Mistress Wilding Hews to History

Mistress Wilding is a historical romance on the standard loathing-turns-to-love pattern. What little interest there is in the novel is in the historical setting.

Rafael Sabatini sets the novel in the west of England in 1685 when the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II, attempted to incite an insurrection he claimed was to restore Protestantism. At the time, memories were still vivid of the English Civil Wars fought,  in part, over the extent to which the Church of England would emulate elements of the Catholic mass.

Sabatini’s hero, Anthony Wilding, is a Protestant, working surreptitiously for Monmouth. The love of his life is Catholic. Her initial antagonism to Wilding is not on religious grounds, however, but because the worthless brother she adores doesn’t like him.

Sabatini’s story line hews closely to the historical facts, dragging his characters to the places where the events occurred with total disregard for their psychological credibility.

Sabatini seems to regret not having focused the novel on the men’s reactions to realizing their leader is undeniably inept and possibly a liar as well.

Readers will regret it, too.

The Mistress Wilding he delivered is a yawn.

Mistress Wilding
by Rafael Sabatini
1924 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg e-book #1457

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Woman Thou Gavest Me Is Worth What She Cost

Hall Craine’s The Woman Thou Gavest Me is a novel that will keep you turning pages and leave you wondering why you bothered.

The only offspring of an unhappy marriage, Mary O’Neill gets shunted off to convent school in Rome at age 8. At 18, Mary is about to declare her wish to become a nun when her father appears to bring her back to Ireland to wed the profligate Englishman who inherited the family estate and title.

Mary’s obediently marries, but voices her objection to being touched by her husband so loudly that he agrees to a marriage in name only until she falls in love with him.

Unable to get an annulment or a divorce, Mary does the next worst thing: She spends one night with her childhood sweetheart, Dr. Martin Conrad, the intrepid explorer who leaves the next day for Antarctica.

Martin returns in the nick of time to save Mary from becoming a prostitute to buy medicine for their sick baby.

Despite improbable characters in implausible situations, Craine  presents a cogent explanation of the Catholic position on marriage and divorce, showing through Mary’s experience where it pinches and why. You need not agree with the position or how Mary comes to terms with it, but you’ll at least understand it.

Perhaps that’s reason enough to keep turning pages.

The Woman Thou Gavest Me
By Hall Craine
1913 bestseller #7
over 500 pages
Project Gutenberg e-book #14597
My grade: C

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Keys of the Kingdom top seller second year in row

A. J. Cronin’s novel The Keys of The Kingdom headed the bestseller list in 1941. It was still on the list in 1942, although it had dropped to tenth place.

The novel remains good entertainment today. It is an intriguing character study of someone who finds that fitting is definitely overrated.  Keys’ lead character, Francis Chisholm, the missionary priest to China’s “rice Christians,”  could probably have answered “yes” to each of Leonard Felder’s 15 self-analysis questions to determine if one is an “insightful outsider.”

A full review of the novel is included with the 1941 bestsellers.

© 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