My picks of the 1926 bestselling novels

Undoubtedly the best of the 1926 bestselling novels two are definitely “English” works, The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy and The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson.

Both novels are written from the vantage point of  England in 1924.

My pick #1: The Hounds of Spring

lines from poem "The Hounds of Spring" on background of dog prints in snow
Lines from a poem by Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Thompson’s novel is about events of 1914-1924. She writes from the perspective of having lived through most of that decade as a teenager, as does the younger Renner daughter in Thompson’s novel.

The Renners lose a son over France.

The Renner’s also lose money in the war; 1924 finds them living in a London flat, their country estate with its stables, tennis courts, and gardens sold to pay debts.

More significant than those visible losses are their emotional losses as each family member realizes no one else feels their grief as keenly as they do.

Thompson takes her readers into the Renners’ lives to feel how they experienced the war and its aftermath.

Like a phone call about the accidental death of a loved one, The Hounds of Spring simply stuns readers as its events stunned the Renners.

My pick #2: The Silver Spoon

By contast, The Silver Spoon is definitely a post-war story.

title The Silver Spoon with P replaced by silver spoon

The bright young things of London society had their illusions thoroughly shattered by the guns and the gas, but in 1924 the Great War is history.

The Jazz Age young don’t want to remember the past.  They’re holding on with both hands to their privileged status: rich, pampered, and most of all, alive.

Against this background, Galsworthy looks at a husband’s love for his wife and a father’s love for his daughter.

Both husband and father are bewildered by how different their loved one’s view of the world is from their own. Parents and spouses will be able to identify with those feelings.

Thompson and Galsworthy make readers feel they know each novelist’s characters so well, they’d recognize them in the grocery line.

My pick #3: Blue Window/Sorrell and Son

For the third spot, it’s a toss-up between Temple Bailey’s The Blue Window
Quote from The Blue Window superimposed on blue semicircular window shutter
and Warwick Deeping’s Sorrell and Son. Man looking at job postings at employment agency

Both of these novels are fathoms below Thompson’s and Galsworthy’s work, but they are above the level of ordinary entertainment.


That wraps up our dip into the bestselling novels of 1926. On July 19, we’ll step back a decade to see more bestselling novels.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Which are you favorite 1926 bestsellers?

Do you think one of the 1926 bestsellers is a standout? Or maybe you can’t decide among three.

Here’s a chance to give a tick to the titles of the 1926 bestselling novels you think have held up well.

I’ll wrap up with my top picks on Saturday, July 16.

~ Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Blue Window charms

The Blue Window opens with the funeral of widow Elizabeth Carew at age 41, and ends with the marriage of her daughter, Hildegarde.

Between the two events is a predictable but charming romance given piquancy by Temple Bailey’s failure to establish a consistent point of view.


The Blue Window by Temple Bailey

Penn Publishing, 1926. 328 ps. 1926 bestseller #10. My Grade: B.


girl looks out window in illustration opposite title page of The Blue Window

Elizabeth left a letter for Hildegarde saying she was divorced, not widowed. Her still-living husband, Louis Carew, does not know he has a daughter.

Hildegard leaves her aunt’s farm to go to her father’s estate near Chesapeake Bay.

She also leaves Crispin Harlowe, her dear friend, who loves her but whom she does not love.

Carew is delighted with his beautiful daughter: She might attract the money he needs to keep his estate.

While Hildegarde is being groomed, gowned, and feted, the story’s focus shifts to Crispin.

Crispin graduates, goes to work in a Washington D. C. law firm, and buys a house near Mount Vernon.

He never gives up believing Hildegarde will marry him.

There’s nothing particularly novel about the story, but Bailey draws her portraits well, with the exception of Louis Carew, whose peculiarities are mainly told rather than shown.

The Blue Window will entertain throughout, and occasionally will grab with a particularly well-crafted observation.

© 2016 by Linda Gorton Aragoni

After Noon: A marriage saved, novel ruined

For the first 200 pages, Susan Ertz’s After Noon is an enjoyable, plausible story.

Then it becomes preposterous.


After Noon by Susan Ertz

A. L. Burt, 1926. 338 p. 1926 bestseller #9. My Grade: B-.


black and white sketch of forest scene is front cover of After NoonCharles Lester’s life had walked out on him in Italy, leaving behind a note, a check for a hundred pounds, and their twin baby daughters.

