NYT Jul 2, 1904 Givers

From New York Times (Jul 2, 1904)


THE GIVERS. Short Stories. By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Illustrated. One volume. Pp. 295. New York: Harper & Brothers. $1.25.

The time is long past when the penwork of Mary Wilkins Freeman needs any other warrant than its author's signature to insure its speedy and successful distribution, but it will still do no harm to say that those who possess themselves of her most recent publication, “The Givers,” on the strength of her name will find their judgment in that respect fully corroborated. Change of residence has evidently not at all affected her estimation of the availability of New England character as subject matter on which to expend her literary ability, for people and scenes in “The Givers” are all plainly intended to be indigenous to that particular circle of American society of which Boston is the “Hub.” As to whether they really are strictly indigenous there, people — even native New Englanders — may differ, but there will probably be little difference in their estimates of Mrs. Freeman's stories as examples of the story writer's art. Each contains a central thought worth expanding, and to this best of all excuses for a story's existence is added the most attractive garb of verbal pathos, wit, and wisdom in which Mrs. Freeman is capable of clothing her thoughts.

Her New Englanders have not always been as attractive personally as those whom she has brought together in this book. There is, happily, not one of those morbid, melancholy, insanely reserved and remote specimens of womanhood with whom she was once so fond of burdening New England households. But old maids still predominate as her heroines, and are of a vigor and strength of mind and of a usefulness and power in their respective communities that are bound to be comforting to their supposedly forlorn kind the world over. In the title story, “The Givers,” a certain bold-souled Aunt Sophia has the courage to do what most people hardly dare allow themselves to think in their inmost communings. Thoroughly disgusted with the generally useless and inappropriate character of her niece's wedding gifts, she calmly and openly returned them to their donors, giving her reasons therefor. Such courage in one's convictions sounds improbable, even in fiction, but the result, as depicted in “The Givers,” makes one realize that Mrs. Freeman intended this story more as a sort of vision of millennial conditions than as anything typical of the present era anywhere. Is is an excellent vision, though, and will appeal at least to all who have upheld “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.”

“The Reign of the Doll” and “The Chance of Araminta” also concern old maids, and are highly entertaining. The first relates how two old sisters who had been estranged by a quarrel over the division of their mother's property were finally brought together “through the mediation of the universal plaything of childhood which had come to them out of a mystery into a common ground of old love and memories.” They named it Peace and kept it for little girls to play with if any happened in with their mothers.

Araminta was the kind of old maid that had her chance, missed it, and avenged herself by living a particularly cheerful and useful life of single blessedness.

“The Last Gift” is a touching little story about an itinerant parson who followed the Biblical injunction as to ignoring wherewithal he should be fed and clothed, and who was so possessed of a most unselfish love for his kind, and of an involuntary generosity that it amounted to a pure and innocent but unruly passion. When he had finally given away every material thing in his possession and was feeling the sorest bankruptcy that can come to a generous heart, it was his fate to become the only hope of a family in such a forlorn state of destitution that it seemed to him as if he must die or go mad if he could not do something to alleviate their distress. The only way offered was by theft, and in an access of pity he gave the last gift he had to give — his own honesty.

The remaining stories are perhaps less out of the common than those mentioned, but all are in Mrs. Freeman's familiar and most acceptable vein.