Page images

to an end, strength as the road to success—that most worshipped idol of the twentieth century. This is a fact that may be read between the lines of nine out of ten novels of the day —the hero is the successful man, and the successful man is the one who has managed to wring from Fortune's grudging hand —by any means—those things which are popularly named her gifts: wealth, fame, popularity. Following this rule, the millionaire hero at present carries all before him. The type is rapidly becoming stereotyped, and this richly gilded idol bids fair to be worshipped for many days to come. He is always self-made, the clever carver-out of his own destinies; generally rough, blatant, unscrupulous, but always and under all circumstances forceful and masterful. Let us select at random a few descriptions of this favourite type ; they will be found to be curiously alike in their main characteristics. Each hero, you will observe, is a man of affairs—of large pecuniary affairs. The type was first ably drawn by Mr. Anthony Hope in The God in the Car, Some ten years ago ; since then African empiremakers and millionaires have appeared in countless numbers. This was the original embryo : “Ruston's first five years of adult life had been spent on a stool in a coal merchant's office, and the second five somewhere in Africa. He came before the public offering in one closed hand a new empire, asking with the other opened hand for three million pounds.” The Company Promoter is thus discussed :

“Gentleman / Well, everybody's a gentleman now, so I suppose Ruston's


“I call him an unmannerly brute. . . . Such an ugly mug as he's got, too; But they say it's full of character.” “Character | I should think so—enough to hang him on sight.”

Keep in mind this description, and observe how little it has varied after ten years of use in the mill of fiction:

“Karl Altham was a plain man, though impressive—a man about forty-five, his grey thick hair crowning a strong, clean-shaven, mobile face. He did not Aook like a gentleman, but he had a personality—he stood out from the ruck of men as something bigger, stronger, more important than his fellows.” The first employment of Karl Altham had been winkle-selling ; but when the story opens he is a multi-millionaire of immense importance in African affairs.-(Pigs in Clover, by Frank Danby.)

Or again, we find in Moth and Rust another of the same— a Mr. Van Brunt, who has “a property in Africa larger than England.” He is, of course, aged forty, tall, powerfully built, clean shaven. “You would never say Van Brunt was a gentleman, but you would never say he wasn't. He seems apart from all class. He is himself.” Van Brunt began his career in a drygoods store as a variation from winkle-selling or coal-selling ! The strange similarity of these descriptions shows what a hold this type has taken upon the imagination of our day; it seems impossible for some authors to avoid describing it. Sir Guy with his conscience, his solicitude for the welfare of William, and his well-controlled temper, has disappeared from the ranks of heroes (for the time being) and this strong, unscrupulous, successful African gentleman has full possession of the field. This seems at first sight rather a sad fact, and one which does not say much for the good taste of our generation. But perhaps this is not altogether the case. The truth seems to be that our generation have not ceased to worship perfection in the least, but they have begun to worship another side of it from that which attracted the admirers of Sir Guy Morville: progress, energy, force, strength of purpose—these have become cardinal virtues with the youth of our day—have, in short, become synonymous with virtue. The man who is unprogressive, lethargic, weak of will, purposeless, can never be virtuous in their eyes whatever other moral qualities he may possess ; so it follows that the forceful, successful man must become their hero. Miss Yonge was not, however, content to create a type of hero all her own ; she also created a heroine, and so impressed this type upon the mind of the Young England of the day, that she must have helped to mould the characters of thousands of girls into the same grooves. The long and extraordinarily prolix series of novels which came from her pen are the very apotheosis of domesticity—in them the domestic woman reigns supreme. Miss Yonge's attitude to life (as we see it reflected here) is much that of a butterfly hovering over a dunghill—it cannot alight on anything foul, but flits off to settle on the flowers instead. The realities of life are curiously glossed over in these books, which seem to have been to a great extent a picture of their author's life. Poverty, shame, anxiety, disaster—all the sinister shapes that dog the footsteps of mankind through the long journey— these seem to have been the merest names to Charlotte Yonge. We find no record of them in the tranquil pages of her life. Disease and death all must know sooner or later, but of other and far graver sorrows we hear nothing. Her existence was calm, sheltered, uneventful, narrow—led in one peaceful Church of England groove, far from the anxious and struggling world where most men and women live. The books which had their genesis in such an atmosphere could scarcely have been other than they are: the characters in these books are born in a good position in life, they live and die in it; if shame and calamity overtake them, be sure that the passages which describe these circumstances will not ring true. For Miss Yonge had read and heard of the shipwrecks of life, but she had never gone through them—she was only truly at home and happy and at her best when she wrote of good, happy people living blameless and sheltered lives. It is in creating this sort of domestic atmosphere that Miss Yonge is unrivalled. Nor is she likely soon to find a rival, for the conditions of life have altered so considerably of late years that novels of “home life” have virtually disappeared, along with the homes that used to inspire them : Miss Yonge dearly loved for subject that now almost obsolete institution “a family circle,” i.e., father, mother, eight or even eleven children ; such a household was her special province. Where do we find the family circle now f To begin with, the parents are no more those of Miss Yonge's fond fancy—quite different fathers and mothers adorn the family circles of our day, to judge from fiction ; some extracts may illustrate the difference better than anything else : “It will be natural, Margaret”—says Mrs. May, the mother in the Daisy Chain—“It will be natural by-and-by that you should love some one else better than me, and if I cared for being first, what should I do then P" “Oh, mamma!—but !” said Margaret, “you are always sure of papa.”

A healthful state of matters this, indeed—to be always sure of papa; but our generation is not quite so confident about papa, and the dark thought will sometimes obtrude itself, “Are we even quite sure of mamma nowadays f"

Kipling scholars will scarcely need to be reminded of the opening scene of the Gadsbys as a modern instance :

BEARER [rapping at door]. Captain Sahib has come.

