Edwin Pugh (review date 1915)
SOURCE: “A Book of Novels,” in Bookman, Vol. 49, No. 291, December, 1915, p. 97.
[In the following review of My People, Pugh praises the harsh depictions of the Welsh people, maintaining that “the justification of this book consists in its ineludible truth.”]
Comparative criticism is the last ditch of the defeated. The critic who, confronted with the new work of a new author, can only compare it with the work of other, older authors—almost always to the older authors' advantage—is manifestly either shirking his task or confessing his incompetence. To say that one book is like or unlike, better or worse, than another, is as informing and illuminative as to say that a parsnip is like or unlike, better or worse, than a beetroot. They are wholly distinct and different things, as each piece of literature must be wholly distinct and different from any other piece of literature. If it fall short of this canon, if it be frankly imitative and yet not a parody, then it is outside the pale of art.
I am moved to these reflections by the book which lies before me as I write. It is so very new. It is new as the New, and at the same time old as the Old, Testament. Its style, by the way, would seem to be founded on that of the Bible. It displays the same limpid simplicity in narrative. It is forceful without being violent, and direct without being harsh. Each line is packed with significance. There is nothing superfluous, nothing redundant. Often, in a few words, a man or a woman is limned so clearly and convincingly that we seem to have known him or her all our lives. A whole life-story is epitomized in a sentence. There is not a tale in the book but contains the essence of a tragedy or an epic, or at least a novel. Indeed one might almost describe My People as a book of short novels rather than as a book of short stories.
On the paper wrapper round the cover we are warned that this book “is not meat for babes,” and it is explained that “the justification for the author's realistic pictures of peasant life, as he knows it, is the obvious sincerity of his aim, which is to portray that he may make ashamed.” But to me this warning and explanation seem quite unnecessary, because, in the first and second place, neither babes nor the kind of people—My People—the Welsh Peasantry—with whom...
(The entire section is 985 words.)