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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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Mary Johnson’s Sir Mortimer is the story of an Elizabethan gentleman pursuing fortune and fair maiden.

Sir Mortimer commands one of four ships in a fleet under Admiral Sir John Nevil, who has the Virgin Queen’s approval to prey on Spanish shipping and Spanish colonies.

At his best, Sir Mortimer is a prig trying to appear noble.

As his worst, he is a prig trying to look humble.

The story should be an adventure, with lots of swordplay and broken spars, but Johnson strangles excitement with taut summaries, such as “fifty paces from the river bank Henry Sedley received his quietus. ”

The novel pivots around the battle for Nueva Cordoba in which the British walk into a deadly trap. Afterward, Sir Mortimer, who had been captured by the Spanish, comes to his fellow officers with the confession that he broke under torture, revealed the British plan, and should bear full responsibility for the slaughter.

Sir Mortimer and readers learn much later that he was tricked into believing he’d betrayed his countrymen.

I’d like to see what a good writer could do with the idea of tricking a man into believing he’s betrayed his mates.

Johnson messes it up big time: Sir Mortimer is deadly dull.

Sir Mortimer: A Novel
by Mary Johnston
1904 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg ebook #13812
My grade: C+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

Model of closed horse-drawn carriage

The  bishop’s carriage might have looked like this scale model.

My fear that Miriam Michelson’s In the Bishop’s Carriage was going to be soppy, religious novel was dispelled on page one when Nancy Olde nips into the womens’ room with a watch Tom Drogan has just lifted and, after tidying her hair, walks out wearing a stranger’s red coat with a chinchilla collar.

To avoid a cop, Nancy nips into a waiting carriage, naps, and awakes to find the carriage’s other occupant is a bishop. Nancy talks herself out of the danger and into the heart of the childless bishop.

Nancy returns to Tom and does some pleasant thieving until a burglary goes wrong.

While Tom spends most of his time in solitary confinement at Sing Sing. Nancy turns her powers of observation and talent for mimicry into work in vaudeville.

When Tom breaks out, Nancy refuses to join him again.

Then Nancy is caught with a purse full of stolen money that she didn’t steal.

Michelson lets Nancy narrate the story first to Tom, then to a childhood friend from Cruelty. Through oblique references, readers can piece together a picture of Nancy’s childhood.

Through everything, Nancy bubbles with fun. Nancy enjoys life and readers will enjoy it with her by proxy.

In the Bishop’s Carriage
By Miriam Michelson
1904 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg EBook #481
My grade: C+

Photo credit:  Carriage  uploaded by jakubson

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

 

QR code for The Masquerader

Masked link to The Masquerader

Within the first 1000 words, The Masquerader plunges from the back benches of Parliament to the backstreets of London, setting up a psychological thriller that readers won’t soon forget.

In a dense fog, John Chilcote bumps into a man who could be his twin. John Loder’s resemblance to him offers Chilcote a way to maintain his position without giving up his morphine addiction.

He hires John Loder to exchange places with him.

Loder had at one time eyed a political career. The opportunity is too good to be passed up.

Thanks to Chilcote’s reputation for eccentricity and Loder’s interest in politics, the masquerade works smoothly, until women get involved.

Though married, Chilcote has been flirting with a woman with whom Loder had had a brief affair years before. But Loder find’s Chilcote’s wife, Eve, far more to his current taste.

The personalities of the characters make the outcome inevitable.

Katherine Cecil Thurston doesn’t give readers time to realize the absurdity of the look-like theme before she sweeps them away into the plot.

The Masquerader may not be great literature, but you can’t beat it for entertainment.

The Masquerader
by Katherine Cecil Thurston
Harper & Brothers, 1904
328 pages
1904 bestseller # 3
1905 bestseller # 7
Project Gutenberg ebook #5422
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Tobacco field in Stanford, KY

Tobacco field in the American South

Ellen Glasgow’s sets The Deliverance, a tale of repressed sexual passion and hatred, in the tobacco fields of Reconstruction-era Virginia.

When the Confederacy lost the war, the Blakes lost their slaves and money. Former overseer Bill Fletcher bought their plantation for $7000.

The remnants of the Blake family were forced to move to what had been the overseer’s house where they keep the truth of their economic situation from blind old Mrs. Blake.

Young Christopher Blake hates Fletcher with a passion. When opportunity comes to get back at Fletcher by turning his grandson against him, Chris takes it.

Fletcher’s granddaughter, Maria, arouses Chris’s passions, too. Fortunately she marries and goes to Europe before his rage turns to rape.

Though Glasgow could have taken the story in any of several directions from there, she sticks to the promise of her subtitle and produces a romance.

The printed Southern dialect is annoying, but there’s not much of it past the first few chapters.

In the intensity of its characters’ loves and hatreds, The Deliverance reminds me of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. In Glasgow’s novel, however, the main characters seem to outgrow their hatred rather than spending their passion. Even Glasgow’s minor characters mature in ways that are both surprising and realistic.

The Deliverance; A Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields
by Ellen Glasgow
Project Gutenberg ebook #2384
1904 bestseller #2
My grade: B

Photo credit: Tobacco Field by carterboy

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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