Glorious Apollo is a fictional biography of the 18th century Romantic poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron.

Byron comes from a family noted for philandering and profligacy. He achieves notoriety in those areas before he achieves fame as a poet.

Glorious Apollo by E. Barrington*

Dodd, Mead and Company, 1925, 371 pages.  1925 bestseller #4. My grade: C+.

portrait of Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron

Byron is,  as one of his lovers says, “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

When his poems become valuable, Byron refuses to accept money for them (It wouldn’t be gentlemanly), but he’ll gladly marry for money.

Byron selects a unimpeachable young woman, Anne Milbanke, scorning her almost from the moment of the marriage.

When tales of her husband’s relationships become common knowledge — including one with his half sister – Anne secures a separation.

Byron goes into exile in Europe. He is such a celebrity that a telescope is set up in Geneva so British tourists can watch his home.

Aided by booze, drugs, and the poet Shelley, Byron sinks further into degradation. He’s dead at age 33.

An encyclopedia entry is more explicit and titilating than the portrait produced by author E. Barrington*. Through generalizations and circumlocutions, she manages to make her novel bland almost to the point of boredom.

Today’s readers will find little to applaud in Glorious Apollo other than fragments of history.

*E. Barrington is a pseudonym used by Elizabeth Louisa Moresby Adams Beck

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A wounded WWI vet walks away from an Army hospital rather than be sent to a facility where doctors predict his weakened body would succumb to tuberculosis.

Seeking surf and sun, Jamie MacFarlane hitchhikes and limps to the California coast, arriving just in time to summon medical help for the Master Bee Keeper.

The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter

1925; republished, Indiana University Press, 1991, paper, 505 pp. 1925 bestseller #3. My grade: C+.

Honey bee on flower is photo on "The Keeper of the Bees"Aided by a widowed neighbor and Little Scout, who is learning the apiary business, Jamie throws himself into getting his health back and using it to carry on the Master’s business.

Gene Stratton-Porter does her usual lyrical magic with her nature descriptions, but she fails characterization. Ten-year-old Little Scout alternatively sounds like Penrod and a Cambridge don—and Stratton-Porter is unable to make the plot grow out of her characterization.

The novel is full of loose ends and dropped threads, like Jamie’s walking away from the Brunson family who fed and sheltered him.

The action is further muddled by plot elements that mysteriously appear.  For example, a trunk develops a hidden lock between its first mention and its appearance as central part of the action.

Stratton-Porter was killed in an accident before this novel was published.

Had she lived to do some rewriting, The Keeper of the Bees might have been much better.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Though penned in the 1920s, The Constant Nymph has a feel of the Woodstock Festival about it.

Cover art for "The Constant Nymph" shows girl with bunch of flowers

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

William Heinemann Ltd., 1924; The Dial Press, Virago Modern Classic with  introduction by Anita Brookner, 1984, 336 pages.  1925 bestseller #2.  My grade: B-.

Albert Sanger, a 1920’s equivalent of a flower child, composes unappreciated work in an Alpine chalet in the company of a “circus” of children by two wives, his current mistress, and whoever takes him up on his lavish invitations to drop in.

Fellow composer Lewis Dodd, one of the more frequent visitors, has captivated 14-year-old Tessa.

When Sanger dies suddenly, a cousin approaching spinsterhood swoops in and carts Tessa and the younger children to England to be properly educated.

Cousin Florence also snares Lewis and carts him home to England to properly marketed.

The Sanger children and Lewis don’t take well to Florence’s intentions. Lewis realizes Tessa has always been faithful to him— meaning she’s always given him his own way—and he takes steps to secure her continued constancy.

Margaret Kennedy’s romantic characters are interested in nothing but themselves. Florence and her father, the most unromantic characters in the book, are the only ones that take any interest in people who can’t help them.

Kennedy spins a good yarn, but it’s essentially a trivial yarn. If the novel is to have any point, the reader will have to insert it.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

From age 8 until Curley kisses her, Nancy Hawthorne’s artist father is her teacher, mentor, and companion.

Though Nancy doesn’t want Curley, she knows she wants passionate love.

Soundings: A Novel by A. Hamilton Gibbs

Little, Brown, 1925. 320 pages. 1925 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

To divert her, Jim suggests art study on the Continent.

In Paris, Nancy shares a flat with an American. Cordelia introduces Nancy to her brother, Lloyd, and Lloyd’s best friend at Oxford, Bob Whittaker.

Foot of week-old baby

Nancy likes Lloyd but falls hard for Bob. He appears to reciprocate.

When her father is injured in an accident, Nancy rushes back home to Brimble.

Bob doesn’t write.

When Nancy goes to Oxford to find out what’s changed, she finds Bob with another woman.

Nancy devotes herself to painting and to her father, now a paraplegic.

On her 27th birthday, in the midst of World War I, Nancy realizes she wants children. Lloyd’s death in France ends possibility of him as a husband.

Then a changed Bob is temporarily stationed in Brimble.

