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


Page 241

him to carry a story by natural motives until about the last third, when melodrama enters to perplex the narrative and to keep up suspense until the triumphant and satisfying dénouement. And yet so fresh, strong, and veracious is the movement that it nearly obscures these conventional elements. Movement, indeed, not plot in any stricter sense, is Crawford’s primary excellence. He could not tell a story badly, but flowed on without breaking or faltering, managing his material and disposing his characters and scenes without a symptom of effort, in a style always clear and bright. This lightness of movement is accompanied, perhaps accounted for, by a general absence of profound ideas or of much of that rich color of life which comes only—as in Scott, Balzac, Tolstoy—when fiction is deeply rooted in some particular soil. As to his ideas, Crawford seems to have had few that were unusual, and he disliked the employment of unusual ideas in fiction, about the aims and uses of which he is very explicit in The Novel: What It Is (1893). Anglo-Saxons had recently been learning—through the critical pens of Stevenson and Howells and Henry James, to name no others—that fiction has an art which may be discussed; that a novel is not merely a novel, as a pudding is a pudding, to be boiled and swallowed and nothing more done about it. In answer to all these serious critics Crawford declared that novelists are “public amusers,” who must always write largely about love and in Anglo-Saxon countries must write under the eyes of the ubiquitous young girl. They might therefore, he concluded, as well be reconciled to the exigencies of their business, and by thinking not too highly of it spare themselves the agony that



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