Saltus’s first two novels bear the imprint of the kind of diffident, decadent pessimism The Philosophy of Disenchantment elaborates. Indeed, the sensitivity requisite for the recognition that life has no value informs Mr. Incoul’s Misadventure, the first novel, while the delusion that life has value motivates the action of the obtuse hero of the second novel, The Truth about Tristram Varick.
—David Weir, Decadent Culture in the United States, 2008
Though any adjective would suit it better than “delightful,” the strongest novel of the past twelve months is Edgar Saltus’s The Truth about Tristrem Varick. It is a book for our atrabiliar moods, when life seems to be all cant and hypocrisy, fair at the surface, rotten at the core, and we long for some one with strength and sincerity enough to reveal the hideous, latent truth. These moods pass away, and our liking for Tristram Varick may pass with them, but not our admiration for the perfection of its style, the brilliancy of its epigrams, and the exquisite art with which a most repulsive and unpleasant story has been handled.
-Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine
Tristrem Varick is the greatest novel that ever came from the pen of an American—a fable, a philosophy and an enormous chunk of life. It is a tale of the pursuit of the Ideal by Man—and the end is a badly lighted room in the Tenderloin police station.
-Benjamin DeCasseres, Forty Immortals
Mr. Incoul’s Misadventure leaves one with a sickening sense of disgust with the world and everything in it. We do not condemn the book because it deals with vice and hypocrisy, for vice and hypocrisy exist, and it may be well for us to know something of them outside of our own experience. It is possible to believe in an excuse for Zola; and it is certain that he offends less than Mr. Saltus; for he reveals depths of iniquity where you would expect iniquity to be—where you know it must be; and while you deprecate and decry, you are not sure but somebody may be moved by one of his stories to a crusade against such vice. But Mr. Saltus leads you to look for iniquity of the most hideous kind where faith and love, honesty and truth, loveliness and virtue seem walking hand in hand. He makes you distrust the blush on a young girl’s cheek, doubt the loyalty of the lover at your side, the fidelity of the wife beside your hearth, the honor of your dearest friend, the sincerity of the noblest man or woman you know. He makes you feel contaminated, till you shudder at yourself as part of this hideous human nature; not, mind you, with a healthful shudder at the self-revelation which is sometimes salutary, but with the shudder of an innocent victim who suddenly discovers a plague spot upon himself. You are stirred to no honorable crusade against vice: you are made to feel the hopelessness of vice. “Sit still,” is practically Mr. Saltus’s advice; “there is nothing you can do to help it. But look at this procession of horrors!” To paraphrase from Browning, Zola poisons the air for healthful breathing, but Mr. Saltus leaves no air to poison. There is a spark of originality and power in Mr. Incoul’s discovery that the pistol-shot is inadequate as a method of revenge, because of the extreme speed with which the victim is released from his suffering, and his studying up a more complete and subtle revenge than could be attained by simply putting his enemy to death.
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