The Southern Quarterly Review
New Orleans: January 1854


  ...The Exiles. A Tale. By Talvi. (Putnam & Co.) The author who writes under the nom de plume of Talvi, is understood to be a Mrs. Robinson. That she is a clever woman, with some considerable share of learning, has been shown by a valuable contribution on "the Literature of the Sclavic nations." Her success in fiction has been less decided, though "Heloise," another of her works, was quite readable. "The Exiles," the volume before us, is a loss of ground in her proposed progress as an author. As a story, it is almost wholly without merit. It exhibits a bald invention, is loose of structure, inconsequential of object, fails grossly in denouèment, and is cursed with platitudes, equally of philosophy and sentiment. These defects in the work, as one of art, would be quite sufficient to conclude her case with us; but the good lady has aimed at something farther, and tries to do a little Uncle Tomming as she goes, probably with the vain hope of taking the wind out of the sails of Mrs. Beecher Stowe. She, too, loads her popgun to the muzzle, and blazes away with determined execution at slavery and the Southern States. For several reasons she has erred in her policy. There can be no two Beecher Stowes at the same time, in the abolition firmament. "Uncle Tom" must still carry the day for a long season; and, until he is fairly laid on the shelf, it will be useless to run an opposition line of negro fiction. Besides, Mrs. Stowe has a passionate power, which


leaves the capacities of Mrs. Robinson very far in the wake. The dramatic faculty of the author of Uncle Tom is somewhat remarkable. She is, unquestionably, a woman of great inventive faculty, and "Uncle Tom," considered wholly aside from the slavery question, is a story of great and striking, though coarse, attraction. She has found it easier, as most persons have, to make a picture of bad passions and a vicious atmosphere, than one of virtue and purity. Bad passions are naturally salient and impressive. Virtues are subdued, usually, and unobtrusive. The passionate, the exciting, the startling and the terrible, require that we shall bring out the former into bold relief, in the foreground, leaving the latter to huddle where they can, in the shade, cowering and silent. It is because she has done this, and done it with rare ability and audacity, that Mrs. Stowe has been so successful. But, to do this sort of manufacture successfully, it requires faculties which 'Talvi' must not pretend to. In the effort to do this sort of work, Mrs. Robinson has simply smutched her own garments, and made her heroes and heroines ridiculous, when she labours to make them grand. Her German, who undertakes, in a public hall in Charleston, to convert the citizens from the errors of their ways, and, in private, to persuade the negroes to assert their liberties, only proves himself an ass or scoundrel, when he pleads that he really does not see how he can do no harm, or that he offends against any laws. When the good lady author gives us a penitentiary in South-Carolina, where we have none, does it strike her that she ought to be acquainted with her facts, before she undertakes a moral reform in reference to the very facts assumed? She cannot surely suppose that her privilege of invention gives her any right to pervert the fact; the license of fiction only suffering her to conceive and invent where there is no authority in the fact against her assumption. When she makes her hero show how deadly a shot he is, to the man who has challenged him, but whom he declines to fight, does she not know that she takes the incident entire from Bulwer's Eugene Aram, where the same ruse is practised with the same object, and proves, in both cases, only that the person guilty of the act is a dastardly pretender. Why should he ostentatiously show to his enemy what a famous shot he is? Why should he be a good shot with pistols, when, on principle, he eschews duelling? The whole book is full of these absurdities.