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My journey leapfrogging through the bestselling novels of 1900 to 1969, reviewing sets of novels on the decade anniversary of their publication has reached 1927.

Here is the list of the bestseller list of 90 years ago which I’ll be reviewing in April. Dates my reviews are scheduled to  appear here are in square brackets.
#1 Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis [April 4 2017]
#2 The Plutocrat by Booth Tarkington  [April 8, 2017]
#3 Doomsday by Warwick Deeping [April 11, 2017]
#4 Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping [reviewed June 14, 2016]
#5 Jalna by Mazo de la Roche [reviewed Oct. 15, 2008]
#6 Lost Ecstasy by Mary Roberts Rinehart [April  15, 2017]
#7 Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton [April 18, 2017]
#8 Tomorrow Morning by Anne Parrish [April 22, 2017]
#9 The Old Countess by Anne Douglas Sedgwick [April 25.2017]
#10 A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield [April 29 2017 ]

These novels are too recent to be out of copyright in the U.S. If you want to buy a second hand copy or reprint, I suggest you try Alibris.com, a collaborative database of independent booksellers.

The reader poll will be posted May 2 and my best of the 1927 bestsellers post on May 6.

The 1917 bestseller list contains three novels that are definitely read-again novels for 2017:  The Red Planet by William J. Locke, His Family by Ernest Poole, and In the Wilderness by Robert Hichens.

The only thing that common thread among my choices is that each is decidedly uncommon.

A domestic novel: His Family

Image of stick figure family group surprinted with His Family by Ernest Poole

I’ll start with Poole’s novel, which is in many ways the least unusual of the trio.

His Family is about a self-made man around the turn of the century.

When his wife died after 20 years of marriage, Roger Gale froze emotionally.

For the next 20 years, Roger kept his business going and saw to it that his three daughters were fed, clothed, and educated; he had no strength left to care for their emotional needs.

The novel explores Roger’s often ham-fisted attempts to connect with the adult children who he’d let grow up parent-less.

In one way, His Family is not a memorable book. The events are very much the sorts of things that happen in every family.

However, the ordinariness of the events the Gales experience makes His Family a novel one can come back to repeatedly to see how an ordinary family handles — or mishandles — life’s problems.

A cozy mystery: The Red Planet

Photo of Mars suprinted with text  The Red Planet by William J. Locke

Although the World War I provides the backdrop to much of the action of His Family, the war in Europe didn’t touch their lives significantly.

By contrast, the Great War permeates the pages of The Red Planet.

The Red Planet is a cozy mystery, presented as a memoir of a Boer War veteran living in a small English village when WWI broke out.

Duncan Meredyth, a paraplegic, is cared for by his ex-sergeant who was disfigured in the same shell blast that took Duncan’s legs.

When Duncan’s neighbors learn their son has been killed in France, Duncan remembers the Fenimore’s daughter, Althea, who was drowned less than a year earlier.

Duncan wonders what Althea had been was doing on the tow-path beside the canal at midnight.

His wondering leads to his listening, observing, and putting the clues together.

Readers of The Red Planet get far more than a good mystery.

They also get a peek into the great changes Britain experienced in 1914-18. Locke writes:

Thus over the sequestered vale of Wellingsford, far away from the sound of shells, even off the track of marauding Zeppelins, rode the fiery planet. Mars. There is not a homestead in Great Britain that in one form or another has not caught a reflection of its blood-red ray. No matter how we may seek distraction in work or amusement, the angry glow is ever before our eyes, colouring our vision, colouring our thoughts, colouring our emotions for good or for ill. We cannot escape it. Our personal destinies are inextricably interwoven with the fate directing the death grapple of the thousand miles or so of battle line, and arbitrating on the doom of colossal battleships.

A spiritual biography: In the Wilderness

Wilderness scene with surprinted text In the Wilderness a novel by The Garden of Allah author Ribert Hichens

In the Wilderness is a pre-war novel about a young man, Dion Leith, who was passionately in love with a woman who had turned him down numerous times.

Rosamund relinquished her plans and agreed to marry Dion after hearing a sermon urging “sharing a path” as a way to combat egoism.

Both Dion and Rosamund are intense and basically self-centered individuals, although their selfishness takes on very different expressions.

Dion thinks Rosamund’s religious faith stands between them, when the truth is that neither of them has real faith: Both have only emotion.

There’s nothing preachy about Hichens’ novel. His characters’ faith, or lack thereof, interests him as a facet of their personalities.

To the extent that Dion and Rosamund grow up, they outgrow the self-centeredness that marked their youthful religious beliefs.

Each of these three 1917 bestsellers is worth reading in 2017. Each is available to read for free at Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg

Tell us which you think are the best 1917 bestsellers today. Pick them from the poll, or tell us about them in the comments.

The theme of The Hundredth Chance is familiar: A rough but noble man offers a marriage of convenience to an impoverished gentlewoman.

