From Scribner's, June 1934
By Evelyn Scott. Smith, Haas. $2.50.
One fine thing about Evelyn Scott as a novelist is that one constantly feels that she
is compelled to imagine the way she does. There are not in her books the clever little falsities and the adroit superficialities conspicuous elsewhere. Her imagination leads her willy-nilly: she was born to imagine.
This is clear in Breathe upon These Slain. Mrs. Scott begins an imaginative tour with some photographs and pictures she sees on the walls of a cottage she has rented near the English seacoast. Mrs. Scott tells us she means to use her findings as a starting-point for creation; but we don't feel this is just part of a novelist's technique; a new trick of the fiction-writer in a world where fiction abounds. We feel that this way of writing a novel is a soul's command, though deliberately followed. And as Mrs. Scott tells us of the vagaries of her imagination, appearance and reality seem delightfully and deeply to interchange.
From what she finds in her English cottage, Mrs. Scott creates an English family
and its human and non-human surroundings. From the photograph of four sisters, Mrs. Scott makes four lives, all of which nicely blend with the lives we ourselves have been meeting. There is Tilly, gently intense, who dies young, and whose dying comes again and again into the lives of those who live on. There is Ethel, whose love confuses her and other people for many years. There is the attractively matter-of-fact Cora. There is Meg, whose destiny is in her ungainliness. And there is the fussily domineering mother, Fidelia Courtney; and the intricately weak husband, Philip Courtney.
Perhaps, however, the high point in characterization of Mrs. Scott's book is the bustling, scheming, stupid, fawning, mighty servant of the family, Annie Rose Roberts. She grayly and luminously shows what a many-spoked wheel character is. And in Mrs. Scott's book there is the war and various suffering warriors and non-warriors. And a Yarmouth mighty unlike the Yarmouth of Dickens's David Copperfield. And many seas and many weathers. And people living gently and hatingly among themselves. And a termination, which, like the termination of life, doesn't