As far as I’m concerned, there are only eight potential contenders among the 1934 top selling novels. I found number 1 and number 10 books — Hervey Allen’s Anthony Adverse and Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales — boring and forgettable.
The most memorable of the 1934 list is Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. It’s not a great book, or even one of Hilton’s better novels, but it appeals to something in readers that wishes things would be today the way we chose to believe they once were.
Readers won’t forget Lamb in His Bosom or So Red the Rose but may refuse to remember them because they are too hard to contemplate.
Raising 14 children on a farm in the 1800s, Lamb‘s Cean Carver is indomitable but not embraceable. Her struggles would be more agreeable if only Cean didn’t accept them as the way life is. Most readers don’t want to be reminded that life is a struggle, let alone see someone who puts up with the struggle without complaint.
The plantation families Young describes whose men are fighting at places like Chancellorsville and Gettysburg make do with what the Yankees don’t steal or destroy; their heroism is supra-human. Readers would rather read of daring do on a battlefield, which they don’t expect to ever experience, than to read about doing battle to coax food from the earth, which is within the realm of possibility.
Lamb in His Bosom and So Red the Rose could never be described as “feel-good” writing.
Perhaps that’s just as well.
The world could do with a little less feel good and a little more be good.
© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni