The Coast of Folly Explores the “Compulsion of Failure”

Jelly fish washed up on sandy beach
“Directionless and flabby. Jellyfish washed up on the coast of folly.”

Coningsby Dawson’s The Coast of Folly explores a real but rarely discussed individual and social problem: the extent to which individuals are responsible not only for their behavior but for the impression their behavior is likely to give others.

Dawson sets the story when America was reeling from the social upheavals caused by World War I and drowning its disillusionment in bootleg liquor.

All summer, unattached Joyce Gathway’s too-rich-to-work friends have paired her with Larry Fay whose wife has begun divorce proceedings against him. Their relationship has remained open and friendly, but both know it could easily descend into a sexual affair.

When a gossip columnist suggests Joyce will be named as co-respondent in the divorce, she is forced to acknowledge that the appearance of immorality is destructive even among her peers who speak of conventional morality with disdain.  Her grandfather says people like Joyce aren’t deliberately wicked, “merely directionless and flabby. Jellyfish washed up on the coast of folly.”

The novel follows Joy’s attempts to see whether her behavior was wrong and how to repair the damage she’s done. Dawson calls this  “the compulsion of failure.”

Although The Coast of Folly is dated in many ways and the plot overtly contrived, the questions Joyce has to answer are questions all young adults need to answer for themselves.

The Coast of Folly
By Coningsby Dawson
Grossett & Dunlap, 1924
341 pages
1924 bestseller #8
My grade: B+
 

Still photos from the 1925 movie version of the novel here suggest some of the ways the novel appears dated today.

Photo credit: “Jelly Fish” by Liessel

©2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Kingdom Round the Corner is optimistic but dull

The Kingdom Round the Corner, Coningsby Dawson’s 1921 romance, is distanced by omniscient narration, riddled by implausible coincidences, and ultimately sunk by a main character as colorless as cream cheese.

In March 1919, Lord Taborley, familiarly called “Tabs,” leaves the service by the door of a hospital.  Optimistically Tabs believes, “We find everything that we’ve lost or longed for, if we’ll only press on.”

He finds his beautiful, prewar girl friend has already pressed on.

Terry was 17 when Tabs left. At 22, she’s madly in love with a general who came up through the ranks. Before the war, General Braithwaite was Tabs’s valet.

Over innumerable pots of tea, the characters discuss the impact of the 1914-18 war. Terry is impatient for “what we’ve spent in the lost years,” while her aging father wants “the old world back—the womanly women, everybody labeled, and Beethoven.” Braithwaite wants a meritocracy. Tabs is comfortable with his inherited title.

Through Terry’s family, Tabs meets a lovely, thrice-widowed woman and her even more beautiful widowed sister.

Which of the three beauties will get Tabs?

Does anyone really care?

The Kingdom Round the Corner: A Novel  Project
By Coningsby Dawson
Illustrated by W.D. Stevens
1921 bestseller #10
Gutenberg E-Book #25702
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni