Early Map of Louisiana Territory

Louisiana Purchase Territory

The Crossing is a story of the days when Tennessee and Kentucky were the American frontier and New Orleans was a Spanish colony.

The book is narrated by David Trimble, a Blue Ridge lad orphaned when his father goes to fight Indians. He’s taken in by a frontier couple, Polly and Tom McChesney.

When Tom joins George Rogers Clark to fight the British and their Indian allies, Davey goes along as drummer, errand boy, and mascot.

After the colonies win their independence, the McChesneys and Davey settle down in Kentucky.

Davey goes into law. His clients hire him for investigations that take him to New Orleans and involve him in the international intrigue for control of the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi.

Part romance, part historical novel, The Crossing is an engrossing but forgettable novel.

Winston Churchill’s presentation of Davey as a child is unconvincing. Davy’s small stature would not have afforded him “child” status in 1780, especially since he was old for his age.

His investigative work as a lawyer is scarcely more plausible.

What rings true in the book is the tension between the settled colonies and frontiersmen.

Churchill makes clear that the resentment of Americans toward what they view as an unresponsive Congress is as old as the nation itself.

The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
1904 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg ebook #388
My grade: B-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Image: Map of the Louisiana Purchase Territory, 1903 , from the National Archives ID# 03444_2000_001_A


Rebecca peers over fence on cover of Rebecca of Sunnybrook FarmIn the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the bestselling novels of 1904.  Here’s the list of titles and dates you can expect to read my review. As usual, links will take you either to an online copy of the work, if I haven’t already reviewed it, or to my review.

  1. The Crossing by Winston Churchill [Sept. 23]
  2. The Deliverance by Ellen Glasgow [Sept. 27]
  3. The Masquerader  by Katherine Cecil Thurston [Sept. 30]
  4. In the Bishop’s Carriage by Miriam Michelson [Oct. 4]
  5. Sir Mortimer by Mary Johnson [Oct. 5]
  6. Beverly of Grustark by George Barr McCutcheon [Oct. 11]
  7. The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox Jr.
  8. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin [Oct. 14]
  9. My Friend Prospero by Henry Harland [Oct. 18]
  10. The Silent Places by Stewart Edward White [Oct. 21]

This list finishes up my planned reading for this year.

Project Gutenberg

The remainder of 2014  I’ll be filling in the gaps in my reading with titles from 1919 and 1929 that I hadn’t been able to find yet when their anniversary years rolled around.  I’ll post that schedule on November 1. There are some fine novels among them, so keep an eye out for the reviews.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Perhaps the unsettled state of Europe in 1914 is to blame for the less-than-stellar list of bestsellers that year.

Of the lot, Penrod by Booth Tarkington is the most humorous, T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett the most uplifting, and Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter the most familiar.

None of the “mosts,” however, is much more than entertainment.

My choices for three 1914 bestsellers that combine entertainment with insight are The Devil’s Garden by W. B. Maxwell, The Salamander by Owen Johnson, and The Fortunate Youth by William John Locke. Each of these combines an original plot with at least a modicum of reflection on its significance.

The Devil’s Garden looks at a proud man whose respectability covers a violent temper.  Some rather nasty things happen in the novel, but Maxwell suggests redemption may be possible.

The Salamander is a psychological study of a liberated woman who represents the fast, post-Victorian young people whose easy morals and craving for fun appalled their parents. The book is interesting as a picture of young women, who like their brothers, left farms for the excitement of the city. It’s also intriguing because Johnson apparently intended to paint his main character as thoroughly bad, but the novel closes with her headed out of the city to a conventional life as wife and mother.

The Fortunate Youth is a novel about a young man who thinks he’s a prince and discovers he’s only a toad. Because of all the time he spent practicing princely behavior, he’s able to rise above toad-level.  It’s not a great novel, but it’s enough out of the mainstream to be memorable.

That wraps up 1914.

I’ll post the list of 1904 bestsellers on Saturday and begin their reviews next week.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

It’s that time again when you get to say what you like. Here’s a list of the 1914 bestsellers. Indicate as many as three of your favorites — or up to three you think are the best novels even if they aren’t your favorites.

I’ll give my favorites next Tuesday.

Old, tall stone castle on mountain above Slovakian forest

George Barr McCutcheon’s first Graustark novel was a thriller with a bit of romance between between the action scenes. The Prince of Graustark hasn’t enough of either thrills or romance to be interesting.

Graustark wants Prince Robin to marry the daughter of the King of Dawsbergen. The young people have never met and refuse to consider marrying for reasons of political expediency. Their subjects blame the rebelliousness on the fact that each royal heir had one American parent.

Meanwhile, American multi-millionare William W. Blithers has decided nothing but marriage to royalty is good enough for his daughter. Rather than be humiliated by her father’s ham-fisted schemes to buy her a crown, Maud takes ship for Europe.

It just so happens Prince Robin also boards a ship bound for Europe on which he meets the girl of his dreams.

McCutcheon’s wisecracks about Mr. Blithers’ are funny, but they are confined primarily to the American episodes. Blithers’ deflation when he gets to the Graustark palace and sees what his money cannot buy rings too true to be laughed it.

The love-lorn Prince appears too dense to lead a cocker spaniel, let alone a country.

And the outcome is far too predictable for the romance to be entertaining.

The Prince of Graustark
By George Barr McCutcheon
Illustrated by A. I. Keller
Project Gutenberg EBook #6353
1914 bestseller #10

Photo credit: Slovakia by retrowiec

@ 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Postoffice add general store in Boxhill, Surrey, England

Will Dale’s post office probably looked much like this one in Boxhill, Surrey, England in 2003.

The Devil’s Garden opens with postmaster Will Dale receiving notice that he’s been suspended for a trivial incident that the local MP used as an example of the officiousness of civil servants.

Will’s wife, Mavis, and Will’s temporary replacement, Mr. Ridgett, suspect Will won’t present himself well at his suspension hearing.

Will thinks Mavis frets unnecessarily, and he suspects Ridgett of interest in Mavis.

Mavis, however, is right to fret.

Will is officious.blue book cover, with "The Devils' Garden By W. B. Maxwell" in gold letters

If it were not for the intercession of Mr. Barradine, an ex-Cabinet Minister in whose house Mavis worked when Will met her, Will would have lost his job.

Before Will can resume his duties, Mr. Barradine is dead and the Dales are occupying separate bedrooms.

The narrative pushes forward relentlessly. Readers can guess at what happened, but have to wait for Will to tell how it happened and why he did what he did.

W. B. Maxwell’s characters are finely delineated and realistically colored. Will and Mavis feel like people you’ve met at one time or another.

Will is a loving husband, helpful neighbor, hard-working employee. His joining the chapel contains a believable mix of business acumen, faith, and doubt that makes the typical religious novel feel hokey.

The Devil playeth in a man’s mind like a
wanton child in a garden, bringing his filth
to choke each open path, uprooting the
tender plants, and trampling the buds that
should have blown for the Master.

The Devil’s Garden
by W[illiam]  B[abington] Maxwell
Project Gutenberg ebook #14605
1914 bestseller #9
My grade: B+

Photo credit: Postoffice By PeterD

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni


I could not put Diane of the Green Van down.

It is the most bizarre novel I have ever read.

Leona Dalrymple must have pulled a paragraph out of every novel in a very large library to come up with the story.

I even cannot begin to summarize the plot. Let me just say the romance involves:

  • secret messages hidden in candlesticks,
  • murder attempts by night,
  • a mechanical music contraption,
  • a hay wagon,
  • a masked ball,
  • two run-away European princes,
  • an American flyer,
  • an alcoholic drug-user who invents an electrified chess set to torture people,
  • a Connecticut lass who may possibly  be the legitimate (or illegitimate daughter) of a prince, or an artist, or the man she called her father,
  • an Indian lass who may possibly be the legitimate (or illegitimate) daughter of a Indian, or an artist, or a European prince,
  • a doctor who does psychotherapy and holistic healing among the Seminole Indians in the Florida Everglades, and
  • an overweight aunt of the Connecticut lass and the alcoholic drug user who holds the secret to all the mysteries but is constitutionally incapable of uttering a coherent sentence.

There are also two dogs and lots of roasted potatoes.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Diane of the Green Van
by Leona Dalrymple
Illustrations by Reginald Birch
Project Gutenberg ebook #16101
1914 bestseller # 8
My grade: C-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni


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