Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘1921 Bestselling Novels’ Category

Sign on tree: Eat, Drink, and Be Married

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I was tempted to label this post “for mature audiences.”

I don’t mean that it will be salacious or even titillating, far from it: This is a post about three married women in bestselling vintage novels whose grand passions are just memories.

Each woman’s story is told from her perspective. The novelists leave readers to determine how much to trust the woman’s judgment.

Since their glorious passion, occasionally recalled while hanging diapers to dry or when the in-laws’ all-too-familiar monologues beg the mind to wander, each of the women wonders if she might not be better off without her husband.

The reasons for their not walking out on their husbands are too complicated for immature readers to comprehend.

Again, happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope you find a novel you’re passionate about.

The Brimming Cup

teaser for The Brimming Cup on closeup of piano keys

The Brimming Cup is a 1921 novel by Dorothy Canfield [Fisher].  Its leading lady is a talented pianist, Marise Crittenden, who, as the novel opens, has just seen her youngest child off to his first year of boarding school.

Marise and her husband, Neale,  had pledged their love on the on the Rocca di Papa in 1909.  By most standards, they’ve had a good marriage.

But as she muses about life with Neale without the children in a tiny New England town far from Italy, Marise thinks, “This is the beginning of the end.”

Marise fears she and Neale will have nothing in common once their children are grown.

Just how far Marise and Neale are already mentally separated is revealed when she overhears a comment that suggests Neale has done something underhanded and she believes it: Marise would never have believed Neale capable of dishonesty back in their time in Italy.

When a retired office manager moves in next door, accompanied by the young son of his late employer, Neale is away on business. To be neighborly, Marise introduces the two men around the community.

The sexy, sophisticated younger man attempts to seduce Marise. She is, naturally, flattered by his attentions, as would any woman whose baby is about to become a teenager.

The novel is intricately crafted and the story rendered with watercolor nuances.

Canfield allows readers to look over Marise’s shoulder and into her mind as she works out whether to leave Neale and a childless house for Vincent and a career.

Years of Grace

teaser for The Years of Grace beside 1912 sculpure

Nine years after The Brimming Cup was published, Margaret Ayers Barnes published her Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Years of Grace.

Barnes’s leading lady was born Jane Ward in 1877. She was as plain and respectable and solidly middle class as her name sounds. “The unexpected was never allowed to happen to her.”

As a teenager, Jane thought if the unexpected ever did happen, she’d embrace it with joy. But although the unexpected happens to her several times, Jane never embraces it with joy.

Jane’s respectable parents disapprove of her friendship with André Duroy, a French boy whose parents live in an apartment. When André proposes,  Jane’s parents refuse permission for her to marry  or for the couple to even exchange letters until Jane is 21.

Andre goes to Paris to study sculpture for those four years.

As a consolation prize, Jane’s parents do let her go East to college at Bryn Mawr, where she spends two happy years, studying what interests her and ignoring what doesn’t, and feeling “very trivial and purposeless.”

She didn’t really worry a bit as to whether or no she ever voted and she didn’t want to work for her living and, really, she only cared about pleasing André and growing up into the kind of a girl he’d like to be with and talk to and marry.

When Jane’s older sister marries, her parents summon Jane home. Jane’s mother insists she make her debut and enter the husband competition. Although she’s not after a husband—she’s betrothed to André—Jane enjoys being a debutante.

Andre doesn’t come for her twenty-first birthday. He writes that he’s been awarded the Prix de Rome, which means three years’ study in Italy.

Smarting over Andre’s rejection, Jane agrees to marry Stephen Carver, a safe, respectable banker, whom she likes but does not love.

Fifteen years and three children later, Jane at 36 wonders if she and Stephen had ever had romance.

Wasn’t it Stephen’s most endearing quality — or was it his most irritating? —that for ten years or more Stephen had never really thought about how she looked at all? To Stephen, Jane looked like Jane. That was enough for him.

Jane at 50 realizes with a slight pang of regret that she’s always gone in for “durable satisfactions.”

Life might have been very different had Jane been different.

A Lion Is in the Streets

Lion on prowl. How does his mate cope at home?

Adria Locke Langley’s 1945 novel A Lion Is in the Streets starts at the end of Verity and Hank Martin’s marriage.

Hank has been assassinated, and, as always, Verity has been left to cope on her own.

Verity was a Yankee schoolteacher when she fell for a sexy Southern peddler with dreams of becoming governor.

Verity stays home in a sharecropper cottage, making do and ignoring the rumors of Hank’s philandering that drift back from his frequent trips across the state building a political machine to take him to the statehouse.

