Anthenaeum (review date 1904)
SOURCE: A review of Pope Jacynth and Other Fantastic Tales, in Anthenaeum, Vol. 2, No. 4027, December 31, 1904, p. 903.
[In the following essay, the critic offers a negative assessment of the stories in Pope Jacynth and Other Fantastic Tales.]
The lady who writes under the pen-name of Vernon Lee has a well-defined literary personality; and these tales are much what those familiar with her work might have expected from her. They belong to that order of tale which has affinities with the literary hybrid called prose-poetry—a form which betrays its hybrid nature by its sterility, its inability to beget vital literary offspring. The poetic affinities of that order of tale are specially evident in this—that instead of the treatment being a vehicle for the tale, the tale is a vehicle for the treatment. We are all familiar with such poems as the 'Isabella,' where Boccaccio's tale is retold merely to afford a theme for Keats's luxuriant imagery and imagination. Any love-tale would have sufficed as well, but Keats happened to choose this. Precisely the same is the function which the story subserves in such tales as these; just such its relative importance. It is an excuse for workmanship. The writer (it would seem) is not specially interested in the story as a story; he sees in it an opportunity for his sense of arrangement and symmetry, his grace of narration—above all, for the display of his style. It is, of course, a legitimate branch of art—but about its value one may fairly debate. In its nature it is very self-conscious; its simplicity (when it is simple) is an elaborate simplicity; and even its perfection is a frozen or carven perfection. One may admire, but one is not moved. One may have a certain tepid pleasure, but...
(The entire section is 734 words.)