Beyond Woman. By Maurice Samuel. Coward-McCann. $2.50.
Compare Mr. Samuel’s just published “Beyond Woman” with his novel published in 1921, “The Outsider.” The difference in treatment is enormous. In the earlier novel (in many particulars curiously like the Dos Passos of that year), the characters chiefly reveal themselves in their acts, their meetings and reactions to one another, their addresses and responsesâ€”all on a brightly moving surface with only occasional hints, beneath the bright lucid surface, of deeps of philosophy and reflective pools.
But there are suggestions of a novel of intellectuals in some of these earlier reflections which often reappear slightly modified in the later novel. Yet it remained for Aldous Huxley to raise the novel of intellectuals to the labyrinthine pitch of “Point Counter Point” for Mr. Samuel to develop his own potentialities. For it would appear to be Huxley, to whom a character of “Beyond Woman” acknowledges his debt for his views, who largely determined Mr. Samuel’s later treatment. One can even detect direct influence in some passages.
Prompted by Huxley to follow up his own hint, Mr. Samuel ventures down past the surface of action and speech, down to the elaborate aware mind and unconscious of intellectuals, and pursues these until he illuminates them with an almost painfully neat bright light. Musings and speculations, acute and intensely self-conscious analysis of the characters’ own motives, those of their fellows, investigations into the effects of their heredity, and early conditioningâ€”all are there, pages and pages of celebration and observation.
Observation of what sort? Let the character Chester Grayson, publicist and lecturer (who admitted to his self that he would say most anything to win the liking of his audience)â€”let Chester Grayson bear witness and throw incidental light on his creator.
In evoking, through the medium of Chester Grayson, the absurdly priggish solemnity of “thoughtful people” Mr. Samuel would appear to be herding all the depressingly earnest to the other side of the fence, while he coolly surveys them, detached â€” by virtue of what? By his wit? By a youthful lightness of touch that reflects a mobility (for what, contrastingly, is “seriousness” but rigidity”?) of mind?
Applying these touchstones of “thoughtfulness,” can we let Mr. Samuel rest, secure and unchallenged, on the observer’s side of the fence? Not altogether. He is certainly broader, more subtly complex. But Mr. Samuel does give us flashes of one of the badges of thoughtfulness, a weighty sense of immeasurable superiority. The novel abounds in expressions of contempt not only for the camp-followers of the sciences, but also for unpretentious non-intellectuals.
As for the quality of the witâ€”well, for all the devilish knowingness that sometimes takes on the appearance of wit, Mr. Samuel failsâ€”by consistently applied wrong touchesâ€”to pull off his strokes.
Mr. Samuel may subtly spoil many of his effects; and feel that a good many people who pass socially are cretins. But along with this contempt goes belief, unfashionable and refreshing in the current vogue of “brows villainous low” in the importance of pure scientific thought; or rather, the belief of the chief character, Hugo Enders, in the importance of a life devoted to such thought for his own happiness and salvation.
The conflict that is the central theme of the novel arises when Enders is torn from a life of study by the demands of marriage and the prospering business he undertakes for the sake of his house-hold. And in the course of the resolution of this conflict appear the acute and searchingly elaborate (and often, how intimately detailed!) probings into character that will make “Beyond Woman” carefully consulted by a large section of the American intellectual and business world.