The Doctor: Its plot is as rocky as its setting

ruggest mountains with light dusting of snow
The Doctor is the story of a love quadrangle that ends in a religious tract.

The Boyle family can afford college for only one son. Mrs. Boyle determines Dick will go to become a minister.


The Doctor : A Tale of the Rockies by Ralph Connor¹
1907 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg ebook 3242. My Grade: C+.

Dick loves Margaret Robertson who loves his older brother, Barney.

Barney sets his heart on becoming a surgeon. He also sets his heart on marrying Iona Lane, who loves him but doesn’t want marriage until after she’s had a successful singing career.

Barney falls out with Dick in the mistaken impression that Dick and and Iona are lovers. Dick tries repeatedly for reconciliation, but Barney refuses.

Dick ends up working as a missionary in the Canadian Rockies where Margaret, now a nurse, is working.

Barney ends up as medical superintendent on the a railroad line being built in the Canadian Rockies.

Ralph Connor plays on readers’ emotions.

A few isolated bits of the story have the verisimilitude of reportage, but the plot is generally absurd.

Under Connor’s pen, all four principal characters get religion and either live happily or die happily.

A week after reading The Doctor, happily, you won’t be able to remember what it was about.


¹Ralph Connor is the pen name of the Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon, who served first in the Presbyterian and later in the United churches in Canada.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Major an amalgam of familiar plot lines

Canadian Expeditionary Forces artillerymen prepare shell as early Christmas present to Germany, Nov. 2016
Canadian artillerymen ready early Christmas package to Germans.

Larry Gwynne, normally an obedient 10-year-old, plays hooky from school with some other boys one spring day.

Challenged to prove himself in a fight, Larry refuses. The other boys say he’s a coward, like this Quaker mother.


The Major by Ralph Connor

1918 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg ebook #3249. My grade: C.


From that beginning, Ralph Connor produces a novel about how rural Canadians responded first to the threat and then to the fact of the first World War.

The plot is an amalgam of familiar story lines.

As the title suggests, Larry grows up to become a major in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

There are several romances in the novel as Larry’s two sisters, some of their friends, and then Larry himself find true love.

There’s also a plot of sorts about Larry’s beloved mother, scrimping to supply the necessities her husband’s inept management deprives them of.

Connor doesn’t actually develop any of the plots: He merely drags them through the same pages together.

The novel is not a bad first draft, but it needs a good working over with a blue pencil to reduce the number of plots, and give more definition to the central characters, and smudge the outlines of the lesser ones.

Connor’s skills improved with practice, as his bestseller the following year shows.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Maria Chapdelaine, Teenage Pioneer

Maria Chapdelaine  opens in late winter, just ahead of the ice breakup in the river. With spring, Maria will awaken to love.

Instead of a gushy tale of teenage lovers, however, novelist Louis Hemon delivers something harder, more mature, and more incredible.

Old Quebec Coat of Arms
Old Quebec Coat of Arms

Maria’s good looks are enough to attract suitors willing to cross a river and trudge through a road-less forest to the compound where Samuel Chapdelaine’s pioneering family “make land” with axe and saw. Maria’s choice is Francois, a handsome woodsman and Indian trader.

When Francois is lost in a blizzard, Maria is numb with grief. What shall she do for the rest of her life?

She could marry Lorenzo Surprenant and go to live in Boston.

Or she could marry Eutrobe Gagnon and live on a half-cleared farm doing pretty much what she does on her father’s half-cleared farm. If she marries Eutrobe she might, like her mother, have a few words of praise from her husband after she’s dead.

The characters of this novel are the sort of folks you’d want as your neighbors if you were in any sort of trouble, but they aren’t probably folks you’d invite to a party. Simultaneously insignificant and magnificent, their idea of the good life is a game of cards with friends while a smudge pot keeps the mosquitoes at bay.

What Maria decides to do with her life, Hemon implies, is what any of the Quebec pioneers would do. They are “people of a race that knows not how to perish.” Duty and responsibility tied to a sense of community and of their roots gives them the courage to do what needs to be done.

Maria Chapdelaine: A Tale of the Lake St. John Country
Louis Hemon
Trans. W. H. Blake
Illus. Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté
New York 1921
1922 Bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg ebook #4383

Photo Credit: Old coat of arms of Quebec (from the [[Wilfrid Laurier]] monument, Montreal) – personal snapshot by Montrealais. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Excess Pages Dim The Right of Way‘s Electrifying Portrait

Gilbert Parker’s The Right of Way is the story of man devoid of human emotion and human intimacy.

The novel opens with a man being acquitted of murder in Montreal thanks to the brilliant summation Charley “Beauty” Steele delivers while “quietly, unnoticeably drunk.”

That night Charley proposes to Kathleen Wantage.

After five years of marriage, Kathleen tells Charley she despises him for ruining her brother, the local minister, and her life.  Charley goes off to a dive where the locals beat him up. One man would have fought for Charley, but Charley spurns him with the question, “Have I ever been introduced to you?”

To that point, the novel is absolutely electrifying. But when Charley is fished out of the river by the acquitted murderer to begin a new life in the Canadian forest, the story becomes increasingly implausible with every page.

Parker doesn’t help by trying to shift attention from Charley’s personality to Charley’s lack of religious faith. By comparison to the electrifying picture of  Charley the drunkard Montreal lawyer, Charley the agnostic tailor is a bore.

Parker gets his power back in the deathbed scene:

“I beg—your—pardon,” [Charley] whispered to the imagined figure, and the light died out of his eyes, “have I—ever—been—introduced—to you?”

Unfortunately, by that time eventually clichés and coincidences have sucked the oxygen from the plot. If Parker had only written a shorter novel, as his foreword says he originally intended, he might have produced a great piece of literature.

The Right of Way
by Gilbert Parker
1901 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg e-book #6249

© Linda Gorton Aragoni

Valley of Silent Men lovely place for absurd novel

On his death bed, James Grenfell Kent, 36, sergeant in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, confesses to a murder he didn’t commit. From his deathbed, he also  falls in love with the mysterious raven-haired beauty, Maretta, who tells him she knows who really committed the murder.

Instead of dying, Kent recovers, which means he’ll be hanged for the murder, unless someone else is found guilty, in which case he’ll do 10-20 for deathbed perjury.

Finding either of those outcomes undesirable, Kent plots his escape.

The plan misfires.

Kent finds the Mounties Inspector Kedsty dead, strangled with black hair, and Maretta standing over the body.

Kent and Maretta flee, becoming separated when their boat breaks apart in river rapids. Desolate, Kent wanders for almost two years before heading toward Maretta’s home in the Valley of Silent Men.

There he learns how Maretta knew he had not  killed Barkley and discovers how she was involved with Kedsty.

There’s a happy ending, all mysteries solved except why the legalistic Mounties decide not to place those perjury charges.

James Oliver Curwood’s plot is absurd and his characters utterly  implausible, but his description of the Canadian scenery is breathtaking. This is one novel that you’ll enjoy most by ignoring the story and focusing on the descriptive passages.

Thee Valley of Silent Men: A Story of the Three River Company
By Janes Oliver Curwood
1921 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook-No. 29407
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni