The Two Vanrevels Tax Credulity

The Two Vanrevels is romantic melodrama set in the Ohio Valley in the hoop-skirted days before the Civil War.

When beautiful Miss Betty Carewe comes home from convent school, the first to see her, lawyer Tom Vanrevel, is immediately smitten. Tom’s profligate law partner Crailey Gray also succumbs to Betty’s charms.

Being unfamiliar with the town, Betty thinks the man she saw with her school chum, Franchon Bareaud, was Franchon’s fiance, Crailey. When Crailey comes courting, Betty thinks he’s Tom, the man whom her father hates for his abolitionist views.

Long used to covering for his parter, Tom continues to protect him even after he realizes Betty thinks he is Crailey.

The story ends in a dramatic denouement in the mode of the silent movies of the turn of the century.

Even readers who appreciate the mores that governed polite 19th century society will find it hard to swallow Booth Tarkington’s plot or believe his characters.

Wouldn’t a young girl who has only one friend in town naturally say to that friend, “Who was the man with you?”

Leave this novel lie with the frock coats and hoop skirts. It doesn’t deserve an airing.

The Two Vanrevels
By Booth Tarkington
A. L. Burt, 1902
351 pages
1908 #8
My Grade: C –
Project Gutenberg ebook #3428
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Crisis founders in crinolines and clichés

Winston Churchill sets The Crisis amid the crinolines and cavalry officers of nineteenth century St. Louis.

Stephen Bliss and his mother are Bostonian aristocrats who lost their fortunes. They move to St. Louis where Stephen is to study law with the eccentric Judge Whipple, a friend of his father.

Stephen is barely off the boat when on impulse he buys a slave to free and return to her mother. The deed charms the judge, a vehement abolitionist, and infuriates Virginia Carvel, who had hoped to acquire the girl as her servant.

Since Virginia’s father and Judge Whipple are best friends, Colonel Carvel soon meets Stephen., whom he likes.

Another New Englander, Eliphalet Hopper,  is already working in the Carvel’s business where his thrift, shrewdness, and lack of scruples bode ill for his employer.

The tale is the usual romantic nonsense about a Southern belle captivated against her will by a horrible Yankee who turns out not to be horrible.

Churchill brings some historical figures into the story, but his focus is the cliché-ridden love story.  It’s a shame, really.  The book is chock-full of minor characters who deserve to star in novels of their own.

The Crisis
by Winston Churchill
Illus. Howard Chandler Christy
MacMillan, 1901
522 pages
Project Gutenberg e-book #5396
My grade: C
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Sun is My Undoing is true blockbuster of a novel

No matter how you look at it, Marguerite Steen’s 1941 novel The Sun Is My Undoing is extraordinary.

Three times average novel length, it covers 40 years, intertwines characters on three continents, and its hero is a slave trader.

Plenty of books tell about how slavery degraded slaves; this one tell how slavery degraded the slave traders. A mediocre writer couldn’t have envisioned this story, let alone written it.

In Bristol in 1760, the old reprobate Hercules Flood dies. His heir, Matthew Flood, sets up as a slave trader like his grandfather, even though it costs him marriage to lovely abolitionist Pallas Burmester.

After selling his first slaves, Matt “marries” his African concubine in a drunken mock ceremony in Havana. He leaves their daughter to be cared for by nuns and goes back to sea.

Years later, Matt’s quadroon granddaughter comes to Bristol to inherit the Flood money. She is shunned by everyone except Pallas Burmester.

When a lunatic slave captured by the British Navy turns out to be Matthew Flood, the news turns Bristol on its ear. I’ll leave you to read the heart-stopping ending for yourself.

The Sun Is My Undoing is a novel you won’t soon forget.

The Sun Is My Undoing
By Marguerite Steen
Viking, 1941
1176 pages,
1941 bestseller #4
My grade: A-

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni