The best of the 1925 bestsellers are none too good for contemporary readers. Although some are well-written, they are all museum pieces: They take readers to times and mindsets light years away from contemporary culture.

Aside from  The Little French Girl and Arrowsmith, there aren’t any novels on the 1925 list whose plot I could remember a month after I finished the book. (The Little French Girl spent two years on the bestseller list. I reviewed it along with the 1924 bestsellers and it was my top pick for 1924 as well as one of my picks for the best of 2014 anniversary-year novels.)

In all honesty, I’m not sure I’d have remembered Arrowsmith if I hadn’t seen the film version, which, unfortunately, does justice to Sinclair Lewis’s novel.

With that discouraging introduction, I’ll suggest these may be worth a look:

  • The Perennial Bachelor by Anne Parrish is fascinating—but depressing—glimpse into the nineteenth century culture in which not only did men expect their female kinfolk to serve them, but the women expected it, too.
  • The Green Hat by Michael Arden is interesting today primarily for its technique.  Neither plot nor characters are strong enough to be remembered for long.
  • The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy has to be my third choice. It’s not a book I liked, but Kennedy’s writing is good.

My next blog post will preview the bestselling novels of 100 years ago where, I hope, we’ll find a wider selection of enduring novels.

It’s time for readers to express their opinions about what endures of the 1925 bestseller list. You can pick up to three titles.

As always, the comments section is open to anyone who wants to do more than just tick the box.

My top choices list will be posted next Tuesday.

In One Increasing Purpose, A. S. M. Hutchinson presents a nice guy, Simon “Sim” Paris, who survived World War I without a scratch.

Sim  wonders why he was spared.

One Increasing Purpose by A. S. M. Hutchinson

Little, Brown,and Company, 1925,  448 pp. 1925 bestseller #10. My grade: C+.

All his family call on Sim’s sympathy.

Andrew, Sim’s oldest brother, is married to a woman temperamentally her husband’s opposite; after 10 years of marriage they are finding passion a poor substitute for shared values.

Sim’s other brother, Charles, is fond of his wife and she of him, but their relationship ends with fondness.

Looking for a sympathetic ear for his own problems, Sims looks up girl he’d known before the war. When Sim tell Elizabeth he’s convinced he was spared for a purpose, she says the purpose “is of God.”

Sim spends the rest of the novel trying to find God’s purpose, while simultaneously trying to help his brothers and sisters-in-laws with their marital problems.

Sims is the sort of person you’d want as a friend, but he’s awfully dull as a male lead. Sim’s declaration of undying love is, “Elizabeth,” which is not a particularly memorable line.

To get the mess untangled, Hutchinson resorts to a deus ex machina, which perhaps is appropriate for a protagonist whose statement of faith is “Christ the Common Denominator.”

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Carolinian is a historical novel set in South Carolina in the early days the American Revolution.

Rafael Sabatini’s novel fails as a romance—its loving couple don’t trust each other an inch—but a supporting plot almost makes up for the book’s predictable and silly love story.

The Carolinian by Rafael Sabatini

Grosset & Dunlap, 1924,  414 pp. 1925 bestseller # 9. My grade: C.

Cover of 1925 edition of The Carolinian: title and author name in black type on blue cover.As the novel opens, Harry Latimer’s fiance, Myrtle Carey, has returned his ring upon learning he’s joined the Sons of Liberty.

Harry suspects fortune-hunting, English army officer Capt. Mandeville has inserted a spy into the rebel cell.

That’s the only time in the novel, Harry gets something right: Harry has the psychological perceptivity of a hedgehog, and Myrtle is his soul-mate.

The novel’s real interest is lawyer John Rutledge.

Carolinians select Rutledge to lead them in the defense of Charles Town and the fight for independence from the Crown, despite his tendency to be somewhat imperial himself.

Fearing the town’s residents will be slaughtered by overwhelming odds, Rutledge initiates negotiations for surrender.

While passions flare around him, Rutledge scribbles away with a pencil, oblivious to everything but the document on which he’s working.

Although the Rutledge incident didn’t happen the way Sabatini tells it, it should have: It’s far more exciting than Harry and Myrtle.

 © 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The title character of The Perennial Bachelor, Victor Campion, is a virtual nonentity to all but his immediate family, including Anne Parrish’s readers.

Victor was his parents eighth child but first son.

The Perennial Bachelor by Anne Parrish

Harper & Brothers, 1925, 334 pp. 1925 bestseller #8. My grade: B.

Only three of the Campion girls lived past childhood. Victor was born the evening his father died in a riding accident.

Margaret Campion is a lovely but stupid woman. At her death, she makes Maggie, the eldest daughter, promise to take care of Victor.

Victor becomes his sisters’ life as he was their mother’s.

Parrish presents the story in not-quite-in-focus memories of various of the “three Campion girls” and Victor.

Readers see each sister trying desperately to conceal from the other sisters the pain of sacrificing her own dreams so Victor can have the best.

Details about the clothing, household habits, handicraft projects, and social activities of the family members from the Civil War period through the Jazz Age reveal the extent to which the Campion’s fortunes decline as they grow older.

The Campions are pathetic when they are young. As they get old, the senseless waste of four lives is painful to watch.

Readers will want a sunny novel as a chaser after The Perennial Bachelor.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sinclair Lewis says Arrowsmith is the biography of a young man who was “in no degree a hero, who regarded himself as a seeker after truth yet who stumbled and slid back all his life and bogged himself in every obvious morass.”

The novel also stumbles and bogs down.

Arrowsmith in laboratory graces 1952 dust jacket of novel

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

©1925. 1952 ed. Harcourt, Brace & World, includes a biographical sketch of Sinclair Lewis and “How Arrowsmith was written,” both by Barbara Grace Spayd. 464 pp. 1925 bestseller #7. My grade: B.

A drunken doctor lets Martin Arrowsmith read his Gray’s Anatomy and points him toward medical school.

Martin takes a BA, a MD, and a wife. He wants to do research, but is forced into general practice to support Leora.

He’s hopeless as a doctor: He has no people skills.

A lucky discovery leads him into a research job under the great Max Gottlieb.

Martin wants respect among scientists, but he’s willing to throw even that away when his emotions are touched.

An epidemic on a Caribbean Island gives Martin a chance to run a controlled test of a vaccine. Martin promises Gottlieb that  he won’t give in to demands to supply it to all residents.

Lewis makes Martin, Leora, and Gottleib plausible, if not particularly likeable. He sketches minor characters with broad strokes of sarcasm.

The total effect is neither serious enough or funny enough to satisfy today’s reader, but the Pulitzer committee thought the novel worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

As its subtitle implies, Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat: A Romance for a Few People is an unconventional novel.

The story is told by an unidentified writer who meets and has sex with Iris Storm, the twin sister of Gerald Marsh, the drunk who lives above his flat.

The Green Hat: A Romance for a Few People by Michael Arlen

Robin Clark, 1991 (paper), 244 pages. 1925 bestseller #5.  My Grade B.

"The Green Hat" cover shows woman in green hat driving autoThrough mutual acquaintances narrator hears of, and occasionally sees, Iris afterwards.

He manages to piece together her story, discover why Iris and her brother were estranged, why Gerald drank, why Iris, so fastidious about most things, was careless about sex.

The mystery-romance is under-laid by the mystery of the narrator. When readers first meet him, he’s what used to be called precious: affected, pretentious, full of self-importance.

As he gets interested in untangling the Iris Storm mystery, he has no time to maintain the persona.

Readers see the narrator maturing as he watches Iris maturing.

Behind both is the childish, 1920’s overindulgence of young people who survived World War I.

Arlen has no great truths to tell, but his technique alone is worth seeing.

 © 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni


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