The Dangerous Age deals with a bold subject; it is a novel filled with the “strong meat” of human nature; a novel which speaks in accents at once painful and ironical, and ends in despair; but it is also a book to which the most scrupulous author on the question of “the right to speak out” need not hesitate to attach his name.
It is difficult for one who knows no Danish, to judge of its literary value; and that is my case. In the German version—and I hope also in the French—the reader will not fail to discern some of the novelist’s finest gifts. In the first instance, there is that firmness and solidity of structure which is particularly difficult to keep up when a book takes the form of a journal, of jottings and meditations, as does The Dangerous Age. Then there are the depth of reflection, the ingenuity of the arguments, the muscular brevity of style, the expression being closely modelled upon the thought; nothing is vague, but nothing is superfluous. We must not seek in this volume for picturesque landscape painting, for the lyrical note, for the complacently woven “purple patch.” The book is rigorously deprived of all these things; and, having regard to its subject, this is not its least merit.
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When a woman entitles a book The Dangerous Age we may feel sure she does not intend to write of the dangers of early youth. The dangerous age described by Karin Michaelis is precisely that time of life which inspired Octave Feuillet to write the novel, half-dialogue, half-journal, which appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1848, was adapted for the stage, played at the Gymnase in 1854, and reproduced later with some success at the Comedie-Francaise—I mean the work entitled La Crise.
It is curious to compare the two books, partly on account of the long space of time which separates them, and partly because of the different way in which the two writers treat the same theme.
Octave Feuillet, be it remembered, only wrote what might be spoken aloud in the most conventional society. Nevertheless those who think the author of Monsieur de Cantors timid and insipid are only short-sighted critics. I advise my readers when they have finished the last page of The Dangerous Age to re-read La Crise. They will observe many points of resemblance, notably in the “journal” portion of the latter. Juliette, Feuillet’s heroine, thus expresses herself:
“What name can I give to this moral discomfort, this distaste for my former habits, this aimless restlessness and discontent with myself and others, of which I have been conscious during the last few months?... I have taken it into my head to hate the trinkets on my husband’s watchchain. We lived together in peace for ten years, those trinkets and I ... Now, I don’t know why, we have suddenly fallen out....”
These words from La Crise contain the argument of The Dangerous Age.