Now In November is beautiful and enduring

Now in November was Josephine Winslow Johnson’s first novel. Although it didn’t become a popular bestseller, critics showered praise on the book and its author. The year following its publication, the Pulitzer committee awarded Johnson its 1935 prize for best novel, a rare achievement for a writer’s first novel.

Now in November by Josephine W. Johnson ©1934 ©1962.

Cover of 1961 edition of Now in November shows women doing farm work.Arnold Haldemarne had done well in the lumber factories through persistent hard work. Suddenly, his peace and security vanished overnight, swallowed up in the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

Haldemarne takes his wife and three daughters back to the mortgaged farm his family had owned since the Civil War.

The Haldemarne women, Willa and daughters Kerrin, Marget, and Merle, fall in love with the land.

But as the novel’s narrator, Marget, observes, her father doesn’t see the land’s beauty, and he “hadn’t the resignation a farmer has to have.”

The family suffers one misfortune after another until there are only Mr. Haldemarne and daughters Marget and Merle left.

Despite what sounds like novel built of gloom and misery, Now in November has a lyric quality that lifts the novel beyond the doldrums.

Johnson makes even the mad Kerrin and her gloomy father individuals deserving of both pity and respect.

Their gardens are dead, but the land is beautiful.

The Haldemarnes are driven far beyond endurance, yet they endure.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

This is another in the GreatPenformances series of occasional reviews of notable novels. The cover shown above is from Now in November by Josephine W. Johnson,  afterward by Nancy Hoffman. The Feminist Press, 1991, 231 pp.

This Freedom Examines Wife as CEO of Home

In This Freedom, A.S.M. Hutchinson tells the story of the marriage of two people who never fall out of love, but fall out of harmony.

bank signFrom her high chair, Rosalie Aubyn found the world of men exciting, the world of women dull. She decides to become part of men’s world as a banker — a striking choice in the early 1900s when women in offices were a rarity.

Intent on a celibate life, Rosalie suddenly finds herself passionately in love and as suddenly married to Harry Occleve, a rising lawyer.

Rosalie views running a home like running her business: As CEO she plans, hires, and delegates housekeepers, cooks, nannies, and governesses.

Although Harry is proud of his wife’s career accomplishments, he feels she needs to be more of a mother and homemaker. He sees their children are remote, undemonstrative, and unloving.

Hutchinson’s character portraits mingle precision with nuance. He relates the tale in a way that makes readers understand why each of the main characters feels and acts as he or she does.

The novel’s themes are timeless, but in the last 50 years they have ceased to be topics of real public discussion. Rereading This Freedom might be a useful way to reignite debate once more about the “proper role of women,” that loaded phrase implying a broad range of behavior with significant implications for society.

This Freedom
A. S. M. [Arthur Stuart-Mentet] Hutchinson
1922 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg ebook #6415
My grade: B+
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Tree of Heaven Needs Pruning

Ash tree in autumn against blue sky
A tree of heaven in autumn

The Tree of Heaven, May Sinclair’s 1918 bestseller, just misses being a great book.

The Harrisons are raising their four children in an English home whose backyard is dominated by a tree Frances calls by the country folks’ name Tree of Heaven and her timber-dealer husband calls an ash.

Frances’ life is wrapped up in her three sons; daughter Dorothy doesn’t interest her much.

The book follows the family from the late 1890s up to the First World War. In ways peculiar to their own personalities, the children seek to establish their own identifies.

All four instinctively back away from the vortex, the homogenizing crowd behavior that flings off morality as it spirals downward, looking instead for a firmly rooted principles that will endure. They want a personal, moral Tree of Heaven.

Sinclair’s characters are cleanly drawn, the plot gives a sense of inevitability. Readers get a fascinating glimpse into the family life of a decent, well-off household who earn their livelihood and have no aspirations to power and prestige.

Sinclair explores parent-child relationships, the origin of patriotism, the extent of self-deception, the clash of the prosaic and imaginative.

Real life has room for all those philosophical threads, a novel does not.

The Tree of Heaven
by May Sinclair
Macmillian, 1917
408 pages
1918 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg ebook #13883
My Grade: B+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: “Swedish Autumn Colours 2” by Marmit