Modern fiction- and by ""modern"" Mr. Zabel means its deep roots in the 19th century too- is lucidly reanalyzed by a contemporary critic whose knowledge of the works of the authors presented is formidable. Stating his method of approach Mr. Zabel says that the test of character is a useful test of capacity, that character is in a way equal to the references to evidences of insight, originality and craftsmanship that work shows. In expounding this there are, first, four long essays, on Dickens, Hardy, Butler and James as the founders of modern fiction. Reading them brings a slow but growing recognition of the approach, not from a primarily biographical standpoint, but through joint comment on the writers and their work that is intuitive and brilliant enough to outline them in their closest relation to each other. Discussing Dickens there is obvious mention of his long affair with Ellen Ternan, but The Tale of Two Cities, taken partly as a product of Dickens' emotional state at the time, is considerably clarified as a sacrificial tale and, as part of Zabel's essay, does much to reorient a more traditional opinion of Dickens. James as an expatriate emerges in a new light too. Rather than a man who renounced the American, he is seen as a natural product of a culture that thought of Europe with nostalgic longing and as a writer who addressed himself to two basic problems of the day- the determination of America's relation to Europe, the rival civilization, and the rescuing of fiction from tradition and compromise. These pieces and the others, a long one on Conrad and several short essays on Greene, Forster, Mann and the more recent writers, make a distinguished volume.