Ethel M. Dell keeps the story moving so readers have little time to notice how preposterous the characters and story are.


The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.  1917 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg Ebook #43069. My grade:B-.

Jack Bolton sits by Maud as he offers her marriage.

Jack offers Maud a marriage of convenience.

The poor gentlewoman is Maud Brian. Maud is 25 and worn out from caring for her 15-year-old brother.

Bunny is physically crippled from a fall in infancy and emotionally crippled by getting his own way ever since.

Maud refused rich Lord Saltash when he was named in an ugly divorce suit, but she remains infatuated with him.

Jake Bolton, a horse trainer for Lord Saltash, offers Maud marriage and Bunny a home.

The likelihood of the marriage succeeding is about 1 in a 100, but when Jake believes in the value of a horse or a human being, he’s willing to bet all on the hundredth chance.

Readers know how the story will end.

The real question is when will it end.

Dell’s characters are not believable enough to warrant close scrutiny.

The pasted on religious message is also suspect.

In the end, The Hundredth Chance fails because it does what 99 percent of novels on this theme do.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

photo of boxing gloves

 

The American setting of The Definite Object allows Jeffery Farnol to diversity his usual cast of minor characters with immigrants, gangsters, slumlords, and professional pugilists.

The variety adds complexity to the novel without noticeably changing Farnol’s usual story line.


The Definite Object: A Romance of New York by Jeffery Farnol
1917 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg eBook #16074. My grade: C+.

Half-English Geoffrey Ravenslee is “so rich that [his] friends are all acquaintances.”

He wants a wife who wants him more than his money.

When Geoff catches Spike Chesterton breaking into his mansion, he decides not to prosecute if Spike will take him to Hell’s Kitchen to meet his sister, Hermione.

Geoff gets a room in the same tenement as the Chestertons and proceeds to charm everyone except gangster Bud M’Ginnis.

Spike hangs around M’Ginnis hoping to break into fighting. He’s sure he could make a fortune to give Hermione the country home she wants.

Geoff’s courtly behavior wins over women.

Men, except M’Ginnis, are more impressed with his boxing behavior.

As English characters are thrown in with American characters, neither comes off as believable. The large cast allows ample time for the absurdities of the characterizations to punish the never-strong plot.

Farnol gets in some of his delightful wry observations, but they aren’t enough to raise this novel beyond the level of mediocrity.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Quote from Roger Gale: "There's to be nothing startling in this quiet house of mine."

Roger Gale came to New York at 17 from New Hampshire looking for a business he could turn into the American dream.

He made it happen. He also married.


His Family by Ernest Poole
MacMillan, 1917. 1917 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg ebook #14396. My grade A-.

Three daughters and 20 years later, Judith died, leaving Roger “deaf and blind to his children.”

Another 20 years later, Roger is emerging from his emotional deadness. His daughters seem foreign.

When Judith had told him before she died, “You will live on in our children’s lives,” Roger hadn’t believed her.

Slowly he sees that his children take after him, for better and for worse.

Edith is prim, controlling, totally absorbed in her husband and three children.

Deborah mothers 3,000 children. She’s principal of a school in the tenements that’s drawing national notice as a community educational center.

Laura is “a spender and a speeder,” with morals as skimpy as her clothes.

The sisters irritate one another and, in varying degrees, their father.

World War I starts.

Life happens.

So does death.

Ernest Poole’s characters are vivid, complicated, and annoyingly human.

Their life-changing events are pretty ordinary.

Their self-awareness is as dull as most everyone else’s, their influence as modest as most everyone else’s.

That’s why His Family feels real 100 years after its first publication.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

dark landscape of forbidding  rocky hills

The wilderness is a frightening place.

In the Wilderness is an antidote to salacious later twentieth century bestsellers.

But Robert Hichens’ novel is strong stuff that many readers may find hard to swallow.


In the Wilderness by Robert Hichens
1917 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg EBook #4603] My grade: A-

Dion Leith is passionately in love with Rosamund Everard, who finds him a nice, clean-living young man. Though trained as a singer, Rosamund feels her vocation is in a religious order, not marriage.

A sermon convinces her to accept Dion’s proposal. They marry, have a son.

Rosamund’s love is all for their son. She scarcely notices when the woman in a notorious divorce case pays attention to Dion.

When the Boer War breaks out, Dion volunteers. In his absence, Rosamund moves to an English cathedral village where her music and religious interests are welcome.

When he returns from South Africa, Dion accidentally shoots his son while the two shooting together at Rosamund’s suggestion.

Rosamund screams, “Murderer,” and locks the cottage door against Dion.

Repudiating the values that locked the door on him, Dion leaves England for non-Western, non-Christian places, for drugs, debauchery, and the Other Woman.

Hichens doesn’t deliver a tidy, happily-ever-after ending.

It’s more of a “we’re going to grow up together” ending, a glimmer of hope that two very dissimilar people can create more happiness than unhappiness for each other.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni