Review (1916) of Isabel Paterson’s
The Shadow Riders (1916)

by Wilson Follett (1887-1963)

IMP-SR.1The only other American novel of anything like the same power and finish [as Alice Brown’s The Prisoner] is The Shadow Riders,1 a great panoramic study of contemporary civilization where its development is most rapid and bewildering – that is, in the Canadian Northwest. In this full yet uncrowded reproduction of an industrial, political, and social epoch, Mrs. Isabel Paterson has made one of the finest cisatlantic novels of recent years.
IMP-SR.2 To begin with, two considerable sources of interest, the regional and the historical, are inherent in the subject. The setting is provincial, remote, and hitherto unexploited; and it is changing so rapidly as to compress within a few years all the phenomena of a fairly intricate modern community. Land multiplies its value, politicians rise to eminence and fall to obscurity, elections are won and lost, parties reorganize, social cliques form, newspapers make and unmake reputations and are themselves made and unmade, franchises are schemed for, quarrels fought out and shoved aside, Reciprocity becomes first a momentous and then a dead issue; and presently the war comes to swallow up a thousand such matters in the feeling of a common disaster, the need of a common loyalty – all within the term of a single human love! The people remain the same people, little gray in their hair or none: yet how the world has gone on! It is an impressive and absorbing exhibition of ‘blind force acting necessarily’ in a multitude of human lives.
IMP-SR.3 Yet blind force is not the chief propulsive agent of the story, nor is the multitude its hero. The Shadow Riders owes half its distinction to its grasp of these; but it owes the rest to its author’s skill in making them contribute to the compact drama of four lives, each of considerable character, and to the author’s own admirable philosophy and wit. Channing Herrick goes to the scene of the story – Calgary, perhaps? – for his health; but he remains to give himself whole-heartedly and cleanly to the public life of the New West. In his comradeship with Lesley Johns – a comfortably unsentimental relation which he does not know for love until the war has claimed him – two fine personalities open to each other. Mrs. Paterson obviously intends this girl as the very best and bravest the New World can show in womanhood; and few will find fault with her ideal. Chan’s uncle Ross Whittemore and his young wife are the other chief personæ. Drawn at full length in firm, deft lines, all four live with us far beyond page the last – and is not this the supreme magic?
IMP-SR.4 The spirit of the book is impersonal, balanced, mildly and mellowly ironic, never censorious. Piercing vision, a voice of sympathy, and rigid self-command – these are the author’s equipment. She says at the outset, ‘There is an old proverb that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It is doubtless a true saying; I only wonder what one does with the flies after having caught them.’ There is no honey in Mrs. Paterson’s bait. Neither is there any vinegar. But there will never be any difficulty about the flies!

IMP-SR.n1.1 1 The Shadow Riders. By ISABEL PATERSON. New York: John Lane Co.

“Sentimentalist, Satirist, and Realist:
Notes on Some Recent Fiction,” pp. 497-498;
Atlantic Monthly 118, no. 4 (October 1916), pp. 490-502.

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