New York Times Book Review
February 26, 1898, p.133


Three Women. By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
8 vo. Chicago: W.B. Conkey.
  Ella Wheeler Wilcox has recently pub-
lished a long poem entitled "Three Wo-
men."  Mrs. Wilcox has chosen to adopt for
this last work the metre made famous, if
not popular, by Owen Meredith in "Lu-
cille."  This lends itself to a narrative
poem such as "Three Women," but, as in
the case of "Lucille," is too apt to tempt
the poet into careless writing and infelic-
itous expressions.  It also lacks strength,
and after a time becomes exceedingly mo-
notonous.  Mrs. Wilcox has evidently
been conscious of this last defect in her
chosen metre, for she has interspersed
through the poem, in the manner of Ten-
nyson in "The Princess," severl brief
lyrics, which are more or less comple-
mentary to the general motif, and also a
score of poems, including several ron-
deaus and some ballads, which are really
better than the long narrative poem itself
and make us regret all the more the de-
fects of the longer poem.
  In "Three Women" Mrs. Wilcox sings,
or rather tells of a dilettante wealthy
young man, Maurice Somerville, who aft-
er long wandering comes on a Summer
day to visit an old college friend, unpoet-
ically named Roger Reese, in the latter's
villa on Long Island Sound, where he
dwells with his domestic but common-
sense sister Ruth.  Maurice, as might
have been expected, falls in love, not with
Ruth, his friend's sister, but with Mabel
Lee, a fair young neighbor with a narrow
mind, devoted to religious work, and with
whom Roger Reese is himself in love.
Maurine of course marries Mabel Lee and
Roger breaks up his home and devotes
himself to philanthropic work among the
poor in New York.  Maurice and Mabel
have an unhappy married life, and, al-
though the former strives from a sense of
duty to prevent a rupture, his wife's ab-
sence at a woman's convention in Boston
at the time of the death of their child
finally makes him desperate, and he flies
to Narragansett Pier, where he meets Zoe
Travers, a handsome, wild, and untamed
grass widow from the West.
  He tears himself away from her fasci-
nations to return to his wife and home
at, presumably, Stamford on the Sound,
but meets Mrs. Travers on the train, and
the lurid picture of their drifting, after a
dinner that night, into an abandoned life is
painted as only Mrs. Wilcox can paint it.
Roger then reappears on the scene, and
after he has searched for the couple at
the request of Mabel Lee, whom he still
loves, and finds they have sailed for Eu-
rope together, he counsels Mabel Lee to
divorce Maurice and marry him.  But
this pure, cold soul refuses even this boon
to a friend, and some years after Ruth,
the only "possible" person in the story,
finds Maurice dying in a New York hos-
pital--she meanwhile having become a
nurse--from a wound inflicted by his mis-
tress, Zoe Travers, who had very thought-
fully made away with herself afterward.
Ruth effects a reconciliation between
Maurice and his wife--and the curtain
falls.
  If Mrs. Wilcox had any idea of writing
a new "Lucille" in this poem she has
fallen very far short of her mark.  The
tone of the whole story is provincial and
poor, and while it has occasional passages
of much strength and some extremely
clever renderings of old maxims, it is
marred by provinciality of thought and
atmosphere.  There are also too frequent
and sudden descents from pathos to ba-
thos, and too strong contrasts of poetical
thought and prosaic details.  Such lines
as the following are good examples of
these faults:
                   "It quite turned her head
To be sent to the city of beans and brown
     bread."
and
                  "He rose, and his head
Seemed as large and as light as an air-filled
     balloon.
While his limbs were like lead in the glare
     of the noon."
  It cannot be denied that Mrs. Wilcox's
description of what, as she says,
"Salt air and dry wine and the soft siren
     eyes
Of a woman can do under midsummer skies
To a man--"
is vivid in the extreme.  She is unques-
tionably a past mistress in the art of the
relation of matters which are generally
touched lightly upon by all but poets of
passion.  Her picture of Zoe Travers the
wanton is strongly drawn, and unques-
tionably the best in the poem.