Mistress Wilding Hews to History

Mistress Wilding is a historical romance on the standard loathing-turns-to-love pattern. What little interest there is in the novel is in the historical setting.

Rafael Sabatini sets the novel in the west of England in 1685 when the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II, attempted to incite an insurrection he claimed was to restore Protestantism. At the time, memories were still vivid of the English Civil Wars fought,  in part, over the extent to which the Church of England would emulate elements of the Catholic mass.

Sabatini’s hero, Anthony Wilding, is a Protestant, working surreptitiously for Monmouth. The love of his life is Catholic. Her initial antagonism to Wilding is not on religious grounds, however, but because the worthless brother she adores doesn’t like him.

Sabatini’s story line hews closely to the historical facts, dragging his characters to the places where the events occurred with total disregard for their psychological credibility.

Sabatini seems to regret not having focused the novel on the men’s reactions to realizing their leader is undeniably inept and possibly a liar as well.

Readers will regret it, too.

The Mistress Wilding he delivered is a yawn.

Mistress Wilding
by Rafael Sabatini
1924 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg e-book #1457

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Forever Amber: The whore is a bore

The period of the English Restoration, when England rejected the Puritan Oliver Cromwell Puritanism in favor of the profligate Charles II, is the setting for Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber.

Amber St. Clair is the orphaned love child of a couple whose families were on opposite sides during the English Civil War. When the Cavaliers come through town, Amber is seduced at 16 by Bruce, Lord Carlton, who tells her he won’t marry her and proves it by going off privateering.

Left to her own resources, Amber marries for money a man who marries her for her money.

Both are disillusioned.

Amber winds up in debtor’s prison. She escapes through her sexual prowess and begins a series of alliances designed to raise her social status and income.

“The brilliant, lavish, exciting life of an exclusive harlot seemed to her a most pleasant one,” Windsor says.

From then on, Amber’s life is a series of sexual alliances that ultimately take her to the bedchamber of the king himself.

When Amber’s enemies finally figure how to get rid of her, it is 450 pages too late to do readers any good.

Forever Amber is simply an interminable bore.

Forever Amber
By Kathleen Winsor
Macmillan, 1944
652 pages
Bestseller #4 for 1944
Bestseller #1 for 1945
My grade: D+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

To Have and to Hold Ends in Exhaustion

To Have and to Hold is a gender-neutral novel. Mary Johnson provides heart-stopping adventure for men, and a heart-throb hero for women.

In 1621 when a shipload of women arrive at Jamestown , Capt. Ralph Percy, one of original settlers, buys a beautiful wife he can see is high born. He allows her to bar the bedroom door to him.

Lord Carnal arrives seeking the King’s run-away ward whom he was to marry. If Lord Carnal can get her back to England, the King will annul her marriage to Percy.

Ralph and his buddies have to get her away.

Before long, the Ralph finds himself captain of a pirate ship carrying his wife and his buddies and Lord Carnal.

Johnson gets everyone back to Jamestown in time for Ralph to learn his wife loves him and for him to be a hero when the Indians attack Jamestown.

When she runs out of space for any more plot complications, Johnson packs up her pen and sets the characters free.

Since 1900, when To Have and to Hold was the bestseller in the US, its plot lines have become familiar from dime novels and second-rate films. A taut ending might have camouflaged the interior flaws, but the novel’s slump to an exhausted ending magnifies them.

The history beneath the novel deserves better.

So do the novel’s readers.

To Have and to Hold
by Mary Johnson
1900 bestseller # 1
Project Gutenberg EBook #2807
My grade: C

@2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mississippi Bubble Better at Finance Than at Fiction

The Mississippi Bubble is a long rambling tale whose hero, John Law, is a 17th century gambler, philosopher, and financier. He captivates women, explores the American wilderness, braves mobs, advises governments, and grows corn.

The main plot line is man finds girl, man loses girl, man regains girl.  Hough pads the basic plot to obese proportions. Some of the historical content, such as the death of Louis XIV, and scene descriptions, such as a storm on Lake Michigan, are powerful, but they are largely extraneous to the plot.

About halfway through novel, to propitiate the Great Spirit, vengeful Iroquois send one of its characters over Niagara Falls in a canoe. It’s unfortunate that author Emerson Hough didn’t send the rest of the characters over to propitiate vengeful readers already weary of flat characters and subplots that go nowhere.

John Law at French Court

On the whole, there’s more illumination than entertainment for readers in The Mississippi Bubble. Odd as it seems, the novel’s value lies primarily in its simple explanation of fiscal concepts such as national debt, monetary policy, and the relationship of government to the banking industry.

The Mississippi Bubble: How the Star of Good Fortune Rose and Set and Rose Again, by a Woman’s Grace,  for One John Law of Laurison
by Emerson Hough
Illus. Henry Hutt
1902 Bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg eBook #14001
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni