NLY a very few words are needed here. Jurgen, more than most books of our day, speaks emphatically for itself. One may perhaps be justified in stating a few facts about the author and his book.
James Branch Cabell is responsible for some fifteen works - poems, essays, short stories and novels - and has been an author now in his own country of the United States for more than twenty years; scarcely outside his own country, although one of his finest volumes of short stories-The Certain Hour-was, I believe, published in England a number of years ago and died as soon as it was born. It was not indeed until the publication of Jurgen that even in America his work received any general attention, although one or two discerning critics long ago noticed Cabell's remarkable style, his ironic humour, his pictorial sense. Jurgen roused in the United States a storm of contrasted comment. Some thought it indecent, some imitative, some were puzzled by it, others bored by it - others again, and these, almost without exception, the best critics in modern America, delighted in it as an original work of beauty of which their country had every reason to be highly proud.
Just such a storm of controversy may arise here. Jurgen is most emphatically a book about which men must differ. It belongs most definitely to the World of Rabelais, of Sterne, of Anatole France, that is, to the World of the jesters, the World of the Decorators, the World of the Fantasticks.
With some men it will be enough to say that Cabell, having read his Masters, has copied them and then left it. For my own part it is incredible to me to believe that any one can read certain passages in this book Jurgen's talk with his grandmother in Heaven, for instance-and not realize them at once as utterly their author's own. Let, indeed, any unprejudiced reader take the book honestly from first to last and then sit back and reflect whether it is not, indeed, a work of its own body, its own colour, its own soul, possibly immortal.
I know no book in the English language that colours one's imagination and fancy quite as this one does some more, some less, but none other in quite this way. The world of Jurgen with its grotesquerie, its sudden beauty, its poverty and its pity, its adventure and romance, is a world descended from earlier worlds but unique of its own period.
Finally, I think its publication in England just at this time is of especial importance, and for the following reason. We have had for a considerable number of years in England the reign of the Realists in fiction. I have nothing to say against the very literal and exact realism that has been for so long the dominant influence in the English novel, but there are, I think, many of us now who are sighing for the return of fantasy, of romance, of colour and imagination. Little clever stories in the manner of Tchekhov and De Maupassant are all very well, but they are not the only good things in literature. Now in this year, 1921, we have had J. D. Beresford's Signs and Wonders (that masterpiece of romance), De La Mare's Memoirs of a Midget, and now Cabell's Jurgen. May not this be the beginning of a fine English return to Imagination, and how thankful some of us will be if it is!
Meanwhile, this at least, one can say -- that for those who have the key to Jurgen's world here is a world indeed.
July 30, 1921.
"Others, with better moderation, do either
entertain the vulgar history of Jurgen as a
fabulous addition unto the true and authentic
story of St. Iurgenius of Poictesme, or else we
conceive the literal acception to be a misconstruction
of the symbolical expression: apprehending
a veritable history, in an emblem or
piece of Christian poesy. And this emblematical
construction hath been received by men
not forward to extenuate the acts of saints."
A forced construction is very idle. If
readers of The High History of Jurgen do
not meddle with the allegory, the allegory
will not meddle with them. Without minding
it at all, the whole is as plain as a pikestaff.
It might as well be pretended that we cannot
see Poussin's pictures without first being told
the allegory, as that the allegory aids us in
E. NOEL CODMAN.
Too urbane to advocate delusion, too hale
for the bitterness of irony, this fable of Jurgen
is, as the world itself, a book wherein each
man will find what his nature enables him
to see; which gives us back each his own
image; and which teaches us each the lesson
that each of us desires to learn."
JOHN FREDERICK LEWISTAM.