Ten North Frederick houses marital misery

In Ten North Frederick, John O’Hara presents a fictional history of the upper echelons of society in a small Pennsylvania city in the first half of the twentieth century.

When the novel opens, it’s 1945 and Joseph B. Chapin has died.


Ten North Frederick  by John O’Hara

Random House, 1955. 408 pages. 955 bestseller #5. My grade: B-.


Dust jacket of Ten North Frederick shows imposing closed door.Chapins have lived at 10 N. Frederick since 1881. The family is at the top of the local social ladder by virtue of old money and old virtues.

Joe had the personality to succeed in Philadelphia or New York, but he felt—wisely, it turns out—his talents were only Gibbsville-sized.

Joe married a local girl who saw Joe’s limitations as an asset: She could own him.

By Gibbsville standards, Joe and Edith had a happy marriage.

Nobody on the outside saw how miserable they were.

O’Hara’s revelations of the secrets of “the best families” wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in most circles today. Even by 1950’s standards, O’Hara was not a pornographer.

At the end of the novel, Joe Chapin is buried, and people are wondering what his widow will do now.

Readers are no wiser.

They know a lot about Edith Chapin that she wouldn’t wish known, but they don’t know Edith Chapin.

For all his skill in plotting and dialogue, O’Hara never is able to make Edith more than a character in a history book.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I'm passionate about helping people learn through the medium of nonfiction writing. Although I occasionally have an idea of my own, I mostly build education tools by recycling and repurposing other folks' ideas.

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