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Cargoes From Three Ports

ISSUE:  Spring 1925

Some Do Not.
By Ford Madox Ford. New York: Thomas Seltzer. $2.00.

The House with the Green Shutters. By George Douglas. New York: Thomas Seltzer. $2.00.

The Hounded Man. By Francis Carco. Translated from the French by Alexander Jorand. New York: Thomas Seltzer. $2.00.

The highly mannered style of “Some Do Not” will commend Ford Madox Ford’s novel to certain readers. As in the kaleidoscopic “Jacob’s Room” by Virginia Woolf, the author slides the scale of chronology forward and back, and introduces without explanatory transitions people, conversations and scenes whose immediate relation to time and space and the plot is confusing—or stimulating according to the taste of the reader. Mr. Ford, like D. H. Lawrence, paints a certain kind of genre picture vividly: he also has Mr. Lawrence’s predeliction for ladies who under stress are given to physical violence, screams and expletives of the gutter. Briefly, the style is ultra modern: four dots for a period, sentences without syntax, conversation so swamped in slang and colloquialisms that whole paragraphs are as unintelligible to the American layman as Ring Lardner’s jargon must be to the English layman. The substance on the other hand concerns itself with the rather antiquated material of the suffragette agitation in London and the beginning of the Great War. The hero is an absolutely good man: so unworldly that he is above explaining himself to the world. Against him, as against Mark Sabre in “If Winter Comes,” society with remarkable unanimity and malevolence bands together to misunderstand and to ruin. He is given a fiend for a wife, a traitor for a best friend, and an astonishingly consistent bad luck. Finally he is branded with the reputation of every inefficiency and dishonor. And all because he is too truly idealistic to stoop to explain anything. Mr. Ford is too well known and too well established a writer to be dismissed summarily. The following sentence is typical of the general structure of the book: “Sylvia, who by that was listening to him, abandoned the consideration of Miss Wannop and the pretence that obsessed her of Tietjans saying four words against a background of books at Macmaster’s party.” Some critics consider this kind of prose provocative, sophisticated and brilliant. Some do not.

Brought out originally in 1900, “The House with the Green Shutters,” a Scotch novel by a young Scotchman, has been judged worthy of reprinting. It is. It lacks certain technical perfections: the end, perhaps, is not proportionately impressive. But the book possesses the indefinable pulse of power—possibly greatness—which only genius can impart. It is the kind of power one feels in “Budden-brooks” and “The Forsyte Saga,” although the three-fold comparison should not be pressed further. “The House with the Green Shutters”—not a felicitous title—is a story of one of those grim terrible characters who, in spite of their pride, their passion, their selfishness and stupidity, somehow rivet the attention of the reader, and enlist his sympathy. John Gourlay, the “big” man of a small Scotch village, moves across a mean bickering background with a suggestion of heroic stride. And through the media of one chief character, heart-breakingly hampered by defects, and a sordid sombre village, George Douglas portrays maternal love, possessive pride, aesthetic sensibility, malice, wit, humor (real humor with a pungent tang), ambition, patriotism. These things are the stuff of life: they are also the stuff of classic literature. Here we have life itself, interpreted with authority and simplicity; with scorn and tenderness. The death of the writer two years after the publication of this work of such promise as well as of actual fulfillment is a permanent loss to English letters.

“The Hounded Man” by Francis Carco, which was awarded the Prix de Roman, although it opens on a just discovered murder, must not be confused with ordinary detective fiction. It is, rather, a detailed and extensive study of fear: fear in the heart and brain of the unsuspected murderer; fear in the guiltless inarticulate woman whom the very horror of the situation sucks irresistably and grew-somely to her doom. A pathological study, it recalls Knut Hamsun’s supreme effort in “Hunger.” It is, however less stark, less monotonous, less wild than that famous Scanda-navian autobiography. Written by a Frenchman about a Frenchman, it possesses French finish and an admirable close coherence. The nocturnal milieu, the few characters, the scant plot, are first blended into an artistic unity and then wrought out to an inevitable but not the less agonizing cumulative effect. Books of this type are characteristically European. The few Americans who have made an effort to discard plot have made the mistake of discarding form as well. The French understand these things better. M. Carco has succeeded in doing—although with less originality and profundity—what Huysmans has done so superbly: namely, in presenting an abstract theme with such precise technical vividness that it becomes satisfyingly and convincingly concrete.


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