Menu Close

From The National Observer: “The Yellow Book”

The Yellow Book. Vol XII. London : Lane.

The recent publication, in the Revue de Paris, of Madame
Dudevant’s letters to Alred de Musset has provoked Mr.
Henry James to revive the time-worn tale of the relations
that existed at Venice between these two, when ‘she was
a man and he was a woman int hat kingdom by the sea.’
His purpose is to consider how far the secrets of personal
experience may be triumphantly converted to the uses of art.
He arrives, through a maze of subtle reasoning, at no particular
conclusion, unless it is that only the art of a George Sand can
excuse the indecency of certain expositions. He foresees a time
when a reaction will take place, and the detective skill of the
investigator will be met by a prophylactic secretiveness on the
part of the hunted creature. The gratuitous self-revelations of
George Sand, and the public exposure of the inquest lately help
on M. Zola’s interior, help to hasten the desired end. Mean-
while, in our present state of unhealthy curiosity we can only be
obliged to Mr. Henry James for a titilating story which serves
to illustrate the rapid methods employed by George Sand
in her translation of experience into expression. During her
liaison with Prosper Mérimée she was observed by him, dimly
through the dark of an early dawn, on her knees, sketchily clad,
and making a fire to keep her warm while she conveyed her
impressions to writing before they cooled. ‘The spectacle
chilled his ardour and tried his taste’; it was, in fact, fatal to
their further intimacy.

The delicate subtlety of Mr. Henry James’s style demands,
at this time of day, no fresh eulogy. But his admirer’s may
well ask of him that he should guard more carefully his high
reputation. The present article is sprinkled with the strangest
blemishes. We are told of George Sand, likened for the
moment to a ship, that ‘she was never left awkwardly strad-
dling on the sandbank of fact
.’ Ships never precisely straddle
on sandbanks. Again, comparing Elle et Lui with her corres-
pondence, ‘the letters,’ he says, ‘show us the crude primary
stuff from which the moral detachment of the book was distilled.’
Has ‘detachment’ here the sense of abstraction, or concretely
hunter and hunted to which we alluded above, he tells us, ‘it
will be “pull devil, pull tailor,” and the hardest pull will doubt-
less consitute the happiest result.’ It would be an easy though
unpleasant task to instance other lapses in this article; for our
excuse in quoting thus far we must plead a jealous regard for
Mr. Henry James at his best.

If The Yellow Book is nto above its own high average
of at least the last few numbers there is little blame. Mr.
Henry Harland‘s ‘Flower o’ the Clove’ is in his brightest
and most captivating manner. perhaps, however, he a
little shirks his conclusion; but it is something in The
Yellow Book
to have a conclusion at all. Most of the con-
tributors avoid the perils of a ‘certain.’ The charm of the
attitude of Mr. Harland’s heroine towards her cousin, born
out of wedlock—she has come into the property which she
feels to be his by right, and she sets herself to make amends
by marrying hiim—is tempered by the subsequent revelation of
a slip, made half innocently, in her own past, which might
have made her distasteful to a less charitable lover. Out
admiration for the woman’s generosity—the characteristic by
which we learn to know her—must appreciably suffer byt his
revelation: but the charm of her personality remains. Miss
Lena Milman’s story of ‘Marcel: an Hotel child” strikes just
the right note of feeling. Its pathos does not advertise itself.
On the other hand the little sketch of Miss Renée de Coutans,
for all its delicacy, is less unconscious. Miss Ella d’Arcy,
who gives us another suburban interior, has taken to writing
in fortunate parallels like the Psalmist. What again are
these new words which she invents—the adjective ‘pre-
dominate,’ and the very to ‘justle’? Her women have an
air of reality, and, if taken from life, must have cost her some
sadly tedious investigation; but her men are only plausible,
Miss Netta Syrett, a writer not without talent, should also
learn more about men. We cannot quite accept her picture
of a ‘straightforward’ country gentleman, who punishes a local
doctor (wrongly supposed to have insulted his wife) by the rather
ignominious process of spoiling his practice for him. Miss
Ménie Muriel Dowie, who is better with her men, has a portrait
of a sporting waiter ‘in the Weald’ which reveals a conscien-
tious observation. Mr. Buchan in the acocunt of a Scotch
shepherd’s death is equally conscientious; but it is a very
palimpsest of impressions. For the rest, Mr. Richard Garnett
with his rat-catching Pope is heavily humourous; and Mr.
Richard le Gallienne in ‘Two Prose Fancies’ courageously bur-
lesques himself. The poetry (despite Mr. Kenneth Grahame‘s
pleasant threnody ‘To Rollo,’ puppy ‘ultimately taken’) is below
the level of the prose. Mr. Watson, who usually shows a certain
precision in the matter of form, has a rhymeless amorphous
poem called ‘The Lost Eden.” The story of Adam and Eve
is well known. It will suffice to remind the reader that Eve
gave Adam to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Mr. Watson
gives a revised version of the consequence:
        Straightway his Eden
Irked like a prison-house.
Vastness invited him,
‘Come,’ said the stars.
Thunderous behind him
Clang the gold Eden gates.

‘”Come,” said the stars.’ Are we then to understand that
the Garden of Eden was under cover?

In conclusion, The Yellow Book is to be counted happy in
the acquisition of a new artist, Miss Ethel Reed, whose drawings
are fresh and piquant. But perhaps the best piece of work is
from the pencil of Miss Alice Szold. Though only a slight
composition, the tender sentiment of her ‘Grief’ is very actual.

MLA citation:

“The Yellow Book.” Review of The Yellow Book, vol. 12, January 1897, National Observer 20 February 1897, pp. 398-9. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.