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Book Reviews

THE NEW BOOKS BY MR. CHESNUTT. THE WIFE OF HIS YOUTH AND OTHER STORIES OF THE COLOR LINE. Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

In the early springtime of the present year faith in a later and richer manifestation of the power then exhibited by Mr. Chesnutt in "The Conjure Woman" led to the use of these words in speaking of that volume, "It is very honorable to the author and very entertaining to his readers, but surely we shall yet have from Mr. Chesnutt’s pen a fuller utterance from his study of human nature in the novel dealing with life, not as recited in monologue, but as acted by men and women moving freely upon the stage he has worthily set for their drama." This faith in the author is already justified by his works--these nine stories of "the color line" making up a new volume. The effect received through the earlier stories of a finely tempered force held in reserve, perhaps in consequence of temperament, perhaps from deliberate intention, is now proved to have been unconscious testimony to self-revelation breathing between the lines. Mr. Chestnutt now speaks more freely, as one who is assured of sympathetic relations with his hearers, and who may, therefore, reveal to them in more intimate and happy confidence the keenness of his observation and the mastery of his interpretation of human nature in the drama of a unique situation.

It is inevitable that tragedy and comedy should move as companions, never far apart, along the color line, a line whose isothermal markings, could they be correctly indicated upon a map of profession and practice, would be a curious and instructive addition to the pictorial illustration of American religion and politics. The artist’s sense of the value of contrast is admirably displayed in the presentation of these attendant figures, both in the grouping of the stories and in the skillfully shaded description by which the characters and scenes are set before us. Of the nine stories "The Sheriff’s Children" and "The Web of Circumstance" touch the deepest depths of the awful sorrow inextricably interwoven with the slow working out of an awful crime’s far-reaching complication. "A Matter of Principle," "The Passing of Grandison," and "Uncle Wellington’s Wives" afford us agreeable respite from sorrow, however heartily we enter into the perplexities besetting their characters. The repression of instinctive and blameless feeling in consequence of the nobler self’s response to the appeal of justice is dramatically rendered in "The Wife of His Youth." This theme of sacrifice, varied by differing conditions, is eloquently presented in "Her Virginia Mammy," "Cicely’s Dream" and "The Bouquet." As a whole, the book is one to deepen admiration for its author’s individuality of art and to quicken expectation regarding that art’s future expression.

Circumstantial touches are not lacking to suggest that the Groveland of the stories is the city of the author’s present residence. Is not the Union Depot where the Congressman from South Carolina is awaited by his possible father-in-law drawn from life? Should we not all recognize the public square that opened up its vistas of wonder and hope to Uncle Wellington? The book has a charming exterior and its attractiveness is enhanced by four illustrations.

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"The New Books by Mr. Chesnutt" in "Book Reviews," The Index [Cleveland] 2.8 (Dec. 15, 1899): 4.