3 SEPTEMBER 1898, Page 20


WE had long ago given up Mr. George Gissing as an in- corrigible pessimist, but the unexpected has happened, and in The Town Traveller he has not only given us a story with a happy ending, but one which is in the main suffused with cheerfulness and occasionally mounts to the plane of positive hilarity. Into the causes of this momentous deviation we do not propose to enter, beyond hazarding the surmise that Mr. Giseing's recent sympathetic study of Dickens may have con- • (1.) The Town Traveller. By George (Basing. London: Methuen and 0o. — (2.) In the Sargasso Sea. By Thomas A. Janvier. London : Harper and Brothers.—(3.) Wives in Exile. By William Sharp. Loadon : Grant Richards. — (4..) An Elusive Lover. By Virus Woods. London: Archibald Constable and 00.—(5.) The King's Jackal. By Richard /larding Davis. London: William Heinemann —(6.) The Thought-Eops. By Ohristabel Coleridge. London : Hurst and Blackett.--(7.) The Price of a Wife. By John Strange Winter. London : F. V. White and 0o.—(13.) lliaterfamilias. By Ada Cam- bridge. London: Ward, Lock, and Oa tributed to his conversion. There is, we should explain at once, nothing revolutionary about his method of procedure. Mr. Gissing remains in this, as in his previous novels, the interpreter of middle-class life. The protagonist of his comedy is a bagman, the scene is largely laid in the Ken- nington Road, and the dramatis persona include a theatre programme seller, a waiter, the keeper of a small glass and china shop, a lodging-house keeper, a general servant, and so on. The difference lies in this, that whereas hitherto Mr. Gissing has relentlessly insisted on the meannesses and misery of the middle - class world, he has here illustrated their -opportunities and capacity for enjoying themselves. Mr. Gammon, the hero of the tale, bears a certain family resemblance to the genial solicitor in Stevenson's Wrong Box. "It is the blessedness of a mind and temper such as his," writes Mr. Gissing, "that the things which charm at the beginning of life continue to give pleasure, scarce abated, as 'long as the natural force remains The knowledge he had gained, all practical, and, so to speak, for external application, could never become the burden of the philo- sopher; if he had any wisdom at all, it consisted in the lack of self-consciousness, the animal acceptance of whatever good the hour might bring." Gammon is excellent company ; so, too, is the fiery-tempered programme-seller, Polly Sparkes, of whom Mr. Gissing remarks that though she was neither beautiful nor stately, " her appearance had the sort of distinction which corresponds to those qualities in the society of Kennington Road." The plot of the story is concerned with the mysterious disappearance of the china- seller's husband, and the efforts of Mr. Gammon, at first hampered, and finally assisted, by Polly, to discover his whereabouts. As the plot thickens, and Mr. Clover's identity is established with Lord Polperro, we are for a time reminded of Stevenson's New Arabian Nights. But the element of romance and mystery is eliminated by the sordid exit of the disreputable Peer, and the story ends on a note of almost farcical comedy. On the whole, the book is so successful an experiment that we hope Mr. Gissing may be encouraged to persevere. It now remains for him to adopt the more im- pressive, as well as more artistic, coarse of giving us both sides of the medal in the same work.

Ever since the days of Columbus the Sargasso Sea, that strange floating jungle of sea-waifs and seaweed lying to the east of the main Gull Stream, has been more or less of a mystery to mariners, ancient and modern. It has been reserved for Mr. danvier, however, in In the Sargasso Sea, to tarn it to imagina- tive account in a work of fiction, and in a manner in the main worthy of such an opportunity. The narrator is a young American, who, having obtained an appointment with a palm. oil company in Africa, ships for Loango on a West Coast trader. Refusing to take service under the captain when the latter avows his connection with the slave trade, he is thrown overboard on the edge of the Sargasso Sea, and after support- ing himself on some wreckage, is picked up by a liner. But his chapter of accidents is only beginning, for the liner is shortly afterwards abandoned in a storm, and Stetworth, the narrator, is the only man left on board. The wreck is sucked into the Sargasso Sea, and the greater part of the narrative treats of the deserted mariner's weird experiences amid the host of wrecked ships, "the dross of wave and tempest, which through four centuries—from the time when sailors .first pushed out upon the great western ocean—has been gathering slowly, and still more slowly wasting, in the central fastnesses of the Sargasso Sea." It is impossible to give a better idea of the sinister gloom of the strange narra- tive than by quoting the sentence where the hero says : " I must have walked for a good mile, I suppose, over the dead bodies of these sea-killed ships,—and it was the most dismal walk that ever I had taken." How Stetworth heard a cry in the night, how he met with a murdered man, solved a sea_ .mystery, and finally found a mass of ingots on board a Spanish galleon, — all these and other equally thrilling incidents are set down with a wealth of circumstantial detail snd a most engaging simplicity of style in this curious and enthralling recital. The discovery of the cat, and the mutual delight of the two fellow-prisoners, is quite irresistible. Readers in search of a new sensation may be confidently recommended to make trial of this highly original romance of the sea.

