Esther Forbes Edith H. Walton - Essay

Edith H. Walton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Unlike so many historical novelists, who either overstress background or are content to use it as a pretty costume device, Miss Forbes has achieved a balance, an integration between character and environment which is responsible for the living quality of ["Paradise"]. Period color is not permitted to dwarf individuals, and the family of Jude Parre loom larger than their setting. What is more important, and certainly more rare, they act, feel, think like children of their age. As with Hawthorne, upon whose territory she is trespassing, Miss Forbes seems to feel in her bones the spiritual climate of Puritan New England. Her characters are less mystical and less austere, but on their own, more worldly plane they mirror as faithfully the temper of the times….

Quoting the words of Miss Forbes …, I have called this novel a historical romance. Actually—and this is perhaps the highest tribute one can pay it—"Paradise" impresses one as realism rather than romance. Dramatic and glamorous as its story is, one has the most vivid convictions throughout that it is true to essential fact. These people, the Parres and their servants and their friends, are somehow believable and right. They act as such people must have acted; they are subject to the superstitions and compulsions of Puritanism and their times, yet one feels that those compulsions have not been duly exaggerated. Taking a vast deal of knowledge in her stride, Miss Forbes has written a book which seems to be entirely compelling. "Paradise," I think, is as fine a historical novel as any one could reasonably ask.

Edith H. Walton, "A Major Novel by Esther Forbes," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1937 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 28, 1937, p. 2.