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Quote from Roger Gale: "There's to be nothing startling in this quiet house of mine."

Roger Gale came to New York at 17 from New Hampshire looking for a business he could turn into the American dream.

He made it happen. He also married.


His Family by Ernest Poole
MacMillan, 1917. 1917 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg ebook #14396. My grade A-.

Three daughters and 20 years later, Judith died, leaving Roger “deaf and blind to his children.”

Another 20 years later, Roger is emerging from his emotional deadness. His daughters seem foreign.

When Judith had told him before she died, “You will live on in our children’s lives,” Roger hadn’t believed her.

Slowly he sees that his children take after him, for better and for worse.

Edith is prim, controlling, totally absorbed in her husband and three children.

Deborah mothers 3,000 children. She’s principal of a school in the tenements that’s drawing national notice as a community educational center.

Laura is “a spender and a speeder,” with morals as skimpy as her clothes.

The sisters irritate one another and, in varying degrees, their father.

World War I starts.

Life happens.

So does death.

Ernest Poole’s characters are vivid, complicated, and annoyingly human.

Their life-changing events are pretty ordinary.

Their self-awareness is as dull as most everyone else’s, their influence as modest as most everyone else’s.

That’s why His Family feels real 100 years after its first publication.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Good fathers are too dull for novels. At least that’s the impression the scarcity of exemplary fathers in bestselling fiction gives. I turned up just three interesting men in the bestselling pre-1970 fiction who have a demonstrable, positive impact on their own children.

Atticus Finch

To Kill a Mockingbird book jacketOf the three, lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is the most famous. Atticus has achieved the status of an American icon. You can buy mugs and T-shirts asking, “What would Atticus do?”

Atticus doesn’t do much of what passes these days for fathering. He doesn’t coach Jem’s little league team. He doesn’t organize Scout’s birthday parties. He doesn’t help his kids with their homework.

Instead, he gives them a lap when they’re hurting, answers their questions, and makes sure they know right from wrong. And he lives his convictions so unwaveringly that people stand to their feet when he passes.

Charles “Stuffy” Anderson

dust jacket of Time and Time AgainA less well-known father is Charles “Stuffy” Anderson in James Hilton’s 1953 bestseller, Time and Time Again. Charles is both proud and embarrassed that his colleagues call him “Stuffy.” He knows he’s a stuffed shirt, but he tries to always be a man of integrity.

Charles sent his son to America when Gerald’s mother was killed in the London blitz. He’s hoping Gerald’s joining him in Paris to celebrate his seventeenth birthday will establish their relationship on a more adult level.

Charles regrets that having to care for his father, who was descending into dementia, kept him from seeing more of Gerald during his teen years, but Charles believed his first duty was to his father.

When he and Gerald are reunited, it’s clear that Gerald loves and respects his father and follows his moral example.

John Graham

gp_cover1John Graham is the last of the three exemplary fathers. Graham made a fortune in the pork packing industry, which allowed him to send his son Pierrepont to be expensively educated at Harvard. The fictional executive pens Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son to give Pierrepont advice not available in those hallowed halls. (The actual author of the 1903 bestseller is George Horace Lorimer.)

The senior Graham writes conversationally, commenting on what his son writes to him and on what he reads between the lines of the son’s letters, and illustrating his points with humorous stories from his own experiences.

When his son does something of which he disapproves, his father tells him. When he does something of which his father approves, he tells him that, too. But Graham assumes his son will do the right thing as soon as he knows what that the right thing to do is.

Shared expectations

Although these fathers are very different men, they give the impression that they would find their children interesting and enjoyable to have around, even if those children belonged to someone else. These three fathers also share some common expectations:

  • They expect their children to be children.
  • They expect their children to be obedient.
  • They expect their children to do what they have been taught is right .
  • They expect their children to outgrow childishness as they grow up.
  • They expect their children to become good companions when they become adults.

With fathers like those, how far wrong could the children go?

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Fathers’ Day Bonus Tomorrow

Sunday you will find an unscheduled posting at here Great Penformances about three exemplary fathers in vintage bestsellers.

You probably can identify one of the fathers from the T-shirt image below:

Drawing of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch

What would Atticus do?

 

Come back Sunday to see who the other two  are and what makes them exemplary fathers.

(My review of Mary Peters will run here tomorrow as scheduled.)

@2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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If Garrison Keillor had been CEO of a pork-packing business in the 1890s, he might have written Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son.