A. Hamilton Gibbs writes passages of absolutely beautiful prose but leaves gaping holes in character development.

Although the other characters are shown in varied situations, Gibbs rarely shows Bob when he’s not pursuing Nancy. Thus the ending of Soundings leaves a vague sense of distrust that Bob has fundamentally changed.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 Photo credit: Babyfoot by johnnyberg @ FreeImages.com

The 1925 bestseller list is peopled by novelists who were, if not household names, at least recognized names, in their day.  Today few would even be recognized by English lit majors.

cover of Arrowsmith, 1st ed."The Green Hat" cover shows woman in green hat driving auto

Here’s the list and the date when you can look for my review.

Soundings by A. Hamilton Gibbs [June 23]
The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy [June. 27]Jacket of novel The Little French Girl
The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter [June. 30]
Glorious Apollo by E. Barrington [July 4]
The Green Hat by Michael Arlen [July 7]
The Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick  [second year on list]
Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis [July 11]
The Perennial Bachelor by Anne Parrish [July 14]
The Carolinian by Rafael Sabatini [July 18]
One Increasing Purpose by A. S. M. Hutchinson [July 21]

You’ll get your chance to  check off your favorites from 1925 on July 25.

I’ll post what I think are the best of the 1925 bestsellers on July 28.

In August we’ll move back a decade to the 1915 bestsellers.

Ellen Glasgow’s Vein of Iron and Edna Ferber’s Come and Get It would have tied for first place on my list of the best of the 1935 bestsellers, with Rachel Field’s Time Out of Mind as runner up, if they had not been up against Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

(My review of The Forty Days is here. My discussion of its historical significance is here.)

All three women’s novels are first-rate, with believably complex characters and situations and real insights into the long-term cultural significance of those situations.

Glasgow shows us how ordinary working people were affected by the depression. Their lives were very hard, but Glasgow shows how they coped. She makes readers understand that merely coping can be an act of bravery.

Vein of Iron isn’t a cheerful novel, but it’s an optimistic one: If you can cope with today’s problems, you can cope with tomorrow’s.

Ferber’s characters are real people on a different scale. The boy who cried, “Come and get it” to lumbermen grows into a giant of a man who makes millions by outworking and outsmarting other late nineteenth century giants.

Ferber reveals not only how big American industrialists were, but how big an impact they had on the environment for decades to come because they focused on short-term profits.

Field’s story also looks at people in a time of economic transition.

In Time Out of Mind, the main characters are in the household of a New England shipbuilding family in the period when steam was replacing wind power for commercial vessels. Dysfunctional to begin with, the family unit falls apart as their business falls apart.

Field lacks Ferber’s and Glasgow’s skill with characterization and the story’s outcome is predictable, but her insight into into the far-reaching negative impacts that changes in technology and the economy can have on people’s lives is still relevant today.

You can’t go wrong with any of these three novels.

I rarely have a problem narrowing my choices for best novels of a year to three. The 1935 bestseller list, however, contains four very fine novels, each of which deserves to be one of my top picks.

Today I’ll devote to my topmost top pick from 1935, Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Tomorrow I’ll talk about the other three, all of which are by woman authors.

painting of Armenian genocide is background for title 'The Forty Days of Musa Dagh'

It’s hard today to imagine a time when there was no word to mean the premeditated, systematic liquidations of one racial, religious, ethnic, or national group by another, but until late in World War II there was no such word.

Surprisingly, when Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide sometime in 1943-44, he wasn’t talking about the Nazi extermination of Jews but about the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman government during World War I.

One hundred years ago, there were about 2 million Armenians living in Turkey. By the early 1920s, three-quarters of those Armenians were dead. Many of those who survived had been forcibly removed from the country.

Most of the world uses Lemkin’s term to describe those events, but even today in Turkey it is illegal to call it genocide.

Turkey  fought in World War I on the side of Germany and Austrio-Hungary. The Turks declared Jihad against Christians, which included Armenians.

To keep Armenians in the Caucasus from supporting its Russian enemies, Turkey began “resettling” Armenians in great waves of refugees, like the refugees we see  today fleeing the Islamic State.

News of the atrocities reached the west in 1915. Armin T. Wegner, a German second-lieutenant, took clandestine photos of Armenians in deportation camps in the Syrian desert, smuggled them to the US through Germany.

Of all the Armenian villages whose residents the Turks ordered to move, only four organized to oppose the order. One of those was Musa Dagh, the Mountain of Moses, located near the Mediterranean Sea, west of the ancient city of Turkish Antioch.

Alone of the defiant Armenia villages, Musa Dagh was saved from slaughter by the Western Allies.

Franz Werfel turned the story of Musa Dagh’s fight into a novel. Published in 1933, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh became a bestseller, which drew so much attention to Werfel, who was Jewish, that he was forced to flee Vienna for France.

(At one point, Werfel and his wife took refuge in Lourdes, which inspired him to write The Song of Bernadette, which also became a bestseller.)

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was banned in Germany and countries it occupied, but copies still circulated throughout World War II. In ghettos, the novel was read as a call to fight the Nazis.

The characters’ individuality, memorable though they are, seems to recede as the novel moves to its conclusion. Werfel leaves readers with an inspiring sense of people united in a cause.

Despite its enormous popularity, Musa Dagh was never turned into a movie. MGM wanted to do a film, but the Turkish government protested. The film was never made.

A updated version of Werfel’s novel was released this year, the centennial of start of the Armenian genocide. The new version of the novel, like the events it commemorates, is as contemporary as tweets from Tikrit.


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