The Weekly Machen
Despite the small amount of column space given to the following segment of “Among My Books,” Arthur Machen still managed to review three writers with care and charm. Most interestingly, the reader will find a brief meditation by Machen on the gap between inspiration and failure in literature. No doubt, as a literary man, he spoke from personal experience.
Here, Machen reviews Ivy Low’s (1889-1977) autobiographical book, Growing Pains (1913). Yet, Low’s life would diverge from that of the “average young girl.” In 1916, she married Maxim Litvinov (1876-1951) a future a Soviet diplomat and lived most of her life in the USSR. Her survival of the Stalin purges has been described as miraculous. Also in the piece, Edmund Bosanquet, now quite obscure, received his third review by Machen. His novel, The Woman Between, is featured in the previous installment.
This article is not listed in the bibliography by Goldstone and Sweetser.
Among My Books:
A Clever Study of the “Average Young Girl”
March 24, 1913
Years ago, I remember, I came across a novel which asked the question: “Who would pry into the heart of a maiden of eighteen summers?” I am afraid I made game of that question and of the foolish book that contained it; I had no notion then that I should live to see the prying operation carried out successfully and brilliantly. Miss Ivy Low, the author of “Growing Pains” (Heinemann), has drawn the picture of the Average Young Girl, and she has drawn skilfully. I am told that “Growing Pains” is the author’s first novel; if this be so, she is to be congratulated on the firmness of her touch and on the possession of a pretty sense of humour.
Now as to the result of the prying: What is the heart of the maiden of eighteen like under Miss Low’s microscope? My answer is indirect: “Growing Pains” helps me to understand the wild orgies of that strange post-heraldic beast, the Suffragette Rampant. I feel that I myself would do almost anything to bring flavour of any sort into a life so utterly insipid as that led by Gertrude Wilson and her friends. They tried to distract themselves by dreary promenades up and down “the Hig”—which is Highstreet, Kensington—by going to drearier subscription dances, by dreariest flirtations. As I read I longed all the time for Miss Gertrude Wilson or Miss Dorothy Wheeler—“the red-haired girl”—to drink neat brandy, or smash something bigger than a teacup, or kick over the traces in some violent and outrageous way.
The book is “tainted with Church feeling,” as the butler said of his Anglo-Catholic mistress’s novels. Gertrude gets religion, and tries to be good, and marries happily. But I cannot cherish a strong belief in her happiness either in church or in Holy Matrimony, since happiness is impossible to those who do not possess a certain vehemence of character.
“As ‘in prosperity of summer’ the female green-flies, without male assistance, produce an ephemeral offspring, so from a redundant curriculum do parthenogenetic writings make their appearance in greater numbers than those that are legitimately begotten.” That is an extract from Mr. William Arkwright’s “Knowledge and Life” (Lane). And as a man who has no violent prejudice against the use of words derived from Latin or from Greek, I would still submit that to muster “ephemeral,” “redundant,” “curriculum,” and “parthenogenetic” in the compass of one short sentence is coming it a bit thick—I use a homely phrase advisedly to take the taste of “parthenogenetic” out of my mouth.
Furthermore, though there are some excellent things in this collection of essays and observations, I must charge Mr. Arkwright with an offence which he would call hysteron proteron, which I am content to know as “putting the cart before the horse.” He speaks of
Style, the enchantress, whose glamour can gild the edges of the commonplace and print its titles in amaranth—whose charms may one day entice from the empyrean, as formerly the daughters of men did entice the sons of God, that spirit of the green flame, by name Inspiration.
If I follow the writer’s meaning correctly, he declares that style is the mother of inspiration. To me it seems that the direct opposite is the truth; that the only style which is worth twopence is the result and expression of inspiration, of genius, of the idea, of whatever we to choose call that inward and invisible force which becomes incarnate in a book or a song.
No writer quite realises his idea; the book as it is written is never quite so fine as the book as it was imagined; and so in a way the best literature makes a catalogue of splendid failures. The style—the written word—at once reveals and veils the dream in the soul of the writer. But after all, this is according to the general scheme of the universe; it is the greatest saints who acknowledge that, after all, they are but miserable sinners. The man who can do a thing really well is always the man who knows that it should have been done a great deal better.
Mr. Edmund Bosanquet has given us a very clever and entertaining story in “Catching a Coronet” (John Long. 6s.), wherein we are introduced into the very best society by a man who really knows what he is writing about. The characters are skilfully drawn and full of life, the interest of the story never for a moment flags, and the whole workmanship is a very decided advance on that of “A Society Mother,” which, for a first novel, scored quite a success. Good as the book is, we look to Mr. Bosanquet to do better in the future, for like all young authors he has something still to learn, but a certain primness of style noticeable in his first work is in a fair way of being eliminated.
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Next: Famous Novelist’s Blunder
One thought on “A Clever Study of the “Average Young Girl””
Thanks for this – wow! Intriguing contrast between his comment on an improvement of Bosanquet’s style in the service of his ‘matter’ and his critique of Arkwright’s apparent proposal of the preparation of a style to await inspiration: on the heels of his inability to “cherish a strong belief” on account of the ‘matter’ of “Growing Pains” despite the fact that the author “is to be congratulated on the firmness of her touch and on the possession of a pretty sense of humour”. What an astonishing sequel – leaving me curious about her later writings (not least propagandistic – but anything else as well, given her emigration?). Some pretty “outrageous” kicking over the traces, in one way or another, if Maxim Litvinov’s weapons-smuggling and apparently bank-robbery-related activities are anything to go by. (Curious to think of him teaching in Belfast when the Lewis brothers were boys!) Did she ‘get (erzatz) religion’ of the deliberately multi-murderous Leninist-Bolshevik sort?