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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsBooks And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - John Masefield
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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - John Masefield Post by :Iceman Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :469

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - John Masefield

(_20 April '11_)

I opened Mr. John Masefield's novel of modern London, "The Street of To-day" (Dent and Co.), with much interest. But I found it very difficult to read. This is a damning criticism; but what would you have? I found it very difficult to read. It is very earnest, very sincere, very carefully and generously done. But these qualities will not save it. Even its intelligence, and its alert critical attitude towards life, will not save it. I could say a great deal of good about it, and yet all that I could say in its favour would not avail. It would certainly be better if it were considerably shorter. I estimate that between fifty and a hundred pages of small talk and miscellaneous observation could be safely removed from it without impairing the coherence of the story. The amount of small talk recorded is simply terrific. Not bad small talk! Heard in real life, it would be reckoned rather good small talk! But artistically futile! Small talk, and cleverer small talk than this, smothered and ruined a novel more dramatic than this--I mean Mr. Zangwill's "The Master." I am convinced that a novel ought to be dramatic--intellectually, spiritually, or physically--and "The Street of To-day" is not dramatic. It is always about to be dramatic and it never is. Chapter III, for instance, contains very important material, essential to the tale, fundamental. But it is not presented dramatically. It is presented in the form of a psychological essay. Now Mr. Masefield's business as a novelist was to have invented happenings for the presentment of the information contained in this essay. He has saved himself a lot of trouble, but to my mind he has not yet come to understand what a novel is.

* * * * *

His creative power is not yet mature. That is to say, he does not convince the reader in the measure which one would expect from a writer of his undoubted emotional faculty. And yet he is often guilty of carelessness in corroborative detail--such carelessness as only a mighty tyrant over the reader could afford. The story deals largely with journalism. And one of the papers most frequently mentioned is "The Backwash." Now no paper could possibly be called "The Backwash." It is conceivable that a paper might be called "The Tip Top." It is just conceivable that a paper might be called "Snip Snap." But "The Backwash," never! Mr. Masefield knows this as well as anybody. The aim of his nomenclature was obviously satiric--an old dodge which did very well in the loose Victorian days, but which is excruciatingly out of place in a modern strictly realistic novel. A trifle, you say! Not at all! Every time "The Backwash" is mentioned, the reader thinks: "No paper called 'The Backwash' ever existed." And a fresh break is made in Mr. Masefield's convincingness. A modern novelist may not permit himself these freakish negligences. Another instance of the same fault is the Christian name of Mrs. Bailey in "The New Machiavelli." It was immensely clever of Mr. Wells to christen her "Altiora." But in so doing he marred the extraordinary brilliance of his picture of her. If you insist that I am talking about trifles, I can only insist that a work of art is a series of trifles.

* * * * *

Mr. Masefield's style suffers in a singular manner. It is elaborate in workmanship--perhaps to the point of an excessive self-consciousness. But its virtue is constantly being undermined by inexactitudes which irritate and produce doubt. For example:

"They entered the tube station. In the train they could not talk much. Lionel kept his brain alert with surmise as to the character of the passengers. Like Blake, a century before, he found 'marks of weakness, marks of woe,' on each face there." Blake in the tube! Mr. Masefield will produce a much better novel than "The Street of To-day."

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