Esther Forbes Walter D. Edmonds

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Walter D. Edmonds

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Once in a great while] a book appears that so fuses history and the life of its protagonists that it makes a class of its own. In recent years I think of James Boyd's "Long Hunt" in this class, and now there is another one: Esther Forbes's new book, "The General's Lady."

To my way of thinking books like these express the essence of what historical writing should be. It is easy enough to snatch episodes out of history and string them on a heroic line, but it is hard for the reader to forget that he is reading history. That is what every reader should forget. His imagination should not be allowed to dwell in the past while he reads; the book should have its own inner present and future. Every one must have come across some author's sad attempt to create this "futurity" by putting copy prophecy into the mouth of a character, the stunned ox feels no happier.

"The General's Lady" ceases to be history within a very few pages of the start, and as it progresses with emotional inevitability to its conclusion, there is not a person involved that does not emerge in his own right as a living, breathing, feeling human being. History with its capital H makes no more difference to them than it does to the average person today as far as his emotional life is concerned; yet it is history that makes the pattern of actual events that produces their story, and it is their reaction to the pattern that makes the tragedy inevitable….

The story is neither sordid nor heroic; [Morganna] cannot rise to such heights any more than the rank and file of other human beings, and yet within her own limits her end has courage and pathos. Like other such endings it resolves the lives of the minor characters in tragedy and hope.

It is really these minor people (minor as they are related to her life) that make the book to me, at...

(The entire section is 506 words.)