Verity has known for almost as long as she’s known Hank that his sex drive threatened their marriage.

She gradually comes to realize his political ambition is an even greater threat.

The 1953 film version captures the events of the novel, but misses the real story, which is revealed by innuendo.

The novel takes its title from Proverbs 26:13 where the sluggard uses “a lion is in the streets” as an excuse for not going to work. The allusion is typically interpreted in political terms:  The lion is the political machine; the sluggard is the lazy public that lets it do what it wants.

The Martins remind me of Hillary and Bill Clinton: a cerebral woman with great potential whose friends regard her sexy husband as totally beneath her.

Perhaps that’s why I think a case can be made for a different interpretation of the allusion: that Langley intended readers to see Hank as a political lion and Verity as a moral sluggard who, by failing to exert the power she has, enables him.

Where to find the novels

The Brimming Cup can be found as a digital download at Project Gutenberg. If you’d rather have a 1921 hardback copy or a reprint in paperback, check Alibris.com, where independent booksellers display their wares.

Years of Grace is not yet in the public domain, so it’s not available digitally at Project Gutenberg. Copies of a 1976 reprint of the novel and a lovely 2007 reprint, which I own, can be found at Alibris.com

A Lion Is in the Streets also is not yet in the public domain. This past weekend Alibris.com had 69 copies of the novel for sale.

Final thoughts

It would be fascinating to read companion novels told from the husband’s perspective.

Anyone want to take on the challenge of writing one for NaNoWriMo 2017?

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In 1922 Edith M. Hull’s novel The Sheik placed second on the bestseller list, up from sixth place the year before. Except as an historical curiosity, The Sheik is not worth reading.

However, with its exotic setting in the North African desert and it’s scandalous story about a British woman kidnapped and raped by a swarthy tribal commander, the novel seemed tailor-made for the cinema.

In 1921, it was turned into a black and white movie staring Rudolph Valentino as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan. The film version is available online from Black and White Movies.

If your computer supports frames, you can watch the flick here.
http://www.archive.org/embed/TheSheik
Free movies

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

January 24 will be the 150th birthday of New York City author Edith Wharton.

Pat Ryan has written a retrospective for the New York Times mingling historical perspective on Wharton’s work with insights into the  American fascination with British aristocracy as evidenced in the popularity of the  mini-series “Downton Abbey” currently in its second season on PBS.

Check out the accompanying slide show for marvelous photos of people and places of Wharton’s era.

I reviewed  Wharton’s famous 1921 bestselling novel, The Age of Innocence, here last year.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

The Kingdom Round the Corner, Coningsby Dawson’s 1921 romance, is distanced by omniscient narration, riddled by implausible coincidences, and ultimately sunk by a main character as colorless as cream cheese.

In March 1919, Lord Taborley, familiarly called “Tabs,” leaves the service by the door of a hospital.  Optimistically Tabs believes, “We find everything that we’ve lost or longed for, if we’ll only press on.”

He finds his beautiful, prewar girl friend has already pressed on.

Terry was 17 when Tabs left. At 22, she’s madly in love with a general who came up through the ranks. Before the war, General Braithwaite was Tabs’s valet.

Over innumerable pots of tea, the characters discuss the impact of the 1914-18 war. Terry is impatient for “what we’ve spent in the lost years,” while her aging father wants “the old world back—the womanly women, everybody labeled, and Beethoven.” Braithwaite wants a meritocracy. Tabs is comfortable with his inherited title.

Through Terry’s family, Tabs meets a lovely, thrice-widowed woman and her even more beautiful widowed sister.

Which of the three beauties will get Tabs?

Does anyone really care?

The Kingdom Round the Corner: A Novel  Project
By Coningsby Dawson
Illustrated by W.D. Stevens
1921 bestseller #10
Gutenberg E-Book #25702
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

San Francisco burning during 1906 earthquake

This photograph by Arnold Genthe shows Sacramento Street and approaching fire. (from Steinbrugge Collection of the UC Berkeley Earthquake Engineering Research Center)

The Sisters-in-Law could have been a great novel if a Taylor Caldwell or John O’Hara had penned it. Gertrude Atherton merely churned out prose in large quantities.

The 1906 earthquake hits San Francisco as Alexina Groome comes home from dance where she’s fallen for Mortimer Dwight. His behavior in the quake’s aftermath wins over Alexina’s mother despite his lack of old money.

Mortimer’s sister, Gora, who has the brains and ambition Morty lacks, befriends a young Englishman unable to sail for home because of the quake. Gora falls for the Brit, but Gathbroke, like Morty, has fallen for Alexina, who refuses him and marries Monty instead.

