herself on the scene we only hear the version of her husband's friends, and of his most ardent champion, her daughter Imogen. According to that version, Mr. Upton was a noble and high-minded philanthropist who wore himself out in the service of humanity, while Valerie was a soulless butterfly who only cared for the material side of life, dress and entertainment and so forth, and persistently ignored and depreciated his self-sacrificing exertions. The son, a hard young Philistine, shares his mother's views; but Imogen worships at her father's shrine, and has thoroughly inoculated Jack Pennington, a generous young artist, with her own hostility. More than that, the ingenuous reader is quite prepared to take Imogen and her father at her own valuation, for she is not only a very beautiful young person, but she cherishes the most exalted ideals, and discourses about them in the most eloquent language, interests herself in girls' clubs and higher thought, and is immensely admired not only by Jack, but by a number of high-minded and high-toned young women. Suddenly Mr. Upton dies, Valerie hastens across the Atlantic to join her children, and the enlightenment of the reader, and the consequent demolition of the Upton legend, is brought about by the gradual process of placing the dramatis personae in their true positions. Jack is the first to be awakened, being a chivalrous and humane young man, to the painful consciousness that Imogen is extremely unfair to her mother and tainted through and through with priggish egotism. Simultaneously he realises that Valerie is not only a very charming, but a generous and uncomplaining woman. The more he sees of her and the more he learns of her character, the further he drifts apart from Imogen. In spite of Valerie's consummate tact and unselfishness, the situa- tion grows thornier from day to day, for there is no getting over the fact that Valerie, though without any effort or deliberate intention, has estranged Jack from her daughter.

A crisis is reached when Valerie refuses to consent to the issue of a biography of her husband, who was in reality a tiresome, pretentious mediocrity; and finally Imogen, who by this time is revealed in her true colours, delivers her great counter-stroke by detaching and capturing Sir Basil Thremdon—a sort of modern Dobbin—her mother's elderly and highly eligible admirer. Such rivalry between mother and daughter—one of the inevitable consequences of the modern apotheosis of middle age already referred to— is an exceptionally delicate and painful subject ; but Miss Sedgwick handles it with conspicuous tact; and it is enough to say that Valerie emerges from the ordeal with her dignity unimpaired and her self-respect heightened by a double renunciation. The portrait of Imogen, in whom elemental instincts underlie an exterior of saintly self- complacency, is done with fine ironical humour throughout, but we cannot say that we have found anything distinctively American about the characterisation of any of the personages in the novel. They might every one—with perhaps the exception of the parasitic Mr. and Mrs. Potts—have been Londoners without in the least detracting from the verisimili- tude of a well-wrought and engrossing story.