Fathers who try to give their children all the advantages are two-a-penny in fiction. What makes them interesting is that they don’t all use the same strategies. Nor do they all work from the same base of moral and emotional strength.
In Howard Spring’s My Son, My Son, a twentieth-century father spoils his son to destruction just as King David did his beloved son Absolom centuries before. A subplot shows the opposite approach of training a son to be tough may not lead to a happy outcome either.
Lest you think spoiling sons is just a western habit, Pearl S. Buck in The Good Earth shows a Chinese peasant spoiling his sons. Just in case you miss the destructive nature of that indulgence, she makes it clear in Sons.
Penny Baxter in The Yearling yearns to give his son every advantage, but his family is too poor. When Penny gives in to Jody’s plea for a pet, the growing fawn’s destructiveness requires both father and son to toughen up.
Johnny Nolan isn’t tough enough to take care of his kids’ physical needs, but he cares for them emotionally in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Johnny’s arranging years in advance for his daughter to have flowers for her high school graduation is one of the sweetest tokens of a father’s love in literature.
Some of the most interesting father figures in vintage novels are men who acted as father to children who were not their own. The man who brings up the orphaned Barbara Worth, who affords him respect but no love in Harold Bell Wright’s novel The Winning of Barbara Worth, is an extraordinary man. So is the crotchety grandfather in The Portygee. Saddled with care of a grandson, the old man has to learn to turn their mutual dismay into a relationship of mutual respect and caring. (Grandma helps a lot.)
East of Eden by John Steinbeck is a contemporary retelling of the Cain and Abel story. A father raising two boys whose mother has deserted them, seems to have a knack for saying and doing the wrong thing, setting one son against the other. The novel weighs the roles played by genetics, nurture, and personal choice in determining what a child will become.
Enjoy and evaluate these fathers in vintage novels.
Posted in Asides | Tagged A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, East of Eden, fathers, My Son, novels, sons, spoiling children, the good earth, The Portygee, The Winning of Barbara Worth, The Yearling | 2 Comments »
As long as you don’t expect anything but pleasant diversion, Bess Streeter Aldrich’s classic Miss Bishop won’t disappoint you.
When Ella Bishop enrolls in the first class at Midwestern College in 1876, she has two dresses, an extroverted personality, and boundless enthusiasm for wholesome activities.
After graduating, Ella stays on to teach grammar until she marries. But Ella never marries. Instead, she devotes her life to family, friends, and students.
With extraordinary strength, Ella resists the temptation of an affair with a colleague, tenderly cares for her widowed mother who can’t even complete a sentence by herself, and practically adopts the lover who jilted her.
We all know someone who has done things just as extraordinary, but no real person would have those kinds of experiences and not be changed by them. Ella, however, never grows. She’s as mature at 60 as she was at 16. In her entire lifetime, the only thing that changes about Ella is her hair color.
Although sappily sentimental, Miss Bishop is so well constructed and Ella herself such a lovely person that you probably won’t want to put this novel down. And you might even blow your nose loudly once or twice as you read.
By Bess Streeter Aldrich
My grade: C+
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Posted in 1933 Bestselling Novels, Religious | Tagged Bess Streeter Aldrich, spinster, teaching | Leave a Comment »
Renny Whiteoak inherited Jalna and responsibility for the family when his grandmother died in 1927. Right up until her death at age 102, family stayed on the farm and under her thumb.
Renny would like to be a dictator like his grandmother. He’s got the temperament for it, and no morals to prevent it. But the 1930s offer restless family members more opportunities for escape than his grandmother’s day held. And the world doesn’t seem to share Renny’s belief that Jalna is sovereign territory.
Renny’s half-brother, Eden, (who also happens to be Renny’s wife’s first husband) comes home to die.
Renny’s two uncles go into a decline when Eden dies.
Rennys brother-in-law is selling off lots in adjacent property to city people.
And Renny is broke. He won’t pay his bills, but he’ll lie and cheat to get money to keep Jalna intact and all the family living out their sordid lives under Jalna’s roof.
If Mazo de la Roche told the story through one character’s perspective, the novel might be worth reading. However, the ever-shifting point of view gives only a recital of miseries.
Most miserable of all are readers who pick up this highly overrated novel.
The Master of Jalna
by Mazo de la Roche
Little, Brown, 1943
My grade D+
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Posted in 1933 Bestselling Novels, Psychological novel | Tagged farm, Great Depression, Jalna, Mazo de la Roche | Leave a Comment »
As a child, Dinny Brumm refuses to take anything from his father. His Aunt Martha and Uncle Miles tell him his father, whom he’s never seen, deserted his mother. They lead him to believe his father cares nothing for him.
In his hatred of his father, Dinny even takes their name lest he be linked to his father, newspaper magnate Zandy Craig.
Dinny finds a letter his dying mother wrote to him before he was born. It tells of her love for his father and how she found peace through forgiving those who had hurt her.
Dinny decides to see if forgiving others will help him feel better and win the woman he loves.
The plot is contrived, the main characters emotionally implausible. Douglas creates situations that he quickly drops, such as Dinny’s half-sister’s attempt to seduce him.
Although Forgive Us Our Trespasses is tinged with religiosity, author Lloyd C. Douglas stays far away from religion. He explores forgiveness as a tool for psychological health.
Despite the novel’s tacked-on happy ending, the only characters who seem likely to have any lasting happiness are Dinny’s aunt and uncle, who, despite their shortcomings, seem to have some genuine faith in something besides themselves.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Grosset & Dunlap, 1932
1933 bestseller #6
My grade C-
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Posted in 1933 Bestselling Novels, Psychological novel, Religious | Tagged Christianity, faith, Lloyd C. Douglas, mental health | Leave a Comment »
One More River is a poignant period piece about durable people and enduring values. The ninth and final novel in John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Chronicles, One More River has less bite than the earlier novels.
The story swirls around the divorce action Sir Gerald Corven brings against his wife, Clare, and a young man who fell in love with her as she fled her husband. Coming from a family that loathes publicity, Clare refuses to explain even to them that Corven is a sadist, leaving her sister, Dinny, to handle the unpleasant details.
Dinny has experience with unpleasant details. She’s still aching from losing her lover to a public scandal, but she nonetheless exerts herself to soothe and support her family.
Although all the Charwells rally around Clare, it’s Dinny they most care about. They want to see her married, and even select a suitable man, Eustace Dornford. After Dinny learns that her lover has drowned in Siam, she begins to see the family is right.
Galsworthy’s people are ladies and gentlemen. Clare aside, the characters are not vivid, but durable. Seeing them, readers can understand why tiny England was able to command an empire on which the sun never set.
One More River
By John Galsworthy,
Charles Scribner’s, 1933
My grade: A
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Posted in 1933 Bestselling Novels, Psychological novel, Romance | Tagged British empire, divorce, England, Forsyte Chronicles, John Galsworthy | Leave a Comment »
On this Memorial Day weekend, in honor of the American military I wanted to suggest a handful of good novels that reveal the courage and loyalty of America’s military without falling into sentimentality or glorifying war.
I was surprised to see how few novels I had to choose from. Among the almost 700 novels that made the bestseller lists from 1900 to 1969, few are about America’s military and even fewer portray the military in a positive light. Satirical send-ups like Rally Round the Flag, Boy don’t count, and it seems tactless to recommend novels such as Melville Godwin, U.S.A. as Memorial Day reading.
The best written, most respectful stories about the military seem to be written by people who experienced war on their home soil. Abroad, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Cruel Sea are tales by people who lived through war in their homelands. There’s nothing comparable on America’s bestseller lists from 1900-1969.
Judged by the number of novels it inspired, the most memorable of America’s wars is the War Between the States. Gone with the Wind, Action at Aquila, House Divided are just three of the novels about that conflict that made the bestseller lists. Their authors weren’t in the Civil War, but their families lived on its battlefields. As anyone who has lived in the South can testify, memories of those years are still vivid. The scabs of Civil War wounds haven’t sloughed off yet.
Instead of reading a book, go to a Memorial Day celebration. You’ll get closer to the real military men and women who deserve your gratitude there than in the pages of a second-rate novel.
Posted in Asides | Tagged army, Marines, military, navy, US History | Leave a Comment »