Only The Fear. By Leonore. G. Marshall. 255 pp. New York: The Macmillan Co. $2.00.
It is the secret belief of probably most of the editors of publishing houses that if they were given the time and opportunity for creative writing, they could certainly do a job far superior than the authors whose work passes through their hands. In return, I have no doubt that most authors envy what must seem to them their editor’s sinecure, a steady job of bandying snap judgments and merchandising platitudes with exploited genius. But for all this firmness of conviction on both sides, it is astonishing how seldom the line separating editorial from auctorial endeavor is crossed. It is true that an editor is usually permitted to write one book, but that only when he has passed to the yonder side of sixty. This one book, of course, is a volume of his reminiscences. Since, however, he is likely to perish at an early age on account of occupational hazards, not too many such books get written.
Leonore Marshall is one of those rare editors who aspire successfully to authorship. For some years she occupied with distinction the editorial chair of the new defunct publishing house of Cape & Smith and managed to retain the esteem of her authors, as the recommendation which Evelyn Scott gives her novel will testify. That, however, is not the only distinctive factor in Mrs. Marshall’s background, however. She is the wife of James and the daughter-in-law of the late Louis Marshall; and she is also the sister of Harold Guinzberg, president of the Viking Press. I give you these facts to show with what good cause you may expect an unusual novel from her pen. And indeed, in many ways your expectations will be justified.
“Only the Fear” is the story of the Kirks, Gabriele and Matthew, inhabitants of one of the several colonies of emancipated, modern, talented people one finds not so very far from New York. Matthew was a professor of economics of national reputation. Gabriele painted. The neighbors were all writers or designers or musicians. There was no question of Matthew’s standing; but the others, including Gabriele, were all second-raters who herded together to give each other the support every one of them needed. If such a colony rarely creates anything worthwhile artistically, it nevertheless manages to produce in its members raw nerve-ends and excruciating sensitivity. This explains the intensity with which Gabriele underwent what to another woman might be a painful but probably not a tragic experience. On top of this Gabriele was a neurotic romantic, given to escape from reality into daydreams, with altogether too much leisure on her hands. As one reviewer puts it, she was an adult Peter Pan who clung to her childhood dreams of a perfect existence, a dream which was shattered by the first harsh breath of reality.
I have said that the people of Dogwood considered themselves emancipated, and so Gabriele thought herself. But when, guided chiefly by intuition, she worms from Matthew that he has had a meaningless and entirely unimportant affair with one of his students her emancipation vanishes in the ruins of her world. There is no ###rupt break in the external form of her life. True, a barrier interposes between her and Matthew, but she continues to live with him and seems to pursue the usual gay, inconsequential routine life of the Summer colony. But in reality her mind is retreating from a reality ###at seems too much to bear into a world of frenzied fancy. A break-down is imminent. As the rift between the images of her mind and the world of reality grows, she sees before her the threat of insanity, the very fear of which intensifies the danger.
While Matthew is away lecturing, she gives herself over to the care of an attractive young doctor who for a long time has been mildly courting her. It is really the lover rather than the physician in Sandy which Gabriele requires, for not her body but her ego has been damaged by Matthew’s defection, and Sandy’s skillful love-making is its best remedy. In her unbalanced state she refuses to recognize this, and denies Sandy’s pleas, although in her many moments of idle seclusion she permits and even encourages her troubled mind to fill itself with erotic images of him. In this impossible situation Gabriele toys first with the idea of suicide, then of murder, and ends up by forcing herself to give herself to Sandy. The shock of the discrepancy between her dreams of his love and the actuality is what brings her back to earth.
This theme is basically commonplace, and would be so in effect were it not for the preciosity of the author’s approach and the exquisiteness of her style. Intensity of imagination is as much the essence of Mrs. Marshall’s style as it is of Gabriele’s trouble. She never puts two words together automatically, or because they normally follow in sequence; she passes each refinement of physical or intellectual perception in delicate review, and finds for it phrases of startling freshness. When Mrs. Marshall gets closer to the roots of life and forgets about its frothy offcasts such as Gabriele, she may become a very important novelist. As for “Only the Fear,” it seems best to warn all men away from it, and fairly safe to recommend it to most women.