Nine of the 10 bestsellers of 1919 are each about some aspect of the world war that had so recently concluded.
The Re-Creation of Brian Kent by Howard Bell Wright is not only the oddball in the group, but it’s also easily the least good of the set.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez is the best novel of the 1919 bestsellers. The main character’s explanation of how he served in the war “merely as a victim,” has to rank as one of literature’s most horrifying insights into the nature of war.
However, Blasco’s long paragraphs and high page count won’t draw most modern readers beyond a few pages, so I’ll reluctantly remove it from my list.
Three other novels can be eliminated from my short list immediately: The Arrow of Gold by Joseph Conrad, The Desert of Wheat by Zane Grey, and Dawn by Gene Stratton Porter. While each of these has interesting elements, none has a strong story that grows from the personalities of the characters.
I will also scratch The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land by Ralph Connor. While having a military chaplain as the lead character makes for a memorable war novel, having the chaplain remain glowingly healthy in the midst of trench warfare after the Army declared him unfit for military service is a major flub.
In Secret by Robert W. Chambers belongs on my list of recommendations. In Secret is a thriller that truly lives up to that designation.
Chambers cleverly leaves out whole blocks of the story which in a Hollywood version would become the story. Instead Chambers focuses on the characters’ emotional and mental responses to terrifying circumstances.
Even knowing the ending doesn’t drain the tension from this novel.
In Secret is a keeper.
Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart and The Tin Soldier by Temple Bailey each look at how the war abroad affected families back home. I’ll choose Rinehart’s novel over Bailey’s: Rinehart’s major characters are far more interesting individuals than Bailey’s.
The remaining novel rises by default to my top picks.
Christopher and Columbus by Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim wraps a caustic exploration of anti-German hysteria in America in a witty and rather charming romance. The novel isn’t one of the Countess’s best, but she never fails to entertain.
So there you have my recommendations for the best 1919 novels for today’s reader:
- In Secret by Robert W. Chambers
- Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
- Christopher and Columbus by Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim