snow and the brief storm of Ethan's rebellion. The story would need only the telling juxtaposition of two such intense effects. It would be a drama, but a drama of landscape, the dumbness of these village tragedies being such as to make them appear but a part, even a subordinate part, of the scene—mountain or field or forest-which witnesses them. We have had a good deal of this decorative treatment of village life, and America seems to have had still more ; but we have not had much of the sort that Mrs Wharton gives us. · Ethan Frome' is not in the least a study in genre. Its landscape is there, and there with all vividness, but it is behind it. The action in front, the strange calamitous issue, has its perfectly independent movement. It is not described for the sake of the picturesque scene; the scene is described, the snow blazes, for the sake of the action. How, then, was Ethan's story, where there is so little that can happen and so much less still that can be spoken in words, to be made to stand out and take the eye with its own dramatic value ? This, as Mrs Wharton has seen, is the appeal of the story to such art as hers, for which a mere landscape with figures' would be too easy to be interesting. She meets the appeal in a manner more difficult to define than to recognise and admire.

What is it, in fact, which makes the slightest, most trivial incident seem, under certain hands, to glow with an inner light, to appear unique and final and incomparable with anything else, so that we do not think of weighing or measuring it by any general standard ? The little characteristic episode, chosen by the novelist to illustrate some development of a situation, may become, if it has this quality, a poem of delight, where, if the quality is lacking, we are only irritated by the transparency of the novelist's art. The great master of this particular subtlety is undoubtedly Tolstoi, with his extraordinary power of absorbing the whole of our attention with a few light touches, till the scene evoked grows important and urgent, a thing to be watched breathlessly, even though it may be no more than the picture of a stable-boy saddling a horse or a child amusing itself with a box of paints. Whatever it consists in, this power is at work in 'Ethan



Frome.' The tiny incidents which lead gradually up to the strange catastrophe are magnetised and luminous and quick. We do not feel that Mrs Wharton, in telling her story by means of such small homely events, is using a clever artistic restraint; we feel, on the contrary, that the events

-a tramp through the snow, the breaking of a glass dish, the carrying of a trunk downstairs are the natural and sufficient channels of great emotion. How is it done? The question touches what is perhaps the central and most distinguishing gift of the true novelist, his

power of so completely identifying himself with the character through whose eyes he is seeing that his field of vision, both in extent and in particularity, is exactly no more and no less than that of the man or woman he has imagined. Mrs Wharton, in the few and simple pages of Ethan Frome,' has shown more conclusively that she possesses this power than in anything else she has written, for she has written nothing in which she has so rigorously denied herself all other help.

But all this time, though we have seen Mrs Wharton with gathering assurance approach her task from different sides, we have not found her concentrating her whole mind upon a certain part of it which she was bound to undertake in time. The novelist's task is a complex of more or less distinguishable problems; and in any single fiction, of the kind capable of sustaining such criticism, we can point to one of them as that which the writer has had principally to treat.

The problem which Mrs Wharton at last reached in The Reef' is that of the squarely faced, intently studied portrait; and the portrait she produced is surely on the whole the most compellingly beautiful thing in all her work. She has never been more happily at home with her material—for her material has never been of finer paste-than she appears in creating the figure of Anna Leath. Anna, indeed, gives us the sense that she had all along been waiting for Mrs Wharton, assured that the time would come when the one person who could do her justice would be ready to take her in hand. They were made for each other. Anna's answering lightness and softness and warmth vibrate instantly to Mrs Wharton's touch-pressure so perfectly timed in its rhythm that the movement of hand required to exert

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it is barely perceptible. There are moments in The Reef' when it seems impossible that Anna can continue to satisfy demands which grow ever quieter and more searching; yet the more her capacity is taxed, the more sensitively she responds. The security with which Mrs Wharton is able to count on her is, of course,

the measure of what she has put into her; and this is perhaps more than a critic, who sees Anna from our side of the Atlantic, can hope to recognise completely. Anna is American in every syllable of her history and to the last recesses of her consciousness—that is certain; but she is an American that represents no antithesis to Europe. She is rather, for the most part, the affirmed and intensified expression of just the qualities usually supposed to be the legacy of long-settled traditions. Only an American-not to attempt a more precise definition -could be as fragrantly, as exquisitely, as painfully civilised as Anna, with her heritage of sensibility, her anxious discriminations, her devious and shadowy shy

We can follow her sympathetically through all this; but her minutely stippled discretion baffles us in the end by what we can only call its impossibility. Anna is characteristically and exasperatingly impossible; and the English mind, practised in all the uses of indifference and compromise as the lubricants of daily life, will never quite understand how she can be at once so keenly enlightened and so profoundly ingenuous. But Mrs Wharton understands, and threads the whole glowing labyrinth of Anna's mind without an instant of hesitation.

Anna would make a drama, joyful or deplorable as the case might be, but certainly absorbing, out of any train of circumstances on which she might turn her brooding attention. The lightest appeal would rouse her courage and her loyalty, the simplest cas de conscience would call into play the whole armoury of her doubts. Mrs Wharton has boldly produced a case which is far indeed from straining Anna's resources in the matter of double-edged spiritual scruples. There is plenty to agonise her in the difficult question which she has to answer in

• The Reef.' The question there is what becomes of her relation to Darrow, the relation which has finally asserted itself as the most substantial fact

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in her dream-beset life, when she finds she must adapt it to a view of him in which he seems unrecognisable. Her feeling for him does not change; the trouble would be less if only it would. But that is not the way of emotion, which, as Anna has to learn, will never show the least inclination to save us trouble. It will not obey established facts, or lose its brightness on the mere proof that the spring which fed it has been deflected. Darrow remains fully himself at the same time that, in the light of his hapless adventure with Sophy, he appears other and strange; and Anna finds on her hands two separate strains of impulse in regard to him which must somehow be fused into one. Perhaps it is impossible ; perhaps she can just manage it. What is certain is that Sophy's more lucid simplicity, her clearer eye for decisive action, put to shame the luxuriance of Anna's hesitations. Sophy can act swiftly and self-forgetfully, where Anna can only torture herself with questions which after all refer to nothing but the saving or the losing of her own happiness. If in

The Custom of the Country' the spacious brilliance of the scene is too much for Undine's tenuity, something of the sort, transposed and reversed, has surely happened in "The Reef. The difficulties which Anna is called on to deal with are handed over to her in a form hardly worthy of her genius, and with a certain abruptness which betrays Mrs Wharton's tendency to reap ber harvest before it is ripe. It was in this case of the first importance that the opening scenes should establish, beyond possibility of question, the inherence of Darrow's passage with Sophy in the texture of the whole history. We must not only, that is to say, see Darrow and Sophy thrown together at the start and be convinced of the steps by which they became involved in their adventure, but we must be quite certain, when we pick up their fortunes again later on, under Anna's Warm gaze, that they really are the same Darrow and the same sophy that we saw before. The fact is that on this point we are not entirely reassured. Darrow himself is in any case a somewhat pale figure, the least animated of the company; and if the marks which he

the past are too slight, it may be because Mrs Wharton has scarcely succeeded in giving him


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substance enough to show them. But with Sophy it is different. Sophy, romantically established and occupied under Anna's roof, in the pale serenity of the French autumn, is too graceful a figure in her tremulous bravery for us to be doubtful about her. She is not the boyish young adventuress, wind-ruffled and rainbrightened, whom we met on Dover pier in the first chapter. This does not, of course, mean that she might not have been—that she would never have done what she is described as doing, or that, if she had, the young adventuress would not have been softly transmuted by the silvery light of Givré. But Sophy at Givré does not strike us as having undergone any transmutationshe is merely a new acquaintance; and it is only by an arbitrary act of authority on the part of the writer that the events of the prologue become the discoveries which Anna has presently to find a place for in her mind.

The prologue, with the use to which it is put, has, in short, to be conceded to the author of The Reef,' without too close enquiry as to whether she has earned it; and perhaps after all it is conceded with no great effort. For as soon as the shift is effected, and Anna has taken her place as the centre of vision, the action is all absorbed into a certain mood and borne forward with a particular momentum in which the difficulties of the transition are soon forgotten. The mood is expressed in the romantic beauty of the old house, its worn and wan and experienced distinction, not mellowed and enriched by its long past (as an old English house would be) so much as patient under the weight of it and still capable of anxious thought. Anna brings to Givré her own simpler generosity of charm; and the youth around her, the youth of her engaging young step-son and her delicious little daughter, the new sensitive youth of poor Sophy, steeps the drama in the freshest of atmospheres and gives the impulse of poetry to its movement. These chapters are undoubtedly the finest that Mrs Wharton has yet written. With the scene so prepared, the air so alert with the intelligence of life, the presence of apprehended pain and disaster must instantly be felt. Words are hardly needed; knowledge comes with chance glimpses, a turn of the head, a negligent movement, the slightest possible deflections

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