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Books: Reminders

2 minute read

THE JOURNEY UP—Robert Hichens— Doubleday, Doran ($2.50).

As ONCE YOU WERE—A. S. M. Hutchinson—Little, Brown ($2.50).

Robert Hichens’ The Garden of Allah, published in 1904, when he was 40, has sold about a million copies. Arthur Stuart Menteth Hutchinson’s If Winter Comes, published in 1921, when he was 42, sold 558,649 copies in the U. S. alone. Last week their latest novels (Hichens’ 36th, Hutchinson’s tenth) served chiefly as reminders that these once tremendously popular novelists were still alive. They also served as reminders that best-selling novels, while still frequently inexplicable, now show a big improvement over those of the last generation.

But above all, Hichens and Hutchinson last week bore witness to the long lives of second-rate writers. For the fluent second-rate writer works regular hours, takes care of himself, makes good investments, usually writes one best-seller and at last acquires a kind of momentum which enables him to go on selling novels that no young novelist could get published.

Neither better nor worse than Hichens’ average two-a-year, The Journey Up is the snob story of a mannequin whose social ambitions make a moral and financial wreck of her surgeon-husband. It is a good example of nearly automatic writing. Its only discernible purpose is to keep Author Hichens’ income at about $25,000 a year and enable him to lead the comfortable cosmopolitan bachelor existence to which he has become accustomed.

Only the momentum of his best-seller reputation keeps Author Hutchinson going. As Once You Were, the story of a middle-aged writer named Piers Exceat who retires to a small island-estate to re-live a sort of Boy Scout boyhood, makes Author Hutchinson’s If Winter Comes seem in retrospect like hard-hammered realism. Not only has his sentimentality aged terribly but even his style has become wrinkled and chapfallen.

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