Esther Forbes Henry Commager

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Henry Commager

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miss Forbes is in love with New England, and ["Rainbow on the Road"] is her confession and her declaration. It is, to be sure, about New England of a century ago, but much of it is familiar, both the appearance and the character. This view of New England is a welcome change from current fashion—early autumns or desire under the elms or last puritans or George Apleys—and it is a long time since we have had a book that delighted in the granite ledges and the noisy brooks and the little white villages and the flavor of the villages….

"Rainbow on the Road" is a picaresque novel. As with most picaresque novels, the story itself is not very important….

Ruby Lambkin comes to dominate the book, though not wholly. If Miss Forbes owes little to Freud, she owes much to Hawthorne, and this is a sort of picaresque Marble Farm situation. Everywhere Jude goes he hears tell of Ruby Lambkin:

            Ruby Lambkin is my name
            In breaking jails I've won my fame
            I give to poor and steal from rich
            No law of man's can hold me.

There were many other verses, as many as there were adventures, real or imagined. He was (so at least Jude thought), a sort of Robin Hood; he represented much that Jude himself wished to be and to have—freedom and adventure and love and sense of power. Jude looked like the famed Ruby, and soon he was identifying himself with Ruby. At first it was something of a joke…. In time it came to be an obsession….

This sounds like a bit of heavy weather, but it is not. What is memorable about "Rainbow on the Road" is the humor and the good humor, the high spirits, the...

(The entire section is 443 words.)