The title of a novel is seldom so well invented and so conclusively justified by the book it introduces as in the case of Mr Gissing's latest story. It is not simply that Dyce Lashmar is most accurately described by the word 'charlatan'. It is that he is emphatically 'our friend', a type so familiar in modem life that this book seems no less a work of portraiture than a work of fiction. It does not give us, we hasten to add, in the faintest sense a photographic portrait. Readers ofMr Gissing's sometimes depressing but always powerful studies of lower middle class society in England-and we like to believe that he has the wide public that he deserves-are well aware ofthe fact that with him realism means much more than the slavish reproduction of exactly what he sees before him. It has always meant-and never more thoroughly than in au, F,iend the Cha,Iatan-a remarkably clear vision of the things that lie below the surface of existing conditions, and a mercilessly truthful interpretation of them. No matter how much energy he may expend on the correct description ofmaterial facts, it is plain that what he is chiefly driving at is the discovery of the spiritual elements they symbolize or conceal. Dyce Lashmar has the touch ofuniversality upon him. Probing into the innermost recesses ofhis character, and exposing all that they contain of dross and weakness with a skill that is all the more effective because it is exercised neither compassionately nor coldly, but with a kind of robust impartiality, Mr Gissing fulfills in the most wholesome manner the duty of the novelist to 'hold the mirror up to nature'. He knows how numerous are the men who, looking with sincerity into that mirror of his, could not help but recognise some at least of their own traits; but never for a moment does he take sides, never does he seem glad or sad, to grow mournful
with regret or to chuckle with the amusement of the cynic. Simply the truth, because he loves it, is, we imagine, his goal.