Miss D. What! Captain Sahib and I'm only half dressed Well, I sha'n't bother.

Miss T. [calmly]. You needn't. It isn't yor us. That's Captain Gadsby. He is going for a ride with mamma. He generally comes five days out of seven.

What has brought about this revolution in mothers ? Those of Miss Yonge's day were much more likely in the natural course of things to be the rivals of their daughters, for they were mothers at a far earlier age than is generally the case at present, when women more often marry at forty than at seventeen. Yet such was not the case. With marriage and maternity Miss Yonge's heroines abandoned all pretensions to youth.

“In my best days"—says Violet, the heroine of Heartsease—“I was not up to Emma; and now, between cares and children, I grow more dull every day.” “Your best days Why, how old are you?” “Almost twenty-two,” said Violet; “but I have been married nearly six years. I am come into the heat and glare of middle life.”

Early marriages were perhaps the explanation of the bygone domestic mother, and the late unions of the present day may explain the modern mother and her foibles—had she, like poor Violet, begun “cares and children at seventeen, she might indeed feel herself in the heat and glare of middle life a little sooner than she seems to do just now. As it is, she marries late and is more able to face or to evade the worries of maternity, and in consequence retains her youthfulness of spirit much longer. Be this as it may, the fact remains for all to read that “ the new mother ” is not the same as the old. Moreover, as we explore the various members of one of Miss Yonge's famous “family circles,” we perceive that the new daughter is also strangely different from her sister of forty years ago. The tender passion as it was understood, or at least described, by Miss Yonge, is far other than it would appear to be at present among the sons and daughters of our day. As an instance of the bygone style of thing, may I quote from the Heir of Redclyffe a passage which describes Amy and Guy, their feelings and their intercourse, during their engagement:

It was a time of tranquil, serene happiness. It was like the lovely weather, only to be met with in the spring, and then but rarely, when the sky is cloudless and intensely blue. . . . Such days as these shone on Guy and Amy, looking little to the future, or if they did so at all, with a grave, peaceful awe, reposing in the present and resuming old habits—singing, reading, gardening, walking as of old, and that intercourse with each other that was so much more than ever before. It was more, but it was not quite the same ; for Guy was a very chivalrous lover; the polish and courtesy that sat so well on his frank, truthful manners, were even more remarkable in his courtship. His ways with Amy had less of easy familiarity than in the time of their brother-and-sisterlike intimacy, so that a stranger might have imagined her wooed, not won. It was as if he hardly dared to believe that she could really be his own, and treated Åer with a sort of reverential love and gentleness, while she looked up to him with ever-increasing honour. . . . When alone with Amy he was generally very grave, often silent and meditative, or else their talk was deep and serious.

So much for lovers of the old school. Let us take a modern couple as a foil, and the readershall judge if things have altered for the better or no—whether the “tender passion ” has more worthy exponents just now. I quote from a novel named Mrs. Craddock, which has received considerable attention of late : He sat down, and a certain pleasant odour of the farmyard was wasted over

Bertha, a mingled perfume of strong tobacco, of cattle and horses; she did not understand why it made her heart beat, but she inhaled it voluptuously and her eyes glittered. . . . When he bade her good-bye and shook hands she blushed again ; she was extraordinarily troubled, and, as with his rising the strong masculine odour of the countryside reached her nostrils, her head whirled. . . Above all he was manly, and the pleasing thought passed through Bertha that his strength must be quite herculean. She barely concealed her admiration. . . . “Shut your eyes,” she whispered, and she kissed the closed lids; she passed her lips slowly over his lips, and the soft contact made her shudder and laugh; she buried her face in his clothes, inhaling there masterful scents of the countryside. . . . She knew not how to show the immensity of her passion.

This is Bertha's first love : but she is a woman of volatile affections, for ere the book ends we have another description of an even more erotic nature—the object of this passion being a Rugby schoolboy:

She flung her arms round his neck and pressed her lips to his ; she did not try to hide her passion now ; she clasped him to her heart and their very souls (?) flew to their lips and mingled. This kiss was rapture, madness, it was an ecstasy beyond description, their senses were powerless to contain their pleasure. Bertha felt herself about to die; in the bliss, in the agony, her spirit failed and she tottered—he pressed her more closely to him.

We may indeed trace the curious difference between Amy and Bertha a little further; for, by a strange coincidence, we find both these ladies in the closing pages of the two books which record their fortunes, occupied in the same manner, i.e., gazing at the mortal remains of their husbands. But though there is a similarity in the situation, you will notice that there is a wide divergence in sentiment between the heroines. Amy, the older established heroine, shall have the precedence in quotation:

Amy indulged herself with one brief visit to the room where all her cares and duties had lately centred. A look—a thought—a prayer. The beauteous expression there fired was a help, as it had ever been in life, and she went back again cheered and sustained. She had no time to herself except the few moments that she allowed herself now and then to spend in gazing at the dear face that was still her comfort and joy. . . . She entered the little room where that which was mortal lay, with its face bright with the impress of immortality.

“Is he not beautiful ?” she said, with a smile like his own.

“My dear, you ought not to be here,” said Mrs. Edmonstone, trying to lead her away.

“If you would let me say my prayers here,” said Amy.

This is how Amy comported herself; let us hear Bertha's views of bereavement :

After his death Bertha was appalled by the regret which she felt rising within her. Oh, she could not risk the possibility of grief; her only chance of peace was to destroy everything that might recall him. She stood in front of the corpse and looked. The impression of the young man passed away, and she saw him, as in truth he was, stout, red-faced, with the venules of his cheeks standing out distinctly in a purple network. . . . The hands which had once

« PreviousContinue »