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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 121

(1859), are villains to frighten schoolgirls with; she writes always as from the pulpit, or at least from the parsonage. But where no theological or melodramatic idea governs her, she can be direct, accurate, and convincing. The earlier chapters of The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862) must be counted, as Whittier thought, among the purest, truest idyls of New England, much as doctrinal casuistry clogs the narrative thereafter. It is harder—impossible, in fact—to agree with Lowell in placing The Minister’s Wooing first among her novels, and yet no other imaginative treatment so well sets forth the strange, dusky old Puritan world of the later eighteenth century when Newport was the center at once of the ruthless divinity of Samuel Hopkins, the minister of the novel, and of the African slave trade. Mrs. Stowe wisely did not put on the airs of an historical romancer but wrote like a contemporary of the earlier Newport with an added flavor from her own youthful recollections. This flavor was indispensable to her. When her memory of the New England she had known in her girlhood and had loved so truly that Cotton Mather’s Magnalia had seemed “wonderful stories … that made me feel the very ground I trod on to be consecrated by some special dealing of God’s providence”—when this memory worked freely and humorously upon materials which it was enough merely to remember and record, she was at her later best. These conditions she most fully realized in Poganuc People (1878), crisp, spare (for her), never quite sufficiently praised, and in Oldtown Folks, like the other a series of sketches rather than a novel, but—perhaps all the more because of that—still outstanding, for fidelity and point



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