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After hitting the sales charts with Pollyanna in 1913 and Pollyanna Grows Up in 1915, Eleanor H. Porter repeated her feat in 1919 with Dawn, a novel that’s better than either of them.

As the story opens, young Dan Burton learns the man who mends toys for neighborhood kids has gone blind. Dan immediately decides his blurred vision means he’s going blind, too.

It turns out Dan is right.

He undergoes several operations, none successful.

Boys Dan’s age are being sent to the trenches of France. Dan’s father seeks to avoid seeing anything that’s unpleasant, including the son who can’t go to war.

Susan, the Burton’s maid-of-all-work forces Dan to accept his blindness as a challenge. When the wounded start being sent home, Dan finds he can be useful to others who have lost their sight, which was often associated with facial disfigurement common in WWI trench warfare.

There’s none of the upbeat sentimentality of the Pollyanna books in Dawn. Dawn‘s characters accept reality or hide from it, but they don’t attempt to sugar coat it.

Dawn is moderately entertaining as a novel, but more intriguing as artifact of an author working to master her craft. Alert readers will see echoes of other novelists’ works — they’re the off-key notes in Porter’s melodies.

Dawn
By Eleanor H. Porter
Illustrations by Lucius Wolcott Hitchcock (not available in digital text)
1919 bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg e-book #5874
My grade: B-

© 2014  Linda Gorton Aragoni

Canadian military chaplain Canon Frederick George Scott

Canadian military chaplain Canon Frederick George Scott

The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land begins like a romance for religious spinsters, but within 20 pages, the handsome missionary Barry Dunbar turns out to be asthmatic, pedantic, and tactless.

When war breaks out, Barry, a Canadian, tries to enlist. He is rejected on medical grounds, but his father is accepted.

Barry reluctantly accepts a chaplaincy and attempts to enforce godliness among the troops.

On the eve of his arrival in France, an elderly Anglican chaplain sets him straight: “My dear fellow, remember they are far from home. These boys need their mothers… And, my boy, they need God. And they need you.”

Those words change Barry’s attitude.

Later as Barry watches while his father, both arms blown off, die of his injuries, he learns personally what it means to be alone far from home.

Ralph Connor’s descriptions of trench warfare are horrific. Oddly, the descriptions of the sleep deprivation, loneliness, and submerging of their own needs that Barry and other non-combatants endure are even more painful.

Despite some implausible elements — the medically unfit Barry remains healthy, for example—Connor spins an unforgettable yarn about men and women who picked up the pieces of those who went over the top.

Though Connor’s story is fiction, the war’s horrors are not. In The Official History of The Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1919, Vol. 1, A. Fortescue Duguid writes: 

Carrying out their spiritual duties the Chaplains were to be found both in the field and at the dressing stations giving comfort to the dying. Major (Canon) F. G. Scott on the evening of the 22nd encouraged an advancing battalion with the words “A great day for Canada, boys—great day for Canada,” and he was in their midst when they charged the wood.

The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land
By Ralph Connor
1919 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg e-book#3288
My grade: B
 

Photo of Military Chaplain  (and noted Canadian poet) F. G.  Scott is from the George Metcalf Archival Collection  of the Canadian War Museum.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mary Roberts Rinehart opens Dangerous Days with a boring dinner party hosted by an American steel manufacturer and his wife.

The year is 1916.

Europe is on the verge of destruction.

Natalie and Clayton Spencer are on the edge of domestic destruction.

WWI soldiers fire a machine gun

Machine gunners at the Battle of the Somme

Clay has brought son, Graham, into his steel business at the bottom, much to Natalie’s dismay. She wants her boy to have the best even if it destroys him.

Clay wants a woman’s love but not at the price of his moral destruction.

Clay is sure America will be in the war soon.

Graham and his father realize — though they don’t say it to each other — that Graham may escape moral destruction only by volunteering to die.

Rinehart follows the bored people around the opening chapter dinner table through to Armistice Day, revealing them to be anything but boring. She masterfully combines deft characterizations, historical episodes such as the communists’ helping American draft-dodgers escape into Mexico, and intricate plots within her main plot.

There’s a certain flag-waving bravado about the novel — all the characters but Natalie do their bit in the war — but the complexity of the characters and the realness of their confusions make this page-turner a novel you won’t soon forget.

Dangerous Days
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
1919 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg e-book #1693
My grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The year the Great War ended, some great novels—and some not-so-great ones—were published.

I reviewed some of the 1919 bestsellers some years ago. I’ve since found the others either free in digital format or in print from my favorite online secondhand bookseller.

Here’s the entire 1919 list. If I previously reviewed the novel, I’ve linked to the review.  If the book is available as a free download, I’ve linked to it. Dates of scheduled reviews are in square brackets.

  1. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by V. Blasco Ibanez
  2. The Arrow of Gold by Joseph Conrad
  3. The Desert of Wheat by Zane Grey
  4. Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart [Nov. 11]
  5. The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land by Ralph Connor [Nov. 15]
  6. The Re-Creation of Brian Kent by Howard Bell Wright [bestseller in 1919 and 1920]
  7. Dawn by Gene Stratton Porter[Nov. 18]
  8. The Tin Soldier by Temple Bailey [Nov. 22]
  9. Christopher and Columbus by Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim [Nov. 25]
  10. In Secret by Robert W. Chambers [Nov. 29]

 

 

American flag waving in breeze

Since today is election day in the United States, I thought I’d roundup some bestsellers that deal with the political election process.

Like so any of my good ideas, it underestimated the problems it entailed.

Coming up with a list of good political novels from the bestselling lists of the first six decades of the twentieth century is harder than it sounds. There are plenty of novels that show the impact of decisions by political officials, but not a great many that dive into the business of electoral politics.

The 1964 bestseller by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II,  Convention, would appear a logical choice but for one thing: It wasn’t a particularly good novel then, and it has dated badly.

My short list of titles that are focused on electoral politics are:

Coniston is a 1906 work by the American novelist Winston Churchill about an uneducated, stuttering county boy who becomes a backroom force in mid-1800 New Hampshire politics.

Churchill’s portrait of Jethro Bass is as good as any from the pen of Anthony Trollope or Thomas Hardy.  My review won’t be coming up here until 2016, but you’re welcome to read ahead.

The Man is Irvin Wallace’s 1964 bestseller about America’s first Black president, which I reviewed here earlier this year. The story has premonitions of this month’s news.

A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley is a 1945 novel written from the perspective of the wife of a charismatic Southern politician. (Imagine Hillary Rodham Clinton writing a novel about her marriage and you’ll see the possibilities.)

After James Cagney paid a quarter million dollars for its film rights, The New York Times described Langley’s novel as “lurid.” It might have been lurid for The Gray Lady in 1950, but it’s pretty tame today.  My review of A Lion Is in the Streets comes out in 2015.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: Linda Aragoni

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

 

 

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