My favorites of the 1933 bestsellers

The most important of the 1933 bestsellers has to be Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now?  Fallada shows in very human terms how the subjugation of Germany after World War I laid the foundation for World War II. His characters are ordinary men and women caught in an economic quicksand that pulls them apart while it pulls them down.

As much as I admire Fallada’s work, I have to admit I don’t like it much. It’s too bleak, too horrifying to be pleasant reading,  and Fallada manages to suggest that what happened once could happen again. That’s a terrifying thought.

John Galsworthy’s One More River is a less important book than Fallada’s, but one with substance and durability. While Fallada focuses on the lower ranks of German post-war society, Galsworthy focuses on the British gentry of the period. Although far from wealthy, the Charwells worry about how to live loving and honorable lives rather than about where their next meal will come from.  Galsworthy’s novel isn’t as bleak as Fallada’s, but it, too, has a sadness beneath the British reluctance to accept pity even from one’s self.

By contrast to these two substantive novels, my third pick is a lightweight. Bess Streeter Aldrich’s Miss Bishop is soppy and sentimental and endearingly silly. Miss Bishop is the sort of novel that elicits tears not because it’s so good, but because it’s not true.



Miss Bishop Is a Sentimental Sweetheart

As long as you don’t expect anything but pleasant diversion, Bess Streeter Aldrich’s classic Miss Bishop won’t disappoint you.

When Ella Bishop enrolls in the first class at Midwestern College in 1876, she has two dresses, an extroverted personality, and boundless enthusiasm for wholesome activities.

After graduating, Ella stays on to teach grammar until she marries. But Ella never marries. Instead, she devotes her life to family, friends, and students.

With extraordinary strength, Ella resists the temptation of an affair with a colleague, tenderly cares for her widowed mother who can’t even complete a sentence by herself, and practically adopts the lover who jilted her.

We all know someone who has done things just as extraordinary, but no real person would have those kinds of experiences and not be changed by them. Ella, however, never grows. She’s as mature at 60 as she was at 16. In her entire lifetime, the only thing that changes about Ella is her hair color.

Although sappily sentimental, Miss Bishop is so well constructed and Ella herself such a lovely person that you probably won’t want to put this novel down. And you might even blow your nose loudly once or twice as you read.

Miss Bishop
By Bess Streeter Aldrich
Appleton-Century, 1938
337 pages
My grade: C+

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A White Bird Flying Lets Your Spirits Soar

A White Bird Flying is formulaic, predictable, and utterly enchanting.

Laura Deal is a sweet girl, but odd. A keen observer of life in Cedartown, Nebraska, she’s too young and innocent to understand much of what she sees. Readers more mature than Laura draw their own conclusions.

After the death of her grandmother, who encouraged her literary ambitions, Laura vows never to marry but to devote herself to writing.

Laura  lives so much in her imaginary worlds that she doesn’t know her own mind. When her friendship for Allen Rinemiller deepens into love, Laura sticks to her vow, choosing to be a spinster writer and heir to her wealthy aunt’s and uncle’s fortune.

Predictably, Laura comes to her senses, marries Allen, and becomes a farm wife just as her grandmother was.

Bess Streeter Aldrich plots the novel well; her characters are distinctive, quirky, and thoroughly human. Her musings on marriage, aging, and cultural change are warm and perceptive.

Though Aldrich does everything right, she lacks the talent to make her novel great; however, I don’t think you’ll mind too much. Laura is a sweetheart and there’s enough food for thought to almost make up for the novel’s failings.

A White Bird Flying
By Bess Streeter Aldrich
D. Appleton, 1931
336 pages
1931 bestseller # 3
My grade B
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni