Before the Great War, before iPods and video games, boys invented their own fun.
Penrod Schofield, age 11, is nothing if not inventive.
Silent films give him outlines of stories. Penrod’s imagination transforms them into stunning productions in which he plays the lead.
Booth Tarkington is justly famous for his word portraits of adolescents from a bygone era. His tongue-in-cheek comments and Gordon Grant’s sketches for Penrod are sure to tickle your funny bone.
In his imagination, Penrod is strong, brave, and powerful.
In his home, he’s a trial.
In his neighborhood he’s “the worst boy in town.”
Penrod’s family tries hard to control his behavior, but their idea of appropriate behavior for boys —Sunday School, attending dance classes — doesn’t appeal to Penrod. He’d rather spend his time with “Herman and Verman,” the neighbor kids whose father is in jail.
The worst insult that anyone can give Penrod is to call him “a little gentleman.” Anyone who attempts such vile language is apt to be tarred.
Fortunately, few people have reason to offer that particular insult.
The only person who actually understands Penrod is his ancient Aunt Sarah. She says boys are just like people, only “not quite so awful, because they haven’t learned to cover themselves all over with little pretenses.”
By Booth Tarkington
Illustrated by Gordon Grant
Grosset & Dunlap
Project Gutenberg ebook #402
1914 bestseller # 7
My Grade: C+
In The Eyes of the World, Harold Bell Wright delivers a fire and brimstone denunciation of American culture on the eve of World War I.
Aaron King, a young painter whose dying mother sacrificed to finance his education and repay money his father embezzled, promises to be a success for her sake.
In hopes of lucrative commissions, Aaron goes West to a playground of American’s cultural elite. There he meets Conrad Lagrange. From her letters, Aaron knows his mother once had high respect for Lagrange’s writing.
At the time Aaron meets him, Lagrange has no respect for himself: He writes for money.
The plot and characters of Eyes will be familiar to every novel reader. With Lagrange’s help, Aaron learns what true artistic success is. He meets good folk free untainted by city life. And, of course, he finds true love, as reward for his virtue.
Wright’s use of setting as a metaphor for morality will ring a bell with anyone who has read Zane Grey or Gene Stratton-Porter.
The only element that makes Eyes interesting is Wright’s harangue against artists who measure success in dollar bills.
That one who, for a price, presents a picture or a story without regard for the influence of his production upon the characters of those who receive it, commits a crime for which human law provides no adequate punishment.
Wright is so passionate in his denunciation that readers may wonder if perhaps Wright, the ex-clergyman, were preaching to himself.
The Eyes of the World
By Harold Bell Wright
Illustrations from oil paintings by F. Graham Cootes Project Gutenberg EBook #11715
1914 bestseller #1
My grade: C+
Readers of this blog will probably recognize a few of the titles and authors appearing on the 1914 bestseller list.
Orphans Pollyanna and T. Tembarom are back for a second appearance on the bestseller list.
George B. McCutcheon returns with another Graustark novel.
And authors Harold Bell Wright, Winston Churchill and Booth Tarkington who made the bestseller lists repeatedly in the early twentieth century are back to entertain readers.
Below is the list of 1914 bestsellers on my review list, with the date of planned review in square brackets. Links will take you to a digital version of the novel if one is available or, if I’ve previously reviewed it, to my review which includes a link to an e-book version.
Although the stories are very different, each explores obstacles that make understanding another person’s perspective difficult.
In Edna Ferber’s So Big, Selina Peake rejects her father’s philosophy that life is “just so much velvet” worth experiencing regardless of how good or bad it appears at the time.
Late in life Selina comes to regret teaching her son the only things worth having in life are earned through hard work. Dirk reaches mid-life without having enjoyed living.
In The Midlander (which became National Avenue when Booth Tarkington put it in his single-volume trilogy Growth in 1927), Dan Oliphant never varies from the real estate career he chose almost at random in his early twenties.
Dan is so sure that his housing development will be a success, he lets every personal relationship shrivel while he puts all his effort into the Ornaby Addition.
Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s The Little French Girl is the only one of my quarter of favorites not set in America. Alix Vervier’s mother has decided her 15-year-old daughter will marry within the family of an English war-time acquaintance. Mme Vervier ships Alex across the cultural solar system from France to England.
Alix must mature enough to regard her mother with sufficient dispassion that she can determine what of her mother’s behavior is motivated by love and what is motivated by self-interest.
In The Home-Maker, Dorothy Canfield [Fisher] shows Eva and Lester Knapp trapped in roles they both hate. By accident, Lester becomes the stay-at-home mom and Eva becomes the wage earner.
There’s no doubt everyone in the household is financially and emotionally better off as a result of the switch. It is also clear, however, that those gains come at a significant moral cost that the family may regret in the future.
Each of these insightful novels is worth reading. So Big and The Home-Maker are written in very accessible styles. The Midlander requires a bit more mental work, but it’s not difficult reading.
To understand what’s happening in The Little French Girl demands full concentration and either a French dictionary or a reading knowledge of French. Readers who give it a chance will find it worth the effort.
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