Morbid Religiosity

SHAKEN BY THE WIND. By Ray Strachey. (Macmillan).

THE LEATHERWOOD GOD,” by W. D. Howells, comes to mind in reading Ray Strachey’s “Shaken by the Wind,” since both are studies of the religious mania that swept in several waves through the East and down the Ohio Valley during the first half of the nineteenth century. But the likeness is limited to the theme, for Strachey is in no way an imitator. His insight into religious fanaticism seems more profound than that of Howells; and this is hardly surprising, considering how much has been done in the psychology of religion since Howells wrote his novel.

It must be admitted that “Shaken by the Wind” is depressing and leaves a strong impression of ugliness. It seems impossible that anyone should ever read the book twice, or even return to it; but anyone who is genuinely interested in the strange possibilities of human nature should consider a single reading well worth the effort, especially since it is evident that the author is thoroughly well interested and sincere. He tells us that the letters and documents from which he has drawn his material were left to him by his grandmother with the injunction to publish them “when the right time was come.” “Strange and fantastic as some of the happenings may seem,” says Mr. Strachey, they have all been paralleled and even surpassed in real life; and indeed it is my belief that similar extravagances continue to this day. I hope to publish shortly some of the actual documents on which this novel is based.”

The tale is concerned with the actual disintegration of character among a group of ignorant but normally upright villagers under the influence of a musty old coot who claims to be a prophet, and whose “call” to preach his insanely goatish doctrines must have been registered in a portion of his anatomy well south of the heart. After debauching various half-wits of the neighborhood, he induces a number of sorry nuts to give all their worldly goods to him and to form a little community of the “sacred,” whose occupation is to dance and wait for the Second Coming which is said to be very near. What happens in the community will serve to render intelligible the unsavory facts of Rasputin’s career among the ladies of the Russian court.