Lord Vanityis a sweeping historical romance spanning two continents in the age of enlightenment. For some readers, the period details, such as the marvelous description of the battle for Montreal, may compensate for the novel’s flaws. Unfortunately, for most readers, the lead characters are not strong enough to stand out against the background of Samuel Shellabarger’s scholarship.
A handsome bastard, Richard Morandi, is toggling together a living in Venice as an actor-musician. He falls for a charming ballerina. Maritza’s pedigree is as socially unacceptable as Richard’s.
Richard falls under the influence of one rogue after another until the details of his background become public knowledge. Then he goes off to Montreal to serve under Wolfe.
Thanks to Richard, the British beat the French in North America. His past obscured by the victory, Richard becomes a spy for the British in Paris. There he meets Maritza again.
Lord Vanity is a romance, so a happy ending is contrived for the couple.
Richard’s lack of perception and his absurd pretension of morality render him joke even as the juvenile lead in this farcical plot. Maritza is almost equally implausible with her emotional acuity and moral purity.
History buffs won’t care; they’ll love this novel for its details.
by Samuel Shellabarger
Little, Brown, 1953
1953 bestseller #9
My grade B-
Credit: The original image above is one of many on the website www.uppercanadahistory.ca, which is a wonderful resource of well-written and well-illustrated information about Canadian history.
The Mississippi Bubble is a long rambling tale whose hero, John Law, is a 17th century gambler, philosopher, and financier. He captivates women, explores the American wilderness, braves mobs, advises governments, and grows corn.
The main plot line is man finds girl, man loses girl, man regains girl. Hough pads the basic plot to obese proportions. Some of the historical content, such as the death of Louis XIV, and scene descriptions, such as a storm on Lake Michigan, are powerful, but they are largely extraneous to the plot.
About halfway through novel, to propitiate the Great Spirit, vengeful Iroquois send one of its characters over Niagara Falls in a canoe. It’s unfortunate that author Emerson Hough didn’t send the rest of the characters over to propitiate vengeful readers already weary of flat characters and subplots that go nowhere.
On the whole, there’s more illumination than entertainment for readers in The Mississippi Bubble. Odd as it seems, the novel’s value lies primarily in its simple explanation of fiscal concepts such as national debt, monetary policy, and the relationship of government to the banking industry.
The Mississippi Bubble: How the Star of Good Fortune Rose and Set and Rose Again, by a Woman’s Grace, for One John Law of Laurison
by Emerson Hough
Illus. Henry Hutt
1902 Bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg eBook #14001
Bertha Runkle’s Helmet of Navarre is a thriller set in 16th century France with a new intrigue at every turn of the page and a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.
France is in turmoil after the murder of Henry III. Huguenots under Henry of Navarre battle the Catholic League led by the Duc Mayenne. After three years’ deliberation, the Duc of St. Quentin has decided to throw his weight behind Navarre, although his son Etienne is in love with the Lorance, ward of the head of the Catholic party.
When St. Quentin openly goes to Paris, which is controlled by the Catholic League, his page, Felix Broux, follows him to the city. His first night, Felix sees three men in a supposedly unoccupied haunted house. He gets in through an unlocked window and drops into a plot to have Etienne kill St. Quentin.
Runkle pulls out every cliché to keep the story going: mistaken identity, secret tunnels, stolen ciphers, and the obligatory disguised hero visiting his girlfriend in the enemy camp.
Runkle’s fast pace keeps readers from noticing the string of coincidences substituting for a plot is too thin to support scrutiny or that the characters are no more substantial than the plot. If readers notice how weak the novel is, that realization won’t come until after they’ve enjoyed swashbuckling entertainment.