The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JANUARY 24, 1937
BOOK REVIEW RETROSPECTIVE
"If Winter Comes" And:
That Deathless Lady
--By W. J. Cash
Taking up A. S. M. Hutchinson's "If Winter Comes" the other day, I was reminded that the excellent books are sometimes struck dead by excessive popularity. This novel, as you may recall, was the reigning bestseller back along in 1921 are 1922. But nobody reads it today. Few people even remember it today. And that, I think, can be explained only by the human tendency toward revulsion from over-great enthusiasm--the tendency to turn to despising what we have once too-much exalted. For, certainly, this is no bad book--no cheap trash, such as "The Magnificent Obsession," roundly deserving to be forgotten as quickly as possible; nor even any such dubious stuff as the late "Anthony Adverse" or the presently soaring "Gone With the Wind." It is in fact a very good book--not so good as the reviewers sometimes made it out, obviously (since nothing since Shakespeare could be that good), but one of the best which has appeared in the last twenty years for all that.
To be specific, it is unpretentiously and beautifully written. It moves with massive force. And swarms with magnificently drawn characters. What is more, it definitely is not dated, as so many of its contemporaries which still enjoy some esteem undeniably are.
Character Of A Lady
Consider for instance the characterization of that deathless lady, Mabel--who lived, you may be sure, in ancient Babylon and the white-walled city of Memphis and under the shadow of the building Parthenon--who swarms among us today--and swarms nowhere, I incline to think, more abundantly than in Dixie.
"Mabel belonged to that considerable class of persons who, in conversation, begin half their sentences with 'And just imagine--', or 'And only fancy--'; or "'And do you know--'. These exclamations, delivered with much excitement, are introductory to matter considered extraordinary. Their users might therefore be imagined somewhat easily astonished. But they have a compensatory steadiness of mind in regard to much that mystifies other people. To Mabel there was nothing mysterious about birth, or in living, or in death. She simply would not have understood if she had been told there was any mystery in these things. One was born, one lived, one died. What was there odd about it? Nor did she see anything mysterious in the intense preoccupation of an insect, or the astounding placidity of primrose growing at the foot of a tree. An insect--you killed it. A flower--you plucked it. What's the mystery?
The Lower Classes
"Her life was living among people of her own class. Her measure of a man or a woman was, were they of her class? If they were, she gladly accepted them and appeared to find considerable pleasure in their society. Whether they had attractive qualities or unattractive qualities or no qualities at all did not affect her. The only quality that mattered was the quality of being well-bred. She called classes beneath her own standard of breeding 'the lower classes,' and so long as they let her alone, she was perfectly willing to leave them alone. In certain aspects she liked them. She liked 'a civil tradesman' immensely; she liked a civil charwoman immensely... It gave her as much pleasure... to receive civility from the classes that ministered to her class... as to meet anyone of her own class. It never occurred to her to reckon up how enormously varied was the class whose happy fortune was to minister to her class... It never occurred to her that any of these people had homes... or that if they stopped working they lost their homes... Nor would it have interested her in the remotest degree to-hear this. The only fact she knew about the lower classes was that they were disgustingly extravagant... The woman across the Green who did her washing had six children and a husband who was an agricultural laborer, and earned eighteen and sixpence a week. These eight lived in three rooms and if you please they actually bought a gramophone! Mabel instanced it for years after she first heard of it... She heard of the gramophone outrage in 1908 and she was still instancing it in 1912. 'And these are the people, mind you,' she said in 1912, 'that we have to buy these National Insurance stamps for!'...
Door's Just A Door
"... Whatever she saw or heard or read, she saw or heard or read exactly as the thing presented itself. If she saw a door she saw merely a piece of wood with a handle and a keyhole and that is what Mabel would have argued. But a door is in fact the most intriguing mystery in the world because of what may be on the other side of it and what goes on behind it. To Mabel nothing was on the other side of anything she saw and nothing went on behind it.
"A person or a creature in painl to Mabel is a person or creature 'laid up.' Laid up--out of action--not working properly, like a pencil without a point. A picture was a decoration in paint, and was either a pretty decoration in paint or not a pretty decoration in paint. Music was a tune, and was either a tune or merely music. A book was a story, and if it was not a story was simply a book. A flower was a decoration. Poetry... was simply writing which, obviously, had no real meaning whatsoever, and obviously--well, read the thing--was not intended to having meaning. A fine deed was fine precisely in proportion to the social position of the person who performed it. Scott's death at the South Pole... was fine because he was a gentleman. The disaster of the colliers entombed in the Welsh Sengheyndd mine... was sad. 'How sad!'...
"She revelled in gossip, that is to say in discussion with her own class of the manners and doings of other people. She thought charity meant giving jelly and red flannel to the poor; she thought generosity meant giving money to someone; she thought selfishness meant not giving money to someone... As people are judged, she was entirely nice, entirely worthy, entirely estimable...
"She was much liked, and she liked many."
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