Red Pottage a Feast for Readers

Red Pottage is the story of a fashionable, young, 19th century Londoner, Hugh Scarlett, who like Esau in the Bible, threw away an honorable position to satisfy an immediate hunger.

As the novel opens, Hugh has decided to dump his mistress. He has met Rachel West and decided she “would save him from himself” if she became his wife.

Hugh is shocked when Lord Newhaven demands satisfaction for Hugh’s affair with his wife. Dueling being outlawed, Lord Newhaven offers an alternative: They draw straws with the loser to commit suicide within five months.

On that bizarre premise, Mary Cholmondeley grows a rich psychological drama about characters that are more believable than your next door neighbors.

In the small, intermarried British upper class, Hugh and the Newhavens have many mutual acquaintances and some mutual relatives. Cholmondeley enlists them to help her explore complex issues of love and marriage, justice and mercy, sin and repentance, and the art of writing novels.

Cholmondeley’s ability to craft a plausible story on an implausible premise makes James Hilton’s Lost Horizon look like writing by a third grader.

Cholmondeley’s characters are far more credible than Hilton’s as well. She gets even the tiny details right. You’ll want to read some of her sentences aloud to savor their sounds.

When, for example, Hester Gresley having written a critically acclaimed but unprofitable first novel, goes to live in the country with her clergyman brother, Cholmondeley says, “[Hester] now experienced the interesting sensation, as novel to her as it is familiar to most of us, of being nobody, and she disliked it.” Can’t you hear the sniff above the stiff upper lip in that sentence?

Red Pottage is a rich stew.

Enjoy it.

Red Pottage
By Mary Cholmondeley
Harper & Brothers, 1900
1900 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg #Ebook #14885
My grade: A-

@ 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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