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Archive for the ‘1927 Bestselling Novels’ Category

Readers will still find entertainment in the 1927 bestsellers, but not much besides entertainment. There’s not one of the novels whose plot I can recall beyond a sentence summary, even though I enjoyed all of them but one of them when I read them.

Despite their less than memorable plots, three of the bestsellers are well-written character studies, each of which I may reread when I finish my year’s required reading.

A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield

original "Good Woman" cover with author's dedicationEmma Downs is a Depression-Era Pharisee. Louis Bromfield’s A Good Woman lays her soul bare.

Emma lives by a strict religious code; she has no idea that it’s even possible for religion to be anything other than a list of do’s and do nots.

Bromfield makes clear on the jacket of the first edition that he saw America as full of women like Emma. He doesn’t treat her with scorn, but neither does he excuse her.

After reading  Bromfield’s 1927 bestseller, readers may debate whether America has more or fewer good women today than it had 90 years ago — and whether any change is for the better.

Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep is also a study in personalities but one with a generous helping of satire. Wharton’s satire comes awfully close to sarcasm sometimes, leaving the impression that she really didn’t like her characters.

Twilight is a story of a the family of Pauline and Dexter Munford, well-off New Yorkers of the jazz age. Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world.

Twilight begins to settle in mountains

Pauline’s world is as far removed as this from those of most  in New York City.

Pauline keeps herself well insulated from the unpleasant real world, hence the title which plays off the popular 1920’s name for the drug combination that was given during childbirth to provide pain relief and induce amnesia about any unpleasantness.

Unlike Bromfield, Wharton tells her story in such a way that that readers have to put the pieces together, almost as if they were reading a mystery.

When Wharton’s pieces come together, they go off like a bomb.

To-Morrow Morning by Anne Parish

women in art class about 1900.

To-Morrow Morning‘s Kate Green might have taken an art class like this one.

Anne Parish’s To-morrow Morning is far gentler than the other two character studies. Her technique is more like Ferber’s than Bromfield’s: Parish makes readers work to piece together the story.

In To-morrow, Kate Starr, who becomes Kate Green, is a silly twit with a very modest talent for painting but neither ambition or discipline to do anything with such talent as she has.

Kate marries a man who is her mental and moral equal.

Having lost the money clients gave him to invest for them, Joe dies suddenly, thus escaping the consequences of his actions.

Creditors write off Joe’s debts in for “sweet Mrs. Green,” enabling Kate to avoid ever having to confront the consequences of Joe’s dishonesty.

Kate raises their son to be as undisciplined and purposeless as his parents.

If you have some time for reading, you’ll find any of these three 1927 bestsellers worth a couple evenings’ reading.


May 6, 2017 Corrected name of author of Twilight Sleep, which I had attributed to Edna Ferber in a blinding moment of stupidity while looking at the title page!

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Here’s you chance to say which of the 1927 bestselling novels you think are best for today’s readers.

I’ll share my list the next time we meet.

 

 

 

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original "Good Woman" cover with author's dedicationEmma Downes is a good woman.

Deserted by her husband, she started a business, supported herself, raised their son, now a missionary in Africa, and became a force to be reckoned with in her church.


A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield
Frederick A. Stokes, 1927. 432 pp. 1927 bestseller #10. My grade: A.

When natives attack Phillip’s African mission, Phillip escapes, dragging his virgin wife back to the states with him.

Missionaries board steam locomotive in Congo about 1900.

Phillip and Naomi left Africa after their mission was attacked.

Naomi would have preferred martyrdom, but Phillip has lost faith in his mother’s God and in his missionary calling.

Back home, Phillip takes a laborer’s job in the mills while his mother tries to put a good face on things — tough work, especially when her husband shows up after a 26 year absence.

Louis Bromfield builds his complex plot from the story’s setting and the personalities of his characters.

Bromfield draws Emma with deft strokes. She has guts, stamina, business acumen, determination, but she’s also manipulative, controlling, and self-deluded.

Emma’s religion is “ a practical, businesslike instrument of success,” her God conveniently pocket-sized, but Emma doesn’t know that.

Some of the incidents are shocking, but not unbelievable. The superficial way Bromfield relates horrific events powerfully suggests they are too awful to be spoken of.

Emma hasn’t a clue what Christianity is all about. Her cluelessness makes this book important — and vastly entertaining—90 years after its initial publication.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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When Kate Starr leaves art school to marry handsome Joseph Green, she plans to go on with her painting.

Though they are poor, Joe with his financial ability and social skills is destined for great things.


To-morrow Morning by Anne Parish
Harper & Brothers, 1927. 305 pp. 1927 bestseller #8. My grade:B+.

female art student sketching, about 1900

Student in turn of the century art class.

Before long Joe is handling investments for his wealthy Aunt Sarah.

Kate would like to paint, but there’s never time in her married life.

Within five years, Joe is dead.

Kind creditors tell Kate that Joe paid his bills before his death, and Aunt Sarah kindly refrains from mentioning her reduced finances are due to Joe’s get-rich-quick investments.

Just as Kate’s life had revolved around Joe, now it revolves around their son, Jodie.

Like his mother, Jodie has an artistic bent; like her, he’s not disciplined enough to pursue it.

Anne Parrish builds the plot the way an impressionist builds a portrait. Her characters are well-defined by a tiny bits of information slipped into the story in seemingly off-hand ways, by indirection and innuendo. If readers’ attention lags, they can miss some fact vital to the plot.

Mother and son each become aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses, but they never share their insights.

Kate and Jodie never realize today is yesterday’s tomorrow.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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collage of 1920s photos and posters with surprint "The Jazz Age was delightful providing one wasn't actually awake during it."

Until chapter 32, Twilight Sleep is an amusing, satirical tale of an well-heeled family in New York City in the roaring twenties.

Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world — a world from which she keeps herself well insulated.


Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton
D. Appleton, 1927. 373 pp. 1927 bestseller #7. My Grade: B+.

Her husband, Dexter, fills as much of his life as possible with his law business so he won’t have to enjoy Pauline’s management of his life.

Pauline’s children, half-siblings Jim and Nora, see their mother’s faults, but afford her the courtesy of believing she means well.

Every one except Pauline worries about Jim’s flightly wife, Lita, who is more than ready to dump Jim for a movie screen test.

Fortunately, Dexter steps in, taking an interest in Lita, arranging for her to come to the Munford’s country home for a vacation while Jim goes fishing with this father.

The story is as light and purposeless as the ’20s — until chapter 32.

Then the off-hand comments of the first 31 chapters ignite in one brief, blinding flash that changes everything except Pauline’s refusal to see anything she doesn’t want to see.

Edith Wharton’s story is so frothy, you won’t realize how cleverly she’s plotted it and how well the characters are drawn until that extraordinary chapter 32.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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cowboy boots and woman's high heels beside bed on cover of Lost Ecstasy

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Lost Ecstasy turns the romance of the Old West on its head.

Handsome cowboy Tom McNeil can ride, rope, and sing baritone.


Lost Ecstasy by Mary Roberts Rinehart.
Doran, 1927. 372 pp. 1927 bestseller # 6. My Grade: B-.

His only flaws — binge drinking, womanizing, and using paper napkins— aren’t enough to put off pretty, Eastern heiress Kay Dowling.

She throws herself at Tom.

Kay leaves her fiance and family money for Tom, who at the time is working in a traveling Rodeo and Wild West Show .

When Tom is injured in the show and can no longer do cowboy stuff, Kay finagles a ranch for him to run by offering the local banker her pearls and a check from her aunt as security.

Tom is on the verge of making the ranch pay when Kay’s mother has a heart attack.

Kay goes home to care for her.

While she’s gone, a bad winter wipes out all Tom’s work. He ends up working the Wild West Show again.

When her mother dies, Kay must decide whether she loves Tom enough put up with his faults.

Kay and Tom are both stereotypes.

The plot is hackneyed.

Even the settings feel as if they were written on the back lot at Universal Studios.

The paper napkins, though, are a nice touch.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Ex-soldier Arnold Furze has spent five years trying to bring Doomsday, a hillside farm, back to productivity.

Arnold falls for the pretty daughter of one of his milk customers in the cheap residential development below his farm.


Doomsday by Warwick Deeping
Alfred A Knopf, 1927, 367 pp. 1927Bestseller #3 My grade B+.

photo of dairy farm, 1921

Mary Viner is impressed by the sexy farmer, but turned off at the thought of being a farmer’s wife.

Mary debunks, heads for bright lights. Within a few months, she marries a wealthy financier with the personality of a fence post.

Arnold marries a farmer’s daughter. Their happy marriage is ended by a speeding automobile.

When Mary’s husband commits suicide over his financial failures, she returns to her late parents’ home.

In a standard romance, widow and widower would find each other again and live happily every after, but Warwick Deeping is no standard romance novelist.

Arnold and Mary both have a lot of maturing to do before either can think of happiness.

Deeping’s novel takes its name from the 1086 record of English land holdings called the Domesday, or Doomsday, book. The land is central to the novel.

Arnold and Mary, respectively, represent the war between enduring values and modernity. The split focus keeps Doomsday from being a great novel, but it doesn’t keep it from being fine entertainment.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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