Project Gutenberg's Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, by David Graham Phillips
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Title: Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise
Author: David Graham Phillips
Release Date: August 26, 2006 [EBook #450] [First posted March, 1996]
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE ***
SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE
by David Graham Phillips
WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY NEW YORK LONDON
DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS
Even now I cannot realize that he is dead, and often in the city streets—on Fifth Avenue in particular—I find myself glancing ahead for a glimpse of the tall, boyish, familiar figure—experience once again a flash of the old happy expectancy.
I have lived in many lands, and have known men. I never knew a finer man than Graham Phillips.
His were the clearest, bluest, most honest eyes I ever saw—eyes that scorned untruth—eyes that penetrated all sham.
In repose his handsome features were a trifle stern—and the magic of his smile was the more wonderful—such a sunny, youthful, engaging smile.
His mere presence in a room was exhilarating. It seemed to freshen the very air with a keen sweetness almost pungent.
He was tall, spare, leisurely, iron-strong; yet figure, features and bearing were delightfully boyish.
Men liked him, women liked him when he liked them.
He was the most honest man I ever knew, clean in mind, clean-cut in body, a little over-serious perhaps, except when among intimates; a little prone to hoist the burdens of the world on his young shoulders.
His was a knightly mind; a paladin character. But he could unbend, and the memory of such hours with him—hours that can never be again—hurts more keenly than the memory of calmer and more sober moments.
We agreed in many matters, he and I; in many we differed. To me it was a greater honor to differ in opinion with such a man than to find an entire synod of my own mind.
Because—and of course this is the opinion of one man and worth no more than that—I have always thought that Graham Phillips was head and shoulders above us all in his profession.
He was to have been really great. He is—by his last book,
Not that, when he sometimes discussed the writing of it with me, I was in sympathy with it. I was not. We always were truthful to each other.
But when a giant molds a lump of clay into tremendous masses, lesser men become confused by the huge contours, the vast distances, the terrific spaces, the majestic scope of the ensemble. So I. But he went on about his business.
I do not know what the public may think of "Susan Lenox." I scarcely know what I think.
It is a terrible book—terrible and true and beautiful.
Under the depths there are unspeakable things that writhe. His plumb-line touches them and they squirm. He bends his head from the clouds to do it. Is it worth doing? I don't know.
But this I do know—that within the range of all fiction of all lands and of all times no character has so overwhelmed me as the character of Susan Lenox.
She is as real as life and as unreal. She is Life. Hers was the concentrated nobility of Heaven and Hell. And the divinity of the one and the tragedy of the other. For she had known both—this girl—the most pathetic, the most human, the most honest character ever drawn by an American writer.
In the presence of his last work, so overwhelming, so stupendous, we lesser men are left at a loss. Its magnitude demands the perspective that time only can lend it. Its dignity and austerity and its pitiless truth impose upon us that honest and intelligent silence which even the quickest minds concede is necessary before an honest verdict.
Truth was his goddess; he wrought honestly and only for her.
He is dead, but he is to have his day in court. And whatever the verdict, if it be a true one, were he living he would rest content.
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS.
BEFORE THE CURTAIN
A few years ago, as to the most important and most interesting subject in the world, the relations of the sexes, an author had to choose between silence and telling those distorted truths beside which plain lying seems almost white and quite harmless. And as no author could afford to be silent on the subject that underlies all subjects, our literature, in so far as it attempted to deal with the most vital phases of human nature, was beneath contempt. The authors who knew they were lying sank almost as low as the nasty-nice purveyors of fake idealism and candied pruriency who fancied they were writing the truth. Now it almost seems that the day of lying conscious and unconscious is about run. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
There are three ways of dealing with the sex relations of men and women—two wrong and one right.
For lack of more accurate names the two wrong ways may be called respectively the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental. Both are in essence processes of spicing up and coloring up perfectly innocuous facts of nature to make them poisonously attractive to perverted palates. The wishy-washy literature and the wishy-washy morality on which it is based are not one stage more—or less—rotten than the libertine literature and the libertine morality on which it is based. So far as degrading effect is concerned, the "pure, sweet" story or play, false to nature, false to true morality, propagandist of indecent emotions disguised as idealism, need yield nothing to the so-called "strong" story. Both pander to different forms of the same diseased craving for the unnatural. Both produce moral atrophy. The one tends to encourage the shallow and unthinking in ignorance of life and so causes them to suffer the merciless penalties of ignorance. The other tends to miseducate the shallow and unthinking, to give them a ruinously false notion of the delights of vice. The Anglo-Saxon "morality" is like a nude figure salaciously draped; the Continental "strength" is like a nude figure salaciously distorted. The Anglo-Saxon article reeks the stench of disinfectants; the Continental reeks the stench of degenerate perfume. The Continental shouts "Hypocrisy!" at the Anglo-Saxon; the Anglo-Saxon shouts "Filthiness!" at the Continental. Both are right; they are twin sisters of the same horrid mother. And an author of either allegiance has to have many a redeeming grace of style, of character drawing, of philosophy, to gain him tolerance in a clean mind.
There is the third and right way of dealing with the sex relations of men and women. That is the way of simple candor and naturalness. Treat the sex question as you would any other question. Don't treat it reverently; don't treat it rakishly. Treat it naturally. Don't insult your intelligence and lower your moral tone by