My picks of the 1918 bestsellers

I had no difficulty selecting my two two choices of the 1918 bestselling novels: Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter and The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Both novels have an anti-establishment and feminist edge. I suspect had they been written by newcomers to publishing instead of by highly successful authors noted for quite different sorts of  bestsellers—Rinehart is best known for her mysteries and Stratton-Porter for light romances—they might not have attracted a publisher at all.

For a third recommendation, I’ll add The Pawns Count, a mystery-thriller by E. Phillips Oppenheim.

Daughter of the Land

I admit I’m not a fan of Stratton-Porter.  She tends toward romances in which the leading character are too good to be true and the plots too contrived to be believable.  But she was popular: Michael O’Halloran, The Keeper of the Bees, Laddie, The Harvester, and Her Father’s Daughter each were bestsellers.

In Daughter of the Land Stratton-Porter breaks from her usual pattern.

Kate Bates, the daughter, is not breathtakingly beautiful nor is in thrall to a male figure. She’s smart, shrewd, hardworking, and she knows exactly what she wants: Kate wants to be given the same opportunities as her brothers. Each of them got a house, stock, and 200 acres when they turned 21.

The best Kate could hope for was what her nine sisters got on their marriages: “a bolt of muslin and a fairly decent dress.”

Unwilling to settle for anything less than 200 acres to farm, Kate strikes out on her own to seek her fortune from her only marketable assets: her brain and her kindness.

Stratton-Porter has Kate make a lot of mistakes and learn from each one of them. Some of her mistakes are deliberate acts of will. Many, however, are thoughtless choices she makes under physical and emotional stress—an unheroic type of mistake rarely made by leading characters in novels.

Not everyone likes Kate, but people respect her. They know she won’t lie to them; she won’t take advantage of them. Even her brothers accept that Kate’s method of settling their parents’ estate is fair to everyone.

Daughter of the Land is not great literature, but it’s a great story from which teenage girls and their parents today could learn a great deal—and enjoy the experience.

The Amazing Interlude

Like Stratton-Porter,  Rinehart was a prolific writer and for four decades a  popular one. A mystery, The Man in Lower Ten (1909), was Rinehart’s first bestseller. It’s probably still her most popular novel.

Rinehart followed that the next year with two more bestselling mysteries, The Window at the White Cat and When a Man Marries, which mingles comedy with mystery. By the time she published  K in 1915  her name had become firmly associated mysteries.

The Amazing Interlude was Rinehart’s first bestselling novel outside the mystery genre.

As she does in most of her books, Rinehart sets Interlude in settings that her readers would have recognized: small town America and the Western Front. The story is about a seemingly very ordinary young woman engaged to be married to a man she’s known all her life.  Sara recognizes that Harvey is dull and boring, but he’s the sort of man girls in her town marry.

When a letter describing the horrible conditions behind the front lines in Belgium is passed around town, Sara’s sympathy and imagination are stirred. She goes off to France to run a soup kitchen for soldiers.

Sara knows no French, has no foreign contacts, has no credentials, and she has no financial support other than from women of her church. Sara rises above her limitations, doing all sorts of things she would never have dreamed anyone could do, let alone herself.

While Sara scrubs floors and scrounges for food while shells explode around her, Harvey fumes because he thinks she’s playing instead of doing the accepted thing: staying at home tending to his wants.

Harvey gets the church women who funded Sara’s soup kitchen to quit sending her money to feed French soldiers. Without funds, Sara has to come home.

Rinehart makes readers understand that Interlude‘s Americans are not deliberately cruel or mean. They aren’t lacking in charity—as long as charity can be delivered by check from profits made doing activities one enjoys. It’s only when the enjoyment lags and the profits dwindle, or if the situation demands boring, dirty work, that compassion fatigue sets in.

Getting outside the security of her home, family, and town leads Sara to believe that being American means befriending people outside one’s home, family, and town; people who speak foreign languages, wear different clothes, have different religions; people who are dirty, smelly, lousy, contagious.

Sara comes home a changed person. Her idea of the world and America’s role in the world has changed forever.

The Amazing Interlude may find few enthusiasts in America’s current build-a-wall culture, but it’s all the more important reading for that.

The Pawns Count

E. Phillips Oppenheim was another popular and prolific author:  He turned out more than 100 novels. Oppenheim is best known for his thrillers, such as The Pawns Count.

Unlike my other two picks, Pawns’ is genre fiction whose continuing interest today beyond its entertainment value—it’s a good World War I-era thriller—is the insights it provides into how the war to end all wars laid the groundwork for World War II.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Which are your picks of the 1918 bestselling novels?

Mull some cider, pull up a chair, and decide which are the best of the 1918 bestselling novels.

The break will do you good, and you’ll look very scholarly pondering the titles.

I’ll share my picks on Saturday, then it’s on to the 1917 bestsellers I missed first time around.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Sonia puts human face on first year of WWI

A memoir of 1898-1915 written by a “member of the governing classes” who spent those years at a British public school and at Oxford doesn’t sound particularly interesting.

And it wouldn’t be, except for what George Oakleigh records happened between August 1914 and August 1915.

Title Sonia: Between Two Worlds superimposed on map of pre-World War I Europe


Sonia: Between Two Worlds by Stephen McKenna

George H. Doran, 1917. 475 pages. 1918 bestseller #10. My grade: B.


The Prague-born son of an Irish lord who, after his pro-Greek father was murdered by Turks, worked his way back to England, David O’Rane pays all his money to buy one term’s tuition at Merton.

David quickly wins admirers and friends including George, the reliable guy everyone trusts; Jim Loring; Tom Dainton, and Tom’s younger sister, Sonia.

Sonia enters into a secret engagement with David until she decides he isn’t rich enough for her.

Sonia later becomes engaged to Jim Loring, whom she also dumps.

Sonia is motoring on the continent in August, 2014, when war is declared.

David borrows an American identity, gets Sonia out of danger, and escorts her home.

Then he enlists.

Stephen McKenna makes the David-Sonia story end well, but little else does.

McKenna’s descriptions of Melton, Oxford, and party politics are only for the initiated.

His descriptions of the feeling of the possibility and then the certainty of wa­r are for everyone.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Greatheart lacks great solution

In Greatheart, Ethel M. Dell has created characters readers will care about and eagerly follow, hoping for their happiness.

But, as often happens to Dell, when it’s time to end the story, she doesn’t know how to solve the problem she plotted.


Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell

1918 bestseller #6. Project Gutenberg ebook #13497. My Grade: B.


snow-covered mountains viewed from high above. People are tiny black wrinkles along path through snow.
Trekking through snow.

Greatheart concerns the three Studley siblings, Sir Eustace, Scott, and Isabel.

Since Isabel’s husband’s tragic death on their honeymoon and her subsequent mental and physical decline, the brothers have been trying in their different ways to help her back to health.

At a resort in the Alps, the brothers become acquainted with Dinah Bathurst, a perky English country girl traveling with Colonel and Lady de Vignes as companion to their daughter, Rose.

Scott is drawn to Dinah, but she’s tantalized by his handsome, athletic brother.

However, Eustace’s passionate pursuit of her soon frightens Dinah.

Scott’s attempt to discourage Eustace makes him even more determined to have Dinah.

Isabel comes out of her funk enough to try to protect Dinah, but she dares not protest when Dinah agrees to marry Eustace.

Dell is brilliant at creating suspense, and she makes Dinah’s behavior believable in light of her abusive mother and spineless father.

The only unbelievable element is sexual predator Eustace’s sudden reformation.

Unless, of course, a miracle happened.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Filling the gaps in bestseller lists of 1917 and 1918 novels

When I began reading all the bestselling novels from 1900 through 1969, I didn’t have access to many of the early novels. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, many of those bestsellers are now available again for free.

For the rest of 2016, I’m going to post reviews of the bestselling novels of 1917 and 1918 that I wasn’t able to find the first time around.

Project Gutenberg

In the lists below, hyperlinks will take you to either my previously posted review or to the Project Gutenberg page from which you can download the novel. The dates in square brackets tell when new content will be posted.

1918 bestselling novels

Row of chess pawns with overlaid message While England fights Germany trench-to-trench in France, a sexy American spy proves "The Pawns Count"

  1. The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey
  2. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair
  3. The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart [2016-10-18]
  4. Dere Mable: Love Letters of a Rookie by Edward Streeter [2016-10-22]
  5. Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter [2016-10-25]
  6. Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell [2016-10-29]
  7. The Major by Ralph Connor [2016-11-01]
  8. The Pawns Count by E. Phillips Oppenhein [2016-11-05]
  9. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter [2016-11-08]
  10. Sonia: Between Two Worlds by Stephen McKennal [2016-11-12]

Readers’ poll [2016-11-15]

My picks of the 1918 bestsellers [2016-11-19]

1917 bestselling novels

Photograph of wildfire with inset saying Wildfire is the story of a horse as fast and as furious as his name

  1. Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells
  2. The Light in the Clearing: A Tale of the North Country in the Time of Silas Wright by Irving Bacheller [2016-11-22]
  3. The Red Planet by William J. Locker [2016-11-26]
  4. The Road to Understanding by Eleanor H. Porter [2016-11-29]
  5. Wildfire by Zane Grey [2016-12-05]
  6. Christine by Alice Cholmondeley (Elizabeth Von Arnim) [2016-12-06]
  7. In the Wilderness by Robert S. Hichens [2016-12-10]
  8. His Family by Ernest Poole [2016-12-13]
  9. The Definite Object: A Romance of New York by Jeffrey Farnol [2016-12-17]
  10. The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell [2016-12-20]

Readers’ poll [2016-12-24]

My picks of the 1917 bestsellers [2016-12-27]

The best of the novels reviewed here in 2016, [2016-12-31]

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni