A Study of Genius

The Dominant Passion. By Marguerite Bryant. Duffield.

MANY theories have been advanced as to the nature of that special mental adaptability which is called genius. A famous alienist has characterized it as a neurosis, a phase of degeneracy closely allied to madness. Psychologists have explained it as a “psychorhagic diathesis”; that is, a predisposition to subliminal uprushes; which is merely a complicated restatement of the matter in question, and the term “subliminal” is little more than a fantastic figure of speech, poetic rather than scientific. A still more fanciful theory is that of the spiritualists, ancient and modern, who have assumed it to be an extreme sensitiveness to the influence of alleged disembodied intelligences. Whatever it is, we know that it cannot be produced by any amount of mental training, and that it must be credited with a great share of the glory of mankind. It furnishes one of the most alluring and important problems which psychology attempts to solve, for through the phenomena of genius we seem to approach very near to the secret of human personality.

In “The Dominant Passion” we have a remarkable study of various phases of genius in the realm of art. While the author is concerned primarily with the social aspect of genius and the artistic temperament, the study provokes thought and is well worth reading.

The persons of the drama are as follows: Andrea Brandon, an artist of extraordinary vision and technique, who paints saints and martyrs yet is himself rather Mephistophilean; Andrea’s young son, Lawrence, a prodigy in music, who, because of his beautiful head, is used by his father for a model and kept virtually in a state of slavery; Honor Passfield, a young lady novelist; and the painter’s cousin, Anthony Brandon, a bacteriologist whose dominant passion is concerned with the discovery of a preventive for a disease prevalent in northern Italy.

The theme of the story is the ruthlessness of Andrea Brandon in the pursuit of artistic success; and while the other characters are well worked out, they exist chiefly for the purpose of acting as foils to the amazing egotism of Andrea, concerned only with self-expression and using as raw material everything that comes in his way. “The huge artistic Me and the tiny universe” is an utterance that might have come from Andrea Brandon. The character, as one views it when the book is finished, is convincing and impressive, if not quite lovable.

In the marriage of Honor Passfield, the novelist, and Anthony Brandon, the scientist, the author creates and utilizes an opportunity for studing [sic] the nature of genius in woman and its relation to her normal function as a mother. This portion of the story is singularly sane, considering the chance offered for feministic vagaries. It raises an interesting question as to the possible indentity [sic] of the creative artistic impulse and the maternal instinct, a definite answer to which might solve the problem fundamental in the “woman’s movement” of which we hear so much.

“The Dominant Passion” can hardly be expected to achieve popularity, though it will doubtless gain a respectable following. Many opportunities for sensationalism are deliberately ignored by the author.

If the book reaches a second edition, it is to be hoped that certain small but disturbing errors may be corrected. A book so sincere and thoughtful deserves to be faultless in details of grammar, rhetoric and typography.