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Since Thanksgiving is just days away and kindergarten kids are drawing pictures of Pilgrims in funny hats, today seemed like a good time to recommend rereading The Winthrop Woman, Anya Seyton’s  historical novel about one of America’s more famous — some would say more infamous — Puritans.

Book cover shows Winthrop Woman alone, wearing red cape.

I read this version of The Winthrop Woman as a teen.

“The Winthrop Woman” was Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett, born 1610 to Thomas and Anne Winthrop Fones. Anne was sister to John Winthrop, who was to become an early settler of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later its Governor.

Elizabeth married one of her first cousins, a son of John Winthrop, which is how she got the moniker “the Winthrop Woman.”

Elizabeth led a fascinating life. (At least it’s fascinating for readers; living it must have been an entirely different matter.)  She had bad luck with husbands in an era when having a husband was practically a requirement for survival.

But she survived, as Seyton’s novel shows.  Today “the Winthrop woman” is considered one of the founders of Greenwich, Connecticut.

She’s also an ancestor of Howard Dean, Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate; aviator Amelia Earhart; former Secretary of State John Kerry; and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop shown below was done by English painter George Richmond who lived about 200 years after Winthrop.  He’s made her appear far more genteel than did the book jacket artist.

Portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop

Portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop by George Richmond.

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Of the nearly 700 novels I’ve reviewed here at Great Penformances, The Silent Places is the most memorable.

The 1904 bestseller by Stewart Edward White is not a great novel—I didn’t give it an A rating the first time I read it—but just thinking about the novel’s ending is enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Hound sniffs deep into snow.

The hound sniffed deep, filling his nostrils with the feather snow .

If there were a male equivalent of chick lit, The Silent Places would be its exemplar.

The story: Two guys chase an outlaw Indian in the frozen prairie north of Lake Ontario in seventeenth century America.

The novel is well illustrated, but it’s White’s text, rather than the illustrations that show how the two very different men grow and bond.

What’s most amazing is there’s scarcely any conversation in the book. I have to reread the book (Project Gutenberg has it) just to see if I can figure out how White pulls that off.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

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Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole is a bleak novel set in in industrial England in the years between the First and Second World Wars.

The technological expertise that had made wholesale slaughter possible in 1914 is being directed toward making wholesale poverty possible in 1934.

Man and woman with infant are on cover of Love on the Dole.

Cover of 1976 paperback version of Love on the Dole

Harry Hardman, 14, is through with school. Scorning his parents’ advice, Harry apprentices himself at the Marlowe manufacturing plant for seven years.

Harry sees badge #2510 as his ticket to training and a high-paying job as an engineer.

He learns there’s no training, no ticket to upward mobility.

When he finishes his apprenticeship, he learns one more thing: There’s no job.

With a wife and child to support, Harry does what he has to.

He joins the line of the unemployed.

Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.Love on the Dole lacks the rounded character development we expect in today’s novels, and the dialect takes a bit of getting used to, but those deficiencies only add to Greenwood’s picture of how the deck is stacked against ordinary men in the age of increasingly intelligent machines.

Here’s a passage in which 14-year-old Harry consults the Marxist labor organizer when he first senses Marlowe’s has no intention of training him for a career:

‘You’re part of a graft, Harry,’ [Larry Meath] said: ‘All Marlowe’s want is cheap labour; and the apprentice racket is one of their ways of getting it. Nobody’ll teach you anything simply because there’s so little to be learnt. You’ll pick up all you require by asking questions and watching others work. You see, all this machinery’s being more simplified year after year until all it wants is experienced machine feeders and watchers. Some of the new plant doesn’t even need that. Look in the brass-finishing shop when you’re that way. Ask the foreman to show you that screw-making machine. That can work twenty-four hours a day without anybody going near it. Your apprenticeship’s a swindle, Harry. The men they turn out think they’re engineers same as they do at all the other places, but they’re only machine minders. Don’t you remember the women during the war?’

‘What women?’ Harry asked, troubled by what Larry had said.

‘The women who took the places of the engineers who’d all served their time. The women picked up straightaway what Marlowe’s and the others say it takes seven year’s apprenticeship to learn,’ a wry smile: ‘Still, if you want to be what everybody calls an “engineer”, you’ve no choice but to serve your seven years. I hear that they’re considering refusing to bind themselves in contracting to provide seven years’ employment. There is a rumour about that there aren’t to be any more apprentices. You see, Harry, if they don’t bind themselves, as they have to do in the indentures, they can clear the shop of all surplus labour when times are bad. And things are shaping that way, now,” a grin: ‘You’ve no need to worry, though. You’ve seven years’ employment certain.’

What is most striking about Love on the Dole is now much it feels like 2017 America. If Harry lived in Pennsylvania today, he would be a Trump supporter.

Love on the Dole will let you experience the pain and anger that fuels them.

It may well also foretell what’s ahead in America in the next 20 years.

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood
©Walter Greenwood, 1933; published by Johnathan Cape
My copy: Penguin Books Ltd., 1976; paperback, 254 pp.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sir Richard Calmady rides a horse like this

The History of Sir Richard Calmady isn’t a great book, but it’s extraordinary one. The title character is born with a birth defect: His feet are attached where his knees should have been.

Author Lucas Malet called the novel “a romance.”

My review and a link to the Project Gutenberg ebook are here.

 

Report from limbo

When I finished my self-assigned task of reading all the bestsellers from 1900 to 1969 looking to see which ones hold the most value for today’s readers, I was absolutely, positively sure I didn’t want to lock myself into a routine like that again.

After about two weeks without a book review to post, I began to experience withdrawal symptoms.

I’m debating whether to review more of the influential novels that didn’t make the bestseller lists (such as Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, which I just read) or push myself to finish all the 20th century bestsellers. I’m still not entirely sure which I’ll do, but whichever I choose, I’ll start the series in 2018.

For the rest of 2017, I’ll be posting some teasers about novels I want to read again.

I hope some of them encourage you to check out an old novel.

~ Linda Aragoni

 

 

The three bestsellers of 1969 that retain the most value for 2017 readers each deal in very different ways with family relationships: The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, and The Promise by Chaim Potok.

The Godfather is first a father.

I suspect  The Godfather is known as a Mafia thriller because more people saw the film than read the novel.

There’s certainly enough blood and gore in the book to make an emergency room crew feel at home, but the deeper stories of family, culture, and crime-as-a-business are more important.

Don Vito Corleone quote on need to treat extortion as a business.

Don Vito Corleone is  getting old. He can’t delay much longer selecting a new CEO of the family’s gambling and extortion businesses.

Mike, his youngest son, has the best temperament for the job. Unlike the eldest son, Mike is levelheaded, and unlike the second son, he has proven leadership skills. Mike also has a proven record of killing when required: Mike is a war hero.

The problem is that Mike got his war-hero status by defying his father and enlisting in the Marine Corps.  Home from the war, he chose to attend an Ivy League college, where he’s fallen in love with a rich daddy’s girl with impeccable WASP credentials.

The novel traces Mike’s journey from rebellious son to his father’s successor as godfather. Becoming a mob boss was never Mike’s wish, but his upbringing and personality make it inevitable.

Along the way, readers learn about the European Mafia operated for centuries as an elaborate system of interpersonal favors before becoming an international business operation in the twentieth century.

The Promise

Compared to The Godfather, The Promise may seem tame, but it deals with incidents that, although bloodless, are emotionally lethal.

Quote from The Promise saying each generation fights same battles with different people.

The story, like Potok’s earlier bestseller The Chosen, focuses on Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders, two brainy Jewish boys whose fathers are each rabbis.

Reuven, who has always had a close relationship with his father, is studying to become a rabbi himself. Danny, whose relationship with his father was emotionally distant, has rejected the rabbinical life and is a doctoral student in psychology.

The relationship between the two friends becomes strained when Danny recommends a radical treatment of a disturbed young boy to whose family Reuven introduced him.

Reuven finds Danny’s isolation treatment, so reminiscent of Danny’s own upbringing, as appalling as he had earlier found Rabbi Saunders’ refusal to interact with Danny.

Reuven also finds himself out of sympathy with his own father, an unfamiliar and upsetting experience.

Like the Godfather, The Promise places twentieth century characters in situations firmly rooted in centuries-old culture. They all have to figure out how to fit their heritage and their ideals into a world they are reluctant to belong.

Portnoy’s Complaint: Too much family

self-deprecating quote from Portnoy

Portnoy’s Complaint is related by Alexander Portnoy to his psychiatrist.

Alex has no end of problems, all of which he blames on his parents. Had they never had him, he would have been fine.

Even with his psychiatrist, Alex attempts to disguise the extent of his misery under a barrage of wisecracks.

Alex is so funny, it’s hard to imagine even a psychiatrist failing to laugh at his jokes.

But it doesn’t take a shrink to see that Alex is a seriously damaged individual—and his parents probably had a big role in that.

The question is whether Alex has enough willpower to try acting differently than he learned to do as a child.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

These three novels were the bestsellers for 1969. How well do you think they’ve held up?

all-text cover of Portnoy's Complaintcover of Godfather shows puppeteerFemale gender symbol fills front cover of The Love Machine

Pick the three 1969 bestselling novels  you think are best for today’s readers.

I’ll come back with my top picks next time we meet.