The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1913
Raina (superbly):Captain Bluntschli!
Raina: Do you mean what you say just now?
Bluntschli: I do.
Raina (gasping): I! I!!! (She points to herself incredulously, meaning, "I, Raina Petkoff, tell lies!" He meets her gaze unflinchingly. She suddenly sits down beside him, and adds, with a complete change of manner, "How did you find me out?"
—Arms and the man.page 6
One of the most noteworthy facts of modern literature is the astounding rapidity with which thought has moved during the past forty years. In fact, it has moved so quickly that many people, who have been sleeping quietly, have just awakened to realise that an enormous change has taken place in our outlook on life. We in our little country are far removed from the controversies which have raged since Strindberg and Ibsen astonished Europe by their amazingly frank methods of dealing with the vital problems of human life and until late years it was only faint echoes of the strife which we heard.
But we can no longer shut our eyes to the fact that we have hypocritically and smugly looked past certain phases of human existence and said. "Those social conditions do not exist here." Any book or play which deals with human nature, its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and misfortunes, is welcomed, provided that it contains nothing which might be described by the word "unpleasant."
Unfortunately, however, it is the unpleasant things in life which have to be faced and combated; and in exposing this side of life to the public, and calling for a remedy, the drama has played an important part.
It is, no doubt, greatly irritating to a man to have his personal faults and foibles bluntly pointed out to him, even though it is with the intention that he may remedy them. It is, perhaps, annoying to a community to have its social sores exposed in all their hideous nakedness; but it is exceedingly good for the community. What indignation was aroused when Mr. Bernard Shaw produced "Widowers' Houses" and "Mrs. Warren's Profession"! Mr. Shaw was but paying the price which all reformers have to pay. Succeeding generations may give one one's due-the generation in which one lives-never. In spite of an alleged universal esteem, Mr. Shaw has not yet come into his own.
Why is it that many of us are so hypocritical? It seems strange that a nation which can produce such a magnificent literature as England has produced, is, at the present day, singularly lacking in men to whom one can apply the word "great" and in our national drama, more page 7 than in any other branch of literary activity, is the really great man wanting. It is true we have Mr. Shaw, who, perhaps, may rank with Strindberg, Ibsen, and Wedelkind. We may appreciate, or pretend to appreciate Shaw; but how many of us read or try to appreciate the two great Scandinavians? They at least can be read in translations, even if the German, Wedelkind, cannot. Why do so many adopt this "don't-want-to-know" attitude? Is it because modern drama tends to deal with life as it is, not as we pretend it to be, or as we should like it to be?
We seem to be half-suffocated with a thick atmosphere of conventionality and conservatism; and if anything comes along to shock our conventional minds, we promptly brand it as "nasty."
We wish it clearly to be understood that we are not for one moment attempting to defend those novels, the outpourings of morbid minds, which have of late years been foisted upon the public. It is this class of writer who has damaged the chances of the drama which deals with social evils? But we do assert most vigorously that we should no longer shut our eyes to the fact that the tendency is to put off the consideration of those things which, however true, seem to be unpleasant, or which wound our national self-esteem.
What kind of reception would Wedelkind's play, The Awakening of Spring, receive in New Zealand? It deals in the frankest possible manner with child-ignorance of the great mystery of life, and though it is, towards the end, semi-mystical, its treatment of the problem is brutally real. In Germany (England's greatest rival in commerce, and her superior in matters educational) it has been received with approbation; so, too, has August Strindberg's famous play, Countess Julie. The German people, having a sane and wholesome outlook on life, realise that such situations as are portrayed in these plays have had to be faced in many lives, and that though they are decidedly unpleasant, still have to be faced by many to come.
It was years before Ibsen received his due, and then only when the storm of indignation which was aroused page 8 by such plays as The Doll's House and Ghosts had sub sided. We are not attempting a comparison of the dramatists mentioned such a task is not in our sphere. But we may note that their outlooks and ideals were often vastly different-compare, for example, The Doll's House, with its insistence on "woman's right to individual development," with Strindberg's novel, The Confession of a Fool. But each of these dramatists realised that the drama was a medium through which one might express one's own experiences in life, good or evil, joyous or sad, pleasant or unpleasant.
We do not seem fully to realise this important truth and that is why we receive with cold suspicion anything which would pull us out of the conventional channels in which we move.
And to what does all this lead? Is this not merely beating the air? Perhaps so but the sooner we are "found out," the wiser, happier, and better we shall be. Doubtless, and probably with justice, we pride ourselves that our outlook on life is broad that we do our best for our fellow-man that we are, to the best of our ability, helping to make life sweeter and cleaner. There is room for a broader outlook; there is room for much improvement.