Alexina, pretty and mindless, does nothing but spend money Monty doesn’t make. Their marriage comes apart so genteelly Morty doesn’t even notice.

Gora becomes a nurse and writes on the side, eventually becoming a recognized literary author. She and Alexina become buddies, united by their mutual disrespect for Monty.

When World War I erupts, both sisters-in-law go to Europe to serve behind the lines where they meet Gathbroke again. By then, Atherton’s plot is fractured so badly that any ending will do to get the story over.

Atherton’s characters might have been interesting if she’d let them speak for themselves, but she insists on telling us instead of letting them act their parts. The result is a lengthy disappointment.

The Sisters-in-Law: A Novel of our Time
by Gertrude Atherton
1921 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg E-text 8535
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The photograph above appears on the USGS website.

Read Full Post »

Her Father’s Daughter is a dumb romance whose only value is the explanation it provides of historical events 20 years after the novel’s publication.

Linda Strong, 17,  is her late father’s daughter. Linda is a naturalist and scholar, totally unlike her elder sister,  Eileen, a socialite and beau-collector.

When classmate Donald Whiting asks Linda why she wears such funny shoes, Linda decides it’s time she gets her fair share of her parents’ estate so she won’t have to wear funny shoes. Linda has been  freelancing articles and illustrations about edible wildlife on the sly, but apparently not using the proceeds for shoes.

While out exploring for things to write about, Linda meets writer Peter Morrison and architect Henry Anderson, who are looking for a building site for a home for Peter. Suddenly, Linda finds there are more interesting things in life than just edible plants.

The plot swings on a series of coincidences unrelated to characterization, which may be fortunate. Stratton-Porter’s  Linda is an implausible figure with the wisdom statesmen only wish for, incredible naivity, and absolutely no hormones.

Gene Stratton-Porter’s fixation with the “yellow menace,” the Asian population in the US, gives Her Father’s Daughter its only value. Such hostility among educated people made the confinement of Japanese-Americans possible in the 1940s.

Her Father’s Daughter
by Gene Stratton-Porter
Grosset & Dunlap, 1921
486 pages
1921 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg e-Text #904
My grade C-
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

Mary Roberts Rinehart, noted for her mysteries, hit the bestseller list in 1921 with a romantic thriller. A Poor Wise Man is an exciting read that still leaves readers with plenty to think about.

Lily Cardew, heir to the Cardew steel fortune, is home after a year of war work in Ohio. Labor trouble is brewing at the Cardew mill.

Trouble is also brewing at home, where years of resentments between Lily’s parents and her grandfather are heating up.

And Lily is impatient with the old social barriers, having made friends with the lower classes, represented by Willy Cameron, whose limp had kept him from World War I. Willy is one of the “plain men” who love their country, but fight for their homes.

When Lily decides to visit her Aunt Elinor, who is married to an anarchist, she draws the disapproval of her household.

At the Doyle’s, Lily meets Louis Akers, an attorney and Red agent, running for city mayor. Akers “hated the rich because they had more than he had, but he scorned the poor because they had less.”

Willy Cameron is allied with the other major mayoral candidate, who is likely to lose to the nefarious Akers if Lily’s father stays in the race and splits the vote.

Rinehart applies all her plotting skills to weaving a complicated story embellished with fist fights, gun fights, street riots, and midnight chases on back roads.

The hero and heroine are a bit too pat, the romance a tad too predictable, but several minor characters are vividly real.

And the Rinehart’s picture of economic conditions after the first World War, based on historical facts, have an uncanny similarity to contemporary events, as these selected passages show:

 “The miners wanted to work a minimum day for a maximum wage, but the country must have coal. Shorter hours meant more men for the mines, and they would have to be imported. But labor resented the importation of foreign workers.”
——————————————————————————-
“The cry of the revolutionists, to all enough and to none too much, found a response not only in the anxious minds of honest workmen, but among an underpaid intelligentsia. . .Neither political party offered any relief; the old lines no longer held, and new lines of cleavage had come. Progressive Republicans and Democrats had united against reactionary members of both parties. There were no great leaders, no men of the hour.”
——————————————————————————–
Howard Cardew’s musings on the labor union movement:
“It was like representative government. It did not always represent. It, too, was founded on representation in good faith; but there was not always good faith. The union system was wrong. It was like politics. The few handled the many. The union, with its all-powerful leaders, was only another form of autocracy. It was Prussian. Yet the ideal behind the union was sound enough.”

A Poor Wise Man
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
Project Gutenberg E-Book #1970
My grade: B+
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »