Saturday, November 21, 2015

1891 Reviews of the Witch of Prague by F Marion Crawford

The Witch of Prague, review in the Literary News 1891

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MR. MARION CRAWFORD is the most notable living instance to prove that an author may be prolific without deteriorating. He has, on the contrary, gained more and more mastery over his art since he first won wide repute by “Mr. Isaacs.” The present writer has read all and reviewed several of Mr. Crawford's novels; and now, having just read “The Witch of Prague,” he finds his admiration of its author's brilliant and exceptionally varied literary faculty enhanced in no slight degree. There is no living British novelist who can compete with Mr. Crawford in range and variety; and though these qualities are not everything, nor even, from the point of view of art, the main thing, they generally concur with a charm that is sufficiently rare to be always welcome and delightful. Of course, something more than wide range and variety of subject is meant; for art lies in the manner rather than the matter, if the two can fitly be dissociated at all. No doubt something is apt to be lost in the gain of wider scope and freer movement, but that any forfeiture of this kind paid by Mr. Crawford is to the serious detriment of the high quality of his work will not be imagined by those who have read romances so notable in literary power and so varied in kind as “Mr. Isaacs” and “The Tale of a Lonely Parish,” “A Roman Singer” and “Zoroaster,” “Marzio's Crucifix” and “To Leeward,” “A Cigarette-Maker's Romance” and “The Witch of Prague.” His latest book is almost defiantly handicapped; for surely no one, save a master confident of his craft and of his audience, or else an amateur sinning in ignorance against the public taste, would venture to publish a novel wherein the hero is never once named, but always alluded to as “The Wanderer;” where the heroine is “Unorna” and, to echo Poe's Raven, “nothing more;” where one of the protagonists is called Keyork Arabian (as though such strange nomenclature were as natural as “John Smith.”); and where the co-heroine is so shadowy and unreal a personage that one is almost indifferent whether she be the vision imagined by Unorna or the veritable living daughter of a still more shadowy and unreal father, also never named, though by inference the reader is aware that Beatrice's father is a Mr. Varanger. In addition to this, there is a wild and, from the general standpoint, most improbable plot, with a background as remote from the ordinary reader's knowledge as it is gloomily impressive. Finally, this strange romance is sent forth under as unattractive a title as could well be chosen, unattractive at least to the class of readers to whom Mr. Crawford's books appeal. It means much, therefore, that in the face of this heavy handicapping “The Witch of Prague” is so remarkable a book as to be certain of as wide a popularity as any of its predecessors. The keenest interest for most readers will lie in its demonstration of the latest revelations of hypnotic science. Mr. Crawford has not rummaged among old and recent books for striking incidents, at the cost of verity; he is a scholarly and acute student who has brought to his purpose a familiarity with the esoteric aspects and revelations of hypnotism which is far beyond that of most of our physicians, even of the newer school—the men who of all others ought to be acquainted with one of the most remedial factors as well as most obvious perils for mind and body within the scope of human knowledge. But “The Witch of Prague” is not merely a striking exposition of the farreaching possibilities of a new science; it is a romance of singular daring and power. It would be useless to give here any digest of the plot, as the book will be read independently of any critical sign-posts. But it may certainly be added that this novel is written with a power which shows a growing and not a waning maturity of talent—an admission which may be freely made, though, for his part, the present writer is of opinion that Mr. Marion Crawford reaches his highest level, not in semi-mystical romances like “Mr. Isaacs” and “The Witch of Prague,” certainly not (for all their charm and even power) in imaginative exercises like “Zoroaster” and “Khaled,” but in acute and vivid revelations of life more within the scope of his individual experience, in books of the kind in which “To Leeward” stands pre-eminent. Few books recently pubished have received so many conflicting notices as this last work of Mr. Crawford's, but the best authorities seem agreed that they are judging a work of power, although they differ in their views of the artistic excellence of his methods.

The Witch of Prague, article in Murray's Magazine 1891

 Mr. Marion Crawford's novels are always interesting—for one reason because they rarely resemble one another, and the reader opens his volumes with curiosity to discover which of his numerous styles the Author will choose to adopt. His latest work, 'The Witch of Prague' is a study in hypnotism and mesmeric influences. The heroine, Unorna, has the reputation of dabbling in the occult arts, because, although she has her beneficent impulses, she is a tool in the hands of an unscrupulous egotist, oddly termed Keyork Arabian, who exploits her mesmeric powers to his own advantage. Unfortunately, Unorna falls desperately in love with a somewhat mysterious personage who goes by the name of "The Wanderer," and in the self-surrender, to which she ultimately submits herself in order to compass his happiness, she spoils Keyork's selfish schemes. The atmosphere in which the story moves is charged with mystery and romance, and it need scarcely be said that so good a literary artist as Mr. Crawford knows how to sustain our interest in his shadowy though passionate characters. As a whole, however, it may be doubted whether 'The Witch of Prague,' owing to its fantastic plot, will rank among the best of its author's creations.

The Witch of Prague, article in Longman's Magazine 1891

Talking of new books, at a time when new books are scarce, may one not ask whether Mr. Marion Crawford's novel, The Witch of Prague, is not a little too improbable, 'too steep' as the saying is? I have heard before of a young lady, accomplished in magic, who loved a gentleman named 'The Wanderer,' while he cared for somebody else. And the former young lady, like Mr. Crawford's, persuaded 'The Wanderer' that she herself was the object of his affections. But whereas wicked heroine No. 1 was aided by the Serpent himself, Mr. Crawford's dame manages the trick by common hypnotism. If these doings were 'steep' in the ages of myth, when rods became snakes, how very precipitous they seem 'in the present or Christian Hera,' as Jeames calls it. Mr. Crawford is the most astonishingly varied and versatile of modern novelists: he certainly never repeats himself. But hypnotism is ill to meddle with, and to touch the supernatural, or extra-natural, is like taking to dram-drinking, unless an author be very careful. The fair Witch of Prague is given to working over many miracles, over easily, and all this in times and places with which we are familiar. Miracles are most easily credited, if credited at all, when they are said to have occurred not later than the period of the Plantagenets

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