It may be very wrong, but we confess that books dedicated to George Meredith, and with mottoes from his works, inspire

us with grave misgivings. These misgivings have not been alto- gether allayed by a perusal of Mr. Sharp's Wives in Exile, which belongs to that class of novel recently described by the author of a notorious example as an "absurdity." Two beautiful young married ladies, resenting the inattention of their husbands, charter a yacht on their own account and put to sea without leaving any word as to their destination. But the clou of the situation, as dramatic critics would put it, is that the crew are entirely composed of women. Now this sort of thing lends itself admirably to the topsy-turvy methods of Mr. W. S. Gilbert. Many of our readers, we hope, are acquainted with the delightful ballad of "good Lieutenant Belaye." who commanded the ' Hot Cross Ban,' the crew of which war-vessel all turned out to be fair maidens, all enamoured of the Commander. But to write a whole book round such an extravagant theme is a dangerous task. Perhaps Mr. W. W. Jacobs, the author of The Skipper's Wooing and Many Cargoes, might have succeeded, but Mr. Sharp has only contrived to be tediously facetious. He is evidently a person of much culture, but his efforts to repre- sent the Irish brogue are quite deplorable. His comic Irish- woman not only drops her " h's," but uses such Cockneyisms as " widder " and " capting." Forced fun, such as this volume abounds in, is really more depressing than the deliberate dreariness of the slam realists.

The notion of a dual existence has always exerted a peculiar fascination on cultivators of the field of fantastic romance, and Miss Woods, the latest writer to exploit this well-worn theme, has contrived in An Elusive Lover to invest it with a certain amount of freshness. Her hero, who, in his normal condition, is a rich young Californian of fashion, enters from time to time on an alternate existence as a German painter who wins the heart of the heroine. The result of this life in water-tight compartments, so to speak, is decidedly embarrassing for the heroine, since Gottfried Yager is constantly disappearing, and unable, on his return to his studio, to give any explana- tion for his conduct. Finally, a crisis is precipitated by the disappearance of the Californian under suspicious circum- stances, and the arrest of the German artist on the charge of having made away with him. Matters are likely to go hard with him when he " comes to," as it were, in the dock, where his resemblance to his supposed victim has already caused considerable sensation, and is promptly released. We are given to understand that his German personality is the artificial result of his literary enthusiasm for Heine, but it rather impairs the romance of the story to learn that the transference invariably takes place after intoxication. Eventually the Californian is wholly merged in the German, and in this way a reunion with the heroine is effected. The story is prettily told, but the mechanism is rather clumsy.

King Louis of Messina, whose bogus expedition to recover his throne forms the mainspring of Mr. Davis's spirited romance, The King's Jackal, belongs to the ignoble type of Bois en exit depicted inDaudet's famous novel. Having run somewhat short of supplies, the King conceives the plan, worthy of the modern company promoter, of simultaneously extracting subsidies from his loyal supporters and allowing himself to be bought off by the President of the Republic of Messina. Amongst his dupes are the brilliant but unstable Prince Kalonay and a charming American heiress, while the role of good genius is reserved for a preternaturally astute American journalist, who ultimately unmasks the King and his traitorous advisers, but lends his support to the bond-fide expedition to restore King Louis's four-year-old son. The picture of the child- Prince and of Kalonay's devotion is drawn with charm and tenderness, and the story need not fear the ordeal of comparison with Mr. Anthony Hope's efforts on somewhat similar lines. It is rather hard, however, on his British admirers that the only English character among Mr. Davis's dramatis persona should be an adventuress and the tool of the disreputable King.

In The Thought-Rope Miss Christabel Coleridge gives us the love story of a hereditary clairvoyante. The homely style of the narrative is hardly in keeping with its subject ; otherwise, the story is told with Miss Christabel Coleridge's usual placid charm. "John Strange Winter's " new book, The Price of a Wife, deals with a secret marriage and a missing will, and makes up, to a certain extent, in vivacity of treatment for the familiarity of its material and the lack of distinction in its portraiture. Miss Ada Cambridge's Materfamilias is the confidential autobiography of a middle-aged matron trots girlhood till she reaches the honourable estate of a grand- mother, and gives an excellent picture of an impressionable, indiscreet, jealous, but affectionate mother and wife.