Literary Notes

by John Kendrick Bangs

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 97 Issue 581 (November 1898)

A vivid and thrilling side light is thrown on the Deerfield massacre in the opening story of Miss Mary E. Wilkins's new collection published under the title of Silence, and Other Stories.3 While one may miss in this particular story the wonderful humor which might almost be said to have been the dominant note in Miss Wilkins's work hitherto, it is not until after the story has been read and is being analyzed that the inward tickling of the soul which goes with almost every page of the author's past work is missed. And in this particular instance the lack of it is not regretted, since it would have been wholly out of place in a narrative descriptive of that trying period of New England history.

The terrors of the incident are as plainly reproduced as though it were being enacted before our eyes, yet Miss Wilkins, like the true artist that she is, and unlike many who in the fiction of to-day deal with the unhappy things of life, does not insist upon the gloom and horror of it all. In the hands of some the picture might have become a nightmare, disturbing in its exaggeration of suffering; in Miss Wilkins's hands it reads like history presented vividly yet with no undue tearing up of the reader's soul. There is no argumentation to try to prove to the reader that he or she is indifferent to the tragedy of the situation. In other words, Miss Wilkins in this, as in her other fiction, does not assume that her readers are a torpid band of indifferent persons who need to be egged on to an appreciation of the fact that at certain times certain people have undergone fearful hardships. Nor, on the other hand, does she assume that the readers of the day can only be satisfied by a grotesque and unhealthy sensationalism. If one might hazard an opinion with regard to her position in literature, and how and why she has attained to it, it could be said that it is the simple, natural, convincing realism of her work, the fidelity of her pictures, the sweet underlying humor, the fact that she laughs and cries with her characters, and never at or over them, that have brought her laurels to her.

The volume contains besides “Silence,” “The Buckley Lady”; “Evelina's Garden,” one of the tenderest of Miss Wilkins's short stories; “A New England Prophet”; “The Little Maid at the Door,” and “Lydia Hersey of East Bridgwater.” Together they make one of the most attractive collections that Miss Wilkins has yet given us, and in them all are to be found to a marked degree the qualities which have made for their author an audience peculiarly her own.

3 Silence, and Other Stories. By Mary E. Wilkins. Illustrated. 16mo, Cloth, $1 25. New York and London: Harper and Brothers.