Thinks It a Powerful Psychological Novel

New York Times Saturday Review

May 13, 1899, p. 315

To The New York Times Saturday Review:

After reading the numerous letters which The Saturday Review has published in condemnation of “The Triumph of Death,” “The Open Question,” and other novels of the naturalistic school—which series, by the way, culminated in a particularly drastic communication last week—one is tempted to believe that there are some persons to whom has been vouchsafed a special revelation in a department of human thought that has been a controversial state since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. The cocksure manner in which certain books are relegated to the limbo of “bad art,” the perfect assurance with which “standards” to govern the production of a work of art are proclaimed, and the sublime egotism with which personal likes and dislikes are injected into these discussions cause one to smile. In my humble opinion, Mr. Editor, what we need most in art criticism is tolerance; less “taste” and more philosophy; less cant about “idealism,” “realism,” “naturalism,” and a little more genuine inquiry as “The Open Question,” “Jude the Obscure,” and “The Triumph of Death.” An artist does not produce what he wants to produce; he produces what he must. Has he delineated well? Has he brought out salient characteristics? Has he conveyed his meaning in convincing manner? That is what I look for in art.

For my part I think “The Triumph of Death” one of the most powerful psychological novels ever written. I think D’Annunzio a master. And they who say that this novel conveys no moral lesson must certainly be lacking in perceptive power. Yet my admiration for D’Annunzio’s book, great as it is, is no greater than is my admiration for “Cyrano de Bergerac.” I[t] holds me firmly to earth, while the latter spiritually uplifts me, and both are necessary to keep me properly ballasted. To discover the laws which govern the things of sense is as important (nay, as ennobling) as to dream of that which we hope will be.

The battle between idealism and realism in philosophy and art is as old as human thought. I believe both have a portion of the truth. The world would be inconceivable without either; and there is nothing to be gained by the disciples of the ideal stigmatizing the realists in fiction as “neurotic” or the realists applying the epithet of “moonbeam idolaters” to the former.


Philadelphia, April 22, 1899.