Julia (Mood) Peterkin Archer Winsten - Essay

Archer Winsten

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The isolated world of Bright Skin], for most of us necessarily exotic, has authentic beauty and more than a touch of nobility. Mrs. Peterkin's simplicity of style matches with perfect art a subject equally devoid of complication. But readers who are familiar with her previous work will note that Black April and Scarlet Sister Mary had the same subject and are not improved upon. Details may vary, but the essence is the same. And it happens to be an all-pervading essence which is expressed in similar phraseology and incident. Moreover, the characters, nicely individualized within a single book, are to some extent repeated under different names in each subsequent book. For instance, Blue in Bright Skin and Breeze in Black April might be the same small boy.

Instead of starting out to write a tetralogy or a Forsyte Saga and setting up a time sequence, genealogies and the devices of that sort of work, Mrs. Peterkin has begun anew with each book. She has apparently thought that a different plot and some variation of character would constitute another novel. For some writers this would be true, but not for her. The graphic incident is the brick of her novel-building. And there seems to be a natural limit to significant character variation among her simple people. Either that, or she as a white woman is not able to delve deeply into the secret places of another race.

Mrs. Peterkin has written four volumes, but they are only one novel. She must now decide whether to start a new novel or add another volume to her already masterful creation of Negro life. In the latter case she must remember that her stage is fully set. The heroic figure of April begging to be buried "in a man-size box" though his legs have been amputated, and the marvellous, ever-sinning Si' May'e lend to their stories a crowning quality which is lacking in Bright Skin. For in the end Cricket has eluded us; she has gone where the author cannot follow, and her going confirms our suspicion that we have learned little which was not said in the earlier volumes. Luckily the stuff of Mrs. Peterkin's novels bears repeating uncommonly well. (pp. 107-08)

Archer Winsten, in a review of "Bright Skin," in The Bookman, New York, Vol. LXXV, No. 1, April, 1932, pp. 107-08.