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THE CONFESSIONAL FICTION OF MARK RUTHERFORD WILFRED H. STONE ALTHOUGH Mark Rutherford has enjoyed a considerable succes d'estime ever since bis slim novels began appearing in the 1880's, he still cannot be profitably discussed---even before an audience of literary scholars-without a word of general introduction. For in spite of the fact that he has received almost unanimous critical approval and has been persistently included in literary histories and critical studies of the Victorian period, he has never inspired a wide following nor, until lately, stimulated much scholarly research. At least once in every decade since the appearance in 1881 of his first book, The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford, he has been noticed by discerning critics- among them such men as William Dean Howells, W. Robertson Nicoll, H. M . Massingham, C. F. G. Masterman, D. H. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett, and Andre Gide. But these admirers and others have commonly regarded Mark Rutherford as something of a personal "discovery," an unknown whose writings could appeal only to those few, like themselves, sensitized by taste and experience to appreciate him. They have frequently labelled him a "neglected genius," but have tended to demonstrate by their own neglect that the adjective was appropriate. Andre Gide, for example, was tempted to translate the Autobiography into French,' but abandoned the idea upon deciding that Mark Rutherford's interest was "too special" for public appreciation. The consequence of such critical reception is that Mark Rutherford has been persistently and favourably "noticed," but seldom studied; be has been introduced again and again, but there has been little cumulative understanding of him. And current articles continue , for the most part, to repeat the old critical commonplaces. Consequently , the common knowledge of him is frequently limited to the facts that his real name was William Hale White and that he wrote gloomy, introspective novels about middle-class, provincial, Victorian Dissenters. . But that very "special" quality has of late years attracted a number of scholars; and it seems fair to assume that as Victorian studies tend IThe task is currently being undertaken by M. Pierre Leyris of Paris. 2The following arc some of the recent theses: Ursula Clare Buchmann, uWil_ Jiam Hale White (Mark Rutherford): The Problem of Self-Adjustment in a World of Changing Values," University of Zurich, 1950; Hans Klinke, ccWilHam Hale White: Versiich einer Biographie," Griefswald University, 1930 ; Erick Sillen, "Rutherford and the Conflict of Ideas in England aIter 1860," University of Uppsala, 1947; Henry A. Smith, "1Qe Life and Thought of William Hale White," University of Birmingham, 1938; Alan John Warner, "Mark Rutherford, a Victorian Pi1grim," University of Witwatersrand, 1949; John E. T. Wright, "William Hale White (Mark Rutherford )," University of Pittsburgh, 1932. 35 Vol. XXIII, no. I, Oct., 1953 36 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY less and less to wear the aspect of a disguised rehellion against life with father, Hale White will increasingly he read with understanding and interest. For he offers in his life and work a highly representative and almost unique microcosm of the conflicts and spiritual turmoil of the middle and later years of the nineteenth century. The critic who judges a novelist solely on his technique is likely to find Hale White's novels and short stories disappointing, for, in spite of a brilliantly disciplined prose style, his plots are often mechanical and contrived and his dramatic inventions are thin and clumsily literal. But his achievement cannot be significantly judged on such grounds, and he confessed -as he confessed nearly all his frustrations-that he was no master-craftsman. "I could supply conversation and description, but it was very difficult to invent a plot, and still more difficult to invent one which of itself would speak.'" This difficulty was only one phase of his life-long difficulty in adjusting a tortured and melancholy personality to the demands of existence; and the distortions in the form of his fiction are, in a very real sense, the embodiment of his inner travail. A curiously proud and ingrown man, Hale White was throughout his life perversely contemptuous of what he most desired, and in his attempts to be an artist he evidenced this same scorn. In his books and letters he...


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