God's Stepchildren

The novel that launched Millin on her literary career

Review by George B. Dutton in THE ATLANTIC, May 1925 Issue

IN 1821 the Reverend Andrew Flood, bony, ineffectual, burning to express an inarticulate soul in some splendid gesture of self-immolation, came to Cape Colony as an apostle to the Hottentots. But God had denied him intelligence and dominating strength; his zeal flamed in vain against the sodden bestiality of his black brothers. In sick desperation beating at the barriers that seemed to separate him from his flock, he resolved to marry a native girl. Whence sprang unnumbered woes for him and his children and his children’s children to the end of the story, when, generation after generation having borne its share of the ache and wretchedness of the half-caste, his descendant, the Reverend Barry Lindsell, bringing the cycle of expiation to uncertain completion by another splendid gesture, vows himself to labor in the same tangled weedy vineyard in which the earlier missionary had toiled with such blighting futility.

Such is the framework of Mrs. Millin’s novel. Concerned as it is with problems of ethnological and sociological import, it is nevertheless not a tract or a social document. It is even free from the jargon currently employed in the discussion of racial and economic antagonisms. This is because the author has refined her materials from the dross of contemporaneousness. She is not a journalist, but an artist. She sees the central problem, not in terms of the unearned increment and the cephalic index, but in terms of human agony. In the blundering encounters of race with race she has fixed upon a situation that is genuinely tragic because it reveals the overwhelming consequences of a noble purpose defeated by flawed personality. If the effect falls short of the pity and terror evoked by ancient tragedy, it is perhaps because the process of refinement is carried so far that the human factors become attenuated, lose something of the variety and complexity of actual men and women. Yet the attempt at universality, in an age given to contemplation of its own passing pettinesses, kindles every page.

All of this has been accomplished with an art that is almost Greek in its austerity. In phrase and incident the story is told with a skilled frugality as far removed from meagreness as from distracting opulence. Fortuitous advantages are discarded. The Africa of the romantics and the African of the sensualists are not exploited. Here is no reliance upon the meretricious appeal of gleaming ivories and pulsing barbaric drums, unnamed rivers foaming through shadows of exotic forests. Here is no brooding upon the mystery of the blacks, no effort to see in them repositories of unattainable, purely sensual knowledge, richer than all our wisdom. Indeed, the accessories of time and place are subordinated so completely to the theme that through the very method of telling the tale it seems lifted above the sway of the temporal and the accidental. Thus to a notable degree thought and form are fused in a novel of power and distinction that misses greatness because, paradoxically, in its concentration upon the universal elements in human life it eliminates too successfully the irrelevancies that give body to our existence.

First published in London by Constable, 1924

Copies of the Constable first edition are extremely rare, and I have never seen a dust jacket

First published in New York by Boni & Liveright, 1924

It is nearly impossible to acquire a copy of the first printing of this edition. It is extremely rare, and originally priced at $2.00.

My copy of the 2nd printing of the Boni first edition

NOTE: the publisher refers to the 2nd printing as a "2nd edition" on the spine of the dust jacket, but as a "Second Printing" on the copyright page

The facsimile dust jacket shown below was made from my copy's original dust jacket

I own 2 variant copies of the Grosset & Dunlap reprints

One is actually a 10th printing of the first Boni edition with a Grosset & Dunlap dust jacket; the other is a Grosset & Dunlap book with G&D dust jacket

The Grosset & Dunlap edition is taller than the Boni edition

The facsimile dust jackets shown below were made from my copies' original dust jackets

In 1929 Constable published a reprint edition

I do not own a copy, but found an image on the Internet

Constable (London) and CNA (South Africa) published a new edition in 1951 with a new preface by Millin

I found a photo of the CNA edition on the Internet