A series of events, each inevitable, circumstances considered, has brought into the general society of this country a problem of such gravity that one can not discover an agreeable solution for it. Subordinate to this, there is another, one which has to do with a large number of people, which likewise, presents many difficulties in excogitation up its settlement. The first is that of the negroes, the second that of the mulattoes, if the term may be permitted. Concerning this second, is The House Behind the Cedars, the new book by Charles W. Chesnutt, the author of the Wife of His Youth.
Mr. Chesnutt does not directly suggest a way of solving it. He contents himself with representing the condition which exists, which of itself is sufficient to move one to think upon it. For this Mr. Chesnutt is to be highly complimented. Had he arranged an argument in favor of a delineated method of reformation, the reader by debative tendency, might declare against it, in prejudice. But by describing the social discomfort to which these people are circumscribed, the author astutely prompts the reader to consideration upon the problem, and the sympathy with the unfortunate is likely to influence the decision to be as Mr. Chesnutt seemingly wishes it.
The story is about a young girl who is almost white. In her own town, which is in the south, she is not received in the society of white people, but her brother, who has made for himself a position in another place, and has concealed his Negro blood cleverly, takes her away with him that she may attain a better social sphere than that which is possible for her where she is known. She becomes enamored of a young aristocrat and he of her, but, learning of her origin he leaves her, and she, heartsore, takes up the task of endeavoring to aid the negroes by teaching school. Social prejudice can not wholly overcome affections, however, and Tryon endeavors for a meeting with Rena, which she, perhaps by tenderness, perhaps by wounded pride, seeks to avoid. In the meantime she is persecuted by the attentions of a scamp. Thus, in mental anguish, trying to avoid both these men, she becomes lost in a swamp and dies soon after being rescued.
It is necessary, though, to peruse the book carefully to appreciate its merit. The author is exceptionally able in describing circumstances which are decidedly important in this story. He depicts with laudable perspicuity the dolour of the girl at the possibility of the discovery of her origin and the incident of it. Such presentation of the finer emotions is far from usual in fiction, and marks the author as being of subtile artistic qualities. The House behind the Cedars may be accepted as a plea, or as no more than a story, but in either case it is literarily excellent and interesting. It certainly deserves the thoughtful attention of the reading public. [The House behind the Cedars, by Charles W. Chesnutt. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston.]