Prince Zaleski by M. P. Shiel
The Degradation Of Geoffrey Alwith by Morley Roberts
Reviewed by Jas. Stanley Little
The Academy, April 13, 1895, p. 312

Mr. M. P. Shiel's stories have at least one uncommon virtue: they improve as they go on. "The Race of Orven" is better than "The Stone of the Edmundsbury Monks" and "The S. S." is in advance of either. As to the first, it is so crudely written that it reads like the effusion of a precocious schoolboy. We must confess, too, to being heartily tired of the weird in fiction; the taint in the blood, the stain on the floor, with the accessories of hanging lamps and Oriental draperies. Prince Zaleski is the conventional sphinx-like Muscovite. We are introduced to him reclining on a couch " from which the draping of cloth-of-silver rolled torrent over the floor." He is environed by the usual assortment of bric-a-brac - Graeco-Etruscan vases, Memphitic mummies, Hindu gods - an old curiosity shop, in fact. With much that is "sloppy," and more that is inflated, there are certain lucid flashes. The Prince's idea that the individual intelligence and culture of man can never pass on to a higher place until the sum of intelligence and culture has moved upward, is convincingly and ably put forward. But, as a whole, the book is morbid, strained, and distinctly superfluous.

If Mr. Shiel is morbid, what are we to say of Mr. Morley Roberts? He introduces us to a man of strong passions which he has held under control, biding the time when he can claim the woman he loves. To this end he devotes himself to his art with a singleness of purpose which would be entirely admirable were it not just a little too indecent. The attitude of the man suggests the beast of prey lurking for its victim. He is economical in expending the fruits of his labours as he is lavish in the expenditure of his vital forces upon his work. At length the wretched specimen of womanhood for whom this man slaves consents to be his wife. On the morrow he discovers that he has fallen a victim to an incurable and quickly slaying disease. The situation is a finely dramatic one. Which of us when on the eve of realizing some long-waited-for boon, for which he has laboured and toiled unceasingly, has not experienced the sickening dread that the finger of fate was upon him, that the prize was not to be his after all? Happily, in most such cases the fear is born of the imagination, slightly perverted by the tension of delay. But when, as in this poor painter's instance, the fear is confirmed by the highest medical authority, what can exceed the misery of the victim? Alwith, whose nature is licentious, though it is controlled by a single-minded passion, rushes into every excess. In his degradation he is ministered to by a woman who had been his model and loved him from afar, but who is now among the outcasts of society. The book is extremely powerful, artistic, and dramatic. But the time has come when we must beseech writers of this kind of fiction to stay their hand.

Transcribed by Victor A. Berch

Return to M. P. Shiel