Pete comes home, suspecting no harm; still childish of heart and loud of voice—a trifle too loud, by the way; his shouts begin to irritate the reader, and the reader begins to feel how sorely they must have irritated his wife: for the unhappy Kate is forced, after all, into marrying Pete. And so the tragedy begins.
I wish, with my heart, I could congratulate Mr. Hall Caine as warmly upon the remainder of the book as upon its first two parts. He is too sure an artist to miss the solution—the only adequate solution—of the problem. The purification of Philip Christian and Kitty must come, if at all, “as by fire”; and Mr. Hall Caine is not afraid to take us through the deepest fire. No suffering daunts him—neither the anguish of Kitty, writhing against her marriage with Pete, nor the desperate pathos of Pete after his wife has run away, pretending to the neighbors that she has only gone to Liverpool for her health, and actually writing letters and addressing parcels to himself and posting them from out-of-the-way towns to deceive the local postman; nor the moral ruination of Philip, with whom Kitty is living in hiding; nor his final redemption by the ordeal of a public confession before the great company assembled to see him reach the height of worldly ambition and be appointed governor of his native island.
And yet—I have a suspicion that Mr. Hall Caine, who deals by preference with the elemental emotions, would rejoice in the epithet “AEschylean” applied to his work. The epithet would not be unwarranted: but it is precisely when most consciously AEschylean that Mr. Hall Caine, in my poor judgment, comes to grief. This is but to say that he possesses the defects of his qualities. There is altogether too much of the “Go to: let me be Titanic” about the book. AEschylus has grown a trifle too well aware of his reputation, has taken to underscoring his points, and tends to prolixity in consequence. Mr. Hall Caine has not a little of Hugo’s audacity, but, with it, not a little of Hugo’s diffuseness. Standing, like Destiny, with scourge lifted over the naked backs of his two poor sinners, he spares them no single stroke—not so much as a little one. Every detail that can possibly heighten their suffering is brought out in its place, until we feel that Life, after all, is more careless, and tell ourselves that Fate does not measure out her revenge with an inch rule. We see the machinery of pathos at work: and we are rather made incredulous than moved when the machinery works so accurately