Florence Finch Kelly

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

by Florence Finch Kelly (1858-1939)

The Shadow Riders. By Isabel Paterson. New York: John Lane Company.

IMP-SR.1 Mrs. Paterson, who is a Canadian newspaper woman, deserves warm congratulations for her first novel because it is so many of the varied kinds of things a novel ought to be. She must be credited with a large, well-rounded, well-done achievement, having fewer and less glaring flaws and faults than a first attempt in fiction is well entitled to. The story covers some years, perhaps half a dozen, in the lives and fortunes of a number of people whose business or pleasure has brought them together in a rapidly growing town on the Canadian Transcontinental Railroad in Alberta. Perhaps the author’s most signal achievement is the simple, unostentatious way in which she has caught and portrayed the spirit of such a town – its boundless confidence in itself, its crude young vigour, its democracy that now dominates and now cringes before its latent sense of class, its inherent lawlessness subtly penetrating into the lives of its citizens – it is all very like one of our own youthful, clamourous, upstart and overgrown Western communities. But there is a difference, enough of a difference to impart to the book, for readers in the United States, the piquant flavour of a chronicle of life in an alien, although a neighbour and a kindred, land. Aside from its merit as a story the book ought to have wide reading in this country just because it does picture and interpret so truthfully the kindred but different life of our neighbours to the north, which we know and understand and sympathise with far too little. A part of the action takes place a few years ago during the campaign in which the proposal of reciprocity between Canada and the United States went down to defeat. The account of that campaign and of the varied feelings it roused, all an integral part of the story, would be instructive and illuminating reading for certain public men in this country, to say nothing of many others of more humble station.
IMP-SR.2 But it is primarily a story about people and so is brimming with personal and dramatic interest – personal interests that are constantly interwoven with the social, the business, the political, the public interests of the city, the province, the Dominion. There are two love stories. One considers some of the developments of the lesser one of these with doubt, but it ends upon a very real and human note that shows intimate knowledge of feminine psychology. The other love story has for its feminine factor as charming and vital a young woman as one is likely to find in current fiction. She is a dauntless, democratic soul, a true and colourful outgrowth of her parentage and surroundings. One marks especially the freshness, the vitality and convincingness of the author’s touch and her keen, sure insight into human nature, in her portrayal of almost all of the many and widely varying characters, both men and women, who fill the book.
IMP-SR.3 Mrs. Paterson’s novel shows a striking similarity of both method and effects to the work of the better English novelists. It carries the same sense of rich background, although that background of life is so contrastingly different; it shows the same kind of intimate knowledge and careful study of the life it portrays and it produces the same conviction of utter and transparent truthfulness. But its picture is painted with a bolder, freer stroke, its horizons are wider and more spacious, the wide-ranging winds of man’s activities blow more gustily through its pages. It is, in short, a product of literary eugenics.

The Bookman 43 (May 1916), pp. 319-321.

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