Oil for the Lamps of China Once Farsighted, Now Timely

oil lamps collage
Chinese Oil Lamps

Oil for the Lamps of China is a story of a company man in an alien culture. The novel’s detail reflects the lifetime Alica Tisdale Hobart spent in the Far East.

Stephen Chase goes to China in 1908 as a sales rep for an American oil company, leaving Lucy, his fiancé, behind: The company frowns on men dragging their wives along.

When Lucy throws him over, Stephen marries Hester Wentworth, whose father died on their voyage to China.

Stephen works hard, learning to stifle his personal wishes. He also learns to respect and value the Chinese culture. He becomes a real asset to the company.

Hester doesn’t fare so well. She never really adjusts to China.

At long last, Stephen realizes the company feels no loyalty to its employees. That realization frees him to chuck the whole thing.

Stephen and Hester are not vivid personalities, and their associations drain them. The company and China submerge individuals and become the novel’s real main characters.

China is just now becoming the consumer economy Hobart envisioned. And Americans have only recently realized that multinational companies don’t value employee loyalty.

It’s time to rediscover this far-sighted novel.

Oil for the Lamps of China
By Alice Tisdale Hobart
Grosset & Dunlap, 1933
403 pages
1934 bestseller # 9
My Grade: B+

Photo collage : Chinese Oil Lamps by Linda Aragoni

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni