Reread: The Silent Places

Of the nearly 700 novels I’ve reviewed here at Great Penformances, The Silent Places is the most memorable.

The 1904 bestseller by Stewart Edward White is not a great novel—I didn’t give it an A rating the first time I read it—but just thinking about the novel’s ending is enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Hound sniffs deep into snow.
The hound sniffed deep, filling his nostrils with the feather snow .

If there were a male equivalent of chick lit, The Silent Places would be its exemplar.

The story: Two guys chase an outlaw Indian in the frozen prairie north of Lake Ontario in seventeenth century America.

The novel is well illustrated, but it’s White’s text, rather than the illustrations that show how the two very different men grow and bond.

What’s most amazing is there’s scarcely any conversation in the book. I have to reread the book (Project Gutenberg has it) just to see if I can figure out how White pulls that off.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

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The Silent Places clear winner in 1904 list

The standout novel from 1904 is a novel whose title and author were both unknown to me: The Silent Places by Stewart Edward White.

The novel is an adventure set in the early 1700s when North America was a wilderness. Its laws were those of nature and the directors of the Hudson Bay Company.

The Company assigns two men to capture an Indian who skipped out without reimbursing the Company for payments advanced him.  Sam is a seasoned woodsman with a keen mind; Dick is a less experienced woodsman with good instincts but duller mind.

White takes all the usual story lines and turns them inside out.

Here’s the older man’s summary of more than a year’s work:

“We went with old Haukemah’s band down as far as the Mattawishguia. There we left them and went up stream and over the divide. Dick here broke his leg and was laid up for near three months. I looked all that district over while he was getting well. Then we made winter travel down through the Kabinikágam country and looked her over. We got track of this Jingoss over near the hills, but he got wind of us and skipped when we was almost on top of him. We took his trail. He went straight north, trying to shake us off, and we got up into the barren country. We’d have lost him in the snow if it hadn’t been for that dog there. He could trail him through new snow. We run out of grub up there, and finally I gave out. Dick here pushed on alone and found the Injun wandering around snow-blind. He run onto some caribou about that time, too, and killed some. Then he came back and got me:—I had a little pemmican and boiled my moccasins. We had lots of meat, so we rested up a couple of weeks, and then came back.”

Dick’s mental and psychological growth is almost visible as the men push themselves to accomplish their task. Turning back is not an option either every considers.

By comparison to White’s novel, the other titles on the 1904 bestseller list seem puny, even though some of them are good entertainment.

An online literary biography says White was born in 1873 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father, a lumberman, introduced his son to the outdoors and ornithology. In later years, Stewart was to work in other outdoor occupations, such as ranching and mining.

The younger White took a composition course during his undergraduate work in philosophy at University of Michigan. His prof encouraged him to write.

By the time he collected his diploma, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1895 he had been paid for his writing. Before he finished his  M.A. at Columbia University in 1903, he had published three novels.

White was a prolific writer, and a versatile one. He wrote not only fiction, but travel, history, and children’s books. Late in life, he became interested in psychic phenomena and wrote a series of books on the spirit world.

He died in 1946.

Stewart Edward White is certainly an author I’ll look for again.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

What were your favorite novels of 1904?

I know most of my readers didn’t read the 1904 bestsellers the year they were originally published.  I hope, however, that some of you have sampled some of the them this year, perhaps in e-book form.

Now’s your chance to register your favorites and/or tell us what you think the best of 1904’s novels are for today’s readers. You can choose up to three.

Feel free to use the comment section to share more than just a click.

The Silent Places Turns Plain Facts into Strong Emotion.

 

Stewart Edward White’s The Silent Places is breathtaking tale of two men’s efforts to catch a frontier-era embezzler.

An Indian to whom the the Hudson’s Bay Company paid in advance for pelts has disappeared without delivering the goods. The company wants Jingloss quietly caught and returned alive as an example to others.

Sam Bolton, an experienced woodsman, and handsome young Dick Herron volunteer.

What [Herron] lacked in experience and the power to synthesise, he more than made up in the perfection of his senses and a certain natural instinct of the woods. …Had he only possessed, as did Bolton, a keen brain as well as keen higher instincts, he would have been marvellous. [chapter 9]

The pair are hardly started when Dick’s careless notice of a pretty Ojibway girl gets them into trouble.

May-may-gwán deserts her people and attaches herself to Sam and Dick when they are too far from headquarters to turn back. Sam’s not pleased, but Dick turns all teen-sullen.

May-may-gwán proves her value when Sam continues searching for Jingloss while Dick’s laid up with a badly broken leg.

The trio aren’t able to move again until nearly winter.

Jingoss turns north into the barren country.

Freezing and starving are both very likely for him and his pursuers.

The Silent Places tells a very masculine story with a gender-free touch. White sets up and shatters clichés. The result is a strong, slender novel that turns plain facts into strong emotion.

The Silent Places
By Stewart Edward White
Illustrated by Philip R. Goodwin
1904 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg ebook #14960
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

My Friend Prospero Sweet and Light as Spun Sugar

Seeking admittance to a remote Italian castle containing a famous collection of fourteenth century portraits, Lady Blanchemain is delighted to discover the courtly Englishman who serves as her guide is a relative of her late husband. A centuries-old feud between the Catholic and Protestant branches of the family had kept them from meeting before.

The landscape is so romantic and John Blanchemain such a Prince Charming, Lady Blanchemain decides she must arrange for him to fall in love.

She doesn’t have to.

Long before John spies a woman pretty as a princess in the courtyard below, ten-and-a-half-year-old Annunziata is on the job taking care of her friend Prospero, whose impecunious present state she predicts will give way to incredible fortune.

The outcome of the romance is totally predictable.

Henry Harland takes the portraits the lovers straight from color illustrations in fairy tales. He gives them each a sense of humor and delight in word play so they are interesting to watch for the short time it takes to read Harland’s slim volume.

Unfortunately, Harland doesn’t give enough lines to Lady Blanchemain, “a young old thing” who is more interesting than either of the young lovers.

Despite its shortcomings, My Friend Prospero is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

My Friend Prospero
By Henry Harland
1904 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg ebook #14682
My grade: C+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm: Wholesome, Not Subtle

Rebecca peers over fence on cover of Rebecca of Sunnybrook FarmRebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a sunny novel, wholesome as granola, each chapter packed with the minimum daily requirement of aphorisms.

Aurelia Randall’s spinster sisters offer her oldest child a home.  Aurelia sends Rebecca, her second child, instead. The eldest child is more conscientious and thus less easily spared by her widowed mother.

Rebecca is a basically a good child, but she’s also an imaginative, impulsive chatterbox.

Aunt Miranda, who likes things tidy, finds Rebecca’s imaginative chatter and impulsive behavior a sore trial.

Aunt Jane finds Rebecca’s liveliness a welcome relief from her sister’s unvarying routine.

After a rather rocky start, Rebecca turns her attention on getting a good education so she can help her mother pay off the mortgage and give the younger children a better chance in life.

In 1904, adults would have regarded Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca as good reading for young people. Today I’m afraid it would be regarded either as a dull, moral tract or as bizarre, fantasy fiction. Either interpretation shows how society has changed since 1904.

Wiggin’s Rebecca isn’t on a par with Anne of Green Gables or The Yearling but the story has charm and a quiet tongue-in-cheek wit that makes it still worth reading today.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
By Kate Douglas Wiggin
Project Gutenberg ebook #498
1904 Bestseller #8
My grade: B-

The book cover is from the Thorndike large print edition of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, one of several versions of the novel available in print today.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Beverly of Graustark Isn’t Even Graustarkian

Bridge in rough forest setting.
Does that bridge look safe enough to bear the coach of a princess?

Beverly of Graustark picks up the story George Barr McCutcheon began in his 1901 bestseller, Graustark.

Since their marriage Graustark’s Princess Yetive and her husband, Grenfall Lorry, have lived in Washington, D.C., but threats of war by neighboring Axphain brings them home to lead the defense of their East European kingdom.

Yetive’s good friend Beverly Calhoun, daughter of a US congressman, and her maid follow close behind. In the Graustark mountains, their coach is stopped by a band of ragged men, led by a handsome, English-speaking goat-herder who mistakes Beverly for Princess Yetive.

Beverly allows the misunderstanding because it suits her; Boldo pretends to believe it because it suits him.

Once in Edelweiss, Beverly learns there are actually three royal princes hiding out in Graustark. Surely the handsome Baldo must be one of them in disguise, mustn’t he?

McCutcheon says Beverly has a “graceful form” and Baldo has a “splendid figure.” That basically takes care of character development.

For plot development, there’s a lot of running about in cloaks in the dark, but nothing actually happens. Even the war ends without a skirmish.

Graustark’s leaders, so sensible and dedicated in the earlier novel, are frivolous and incompetent here.

Perhaps that comes of living in Washington, D.C.

Beverly of Graustark
by George Barr McCutcheon
1904 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #6801
My grade: C-

Photo credit:  Forest Bridge by Colin Broug

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sir Mortimer Is Aptly Named

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Mary Johnson’s Sir Mortimer is the story of an Elizabethan gentleman pursuing fortune and fair maiden.

Sir Mortimer commands one of four ships in a fleet under Admiral Sir John Nevil, who has the Virgin Queen’s approval to prey on Spanish shipping and Spanish colonies.

At his best, Sir Mortimer is a prig trying to appear noble.

As his worst, he is a prig trying to look humble.

The story should be an adventure, with lots of swordplay and broken spars, but Johnson strangles excitement with taut summaries, such as “fifty paces from the river bank Henry Sedley received his quietus. ”

The novel pivots around the battle for Nueva Cordoba in which the British walk into a deadly trap. Afterward, Sir Mortimer, who had been captured by the Spanish, comes to his fellow officers with the confession that he broke under torture, revealed the British plan, and should bear full responsibility for the slaughter.

Sir Mortimer and readers learn much later that he was tricked into believing he’d betrayed his countrymen.

I’d like to see what a good writer could do with the idea of tricking a man into believing he’s betrayed his mates.

Johnson messes it up big time: Sir Mortimer is deadly dull.

Sir Mortimer: A Novel
by Mary Johnston
1904 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg ebook #13812
My grade: C+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

Engaging Guttersnipe Entertains In the Bishop’s Carriage 

Model of closed horse-drawn carriage
The  bishop’s carriage might have looked like this scale model.

My fear that Miriam Michelson’s In the Bishop’s Carriage was going to be soppy, religious novel was dispelled on page one when Nancy Olde nips into the womens’ room with a watch Tom Drogan has just lifted and, after tidying her hair, walks out wearing a stranger’s red coat with a chinchilla collar.

To avoid a cop, Nancy nips into a waiting carriage, naps, and awakes to find the carriage’s other occupant is a bishop. Nancy talks herself out of the danger and into the heart of the childless bishop.

Nancy returns to Tom and does some pleasant thieving until a burglary goes wrong.

While Tom spends most of his time in solitary confinement at Sing Sing. Nancy turns her powers of observation and talent for mimicry into work in vaudeville.

When Tom breaks out, Nancy refuses to join him again.

Then Nancy is caught with a purse full of stolen money that she didn’t steal.

Michelson lets Nancy narrate the story first to Tom, then to a childhood friend from Cruelty. Through oblique references, readers can piece together a picture of Nancy’s childhood.

Through everything, Nancy bubbles with fun. Nancy enjoys life and readers will enjoy it with her by proxy.

In the Bishop’s Carriage
By Miriam Michelson
1904 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg EBook #481
My grade: C+

Photo credit:  Carriage  uploaded by jakubson

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

 

The Masquerader Is Bold-Faced Entertainment

QR code for The Masquerader
Masked link to The Masquerader

Within the first 1000 words, The Masquerader plunges from the back benches of Parliament to the backstreets of London, setting up a psychological thriller that readers won’t soon forget.

In a dense fog, John Chilcote bumps into a man who could be his twin. John Loder’s resemblance to him offers Chilcote a way to maintain his position without giving up his morphine addiction.

He hires John Loder to exchange places with him.

Loder had at one time eyed a political career. The opportunity is too good to be passed up.

Thanks to Chilcote’s reputation for eccentricity and Loder’s interest in politics, the masquerade works smoothly, until women get involved.

Though married, Chilcote has been flirting with a woman with whom Loder had had a brief affair years before. But Loder find’s Chilcote’s wife, Eve, far more to his current taste.

The personalities of the characters make the outcome inevitable.

Katherine Cecil Thurston doesn’t give readers time to realize the absurdity of the look-like theme before she sweeps them away into the plot.

The Masquerader may not be great literature, but you can’t beat it for entertainment.

The Masquerader
by Katherine Cecil Thurston
Harper & Brothers, 1904
328 pages
1904 bestseller # 3
1905 bestseller # 7
Project Gutenberg ebook #5422
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni