The Dim Lantern Gives a Warm Glow

black piglet The Dim Lantern is old-fashioned romance that, despite a well-worn theme and predictable plot lines, is as cozy as hot tea and scones in a room smelling faintly of lavender.

Jane and Baldwin Barnes live in an unfashionable suburb of Washington, D.C. in mortgaged house inherited from their parents. Baldy is artistic, but works in an office to pay off the mortgage. Jane exercises her creativity by stretching money and having faith that good will ultimately prevail. There’s a nice boy next door, badly traumatized by his experiences in The Great War. Jane is a dim lantern in the blackness of his depression.

On his way to work, Baldy gives a ride and his heart to a young woman who obviously has never had to make her money stretch. Socialite Edith Towne is running away after the humiliation of her bridegroom’s failure to appear at their wedding.

Baldy enlists Jane to speak for Edith to her wealthy bachelor uncle, Frederick Towne. He falls for Jane, luring her with the prospect of how his wealth can provide the medical care her ailing sister desperately needs.

By page 344, Temple Bailey has provided all the answers everyone who has ever read a romance novel expects except one: Where did city-bred Edith acquire her knowledge of black Berkshire pigs?

The Dim Lantern
by Temple Bailey
Grosset  & Dunlap,  1923
344 pages
1923 bestseller #5

Photo credit: Black Pigs 2 by nedbenj

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Little Man, What Now? Inspires and Terrifies

Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now? is a good novel in good times. In an economic downturn, it’s absolutely chilling.

Pinneberg does the right thing by his pregnant girlfriend, Bunny. His salary as a clerk barely covers his own needs, and setting up housekeeping is far more expensive than either had expected. Pinneberg assures Bunny that a baby is almost no expense in the first year; they’ll manage.

Bunny, a sweet girl with no practical skills, learns to cook, to make do. She finds them an attic apartment, cheap because it’s accessible only by ladder and operating outside the law.

Then Pinneberg loses his job. He finds another selling clothes on commission. When the company imposes quotas, he is out of a job again and on the dole. An acquaintance lets them rent a shed on small country property he owns. They would be destitute except for what Bunny earns doing mending.

Bunny refuses to let Pinneberg steal wood for fuel.

“He must keep his self-respect,” she tells her father-in-law. “It’s our only luxury, we must stick to it.”

Fallada’s matter-of-factness makes the misery and courage of this young couple both inspirational and terrifying.

Put Little Man What Now? on your must-read list.

Little Man, What Now?
By Hans Fallada
Simon and Schuster, 1933
Trans. From the German by Eric Sutton
383 pages
1933 #10
My grade; A

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Grapes of Wrath Lays Sentiment on Thick

The Grapes of Wrath is a novel told from a soapbox.

Unable to keep up payments on their miserable Oklahoma farm, the Joads are forced to leave the land. Lured by handbills promising jobs, they pack 12 family members, an ex-preacher and a dog into a Hudson and set out for California.

Only eight of the Joad clan make it.

California turns out not to be the promised land. As thousands compete for harvesting jobs, wages drop. Men see their children starving. The Joads are in a bad way, but not so poor that they won’t share what little they have.

Substitute Hispanics for Oakies and much of The Grapes of Wrath will sound contemporary. The story remains gripping today because the search for a better life is timeless.

John Steinbeck alternates a chapter about the Joads with a chapter of his own take on history. He does it seamlessly, but sentimentally. The final scene of Rosasharn giving her milk to the starving man is Hollywood at its worst.

But by making the Joads the poster family for the working poor, Steinbeck trivializes the very conditions he’s trying to condemn. The working poor—and we poor readers—deserve more respect.

The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Viking, 1939
619  pages
1939 #1, 1940 #8
My grade: A-

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni