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With the holidays upon us, you can expect postings from now to the start of 2015 to be rather a hodgepodge.

Over the years as I’ve been posting reviews of bestsellers, I’ve had difficulty finding some novels when their turn came in my rotation. Through the end of the year, 1919-09 frontpiece

But before I start on them, since Tuesday is election day in the US, I’ll suggest some political novels that you may prefer to watching the polls close.

Below is a list of what’s scheduled each week. As usual, if a book is available free online from Project Gutenberg, I’ve included a link to it.

Political novels [Nov. 4]

1919 bestseller list [Nov. 8]

1919 #4 Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart [Nov. 11]

1919 #5 The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land by Ralph Connor [Nov. 15]

1919 #7 Dawn by Eleanor H. Porter [Nov. 18]

1919 #8 The Tin Soldier by Temple Bailey [Nov. 22]

1919 #9 Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth Von Arnim [Nov. 25]

1919 #10 In Secret Robert W. Chambers [Nov. 29]

1919-08_tinsoldier_248Poll: your 1919 favorite novels [Dec. 2]

My favorites of the 1919 novels [Dec. 6]

1920 #2 Kindred of the Dust by Peter B. Kyne [Dec. 9]

1920 #10 Harriet and the Piper by Kathleen Norris [Dec. 13]

1929 #3 Dark Hester by Anne Douglas Sedgwick [Dec. 16]

1929 #310 The Galaxy [British title The Milky Way] by Susan Ertz [Dec. 20]

Updates to my favorites of 1920 and 1929 [Dec. 23]

Wrap up 2014 reading [Dec. 27]

Schedule for 2015 reviews [Dec. 30]

The standout novel from 1904 is a novel whose title and author were both unknown to me: The Silent Places by Stewart Edward White.

The novel is an adventure set in the early 1700s when North America was a wilderness. Its laws were those of nature and the directors of the Hudson Bay Company.

The Company assigns two men to capture an Indian who skipped out without reimbursing the Company for payments advanced him.  Sam is a seasoned woodsman with a keen mind; Dick is a less experienced woodsman with good instincts but duller mind.

White takes all the usual story lines and turns them inside out.

Here’s the older man’s summary of more than a year’s work:

“We went with old Haukemah’s band down as far as the Mattawishguia. There we left them and went up stream and over the divide. Dick here broke his leg and was laid up for near three months. I looked all that district over while he was getting well. Then we made winter travel down through the Kabinikágam country and looked her over. We got track of this Jingoss over near the hills, but he got wind of us and skipped when we was almost on top of him. We took his trail. He went straight north, trying to shake us off, and we got up into the barren country. We’d have lost him in the snow if it hadn’t been for that dog there. He could trail him through new snow. We run out of grub up there, and finally I gave out. Dick here pushed on alone and found the Injun wandering around snow-blind. He run onto some caribou about that time, too, and killed some. Then he came back and got me:—I had a little pemmican and boiled my moccasins. We had lots of meat, so we rested up a couple of weeks, and then came back.”

Dick’s mental and psychological growth is almost visible as the men push themselves to accomplish their task. Turning back is not an option either every considers.

By comparison to White’s novel, the other titles on the 1904 bestseller list seem puny, even though some of them are good entertainment.

An online literary biography says White was born in 1873 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father, a lumberman, introduced his son to the outdoors and ornithology. In later years, Stewart was to work in other outdoor occupations, such as ranching and mining.

The younger White took a composition course during his undergraduate work in philosophy at University of Michigan. His prof encouraged him to write.

By the time he collected his diploma, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1895 he had been paid for his writing. Before he finished his  M.A. at Columbia University in 1903, he had published three novels.

White was a prolific writer, and a versatile one. He wrote not only fiction, but travel, history, and children’s books. Late in life, he became interested in psychic phenomena and wrote a series of books on the spirit world.

He died in 1946.

Stewart Edward White is certainly an author I’ll look for again.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

I know most of my readers didn’t read the 1904 bestsellers the year they were originally published.  I hope, however, that some of you have sampled some of the them this year, perhaps in e-book form.

Now’s your chance to register your favorites and/or tell us what you think the best of 1904’s novels are for today’s readers. You can choose up to three.

Feel free to use the comment section to share more than just a click.

 

Stewart Edward White’s The Silent Places is breathtaking tale of two men’s efforts to catch a frontier-era embezzler.

An Indian to whom the the Hudson’s Bay Company paid in advance for pelts has disappeared without delivering the goods. The company wants Jingloss quietly caught and returned alive as an example to others.

Sam Bolton, an experienced woodsman, and handsome young Dick Herron volunteer.

What [Herron] lacked in experience and the power to synthesise, he more than made up in the perfection of his senses and a certain natural instinct of the woods. …Had he only possessed, as did Bolton, a keen brain as well as keen higher instincts, he would have been marvellous. [chapter 9]

The pair are hardly started when Dick’s careless notice of a pretty Ojibway girl gets them into trouble.

