Gerald Northrop: A Novel

By Washburn, Claude C. Cloth. 521 pp. New York: Duffield & Co., $1.35 net.

“America is strong in the uplift,” said a publisher recently, and in his distrust of those who were trying so hard “to do him good” acknowledged that he often went back thankfully to his shelf of such American classics as Walt Whitman, Poe, O. Henry, Sarah Orne Jewett and Stephen Crane.

There is no doubt that the professional optimist has gone too far, has o’er-reached himself and trodden on his own foot. He has been especially perfervid in our “sunshine makers.” What ought we to expect, then, of the novel of today or of the future?

The publishers are now claiming a real discovery in Claude C. Washburn’s long novel, “Gerald Northrop.” And they must be right. It is at least looking out of doors towards the future. It has nothing of the professional sunshine making about it, neither is it full of that unnatural, unrelieved tragedy that so many new writers seem to consider the necessity of literature, tragedy for tragedy’s sake.

“Gerald Northrop,” on the contrary, comes much nearer the demand for “the rich spectacle of life, backed by a remorseless instinct for telling the truth.” It must be of the seed “of fruitful selfquestioning” on the part of the writer, who, we are told, is a late Harvard graduate. Possibly, undoubtedly, the selfquestioning will go further yet to even better results. But for a first book “Gerald Northrop” is most surprisingly good and a real discovery.

Here we have the artist’s esthetic pleasure in the rich spectacle of life. The first picture is of a western city in which Gerald Northrop, grandson of a western millionaire by a French mother, comes to live. The publisher’s notice says that this city is not specially designated, “but is easily recognizable as, say, Milwaukee or Duluth.” It might also be easily recognizable as Minneapolis, for there are many things in the context beside the flour mills that make the reader question if he be not looking on this favored town as seen through the thoughtful eye. To this boy, then, comes the crude and patriotic appeal of his native land of America and the equally strong and more cultured call of his mother country, France. For the moment Paris wins.

We in the west need this strong and vivid study of ourselves seen in this comparison. It is something like having a nerve dissected, but we need it, especially those of us who are playing “make-believe” with culture, and who think of it as a thing that can be laid on — like whitewash.

Gerald is strongly introspective, and has a passion for getting at the basis of people and things. He begins unconsciously his “fruitful selfquestioning,” his criticism of social dogmas and ideas, his analysis of manners and methods, and finally is drawn to the old world and Paris.

In Paris the touch and comprehension of the author is as delicate and as keen as in “the western city of America.” We live it with him and the story unwinds its romantic coils, remorselessly instinct for truth. Despite his understanding of the social environment, Northrop is drawn into it and lives through it as one in his social and financial position might do. The nobler Puritanism from his New England ancestry rises against his affair with Tania Kirvalof, and the innate nobility and feminine understanding of the girl causes her to refuse his repeated request to her to marry him. She has confessed to him her early lapse from the stricter path in her girlhood, and the knowledge of it, combined with his passionate love for her and his sense of her nobility and his conscientiousness regarding their relation, unsanctioned by marriage, causes the cyclonic struggle in his mind that threatens to destroy his health and happiness. The girl, with perfect understanding of his nature, refusing to allow him to put himself in a position that would be fruitful of future unhappiness, removes herself from the scene, and Northrop, after futile endeavors to find her and to adjust himself, is thrown in again with Clara Moore, who comes to Paris from his western city at this juncture. So Northrop is finally drawn back to America to marry Clara and to try to fit himself into the life of that growing and vital American city, with all its crudeness and strength. He is able finally to adjust and to reconcile himself, even to the bronze statue on the front of his grandmother’s house, placed exactly in the center of the lawn.

The strict moralist will give a passing thought, maybe, to the entire unconcern of its hero in the matter of his lapse with Tania, when it comes to marrying Clara. He was so very particular regarding the early character of Tania when it came to the matter of their relations that it might be supposed that his own later lapse with Tania would be of some moment to the tender conscience when it came to marrying Clara. Such did not seem to be the case. But perhaps this is a side issue. We merely mention it and pass.