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76 HUBERT CRACKANTHORPE AS REALIST Wendell Harris (University of Colorado) That a new realism appeared In English fiction in the 1890's, and that in the short story this realism was developed largely by the writers clustered around the YELLOW BOOK and the SAVOY are commonplaces of literary criticism. The realist of this coterie whose name is most often accorded the doubtful honor of a "brief mention" in the pages of modern literary histories is Hubert Crackanthorpe. Unfortunately the reviewers and critics of his own time chose to see Crackanthorpe as an assiduous disciple of Maupassant; and the role he has continued to fill, largely through the mere mechanical perpetuation of this judgment, off-handedly endorsed by so many writers as to seem hardly to admit of question, is that of the exemplar of the way one branch of French realism was faithfully, if dully, reflected in England. However, such an interpretation does scant justice to the English development of the realistic short story in the 1890's. 1 should like to suggest that Crackanthorpe's artistic vision, as distinct from that of Maupassant , derived from a sense of disillusionment lurking just off-stage, of sorrow waiting in the wings, during the most romantic and ideal scenes of life, that because of this sense even the earliest of his stories differ materially from those of the French writer, and that the techniques he developed to portray this disillusionment in his later stories remove almost all grounds of similarity. Maupassant's usual tone is well represented by "The Maison Tell¡er," that cynically and yet sentimentally gay portrait of vice on a holiday, with its assurance that the daughters of joy are capable of feeling the whole gamut of emotions, even as you and 1. Equally characteristic is the heavy irony of "Les Bijoux," in which Maupassant's sophisticated cynicism is visited upon both partners of an apparently ideal marriage. Maupassant drew life with a cynical gusto combined with a wry compassion, and through his stories one seems often to see the knowing wink of "the man of the world." Crackanthorpe preferred a painstaking and painful analysis, tempered always with an impersonal and yet real and affective sorrow. He often took the conventional themes of love and marriage as they were in Victorian fiction and changed them utterly by simply omitting to conclude his story at the point happiness seems assured, or by insisting upon chronicling the dissonant thoughts, the hints of discord and evil, which rise unbidden to the minds of men and women even at those times when convention ascribes to them an attitude of undivided happiness and unmarred purity of intention. But if he thus pulls the drapes of reticence aside, it is always with unalloyed pity, never with a raffish smirk. "The Turn of the Wheel" will serve as a convenient example of both of these points. A finished young woman of upper London society allows herself to be gently pressured into an engagement with a rising young lawyer of irreproachable connections. Extravagant in her admiration for her father, she allows his approval of the fashionable young man to overcome her own reservations, to overcome, even, her certain knowledge that she does not really love the man, for she believes she knows that in these emancipated days a marriage of convenience is not to be despised. However , her affectation of superior worldliness is shattered when she finally 77 learns that her father's personal life has long consisted of a series of irregular affairs made possible by his suave hypocrisy and her mother's helpless acquiesence. Then, after a period of stunned inertia, the daughter finds in a blunt, faithful former suitor the strength and warmth of honest affection she needs. It remains only for the girl to accept her honestly devoted admirer, representing as he does the beloved bluff but good-hearted country squire of English tradition; then could the most correctly Victorian reader conclude the story with the longed-for sigh of satisfaction. But this comfortable pleasure is denied, for even though the girl does accept the honest fellow, Crackanthorpe insidiously begins his destructive analysis of her new feelings almost as soon as the happy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 76-84
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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