Esther Forbes Kenneth B. Murdock - Essay

Kenneth B. Murdock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Paradise] cracks the moulds in which too many historical novels of early New England have been cast. [Miss Forbes] has written the story of a seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay family with the emphasis on flesh and blood, not on an artificially contrived system; on drinking, eating, breeding, not on pious meditation; and on the dramatic struggle of white man and Indian, ending bitterly in war, not on the tamer operations of religious zealots….

To be sure there are ghosts of the old lay figures in the minister whose soul wars with his body, in the little girl tormented ostensibly by conviction of sin, and there is certainly in Bathsheba a strong hint of the familiar "exotic" woman so useful in Puritan romances. But even these do not degenerate into the puppets of convention. Each of them has some color of individuality, and they share in a God's plenty of action, against a vivid setting. (p. 6)

Perhaps it is inevitable that where action is to the fore, characters lose in depth, but no one of the actors in "Paradise" is quite completely drawn. Bathsheba, for example, physically lovely and frankly seductive, never able to give herself wholly, married to one brother and the mistress of another without ever being really a lover for either, seems at any moment likely to become a rounded and defined character, but cheats the reader by going mad…. But the characters are fully enough drawn to make the action...

(The entire section is 465 words.)