THE WORLD'S DELIGHT—Fulton Oursler —Harper ($2).
Thou wert fair in the fearless old fashion,/And thy limbs are as melodies yet,/ And move to the music of passion/ With lithe/ and lascivious regret. What ailed us, O gods, to desert you/ For creeds that refuse and restrain?/ Come down and redeem us from virtue,/ Our Lady of Pain.
Called by Frenchmen "England's greatest poet," Algernon Charles Swinburne in the above lines described and addressed his friend and mistress, a U. S. woman, the late famed Adah Isaacs Menken. In her the poet was pleased to see a Pagan Virgin Mary, coming to crush the new, romantic Christianity, to revive old, lustful paganism. Novelist Oursler met the lady only spiritually and after considerable research. Noting in her written remains the kind of dour, ineffectual yearning popular in Victorian days, he endows her with a faithless first lover, from whom, as a circus horsewoman at 17, she galloped away.
An Irish-Creole girl of New Orleans, originally named Dolores McCord, she paraded down the main street of Galveston in the first crinoline that town ever saw. Her charms thus enhanced induced old Isaacs Menken, vocal teacher, to make her a Jewess and his bride. A memory of her first love drove her from Menken's hearth, but later gave morbid ardor to her acting of Lady Macbeth in New Orleans. In New York she became a poetess and the wife of Heavyweight Champion John C. Heenan. Her acting in Mazeppa brought her fame. This was the sensational play wherein, as a Tartar boy, she wore the first boyish bob on the New York stage. The place was the Bowery Theatre, lately burned down. Part of her part every night was to let herself be strapped quasi-nude to the back of a black, spirited horse. When the horse ran away, the audience gasped; their excitement, insinuates Author Oursler, for some reason of his own, being more spiritual than physical.
In Europe, after living at the seashore with the red-haired Swinburne, she took refuge in Paris at the house of that famed, fatherly quadroon, Alexandre Dumas Sr. Her poems, edited by Swinburne, were published, praised. She became the toast of Charles Dickens, Napoleon III and many another celebrity, staid and profligate. Yet for the Montparnasse tombstone, bestowed on her remains by Baron de Rothschild, the epitaph she wrote in advance was mournful, cryptic: Thou Knowest. She died in 1868, aged 33.
The Significance. There is a supposition that Nana, Naturalist Zola's novel, includes some Menken escapades. Nana, one of the realest characters of all fiction, lives and breathes lustily for present-day readers while Adah Menken, who lived just as lustily, pulsates feebly in Author Oursler's sentimental brief. Yet whether or not the "spirit" he discusses is more Oursler than Menken, Author Oursler has succeeded in writing the first book about a U.S. figurine no less famed in her day than Isadora Duncan, Aimee Semple MacPherson, Peggy Hopkins Joyce.
The Author. How much academic education does it take to be a writer earning respectable money? Charles Fulton Oursler, now 36, finished all schooling with seventh grade grammar, in Baltimore. Thereafter he studied French literature, sleight-of-hand, farm implements, music. He earned money by the last three. Real success came with his play, The Spider, a Broadway smash in 1927, now playing in Budapest and Paris. His somewhat spiritualized view of Adah Menken is partly explained by his membership in the American Society for Psychic Research