Eccentrics abound in Angela’s Business

By day, Charles Garrott, 29, earns a skimpy living as private tutor.

By night, he’s “the coming American novelist.”

Angela’s Business by Henry Sydnor Harrison

Frederic R. Gruger, Illus. Project Gutenberg EBook #34297. 1915 bestseller #10. My grade: B+.

1915-10_illus4Charles is a Modern Man. He considers his dear friend Miss Mary Wing a perfect example of the New Woman. She’s the first female City High School assistant principal and a rising star in the education reform movement.

When Charles meets Mary’s young cousin Angela Flower, who considers home-making a full-time business, he feels less scorn than his modernity might dictate.

And when Mary is demoted for championing a woman who ran off with a married man Charles is unwilling to call it “a plucky thing.”

Angela’s Business is raised two steps above the typical romance by its almost-eccentric leading man and a plot nearly too odd to have been invented.

Henry Syndor Harrison neatly sets readers up to expect Charles to fall in love with Angela and conventional attitudes.

But Harrison doesn’t do the expected.

Instead, he presents people who are bundles of contradictions.

They face challenges and learn, but they never quite get their acts together.

There’s always an emotion they can’t quite control or a question for which they can’t find an answer.

The result feels like life, only more amusing.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

An 1911 Interactive Novel: The Iron Woman

Margaret Deland’s The Iron Woman opens conventionally enough but  quickly develops into a complex psychological study that winds up as an interactive novel in which readers select the ending.

A pair of half-siblings whose mother runs Maitlin Iron Works and two other local children settle their conjugal futures one afternoon in an apple tree. Blair Maitlin will marry Elizabeth Ferguson,  whose uncle is the mill superintendent; Nannie Maitlin will marry David Richie, the adopted son of a widow newly moved to town.

Mrs. Maitlin showers money on Blair. When he refuses to go into the family iron business and instead marries Elizabeth, Mrs. Maitlin cuts Blair out of her will. She decides to endow a clinic and put David, now a doctor, in charge.

As Mrs. Maitlin is dying, Nannie forges her mother’s name so  Blair gets the money intended for the clinic.

All the remaining characters are  miserable except Elizabeth’s uncle, who has gotten widow Richie to say she’ll marry him.

At that point Deland addresses her readers directly, laying out the options available to each character. She leaves readers to figure out how to end the book.

To do that, they have to decide whether the  title refers to Mrs. Maitlin, who runs the iron mill; or to the widow whose sweetness belies a steely determination; or to Elizabeth, who finally decides she can master her temper.

A fiction writers’ group or book club looking for a novel that will engage readers need look no further than The Iron Woman.

The Iron Woman
by Margaret Wade Campbell Deland
1911 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #6474
My grade: A-
©Linda Gorton Aragoni