Stuffed Peacocks. By Emily Clark. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2.50.
Cotton. By Jack Bethea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. $2.00.
The Music Makers. By Murrell Edmunds. New York: Harold Vinal, Ltd. $2.00.
Rainbow Round My Shoulder. By Howard W. Odum. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company. $3.00.
Leave Me With A Smile. By Elliott White Springs. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company. $2.50.
Eden. By Murray Sheehan. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company. $2.00.
Toucou-tou. By Edward Larocque Tinker. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. $2.50.
Boojum. By Charles Wertenbaker. New York: Boni & Liveright. $2.00.
The seemingly esoteric queerness of this caption was not motivated by an attempt to outdo “stuffed peacocks.” Nor is it the result of a mistaken notion regarding the agility of imagination that may be indulged in by a crack chef culinaire. The unspiced facts are these: Strange as it may sound, the “Century Dictionary,” in twelve volumes, does not contain the word “applesauce.” Nor does the somewhat Bolshevistic Funk and Wagnalls “Standard.” Yet there are a hundred million people in the United States who know precisely what the word means, which may be the reason why the dictionaries omit it.
Applesauce is cut, mashed, and stewed apples; it is a favorite dish in a wayside or wayward restaurant where it is frequently served in a bird-bath dish; and it is a cheap vegetable which cannot by the widest stretch of the kitchen be converted into an orthodox dessert. But due to the recent invasion of simplicity into the home—the wife and mother needs more time now for the four-wheel brakes—the best of mothers have been minded to slip plain applesauce in as a dessert. It is not fair, and the flaming youth of today know it is not.
Consequently, when some brainy Decanus Virorum—he usually outranks in two ways the most distinguished Professor—gets up before the Freshman Class and begins to tell the fellows all about the clean life, and about the necessity of not failing to write the daily note to the old mother back home, said fellows sit and chuckle, “Applesauce.”
They feel that flapdoodle is being dished out to them as a dessert whereas they came to benefit from the thought-fulness that spells sincerity. Flippant as they may seem, they want solid material; they want the steak of thinking, and when you give them, even with a show of pride, the flabby pap that oozes from the brain that never really digested anything, they ejaculate jus mali! By it they mean hickey, that is, disingenuous or ill-conceived cerebration.
It so happens that each of the volumes before us is of the South southern, to paraphrase St. Paul to the Corinthians; each was written by a southerner; and each roasts (see “Century”: “To expose to scathing ridicule for the amusement of a company”) such jus mali as the author affects to find in his South; but he does his job, with one exception, neatly and with a sensitive palate. It is only to be hoped that none of these authors believes that “applesauce” is a uniquely southern dish: the stuff is nation-wide.
Any man who, by preference, maintains a domicile either in New York City or the South reveals sound judgment. Of the former, Nicholas Murray Butler said not long since, “It is tolerant ex officio” Of the latter one does not have to be a writer of political platforms in order to see that there is a distinctive loveliness about it which is elsewhere unenjoyable because it is not an existential part of the region in question. Moreover, there is a spirit of progress in the South that is unique. These eight books vigorously emphasize these facts; they also show that the present generation welcomes innovations. That these reveal at all times the best of judgment can hardly be asserted: perfection is neither universal nor permanent.
The Borzoi blurb informs us that Emily Clark passed the entrance examinations to Bryn Mawr but preferred to remain away from the outskirts of Philadelphia and educate herself. Well, had Miss Clark gone through Bryn Mawr, she would have learned a lot about the theory of variable functions (in mathematics, not society), she would have been initiated into the significance of Lautverschiebung, erster and zweiter, and possibly even drittcr Schicht, but she would not have known nearly so much about Richmond, “which had discovered itself and had been discovered while New York was still a Dutch traders’ post.” One sentence, expressed in a subjunctive mode of doubt, begins “if ideas should ever become vital here.” But be more nearly nationally-minded, Miss Clark! Our World War President —and there was a man—is alleged to have said not long before his death: “The Senate of the United States? Why those damned culprits over there haven’t had an idea in fifty years!” His language may have been unnecessarily robust; and the poor man may have been misquoted. But if not, your mind was moving along with his.
Everyone of the fourteen essays, or stories, that makes up “Stuffed Peacocks” was written by a young woman who has ideas, and who knows what to do with them. But the essay entitled “Cloud-Capp’d Towers,” the one depicting the real state of affairs at Doctor Vesey’s seminary„ the one that shows how dishonest college catalogues may be, should be read by everybody everywhere. Using the United States Mails with purpose to defraud is a penitentiary offense. What keeps some educational institutions out of jail is the fact that their catalogues are unread. Miss Clark is honest. On page 17 she says that Richmond has no public library, and that when the people want to know something, they telephone to James Branch Cabell. In his abominable “Boojum,” Charles Wertenbaker says, page 22: “We have excellent library facilities in Richmond, and James Branch Cabell lives here.” This is all the space that can be devoted to “Boojum,” a book of 302 pages of unrelieved jackasininity.
The jacket tells us that Jack Bethea’s “Cotton” is “comparable to Frank Norris’s great stories of the West.” There may be a small bit of truth in this on general principles, but the book bears not the slightest similarity to Mr. Norris in essential ways; it is strikingly like, on the other hand, Mrs. Cannon’s “Red Rust.” Larry Maynard, after rich and fruitful experience with the growing and marketing of cotton in other countries, returns to his southern home, rents a dilapidated farm of two thousand acres, and sets about to grow cotton by scientific methods. All goes well, until the local celebrities note with alarm that Larry buys his materials out of town. Not so good. When the warehouse burns down—the home folks had some money in it—suspicion grows so intense that Larry is jailed. This is not so bad, if a court trial is in the offing. But lynching instead is the outlook. Larry is saved by a near-miracle and in the last paragraph the Reverend Claypool is uniting Larry and Mary in the holy bonds of matrimony. It is a good story, clean as a hound’s tooth, interesting, and quite informative. But before the South rises to the great heights that lie within her reach, she will have to tone down her tendency to jump to conclusions, and make pitch, fire and hemp as obsolete as a high-wheeled bicycle.
There are two things about Murrell Edmund’s “The Music Makers” that I do not know: why he picked on Lynchburg for the scene of his action; and the extent to which he is really familiar with German. Lynchburg is a good town; I spent two of the happiest years of my academic life there, for I taught in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College which is about the best all-round educational institution I have thus far been connected with. But Mr. Edmunds gives us nothing of Lynchburg other than a slice of Madison Street, and a vague picture of Tunnel Hill (the town is full of hills). He confuses, as I recall the town, the C. & O. with the Southern, and tells a tale which is hardly fair to its setting. Lynchburg is noted for anything but its German population, though there was a German family there in my day, a family, that bore about as much resemblance to the Messrs. Schwarz and Krauss of this book as a brewer bears to a soda-shaker.
As to Mr. Edmund’s German, his coined phraseology is pretty bad; but the return of Konrad Krauss bears a strong similarity, to the return motiv we have in Gabriele Reuter’s “Wines Toten Wiederkehr” and this is paying his book a stark compliment. Moreover, the tale treats one of the most common themes in contemporary German literature: not so much the revolt of youth as the realization, under duress, on the part of the older generation that the attempt to fashion youth as age would have it is futile if not immoral. Left to himself, the gifted son of Herr Krauss might have married Mary Wadsworth, daughter of the infrequently sober Lynchburger who nevertheless appreciated music and was willing to spend his all to the end that Mary might have the best of musical training. But due to paternal interference, Mary leaps from one of the hills to her death while Konrad just simply passes out. j It would have been much better had Konrad been placed in one of the shoe factories and Mary sent to R.-M. W. C. But then there would have been no story. In “Rainbow Round My Shoulder,” Professor Odum has depicted an individual rather than a type. If all, or even many, Negroes of the South resembled Black Ulysses, there would not be a cotton mill or a child, a railroad station or a tobacco warehouse left within two weeks after he had begun to function, and Stone Mountain itself would disappear. This is not to say, however, that it is not a unique work, a powerful work, and a work that reveals extraordinary originality. I am indeed enthusiastic about it, but only because I know that legions of readers like this sort of thing. And though of sociological interest to me, it palls on me very soon, because of its dialect. I have no great interest in dialects. I have my hands abundantly full trying to elucidate the mysteries of a foreign language which, say what we may about those who write in it, has never departed greatly from the established norm. Dr. Odum’s arguments at the beginning of each chapter are good. They remind us of Boccaccio and show what Chapel Hill can do.
Though “Leave Me with a Smile” shows that its hero, Captain Henry Winton of the Air Service, learned nothing from the World War along the line of obstetrics—he made a fearful mistake when he married Sara Wilson, daughter of the janitor—he did learn much about the South which produced him, and to which he returns in the end, oblivious to Phyllis and loyal to his better self. How could it be possible to write a more readable war novel? If any one can lay this book down before finishing it, he must either have weak eyes or be unable to concentrate. It throws light of colossal candle power on the World War and the South. From the angle of logic, however, it falls down precisely where works of this*kind generally falter: Mr. Winton will shoot any man who dawdles with his wife. That is splendid; that is magnificent. But with how many men’s wives did he carry on? Of course, that is, and would make, a different story.
Shortly after the Armistice, there came to Headquarters of the Sixth Division one day a Sergeant—short of stature, clear-eyed, nimble-witted, gallant, generous, and intelligent. He paid his respects immediately to the Chief of G-2, that being the part of the outfit which he joined, and to which I was already attached. Our G-2 was a Lieutenant-Colonel. The Sergeant in question had the brains> but that made no difference, the Lt.-Colonel in question had the job. Why the Sergeant joined us I did not know: there were already 26,000 men in the Sixth Division, and though we got into lots of trouble, we never fired a hostile shot. One disagreeable Sunday afternoon I started out on a walk with the Sergeant. We walked and walked, we talked and talked, and finally got lost in the fenceless fields of France, near Aignay-le-Duc, a village compared with which Mr. Springs’ Colfax, S. C. is a metropolis. The Sergeant had a field compass with him that wouldn’t work, though that was the only thing about him that didn’t work. We finally found our way back. In time the Sergeant went off to Oxford as an A. E. F. student; I remained with the Sixth, and went with it up into Germany as a part of the Army of Occupation.
The Sergeant was Murray Sheehan, author of “Eden,” acquaintance with whom was one of my various bright spots over there. Murray dedicates his beautiful book to “Marion of Oxford and Edith of Paris and Munich.” He had told me of Edith; Marion seems to have been a later development.
There are only five characters in “Eden”: Adam, Lilith, Eve, Cain, and Abel. With the exception of Lilith, these characters are from the beginning of the Bible. Lilith is made to cause a triangle, Adam and Eve making up the other two sides. I must confess it is an obtuse triangle, for I am not certain what my once combat friend had in mind when he wrote this story. It is as unorthodox as any forty-gallon Baptist could fear. If it was written in order to stir up the maligned Bible Belt, Murray, Sheehan should know that there is no such thing in this country: the Bible is as ubiquitous in the United States as sin itself; the Bible will be found in the most swollen hotels of New York, and it will be found in blacksmith shops in West Virginia. If he wished to emphasize the solemn fact that the human family had a miserable hopoff, he has succeeded. There is no transgression known to nice people that is not recorded in the 304 pages of “Eden.” But it is an amiable book; it is charitably done; it is well written; it is humorous; it is human; it is exciting. And it should send the reader back to his Bible to see what actually took place in the Garden and out of it. But who knows what did actually take place there. And that^ is just the point—Murray Sheehan’s, and yours, and mine.
We have saved the strong wine until last. Edward Larocque Tinker’s “Toucoutou” belongs on every count to the literature of power. It deals with life in New Orleans a century ago, depicts the horrors of the yellow fever, and the even worse terrors of jealousy, revenge, and lawlessness. “Toucoutou” is “a nigger nickname” for a plump, round girl. The unfortunate belle who has this soubriquet conferred on her was brought up by one Claircine as an orphan. The truth is, however, Claircine is her mother, her father is known, and there is a streak of Negro blood in her veins. She marries Placide Taquin, a white man, “white” both in blood and in character. They have a child, Zozo by, name. The proud young mother, on learning that she is part-Negro, instead of living to herself and keeping her 121/2 per cent taint under cover, associates more than ever with the Whites. Another woman more black than Toucoutou, is the mistress of a white man: she cannot marry him by the laws of Louisiana, becomes violently jealous of Toucoutou, slanders her, and is sued by her for ten thousand dollars. Toucoutou loses. The people then persecute the Taquins with a lowness, meanness, and vileness that have probably not been known since the Spanish inquisition. Unable to endure it longer, she, her husband and her child, whom she does not want to be brought up “as a little nigger baby,” take boat for Havana.
The novel discusses the Negro problem, and its attendant insolvabilities, with a force that is rare in any literature, and with a discrimination and a justice that ethnologists and sociologists are unable to approach. Quite apart from the data of the book, and wholly because of the fact that it shows how complicated life may become, how rare it is that a given situation is entirely black or entirely white, how frequently the most distressing situations are gray or spotted, this book might well be read by everybody.
In, in the language of Emily Clark, “the War from ‘61 to ‘65,” there were five of my maternal uncles on the Confederate side. They are all dead, but to judge from the tales they told in my childhood, I hardly feel that the Union was at any time seriously endangered by their martial activity. It is alleged, without verification, that my father’s brother was the first Confederate soldier to lose his life in the war. He is buried in Hollywood, Richmond. One of the first bits of history I was ever taught was the names of the ten most prominent Confederate Generals: R. E. L., T. J. J., A. S. J., J. E. J., B. B., W. H., W. J. H., J. A. E., and the others. So long as the Democrats remain honest, particularly honest by comparison, poor, and champion states’ rights, free trade, and something at least faintly resembling a League of Nations I shall find it impossible to shift my politics. And yet, a very few years ago, I was invited to a quite southern town, about 400 miles below Morgantown, W. Va., (which, though underneath the Mason and Dixon Line, is a thousand miles north of Richmond in temperament) on an educational mission.As I walked onto the platform, I was struck by the Union Jacks around the walls. No, they were not Union Jacks at all; they were Confederate flags. It had been so long since I had seen one that I no longer recognized it.
If I had a Confederate flag I should treat it lovingly, kindly, rightly; but I could not be paid to display it on an occasion where patriotism might well be thought of. For that the Star Spangled Banner is adequate, satisfactory, pleasing.
This is neither idle talk nor offensive autobiography. It is in truth precisely what these eight books say, though each one says it in quite different words. The authors have culled what they feel is the applesauce of their beloved South; and they have roasted it. And since each one, excepting only the author of “Boojum,” does it benevolently and intelligently, the ultimate result leaves a good taste in the mouth. The South is progressing in a most reassuring way; but it still needs at least one publishing house. Every one of these eight Southerners came North to bring his book out.