Lord Vanity‘s weak characters done in by history

French surrender at Montreal
French surrender at Montreal

Lord Vanity is 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.

Lord Vanity
by Samuel Shellabarger
Little, Brown, 1953
473 pages
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.

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Glass-Blowers Fails to Scare

Daphne du Maruier

Daphne du Maurier’s The Glass-Blowers gives much to applaud but also much to mourn.

Despite her father’s warning, “If you marry into glass, you will say good-bye to everything familiar, and enter a closed world,” Magdaleine Labbé marries Mathurin Busson.

Refusing to be just wife and mother, she carves out role in business and as community social worker among the isolated community of glass blowers.

The eldest of her children, Robert, though a skilled glass worker, prefers to live by wits and charm in the orbit around Royalty. His brothers and sisters are more interested in keeping warm and fed.

Dense forest
Glass blowers lived deep in the French forest

When the monarchy falls, the family is divided as well. And they are sucked into the Civil War that followed hard on the heels of crop failure and the French Revolution.

After setting readers up for a tale more creepy than Rebecca, du Maurier fails to follow through. Magdaline’s adjustment to life deep in the forest is sketched in a few sentences.

Much of the story’s events arise from the fallout of national politics on rural France, a topic that rarely appears in most historical fiction.

Yet even French history from revolution to Napoleon back to monarchy again is subjugated to the story of the opportunistic Robert. That story could have been set in any era.

The Glass-Blowers
By Daphne du Maurier
Doubleday, 1963
348 pages
1963 bestseller #8

Photo credits:  du Maurier photo from dust jacket of The Glass Blowers, above left; Abres 3 by CalCent, above right.

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mississippi Bubble Better at Finance Than at Fiction

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.

John Law at French Court

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
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Clichés and cliffhangers fill Helmet of Navarre

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.

Project Gutenberg

Helmet of Navarre
by Bertha Runkle
Illus. by Andre Castaigne
Century, 1901
Project Gutenberg e-book #14219
My grade: B-

©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni