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"The Christian"
by [?]


If one may judge by the effect it has produced in arousing a storm of criticism, the book of the year is undoubtedly “The Christian,” by Hall Caine. Not only the book of the year, perhaps, but of more years than one cares to count, for of books worth reading or remembering, there has been the fewest number within these latter days. And it must be conceded, in the beginning, that Hall Caine has written a book–a live book–and that no one will dissect it without finding blood on his rapier’s point.

As for the critics themselves, they have had much to say, after their fashions, and have wasted vast quantities of good ink in giving the author of “The Christian” meanings which he never meant. One of them has found that John Storm was intended to represent Christ himself, come back to earth in this most unbelieving Nineteenth century; a construction which seems to have been as far as possible from anything that was in the novelist’s thought. Another finds the plot weak and the motif–it is the custom to use French in this connection–strained; and can endure nothing in the book but Glory, who is “altogether delightful.” Still another is furious because of the “nurses’ ball,” and thinks it is reflection upon the whole sisterhood of trained nurses; and there are others who cannot recover from that still further insult to the sisterhood conveyed in the fact that Polly was a nurse.

I have read the criticisms–all I could find–with weariness of spirit, and have felt that the real meaning of the author lay deeper than any of these shallow comments could reach. What difference does it make whether Polly was or was not a trained nurse? The real thing at issue was this–that she was a woman, ruined and played with and tossed aside. For this book is, above all, an earnest book, with bitter protest and lofty purpose running through it, and in such a light as this the paltry errors sink into nothingness. Hall Caine has had something to say to the world, and has said it. The world has waited long enough for a writer with a message. When it comes, let the space-writers and all the horde of small spirits retire for a little while, or go on sounding the praises of this or that “society novel” by Mrs. Van Kortland Van Kordtland, or other of that ilk.

And while there may be lay-figures in the book, as has been charged, the people around whom the interest centers are so terribly real that they cannot stay in the book. They come out of it, and become part of our lives. Glory is a vivid creature, with her moods and fancies, her dual nature, with the one side of her in love with John Storm and his work, and the other side–and so much the stronger side, alas! in love with the world, and filled with merry, buoyant life. One follows her through every step of her course, and feels the moral deterioration coming upon her so gradually and yet so surely. Splendid, wholesome, Glory, pure-eyed and frank-hearted, going through the wild rout of music-halls and theatrical successes, suggestive songs, Derby days and midnight suppers; one follows her with dread as though she were the child of a loved friend, and finds the smell of fire gathering upon her garments. Nothing could so show Hall Caine’s art as this. If he had written nothing else worth reading, Glory should make him immortal, for this sweet, wild nature is more a living being to us than many whom we meet every day.

But the real character of the book is John Storm, one of the finest portrayals that the English language has yet given to fiction; a Christian, but not Christ. Nothing could be more human than this man, full of faults, and yet so earnest, so brave, so intense. His love for Glory is the dominant feeling that leads him into many strange paths, for he loves as intensely as he works; but above even this he is a Christian, and trying to do the work of Christ. How natural it is that a man like this, filled with enthusiasm and eager to begin work among the poor and the suffering, should find the shallow hypocrisies and shams of a fashionable church abhorrent to his soul. And the asceticism of the Brotherhood was as far from the possibilities of this man as long-faced and comfortable hypocrisy would have been. It was the fall of poor, ignorant Polly that gave him his life-work; and the discharge of the girl from her position in the hospital, while the man who had accomplished her ruin remained a member of the Board which presided over the destinies of that same hospital.