William Dean Howells: Through The Eye Of The Needle
It is safe to say that Mr. Howells would rather have this book judged as a study in sociology than as a novel of no matter how deep a romantic interest. The earnestness with which the subject has been studied obviously supplements a habit of observation that is conscious and trained. Perhaps, then, it were best to say in the beginning that Mr. Howells' book has two distinct attributes, between which it is a difficult matter to judge in respect to value: the fine literary quality is so wonderfully pervasive that the reader is con strained to label this a romance of distinction and interest; On the other hand, the treatment of the sociological theme is so keen, clever, and pointedly ironic, and the substance matter has so much of ac curacy and the convincing, that it must be admitted without parley that here is a work to place side by side with the Utopian visions of the world—with the work of More, and of Sidney, with that of Bellamy and Wells, conceding as regards the last two a decided advantage in the point of masterly writing. 'Through the Eye of the Needle' is divided into two sections. The first comprises letters written from America to Altruria by an Altrurian citizen who has come to this country to study conditions. Altruria, let it be said, is an idealistic commonwealth. Part two of the book consists of letters written by an American woman from Altruria, whither she has gone as the wife of the Altrurian. Naturally, customs and institutions in that country are as strange to her as were our customs and institutions to her husband when he visited the United States. In good truth, however, America is at no point spared in the minute analysis of her various phases and aspects. Our friend the Altrurian starts out in his very first sentence : If I spoke with Altrurian breadth of the way New Yorkers live, I should begin by saying that the New Yorkers did not live at all. After which he discourses upon the subject of apartment houses, the servant problem, the enigma of the newly rich, and the other attributes and adornments of our "advanced civilization." There is no sparing and no condoning, yet the spirit of it all is benevolently broad, and the genial but gently ironic Mr. Howells is scarcely disguised in the charity-saturated criticisms of the observant and knowing Altrurian traveler. Perhaps the most appreciable bit of work in the volume is Mr. Howells' introduction, with its mild poking of fun, and its delightful little spurts of sarcasm. The whole book means a good deal more than do most of the average books of fiction that are so constantly our portion; and even if one may not be in the mood for serious reading, and the thinking that a thoughtful book compels, there is enough of pleasantry and heart interest, and delightful character study in this volume to provide diversion, and quiet, restful entertainment. The compensation of Mr. Howells' books is that they prove good company, for the author's own genial self, with all that mellowness of refinement and culture that is his, gives life's blood to his volumes.