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Archive for the ‘1903 Bestselling Novels’ Category

Although the bestsellers of 1903 include some good stories and some intriguing detail, none of the novels is literature. Most are not even novels you’d seek out for a second reading.

With the exception of Owen Wister’s The Virginian, each seems to be very much a novel of its era. It’s hard to imagine any of the 10 becoming a bestseller even a decade later.

Lady Rose’s Daughter by Mrs. Humphrey Ward was arresting enough while I was reading it, but within a few weeks I’d forgotten all but the broad outline of the story.  The same was true of The Pit, by Frank Norris, and The Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to his Son, by George Horace Lorimer.

Unfortunately, those three are so much better than the others from 1903, that I have to chose them as my top picks.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Readers, select up to three of your favorites from the 1903 bestseller list. As always, if you want to share you’re reasons for loving or loathing a novel, please use the comments section.

I’ll share my favorites next Wednesday.

 

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The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is an improbable tale of an orphan boy genetically predisposed to become a paragon of virtue.

As the novel opens, the family with whom Chad lived has died. Chad and his dog, Jack, take off across the mountains.

They land in Kingdom Come, Kentucky, where Jack wins a dog fight and Chad wins lifelong enemies.

He also wins Melissa, whose family takes Chad in.

By accident, Chad meets Major Calvin Buford who discovers that Chad is his grandson and gives him a home. Chad wants to be friends with the Major’s neighbors, the Deans, especially Margaret Dean, but they think he’s a bastard.

When Civil War looms, Chad chooses the blue uniform. The Major and his Bluegrass friends turn their backs on Chad.

In the war, Chad wins the respect of the Dean men and love of Margaret Dean, but loses all the other people he holds dear.

John Fox Jr. can write great description, but he flunks character development and plot creation. Most of the novel is a recital of Civil War battles.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is as dumb as the summary sounds and even more boring.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
By John Fox. Jr.
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903
404 pages
1903-bestseller #10
My Grade: C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The early 1900s saw a spate of novels about clergymen who came under bad influences in big cities. Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia is one of the more ridiculous examples of group.

The One Woman contains some interesting insights into what today are sneeringly called traditional values, but the novel’s plot and characterization are implausible even by the standards of melodrama.

The title character, Ruth Gordon, is the jealous wife of the Rev. Frank Gordon, a handsome and charismatic preacher who is packing a New York City church with a beguiling blend of scriptures and socialism.

Ruth has reason to worry: Frank has an ego twice the size of his church’s sanctuary.

When sexy, sophisticated heiress Kate Ransom tells Frank his words seem divine, Frank’s a gonner.

Frank leaves Ruth and the kids for Kate.

Ruth throws herself at Frank's feet

Ruth is overcome when Frank says he’s leaving her

Frank invents a new, utopian religion that features open marriage.

When Kate tells Frank she’s leaving him, Franks kills her new lover.

In the nick of time, Ruth rescues Frank from the electric chair, restoring the confessed murder to his rightful place as husband, head of the household,  and father to their dear, innocent little children.

The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia
by Thomas Dixon Jr.
Life Country Press, 1903
350 pages
1903 bestseller # 9

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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If Garrison Keillor had been CEO of a pork-packing business in the 1890s, he might have written Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son.

Since he was not, George Horace Lorimer undertook the task, producing a bestselling novel brimming with funny stories, shrewd advice, and love.

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Each of the 17 chapters of the novel is presented as a letter from John Grahman to his son, Pierrepont, beginning when Pierrepont enters Harvard University.

From the other letters, readers can trace Pierrepont’s career.

Without describing either of the Graham men, Lorimer develops such vivid portraits of them, I felt I’d known them for years. What’s more, I felt I was a better person for that acquaintance.

The father is nobody’s fool. He wants his son to be a good man, a good businessman, and, eventually, a good husband and father.

After graduation, Pierrepont joins his father’s firm at the bottom rung. Pierrepont’s less than stellar performance In the mail room draws a rebuke from his rather.

The son mends his ways, buckles down, and, thanks to some coaching from Dad, begins learning the business he will some day manage.

If you love a good yarn, or aspire to a leadership role, don’t miss this novel.

Common sense rarely appears in such attractive wrappings.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
Being the Letters written by John Graham, Head of the House
of Graham & Company, Pork-Packers in Chicago, familiarly
known on ‘Change as “Old Gorgon Graham,” to his Son,
Pierrepont, facetiously known to his intimates as “Piggy.”
by George Horace Lorimer
Illus. F. R. Gruger and B. Martin Justice
1903 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg EBook #21959
 

Photo credit: Pork Loin by morderska

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Mettle of the Pasture by James Lane Allen combines two of life’s most essential themes—  love and ethical behavior — into an incredibly forgettable novel.

The plot pivots on the question of whether it is ethically necessary for a couple about to marry to reveal their moral lapses to their intended partner.

When he proposes to Isabel Conyers, Rowan Meredith decides that he must reveal his dark secret.

She would rather not have known.

Knowing, Isabel sees no option open to her but to uphold her virtue by refusing to marry. For Rowan’s sake, Isabel attempts to conceal the reason for the break-up.

Her grandmother, an accomplished scandalmonger, makes a shrewd guess.

Allen clearly wants readers to admire Rowan and Isabel for their “mettle.” Readers might admire Rowan if his honesty were accompanied by a realistic appraisal of the situation.

Rowan, however, doesn’t see having sex outside marriage as in any way immoral. He expects Isabel to regard it as unfortunate at worst — which shows how little he knows Isabel.

Rowan comes out looking like a fool.

Isabel is not much better.

Her high moral standards generally take back seat to her high regard for her own social standing. She (and Allen) may wish to believe her acquaintances respect her, but from what Allen shows, I believe that, like her grandmother, her acquaintances fear Isabel’s tongue.

The Mettle of the Pasture
by James Lane Allen
1903 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg eBook #12482

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In Lovey Mary, Alice Hegan Rice returns to the Cabbage Patch with a cheerful novel that redeploys Mrs. Wiggs from her 1902 bestseller.

Orphaned Lovey Mary, 13, is acutely aware that she’s not loved.

When Mary’s former tormentor, Kate Rider, drops her infant at the orphan asylum, Mary becomes his foster mother.

Two years later, when Kate returns for Tommy, Mary kidnaps him rather than give him up.

The pair end up in the Cabbage Patch. Mrs. Wiggs and her children help Mary find work, make friends, and overcome her feelings of inadequacy.

Mary wants to live up to her friends’ good opinion. She visits Kate, who is hospitalized after an accident, and brings her back to the Cabbage Patch, where Kate dies.

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Mary and Tommy return to the orphanage.

Mary’s good behavior is rewarded: She and Tommy are taken on a railroad trip to Niagara Falls.

Lovey Mary has slender plot and inadequate character development. The novel’s best scenes, such as Mary’s recitation of her lines from Faust “with a volubility that would have shamed an auctioneer,” have no bearing on the plot.

Five years later, Lucy Maud Montgomery will use themes and incidents similar to those of Lovey Mary with far greater skill in Anne of Green Gables.

Go with the redhead.

Lovey Mary
by Alice Hegan Rice
1903 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #5970
 
Photo credit: Niagara Falls by jnystrom

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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