Almost 20 years later, a happily celibate Charles has paid the divorce costs, become a successful accountant, and is enjoying life with daughters Venetia and Caroline.

One evening a Mrs. Lydia Chalmers phones, having been told by one of his clients to look Charles up when she gets to England.

Charles extends appropriate courtesies.

Soon Lydia is a regular part of the Lesters’ lives.

Both daughters marry in haste, Venetia to accompany a soldier who’s posted to India and Caroline to assist a comrade in making war on capitalism.

With the girls gone, Charles and Lydia marry.

Tying the knot apparently shuts off the oxygen to Lydia’s brain.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, she convinces herself Charles regrets their marriage. To test him, she intends to leave him, hoping he’ll come after her.

Nothing in Lydia’s prior behavior prepares readers for such self-destructive stupidity.

Ertz rescues the marriage.

She can’t save the novel.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Showboat, the novel, lacks liveliness of musical

A riverboat owner facing competition from the railroad in the waning years of the 19th century buys a successful touring company, the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theater.

To secure the company of his adored daughter, Magnolia, Capt. Andy Hawkes convinces his wife, Parthenia, to sail with the company.


Showboat by Edna Ferber

Doubleday, Page. 1926. 398 p. My grade: C.


Showboat first edition cover shows crowd going up gangplank to see the showThe child loves the life and riverboat people and is loved in return.

In her teens, Maggie becomes a part of the acting company, much to the distress of her rigid, narrow-minded mother.

Maggie marries a charming riverboat gambler who had joined the company during one of his losing streaks.

After several feast-or-famine years, Gaylord deserts Maggie and their daughter in Chicago, just as Maggie’s mother had predicted.

To support herself, Maggie returns to the stage to put Kim through convent school.

Meanwhile, Parthenia has taken over operation of the showboat after Capt. Andy drowned in an accident.

When Parthenia dies, Maggie returns to the showboat.

It’s easy to see why Showboat was turned into a Broadway musical: Edna Ferber’s novel reads like notes for a play.

All the elements of a drama are present in the novel—strongly drawn characters, conflict, pathos, romance—but there’s no life in the thing.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Cinematic Beau Geste buried in novel’s details

1926-07_beaugesteThe French phrase beau geste refers to a gracious gesture that has unwelcome consequences.

It’s an apt title for P. C. Wren’s novel about British orphan lads with the surname Geste.


Beau Geste by P[ercival] C[hristopher] Wren

J. B. Lippincott. 412 p. 1926 bestseller #7. My grade: C+


Michael “Beau” Geste, a natural leader; his twin brother, Digby; and their younger brother John are reared by their aunt, Lady Patricia,  in upper class comfort at Brandon Abbas.

When a precious jewel known as the “Blue Water” disappears, suspicion falls on the boys.

Beau takes off to join the French Foreign Legion, followed separately by Digby and John.

Having pledged themselves to serve France, they refuse to join a mutiny against the despicable Sergeant Lejaune that is prevented only by an Arab attack.

Only John survives the desert ordeal, returning to England where the mystery of the jewel theft is revealed.

Wren makes clear that Geste boys represent an entire class of British who do “the right thing” regardless of consequences: In the world war just ended and the one coming soon, such boys are the heroes of the Empire.

You might want to view the film version of this novel. Beau Geste is a rip-snorter of a mystery-adventure tale, but pages of detail bury the excitement.

The plot, however, is admirably suited to film presentation where an image can reveal 40 pages of detail.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Silver Spoon untarnished by time

The Silver Spoon is an easy introduction to one of the most durable writers of the 20th century.

There’s no need to have read earlier books in John Galsworthy’s three-trilogy Forsyte Chronicles (Spoon is the fifth book of the nine) to follow the story.


The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy

Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926. 320 p. 1926 bestseller #6. My grade: A-.


1926-06_silverspoon2In 1924, Fleur and Michael Mont move in a London circle that prides itself on its lack of moral prejudices.

When Fleur’s father overhears a woman make disparaging remarks about Fleur at one of her parties, he makes a scene. Instead of protecting Fleur, his defense makes her social group snub her as ridiculously old-fashioned and hypocritical.

Fleur is determined not to be thwarted in her social ambitions as she was thwarted in love.

Michael knows Fleur is merely fond of him. He has thrown himself into politics in hopes of influencing England’s future since he cannot win his wife’s love.

Although usually described as a social satirist, Galsworthy writes with both realism and compassion.

He likes his characters, even though he sees their faults. He loves his country, too, though he sees its flaws.

Like Fleur, England has a silver spoon it’s unwilling to give up.

Contemporary readers may wonder if the same might be said of America.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

In 1926 Beau Sabreur foresaw Islamic State

Some novels deserve to be read despite all the author’s efforts to render them unreadable.  Beau Sabreur falls into that category.

Half of P. C. Wren’s Beau Sabreur is the fictional memoir of Major Henri de Beaujolais; the other half tells basically the same events from the perspective of two French Foreign Legion deserters.

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Beau Sabreur by Percival Christopher Wren

Grosset & Dunlap, 1925, 1926. 1926 bestseller #5. My grade: C+.


Henri’s uncle, who heads France’s war ministry, plans to build a French African empire.

He wants his nephew to be his tool.

Henri agrees.

He volunteers for military service, enters cavalry training, and in due course Henri is posted to Africa where he becomes a secret agent.

Henri receives orders from his uncle to negotiate a federation of tribal leaders that will align with France against a Islamic caliphate.

As jihadists strike Zaguig, Henri and his men smuggled two white women out with them.

Henri’s men are killed.

He and the women are captured by Arabs who want the women for their wives.

Henri wants Mary Vanbrugh for his wife, but does he love her more than he loves his county?

The romance is predictable and silly, but the split perspective actually ruins the novel.

Beau Sabreur is worth reading today only for its anticipation of 21st century jihaddists and the emergence of Africa as a economic force.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Hounds of Spring quietly stunning novel

As The Hounds of Spring opens, Cynthia Renner tells her Austrian-born husband she’s “not perfectly satisfied” with their children.

She fears they haven’t had enough disappointments to build character.


The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson

Little, Brown, 1926. 366 p. 1926 bestseller #4. My grade: A.


1926-04_houndsWithin hours, Austria declares war on Serbia. Within days England is sucked into the conflict.

Colin Russell, the elder Renner daughter’s fiancé, enlists. Two months later, he’s on the front lines in France.

Colin and Zina plan to marry when he gets his first leave. Before then, Colin is declared missing, believed dead.

John Renner, his mother’s favorite child, joins the R.N.A.S. He is shot down over France.

Deadened by her loss and feeling her mother cared for more John than for her, in 1918 Zina marries a man she doesn’t love rather than face the future alone.

While Zina is on her honeymoon, her father intercepts a telegraph message for her: Colin is alive.

Sir Edgar goes to Paris immediately.

When he learns that Zina didn’t wait for his return, Colin says, “So this is war.”

Sylvia Thompson’s quietly stunning novel about an English family whose lives were soaked by the social and political sea changes of 1914-1924 deserves to be rediscovered and reread by a new generation.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sorrell and Son has guts and grace

Sorrell and Son is a sweet tale of a decent English gentleman, weakened by war wounds, deserted by his wife, who makes raising his son his life’s work.

Down to nearly his last shilling, army veteran Stephen Sorrell takes a job as a hotel porter.


Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping

Alfred A. Knopf, 1926. 400 p. 1927 bestseller #3. My grade: B.


It’s an awful job, but Sorrell does his work to his own exacting standards.  Impressed, a hotel guest, Thomas Roland, taps Sorrell to be second porter at the new country hotel he is opening.

The head porter there makes Sorrell’s life miserable until Roland gets fed up with the man’s bullying and womanizing.

Sorrell takes over as head porter.

Sorrell turns out to have managerial ability, and works his way up to become manager of one of Roland’s chain of hotels.

Sorrell makes enough to live comfortably and also pay for son Christopher ‘s Cambridge education, medical schooling, and surgical practice.

Christopher grows into as fine a man as his father could wish.

Warwick Deeping makes Sorrell just stubborn and resentful enough to keep him from appearing a plaster saint. Christopher, too, has his flaws.

Readers will care what happens to them.

Sadly, American class distinctions are based on economics rather than on ethics: Today’s readers will view this only as a story of a determined man.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni