Eleanor H. Porter recovered from writing two Pollyanna novels with the 1918 publication of Oh Money! Money! a rollicking tale that makes “the glad girl” look downright dull.

It also manages to make good financial sense.

Stacks of money with surprinted message that money won't buy happiness unless exchanged for things that will bring happiness

Oh, Money! Money! A Novel by Eleanor H. Porter

Helen Mason Grose, illus. 1918 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg ebook #5962.
My grade: B+.

At age 52, bachelor Stanley G. Fulton knows he should name an heir to his $20 million.

His only family are three cousins named Blaisdell whom he’s never met.

He decides to them each $100,000 a test of their ability to manage a sudden windfall.

Calling himself John Smith, a man doing research into the history of the Blaisdell family,  Stan travels east to Hillerton and becomes a boarder with his cousin Fred’s family.

His research allows “Mr.Smith” entree into the homes of all his relatives so he can see how each recipient handles a windfall.

His unassuming personality soon has them accepting his presence at every discussion of family business.

Stan is introduced to “Poor Maggie,” a relative by marriage whose good sense and empathy make her a favorite with everyone in Hillerton.

Unlike the Pollyanna novels that sound forced, Money! sparkles.

“Mr. Smith” and “Poor Maggie” don’t have to play a glad game: They’re mature people who’ve learned how to be content.

And the three Blaisdell households’ different attitudes toward money reflect small town America into the 1930s.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dere Mable is what it’s fictional narrator would probably call an E. Pistol Larry novel.

Dust jacket of Dere Mable shows Bill Smith in his tent in France penciling a letter to Mable back home.

The American army is attempting to turn Bill Smith into a clog in its fighting machine in France.

Bill had mastered the clog part before he reached training camp.

Dere Mable: Letters of a Rookie by Edward Streeter

G. William Breck. illus. 1918 bestseller #4. Project Gutenberg ebook #13993.
My grade C.

Turning Bill into a soldier makes defeating the Germany army look like child’s play.

Bill writes Mable chatty letters about life in the Army where “bed and board mean the same thing” and recruits are told to “walk a post but their aint no post.”

Bill tells Mable he’s taking French lessons at the YMCA so he can talk to girls when he gets to France, but when Bill hears Mable has been spending a lot of time with someone named Broggins, he is furious.

Dere Mable has little plot and virtually no character development. G. William Breck’s droll illustrations bring the story to life and make it long enough to be called a book.

Though he makes Bill a comic figure, Edward Streeter’s tone is gentle. He doesn’t mock Bill for lack of education, but for his smug self-delusion.

Streeter’s respect for the American conscript is what makes Dere Mable a more durable work than Mac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants 36 years later.

Streeter dedicates his novel to the privates who "serve as a matter of course."

The dedication page of Edward Streeter’s Dere Mable

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

It was fitting that I read The Amazing Interlude  on July 4, because the plot of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel grows out of a young girl’s developing sense of what being an American means.

The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Illustrations by the Kinneys. 1918 bestseller #3.
Project Gutenberg ebook #1590. My grade: A-.

Sara Lee Kennedy, 19, is planning to marry a man “as slow as he was sure, as unimaginative as he was faithful,” when a letter telling of the appalling conditions of the Belgian Army touches her imagination.

Sara offers to go to France before marrying Harvey if the Methodist women donate money for her to run a soup kitchen.

Though she knows no French, has no credentials, and has no contacts to help her, Sara gets to Europe and sets up a soup kitchen in a roofless house in Dunkirk, a few hundred yards from the front.

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Her finacé regards her decision as treacherous. While Sara makes soup and cleans wounds, Harvey fumes at home.

Finally Harvey explodes.

He accuses the Methodist ladies of being publicity hounds just as Sara’s letter arrives asking them for more funds for the kitchen.

She’s recalled to America.

When Harvey refuses even to listen to Sara’s stories of what she saw in France, Sara breaks the engagement.

She saw him for what he was, not deliberately cruel, not even unkindly, but selfish, small, without vision. Harvey was for his own fireside, his office, his little family group. His labor would always be for himself and his own. Whereas Sara Lee was, now and forever, for all the world, her hands consecrated to bind up its little wounds and to soothe its great ones. Harvey craved a cheap and easy peace. She wanted no peace except that bought by service, the peace of a tired body, the peace of the little house in Belgium where, after days of torture, weary men found quiet and ease and the cheer of the open door.

Rinehart lets Sara find love, but the romance is secondary to Sara’s finding herself.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

When I began reading all the bestselling novels from 1900 through 1969, I didn’t have access to many of the early novels. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, many of those bestsellers are now available again for free.

For the rest of 2016, I’m going to post reviews of the bestselling novels of 1917 and 1918 that I wasn’t able to find the first time around.

Project Gutenberg

In the lists below, hyperlinks will take you to either my previously posted review or to the Project Gutenberg page from which you can download the novel. The dates in square brackets tell when new content will be posted.

1918 bestselling novels

Row of chess pawns with overlaid message While England fights Germany trench-to-trench in France, a sexy American spy proves "The Pawns Count"

  1. The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey
  2. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair
  3. The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart [2016-10-18]
  4. Dere Mable: Love Letters of a Rookie by Edward Streeter [2016-10-22]
  5. Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter [2016-10-25]
  6. Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell [2016-10-29]
  7. The Major by Ralph Connor [2016-11-01]
  8. The Pawns Count by E. Phillips Oppenhein [2016-11-05]
  9. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter [2016-11-08]
  10. Sonia: Between Two Worlds by Stephen McKennal [2016-11-12]

Readers’ poll [2016-11-15]

My picks of the 1918 bestsellers [2016-11-19]

1917 bestselling novels

Photograph of wildfire with inset saying Wildfire is the story of a horse as fast and as furious as his name

  1. Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells
  2. The Light in the Clearing: A Tale of the North Country in the Time of Silas Wright by Irving Bacheller [2016-11-22]
  3. The Red Planet by William J. Locker [2016-11-26]
  4. The Road to Understanding by Eleanor H. Porter [2016-11-29]
  5. Wildfire by Zane Grey [2016-12-05]
  6. Christine by Alice Cholmondeley (Elizabeth Von Arnim) [2016-12-06]
  7. In the Wilderness by Robert S. Hichens [2016-12-10]
  8. His Family by Ernest Poole [2016-12-13]
  9. The Definite Object: A Romance of New York by Jeffrey Farnol [2016-12-17]
  10. The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell [2016-12-20]

Readers’ poll [2016-12-24]

My picks of the 1917 bestsellers [2016-12-27]

The best of the novels reviewed here in 2016, [2016-12-31]

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The best of the 1906 bestselling novels for most twenty-first century readers are books that clothe social or political criticism in a strong story: Coniston by Winston Churchill, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and The Spoilers by Rex Beach.

Each of the novelists had some first-hand, emotional connection with his subject, which makes their stories especially powerful. The characters may have been invented, but the situations are true.

The Spoilers

Photograph of novelist Rex Beach wearing a Stetson hat

        Rex Beach

The Spoilers is probably the most accessible of the three for today’s readers. Rex Beach’s novel is a thriller with the requisite amount of romance.

Two film versions of the novel were made. Gary Cooper played the male lead in one and John Wayne was leading man in the second, which tells you all you need to know about Beach’s characterization.

The protagonists of The Spoilers confront a scheme cooked up by politicians to legally rob Alaska miners of their gold. The scheme, promoted as a plan to protect the miners, has the blessing of the federal government and its courts.

The intrepid heroes not only have to figure out what’s going on but also defeat the men in suits back in the lower 48 with little more than their wits and shovels.

The Spoilers is based on true events that Beach observed while in Alaska. He had trained for the law in Chicago, but the gold fields had more allure than the law courts.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, Beach spent five years unsuccessfully prospecting for gold.

The Jungle

Photograph of writer Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr.

  Upton Sinclair

In The Jungle, Upton Sinclair follows a fictional Lithuanian immigrant family who have come to America early in the 1900s seeking new opportunities.

They find only the same old oppressions.

They arrived with little and, despite their hard work, that little is gradually taken from them.

Sinclair uses the family to expose the working and living conditions experienced by immigrants who found jobs in Chicago’s stockyards, slaughterhouses, and meat packing plants.

The lead character in the novel turns toward socialism which offers some hope of a better future.

Sinclair himself was a socialist and a muckraker (the Progressive Era term for an investigative reporter). He went undercover, working in the Chicago meatpacking plants to get a first hand look at conditions.

The Jungle was first published as a serial in the Socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason for which Sinclair worked.

Besides writing on political topics important to socialists, Sinclair became a socialist politician. He ran as a Socialist Party candidate for Congress, and in 1934 ran for governor of California as a Democrat.

He was unsuccessful both times.


Photograph of American novelist and New Hampshire politician Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Coniston focuses on the figure of Jethro Bass, a cloddish country lad from the lower socioeconomic class, which in the middle half of the 19th century was usually called “the wrong side of the tracks.”

Jethro becomes a a deal maker, a behind-the-scenes string-puller. Smoke-filled rooms are his natural habitat.

Jethro exploits the vulnerabilities of the New Hampshire political system to amass great power.

Coniston‘s author Winston Churchill knew a thing or two about New Hampshire politics. He was twice elected to the New Hampshire state legislature.

The same year that Coniston was topping the bestseller list, Churchill lost a bid to become the Republican nominee for governor. Six years later he ran for governor again, this time as a Progressive, and was again defeated.

In summation

The Spoilers, The Jungle, and Coniston are novels whose subjects readers will remember but whose stories will slip the mind.

The value of such books is that they can be picked up and read again without ruining the story or lessening the value of the writing.

Their downside is that they aren’t memorable enough for readers to seek them out for a second reading.

It’s time again for you, dear readers, to have your say.   You can pick up to three of the top 10 bestselling novels of 1906.

As always, additional thoughts are welcome. Put them in the comments section, please.


Writing fiction is like making pie crust; you need to know when you’ve done enough.

Ellen Glasgow hadn’t learned that lesson yet when she published her second bestseller, The Wheel of Life.

The Wheel of Life by Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow

Doubleday, Page & Co. 489 p. 1906 bestseller #10.
Project Gutenberg eBook #14696. My grade: B+.

The novel contains several stories that regularly idle alongside one another, like city transit buses at interchanges.

One story is about Laura Wilde, rising poet and seemingly confirmed spinster.

A second is about magazine editor Roger Adams, married to a woman with whom he has little in common. Adams’ wife, Connie, has mental problems, is using cocaine, and having an affair with a married man

A third story is about Gerty Bridewell, Laura’s best friend, and Gerty’s philandering husband, Perry, who, oddly enough, admires Roger Adams enormously.

A fourth story is about Arnold Kemper, a divorced cousin of Perry Bridewell reputed to have had an affair with opera star Madame Alta.

There’s much to admire and enjoy in this novel. Glasgow does all the right things, except cut out what she doesn’t need—like the budding playwright in love with Laura and the old lady selling kittens to finance her husband’s funeral

On the whole, however, the best we can say is, “It shows promise.”

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni