Sheaves by E. F. Benson
Sheaves, by E. F. Benson, purposes at the start to be a study of discrepancy in age between husband and wife. It needs no argument to show that the story of a marriage between a man of twenty-seven and a woman of forty-four must depend for whatever interest it has upon development of character. Only in the rare case where the man and woman are by some freak of fate strangely fitted for one another in every respect save that of years, that a problem of this kind is worth the working out.
Hugh Grainger and Edith Allbutt are two people thus miraculously intended for each other. In both the dramatic and artistic temperaments are highly developed. Hugh has a voice which in Lohengrin sets all musical Europe aflame. Mrs. Allbutt is the author of a new play which has taken London by storm. With the blindness of a dreamer Hugh refuses to look ahead; Edith looks ahead, but, because her early life has been embittered and she is hungry to snatch a little joy from the years still left her, she defies the future. Mr. Benson is undeniably a careful worker. He builds up character with a leisurely thoroughness and a clear-eyed appreciation of the value of little things that one often misses in writers of larger calibre than he. For this reason one regrets to see him deliberately shirk his responsibility in this book.
The one purpose of the story, the one justification for its existence, is to follow down these ill-assorted lives for ten, fifteen, twenty years, and show in what particular form the inevitable tragedy will take place. Instead of doing this, Mr. Benson falls back upon the rather cowardly expedient of letting the heroine develop a weakness of heart and lungs and, after lingering for a few months between hope and fear at the famous consumptive resort of Davos, suddenly sink during her husband’s brief absence to London and pass away almost before he could return to her.
In a somewhat over-subtle way Mr. Benson apparently holds the difference of years responsible for the wife’s death. He seems to argue that her morbid sensitiveness causes her to fear constantly that her young husband will become bored if tied too long to a frail invalid in a health resort. Accordingly, she forces herself to persuade him to go to London, thinking she is acting most wisely for both; but it is really the lack of the daily stimulus of his presence that robs her of her last chance of recovery. In this sense the death may be called logical, but Mr. Benson ought to have remembered that it is even a bigger thing to make his characters live logically.