Novels and Novelists
The Stale and the Fresh
The Stale and the Fresh
‘All Roads Lead to Calvary’ is another novel. It is not more; it is one of that enormous pile of novels…. ‘Are they fresh?’ ‘Yes, baked to-day, Madame.’ But they are just the same as those that were baked yesterday and the day before—and the day before that. So much flour, a sprinkle of currants, a smear of sugar on the top. Melancholy, melancholy thought of all those people steadily munching, asking for another, and carrying perhaps a third one home with them in case they should wake up in the night and feel—not hungry, exactly—but ‘just a little empty.’
Joan Allway comes to London to be a journalist. She page 143 meets a great many people. She has an immediate success, first with a series of articles on Old London Churches and then with Sermons, which are published every Sunday in a famous paper, the editor making it a condition that her photograph appears at the head of each. For she is a great beauty. She falls in love with a married man who may well be Prime Minister one of these days, if the breath of scandal never blows him into the mire. He turns to her for help, for with all her beauty and womanliness she has a Man's Mind. And then, because his pitiful wife, who paints her face and wears a wig and tries to smoke cigarettes, attempts to poison herself, so that her husband and Joan may be happy, Joan makes the great sacrifice. Comes the war. Again she loves—this time the editor who found her ‘Old London Churches’ had the Stevensonian touch. She is a nurse. She goes to France. She cuts off her hair and puts on man's uniform and really sees what a front-line trench is like. And comes home, and is found by the editor turned airman, ‘beneath the withered trees beside the shattered fountain.’ Here is the last mouthful:
‘Perhaps you are right,’ she admitted. ‘Perhaps that is why He made us male and female: to teach us to love.’
A robin broke into a song of triumph. He had seen the sad-faced ghosts steal silently away.
Mrs. Seymour's first novel, ‘Invisible Tides,’ is of a very different quality. It has its weaknesses, but it is full of feeling. If the author were not so conscious that she is writing a novel, she would be a great deal more successful. She is over-anxious to fit all together, to explain, and to make us part of that little world which she has found so passionately interesting. The early part of the book, which describes the childhood of the hero, Hilary Sargent, and of the heroine, Helena, is, to our thinking, unimportant. Hilary is quite a nice little boy, and his mother, telling him about the man who wrote ‘Treasure page 144 Island,’ is an attractive mother, but even the tragedy when this same gay young mother drowns herself does not really affect the later life of Hilary. As to Helena's childhood, it is the familiar childhood of our young person who is shaping to be a heroine. She is ‘not understood’; she is ‘difficult’; her mother wishes she were more like other girls. But when these two meet, in spite of Mrs. Seymour's leaning towards sentimentality, they do become individual, and we are convinced that they love each other. The war enters into their lives, and from this moment there is a great quickening of the emotion, and the description of how these two lives are laid waste is very moving. With the war, all the pretty, delicate, ‘quaint,’ fanciful flowers that grow too thickly in Mrs. Seymour's garden and that she is far too ready to make into garlands wherewith to adorn her pages, are withered. We feel it is unbearable for her to see them gone, but we assure her that the hardy roots which remain are those she ought to cultivate.