Since he was not, George Horace Lorimer undertook the task, producing a bestselling novel brimming with funny stories, shrewd advice, and love.

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Each of the 17 chapters of the novel is presented as a letter from John Grahman to his son, Pierrepont, beginning when Pierrepont enters Harvard University.

From the other letters, readers can trace Pierrepont’s career.

Without describing either of the Graham men, Lorimer develops such vivid portraits of them, I felt I’d known them for years. What’s more, I felt I was a better person for that acquaintance.

The father is nobody’s fool. He wants his son to be a good man, a good businessman, and, eventually, a good husband and father.

After graduation, Pierrepont joins his father’s firm at the bottom rung. Pierrepont’s less than stellar performance In the mail room draws a rebuke from his rather.

The son mends his ways, buckles down, and, thanks to some coaching from Dad, begins learning the business he will some day manage.

If you love a good yarn, or aspire to a leadership role, don’t miss this novel.

Common sense rarely appears in such attractive wrappings.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
Being the Letters written by John Graham, Head of the House
of Graham & Company, Pork-Packers in Chicago, familiarly
known on ‘Change as “Old Gorgon Graham,” to his Son,
Pierrepont, facetiously known to his intimates as “Piggy.”
by George Horace Lorimer
Illus. F. R. Gruger and B. Martin Justice
1903 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg EBook #21959
 

Photo credit: Pork Loin by morderska

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Fathers who try to give their children all the advantages are two-a-penny in fiction. What makes them interesting is that they don’t all use the same strategies. Nor do they all work from the same base of moral and emotional strength.

In Howard Spring’s My Son, My Son, a twentieth-century father spoils his son to destruction just as King David did his beloved son Absolom centuries before.  A subplot shows the opposite approach of training a son to be tough may not lead to a happy outcome either.

Lest you think spoiling sons is just a western habit, Pearl S. Buck  in The Good Earth shows a Chinese peasant spoiling his sons. Just in case you miss the destructive nature of that indulgence, she makes it clear in Sons.

Penny Baxter in The Yearling yearns to give his  son every advantage, but his family is too poor.  When Penny gives in to Jody’s plea for a pet, the growing fawn’s destructiveness requires both father and son to toughen up.

Johnny Nolan isn’t tough enough to take care of his kids’ physical needs, but he cares for them emotionally in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Johnny’s arranging years in advance for his daughter to have flowers for her high school graduation is one of the sweetest tokens of a father’s love in literature.

Some of the most interesting father figures in vintage novels are men who acted as father to children who were not their own.  The man who brings up the orphaned Barbara Worth, who affords him respect but no love in Harold Bell Wright’s novel The Winning of Barbara Worth, is an extraordinary man.  So is the crotchety grandfather in  The Portygee. Saddled with care of a grandson, the old man has to learn to turn their mutual dismay into a relationship of mutual respect and caring. (Grandma helps a lot.)

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is a contemporary retelling of the Cain and Abel story.  A father raising two boys whose mother has deserted them, seems to have a knack for saying and doing the wrong thing, setting one son against the other. The novel weighs the roles played by genetics, nurture, and personal choice in determining what a child will become.

Enjoy and evaluate these fathers in vintage novels.

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During the early days of World War I, bookseller John Pybus exhorted men to enlist. His own sons, Conrad and Probyn, preferred to serve in protected occupations that lined their pockets.

Their father disowned them.

Years later, they learn he is the “boots” at a country hotel.

Probyn’s son Lance learns of his grandfather’s existence and looks him up. They bond immediately. Lance calls his grandfather “the Venerable.”

When Lance wants to become a writer instead of going into his father’s business, Old Pybus supports him. Through his grandfather, Lance meets a woman with whom he falls in love. And the Venerable is also responsible for Lance developing an adult relationship with his parents.

Much of the plot of Old Pybus is predictable. However, the novel’s interest isn’t the plot but the characters. At first glance, Lance looks like a standard-issue hero, but on longer acquaintance he exhibits all sorts of quirks, becomes pig-headed and sometimes acts downright stupid. He is, in short, human — a very fine thing for a book character to be.

If Old Pybus had been written by someone other than Warwick Deeping, the story could have dissolved into sentimental claptrap. By making readers his confidants and reminding them real life isn’t this tidy, Deeping lets readers revel in the romance without the tiniest feeling of guilt.

Old Pybus
By Warwick Deeping
Alfred A. Knopf, 1928
350 pages
1928 bestseller #7
My Grade: B +
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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