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97 WILLIAM HALE WHITE ("MARK RUTHERFORD") AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WRITINGS ABOUT HIM By W. Eugene Davis (Purdue University) I. INTRODUCTION Even the first readers of The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford (1881) edited by Reuben Shapcott suspected part of the truth about the book: It was too warmly human, too verlslmllous to be fiction, even If Its supposed author and editor had no existence beyond the title page. Yet who was Its author? Why had he resorted to two pseudonyms? By 1885, when Mark Rutherford's Deliverance was Issued, several critics and friends had learned that these two significant achievements of fictionalized autobiography were the work of a fifty year old man, formerly of the Admiralty, who up until this time had published nothing to gain him a literary audience. Yet despite the recognition of his Identity and the Increasing Interest In his works William Hale White (I83I-I913) continued to Issue works of fiction (and his Journals) under his pseudonym (The Revolution In Tanner's Lane, 1887; Miriam's Schooling. 1890; Catherine Furze, 1893; Clara Hopgood. 1896; Pages from a Journal, I9OO; etc.) An author holding fast to a public name even after his private Identity Is known Is common enough, but comparatively few authors dispense with their well-known, lucrative formal names, especially If publishing unusual works. But "Mark Rutherford" existed only as a writer of novels and Journals, for White had other plans for his "real" literary self. It was William Hale White who translated Benedict de Spinoza's Ethic (I883) and Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatlone (1895) and who wrote An ExamlnaÎTon of the Charge of Apostasy Against Wordsworth (18^Õ Õ ); John Bunyan (I905) and similar works. There Is not, of course, much overlapping In approach or content of White's two literary careers, but he would not drop his fictional mask, and rarely would he admit the authorship of—let alone discuss—his novels. Perhaps White came nearest to Joining his literary selves In his autobiography , which he oalled The Early Life of Mark Rutherford; By Himself, published In the year of his death. While I do not have space to attempt a psychological account for this curious duality, observing It Is useful In understanding his motives for writing. As novelist, few men have cared less for fame or public notice. He wrote to release powerful emotions that had been gathering In him since childhood, and which found no outlet In social Intercourse, marriage, or his occupation. From opportunities In these and other natural emotional releases 98 White was cut off, by reasons of his reticence, his wife's 30-year Illness, and sheer circumstance. Ultimately, fiction came to provide this release, but he coult not, or would not, present his own life and people he had known without using a mask. So he wrote about "Mark Rutherford"—equally a child of White's memory and his Imagination. Writing the first two novels might have satisfied another man, but the demon vexing White could not be exorcized so easily; there were too many aspects of man's folly and misery for him to rest content with confessing or apologising for his own. When writing about purely fictional characters and situations (after 1885), the persona lived on In the author: It Is the long-suffering, compassionate, wise, religious Mark Rutherford through whose eyes we watch the later stories unfold. If, as several critics have said, White's novels seem part of the same large work, this oneness of viewpoint provides a clue to their unity, In certain respects critics have agreed what Is wrong with his fiction. He Is quite clumsy In Inventing Incident; his structural sense Is weak; his characters lack animation and backbone. These would seem fatal flaws, yet from the 1880's until now his novels have drawn enthusiastic notice. He Is best remembered as the chronicler of mld-Vlctorlan Dissent, but his larger concern Is the pain Inflicted on sensitive, educated, passive men and women by loss of faith, poorly chosen marriage partners, poverty, and half-assimilated Ideas. As a stylist he Is often praised for preferring to write briefly, directly, and without ornament. The tone of his novels Is dark, but life...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 97-117
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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