William Dean Howells (essay date 1901)
SOURCE: A review of “Arizona,” in The North American Review, Vol. 122, March, 1901, pp. 472-74.
[In the following excerpt, Howells praises Thomas for his skill as a dramatist, and particularly for his ability to construct plot and to render details authentically.]
If Mr. Thomas could have marked more distinctly his own sense of the fallacious sentimentality which actuates the hero of his Arizona, he would have saved me from much the same discomfort I suffered in seeing Mr. Herne's Sag Harbor. But, apparently, he could not find the moment to take that mistaken young man aside and say to him, in the hearing of the audience, “Now, go on if you must, and sacrifice your good name to save from public dishonor a woman who has dishonored herself by consenting to leave her husband for her lover. Be scorned by her husband as a thief; suffer yourself to be forced out of the army; break the hearts of your friends who see in you the disgrace you will not explain; put to cruel and senseless proof the faith of the good girl who loves you; do all this, if you will, because you are a young, romantic ass; but don't expect me to back you. Any one else would see that this woman who has allowed her heart to be turned from her husband because she finds army-post life dull and has no amusement but flirting, is a fool and worse, and not worth saving from the shame she has consented to at the cost of any shame to others; she is spoiled and lost already, for it is not the adultery, but the adulterous heart that counts in these things. Instead of ‘saving’ her, by throwing dust in her husband's eyes—for that is what it comes to—do the straight, honest, manly thing. Tell the truth; say that you have stopped her from eloping, and that you took from her lover the jewels found on you with a purpose of safeguarding them, and so make me a situation worthy of my skill. Don't load me up with another stage hero, when I am looking for a real hero; give me a chance, and I will make your reputation.”
Probably the young man would have denied any such appeal, but Mr. Thomas would at least have washed his hands of him, if he had made the audience understand that he had no sympathy with his self-sacrifice. It seems not so central, so pivotal, so structural (or destructural), somehow, as the...
(The entire section is 972 words.)