Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

May Sinclair’s The Divine Fire deals with the frustrations of a young poet of exceptional talent whose valuable energies are wasted in the struggle to make a living and to fulfill an enormous, self-imposed financial obligation. Sinclair shows a wide variety in her work, but there are techniques in The Divine Fire that are characteristic of her general style; the novel also contains many of the same attitudes and psychological concerns frequently found in her fiction.

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Stylistically, Sinclair is somewhat of a naturalist. In comparison with her other works, The Divine Fire is relatively long and leisurely paced, but it shares with them an acute attention to detail and an objectivity of observation. Through her skillful and unobtrusive selection of details to present, Sinclair creates a powerful impression of realism that carries its own meaning without need of comment by the author. Sinclair was influenced by H. G. Wells and thus interested in exposing the mediocrity of middle-class values and their deadening effect on the spirit. Her intent was to dramatize the way an individual life—whether an unusual one such as Keith Rickman’s or a quite ordinary one such as Flossie Walker’s—is molded by external forces. Rickman’s career, therefore, illustrates to some extent the dictum found in Sinclair’s earlier novel Audrey Craven (1897): “In our modern mythology, Custom, Circumstance, and Heredity are the three Fates that weave the web of human life.” Sinclair, nevertheless, does not approach the pessimism of Thomas Hardy or Theodore Dreiser, and she is often unwilling to accept the naturalist solution. In The Divine Fire, Rickman, after all of his suffering, is finally recognized as a genius and united with Lucia.

Although Sinclair was not a Freudian, she was certainly aware of the important psychological assumptions beginning to be made in her generation and of their implications. The reader discovers in all of her work that same sensitivity and insight into emotions and motivations that inspire The Divine Fire. She is particularly aware of the various kinds of oppression that produce frustration; one type that appears frequently—and reminds readers of Sinclair’s similarities to Henry James—is the oppressiveness parents exert over their children. Also reminiscent of James are her portraits of seemingly nice people who are in reality self-serving and unscrupulous—portraits that reflect not only her interest in the discrepancy between appearance and reality but also her desire to expose hypocrisy and false values.

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