May-may-gwán deserts her people and attaches herself to Sam and Dick when they are too far from headquarters to turn back. Sam’s not pleased, but Dick turns all teen-sullen.

May-may-gwán proves her value when Sam continues searching for Jingloss while Dick’s laid up with a badly broken leg.

The trio aren’t able to move again until nearly winter.

Jingoss turns north into the barren country.

Freezing and starving are both very likely for him and his pursuers.

The Silent Places tells a very masculine story with a gender-free touch. White sets up and shatters clichés. The result is a strong, slender novel that turns plain facts into strong emotion.

The Silent Places
By Stewart Edward White
Illustrated by Philip R. Goodwin
1904 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg ebook #14960
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

Seeking admittance to a remote Italian castle containing a famous collection of fourteenth century portraits, Lady Blanchemain is delighted to discover the courtly Englishman who serves as her guide is a relative of her late husband. A centuries-old feud between the Catholic and Protestant branches of the family had kept them from meeting before.

The landscape is so romantic and John Blanchemain such a Prince Charming, Lady Blanchemain decides she must arrange for him to fall in love.

She doesn’t have to.

Long before John spies a woman pretty as a princess in the courtyard below, ten-and-a-half-year-old Annunziata is on the job taking care of her friend Prospero, whose impecunious present state she predicts will give way to incredible fortune.

The outcome of the romance is totally predictable.

Henry Harland takes the portraits the lovers straight from color illustrations in fairy tales. He gives them each a sense of humor and delight in word play so they are interesting to watch for the short time it takes to read Harland’s slim volume.

Unfortunately, Harland doesn’t give enough lines to Lady Blanchemain, “a young old thing” who is more interesting than either of the young lovers.

Despite its shortcomings, My Friend Prospero is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

My Friend Prospero
By Henry Harland
1904 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg ebook #14682
My grade: C+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Rebecca peers over fence on cover of Rebecca of Sunnybrook FarmRebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a sunny novel, wholesome as granola, each chapter packed with the minimum daily requirement of aphorisms.

Aurelia Randall’s spinster sisters offer her oldest child a home.  Aurelia sends Rebecca, her second child, instead. The eldest child is more conscientious and thus less easily spared by her widowed mother.

Rebecca is a basically a good child, but she’s also an imaginative, impulsive chatterbox.

Aunt Miranda, who likes things tidy, finds Rebecca’s imaginative chatter and impulsive behavior a sore trial.

Aunt Jane finds Rebecca’s liveliness a welcome relief from her sister’s unvarying routine.

After a rather rocky start, Rebecca turns her attention on getting a good education so she can help her mother pay off the mortgage and give the younger children a better chance in life.

In 1904, adults would have regarded Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca as good reading for young people. Today I’m afraid it would be regarded either as a dull, moral tract or as bizarre, fantasy fiction. Either interpretation shows how society has changed since 1904.

Wiggin’s Rebecca isn’t on a par with Anne of Green Gables or The Yearling but the story has charm and a quiet tongue-in-cheek wit that makes it still worth reading today.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
By Kate Douglas Wiggin
Project Gutenberg ebook #498
1904 Bestseller #8
My grade: B-

The book cover is from the Thorndike large print edition of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, one of several versions of the novel available in print today.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Bridge in rough forest setting.

Does that bridge look safe enough to bear the coach of a princess?

Beverly of Graustark picks up the story George Barr McCutcheon began in his 1901 bestseller, Graustark.

Since their marriage Graustark’s Princess Yetive and her husband, Grenfall Lorry, have lived in Washington, D.C., but threats of war by neighboring Axphain brings them home to lead the defense of their East European kingdom.

Yetive’s good friend Beverly Calhoun, daughter of a US congressman, and her maid follow close behind. In the Graustark mountains, their coach is stopped by a band of ragged men, led by a handsome, English-speaking goat-herder who mistakes Beverly for Princess Yetive.

Beverly allows the misunderstanding because it suits her; Boldo pretends to believe it because it suits him.

Once in Edelweiss, Beverly learns there are actually three royal princes hiding out in Graustark. Surely the handsome Baldo must be one of them in disguise, mustn’t he?

McCutcheon says Beverly has a “graceful form” and Baldo has a “splendid figure.” That basically takes care of character development.

For plot development, there’s a lot of running about in cloaks in the dark, but nothing actually happens. Even the war ends without a skirmish.

Graustark’s leaders, so sensible and dedicated in the earlier novel, are frivolous and incompetent here.

Perhaps that comes of living in Washington, D.C.

Beverly of Graustark
by George Barr McCutcheon
1904 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #6801
My grade: C-

Photo credit:  Forest Bridge by Colin Broug

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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