mardi 11 octobre 2011

William Dean Howells, THE WORLD OF CHANCE, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1893, 375 pages.

Ray glanced at the space defined, and saw that it was occupied by a review of A Modern Romeo. There were lengths of large open type for the reviewer's introduction and comments and conclusion, and embedded among these, in closer and finer print, extracts from the novel, where Ray saw his own language transfigured and glorified.
The critic struck in the beginning a note which he sounded throughout; a cry of relief, of exultation, at what was apparently the beginning of a new order of things in fiction. He hailed the unknown writer of A Modern Romeo as the champion of the imaginative and the ideal against the photographic and the commonplace, and he expressed a pious joy in the novel as a bold advance in the path that was to lead forever away from the slough of realism. But he put on a philosophic air in making the reader observe that it was not absolutely a new departure, a break, a schism; it was a natural and scientific evolution, it was a development of the spiritual from the material; the essential part of realism was there, but freed from the grossness, the dulness of realism as Ave had hitherto known it, and imbued with a fresh life. He called attention to the firmness and fineness with which the situation was portrayed and the characters studied before the imagination began to deal with them; and then he asked the reader to notice how, when this foundation had once been laid, it was made to serve as a "star-ypointing pyramid" from which the author's fancy took its bold flight through realms untravelled by the photographic and the commonplace. lie praised the style of the book, which he said corresponded to the dual nature of the conception, and recalled Thackeray in the treatment of persons and things, and Hawthorne in the handling of motives and ideas. There was, in fact, so much subtlety in the author's dealing with these, that one might almost suspect a feminine touch, but for the free and virile strength shown in the passages of passion and action.
The reviewer quoted several of such passages, and Ray followed with a novel intensity of interest the words he already knew by heart. The whole episode of throwing the cousin over the cliff was reprinted; but the parts which the reviewer gave the largest room and the loudest praise were those embodying the incidents of the hypnotic trance and the tragical close of the story. Here, he said, was a piece of the most palpitant actuality, and he applauded it as an instance of how the imagination might deal with actuality. Nothing in the whole range of commonplace, photographic, realistic fiction was of such striking effect as this employment of a scientific discovery in the region of the ideal. He contended that whatever lingering doubt people might have of the usefulness of hypnotism as a remedial agent, there could be no question of the splendid success with which the writer of this remarkable novel had turned it to account in poetic fiction of a very high grade. He did not say the highest grade; the book had many obvious faults. It was evidently the first book of a young writer, whose experience of life had apparently been limited to a narrow and comparatively obscure field. It was in a certain sense provincial, even parochial; but perhaps the very want of an extended horizon had concentrated the author's thoughts the more penetratingly on the life immediately at hand. What was important was that he had seen this life with the vision of an idealist, and had discerned its poetic uses with the sense of the born artist, and had set it in

"The light that never was on sea or land." 

Much more followed to like effect, and the reviewer closed with a promise to look with interest for the future performance of a writer who had already given much more than the promise of mastery; who had given proofs of it. His novel might not be the great American novel which we had so long been expecting, but it was a most notable achievement in the right direction. The author was the prophet of better things; he was a Moses, who, if we followed him, would lead us up from the flesh-pots of Realism toward the promised land of the Ideal.
(p. 347-349)

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