MARK TWAIN, MR. HOWELLS
Among the many new names, new tendencies, new achievements characterizing our current literature we are apt to regard Mr. CLEMENS and Mr. HOWELLS and their work as belonging to a school of fiction slightly different, appreciably older than the one that is supposed to ordain the form and texture of our present-day novels. Of course, fiction has become much too large a branch of the world's literature and comprises the contributions from too many and diverse minds to be really dominated by any one "school" in spite of the literary historian's passion for so analyzing and labeling it. Nevertheless, we do, unconsciously perhaps, think of these two revered masters of the story art as working by a method and with an aim that does not particularly belong to this present decade of the twentieth century. In this we may be right, although it is more likely that in the case of any genuine mastery in creative literature we should not admit the circumscribing influence of any one age or set of literary theories. The truth of the latter view is abundantly upheld by the two novels that have just commenced their serial publication, the one entitled "The Mysterious Stranger," by MARK TWAIN, appearing in Harper's Magazine; the other "The Leatherwood God," by WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS, in the Century. Both stories, judging by their first few chapters, are marked, in treatment, by their essential contemporaneousness. This is not to say that they are the familiar product known as "stories of present-day life." Mr. CLEMENS, indeed, places the scene of his romance in the Austria of over three centuries ago, while Mr. HOWELLS chooses a backwoods settlement of an earlier period, by several decades, than the one in which we are living. But in both novels the theme that is apparently chosen for development has to do with humanity's religious strivings, and in so far they enter a field that has of late exerted an increasing attraction upon other novelists. The coincidence in choice is a striking one. Novel readers, assuredly, have an exceptional treat promised them for this and the ensuing season in following the strange adventures and unraveling the problems that both these stories promise. The posthumous novel by MARK TWAIN is the fruit, apparently, of that author's matured thought and art, full of daring imagination - abundantly evident, even in this first installment and not without those touches of humorous description characteristic of his pen. The picture drawn thus far by Mr. HOWELLS, it is needless to say, is delightfully real, while the religious - or psychological - problem hinted at inevitably fills the reader's mind with the particular kind of curiousity indispensable to the creation of the highest interest in a work of fiction. One never knows, of course, what will happen in a serial novel. The lead apparently given may end in a blind trail. Few recent novels, however, have opened with such ample promise as the two by these masters of fiction appearing in Harper's and the Century. Their further development, through many installments, will be worth watching.
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