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The Crimson Bookshelf

THE FOXES, by R. P. Harriss, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 240 pages, $2.50.

By C. C. G.

THE extreme latitude which is already granted to the term 'novel' must be extended even further to include what Houghton Mifflin's blurb writer calls "A unique and beautiful novel. . ." No reader who finishes Mr. Harriss' delightful book will cavil at the adjectives 'unique and beautiful'; one must add, however, that it is not a novel in any of the several meanings which the word has had.

As a matter of fact, "The Foxes" defies classification. There have been no books like it before. It probably lies as near the boundary of personal reminiscence as that of any other field, but even there it is transformed by a new point of view--new at least in a serious work for adults. With but a few digressions, the point of view is the eye of a fox, a fox traced from his birth to the last hunt in a country where fox hunting is life. This thread of unity is broken only by several brief and splendidly executed vignettes of South Carolina plantation life, cockfighting, whopper-telling, and a few poignant sequences depicting with brave objectivity the final breakdown of the old plantation system.

The most compelling thing about this book is the complete absence of allegory or symbolism. There is an ambiguity present at times which is strikingly reminiscent of Virginia Woolf, but never does the reader feel that the author means anything more than his simple and sincere statements. At times the sincerity and simplicity combine to create the impression that the work was intended for children. Such passages are, however, happily rare. Mr. Harriss is consistently and admirably straight-forward, and wholly objective where others have lapsed into subjective nostalgia and weak symbolism. In this lies the principal and indubitable strength of the book.

Both the fund of knowledge and vocabulary of the author are redolent of the woods, the swamps, and the plantation. Many chapters are titled with place-names, "Spaniard's Grave," "Millway Run," "The Copse," "The Ridge," "Sweetgum Spinney," "The Savannah," The hounds are catalogued, the author finding in the music of their names excuse for theft from Lyly, Burton, and Walt Whitman; "Bluebell and Burly, . . Old Drum, . . Rouster, . . Bugler, Fifer, Bounce, Nimble, Witchcraft, Warlock, and Wisdom. . . He told over their names, softly, for their names were autumnal melody ... Ringwood, Dashwood, Robin, Patrona, Pirate, Gadabout. . . Falstaff, Rockaby, Sweetheart, Tireless, Highlander, Pibroch, Chieftan, Crystal, Valkyrie, Beldame, Pickpocket, Tattler, Blackamoor, Dragoon, ... Tipster, Hector, Melodius, Lucifer, Strident, Chorister, Lark, Cherokee, Hurricane, Phoebe, Fanciful, Juno, Linda." Three of Music's puppies, the Cap'n happily named "Do, Re, and Mi." The author evinces an admirable and affectionate knowledge of hounds and fox-hunting.

The writer of "The Foxes" has not sacrificed his art or his pleasure on the altars of fame and true greatness. He has no pretensions. He does not attempt to explain life or to escape it, he presents it as he sees it, with a quiet grace and charm that is always captivating. The Negro dialect is presented echoicly without the slightest attempt at humor. The work is a lyrical pastoral, delicately beautiful. One must struggle to speak prosaicly of it when inevitably there is a rhapsody on the tip of one's tongue.

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