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dark landscape of forbidding  rocky hills

The wilderness is a frightening place.

In the Wilderness is an antidote to salacious later twentieth century bestsellers.

But Robert Hichens’ novel is strong stuff that many readers may find hard to swallow.


In the Wilderness by Robert Hichens
1917 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg EBook #4603] My grade: A-

Dion Leith is passionately in love with Rosamund Everard, who finds him a nice, clean-living young man. Though trained as a singer, Rosamund feels her vocation is in a religious order, not marriage.

A sermon convinces her to accept Dion’s proposal. They marry, have a son.

Rosamund’s love is all for their son. She scarcely notices when the woman in a notorious divorce case pays attention to Dion.

When the Boer War breaks out, Dion volunteers. In his absence, Rosamund moves to an English cathedral village where her music and religious interests are welcome.

When he returns from South Africa, Dion accidentally shoots his son while the two shooting together at Rosamund’s suggestion.

Rosamund screams, “Murderer,” and locks the cottage door against Dion.

Repudiating the values that locked the door on him, Dion leaves England for non-Western, non-Christian places, for drugs, debauchery, and the Other Woman.

Hichens doesn’t deliver a tidy, happily-ever-after ending.

It’s more of a “we’re going to grow up together” ending, a glimmer of hope that two very dissimilar people can create more happiness than unhappiness for each other.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Postoffice add general store in Boxhill, Surrey, England

Will Dale’s post office probably looked much like this one in Boxhill, Surrey, England in 2003.

The Devil’s Garden opens with postmaster Will Dale receiving notice that he’s been suspended for a trivial incident that the local MP used as an example of the officiousness of civil servants.

Will’s wife, Mavis, and Will’s temporary replacement, Mr. Ridgett, suspect Will won’t present himself well at his suspension hearing.

Will thinks Mavis frets unnecessarily, and he suspects Ridgett of interest in Mavis.

Mavis, however, is right to fret.

Will is officious.blue book cover, with "The Devils' Garden By W. B. Maxwell" in gold letters

If it were not for the intercession of Mr. Barradine, an ex-Cabinet Minister in whose house Mavis worked when Will met her, Will would have lost his job.

Before Will can resume his duties, Mr. Barradine is dead and the Dales are occupying separate bedrooms.

The narrative pushes forward relentlessly. Readers can guess at what happened, but have to wait for Will to tell how it happened and why he did what he did.

W. B. Maxwell’s characters are finely delineated and realistically colored. Will and Mavis feel like people you’ve met at one time or another.

Will is a loving husband, helpful neighbor, hard-working employee. His joining the chapel contains a believable mix of business acumen, faith, and doubt that makes the typical religious novel feel hokey.

The Devil playeth in a man’s mind like a
wanton child in a garden, bringing his filth
to choke each open path, uprooting the
tender plants, and trampling the buds that
should have blown for the Master.

The Devil’s Garden
by W[illiam]  B[abington] Maxwell
Project Gutenberg ebook #14605
1914 bestseller #9
My grade: B+

Photo credit: Postoffice By PeterD

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Death Valley Zane Grey fans expecting an upright hero fighting bad guys may be disappointed by The Wanderer of the Wasteland. This is a harsh, relentless story about a young man growing prematurely old wandering the American desert in a vain attempt to escape  his guilty past. Readers willing to take the novel on its own terms will be rewarded with astute musings on the meaning of life mingled with heart-stopping action.

Adam Larey worships, his older brother, who hates him. After Guerd steals the girl Adam had slept with the previous night, the brothers quarrel. Adam shoots Guerd in a saloon full of witnesses.

Terrified he will be hung for the murder, Adam runs into the desert.

Days later, a prospecter named Dismukes finds Adam barely alive. Dismukes teaches Adam enough to survive—just—until he learns desert ways. Dismukes predicts Adam will find God in the desert.

Adam wanders in the Death Valley area for 14 years. Grey always treats nature more as a character than just as a setting. In Wanderer, nature is a malevolent force, symbolic of all that’s selfish in human nature contending against God for Adam’s allegiance.

Often, it looks as if Adam won’t last another day. Thirst, starvation, poisoned water, poison gas, and desperadoes work him over.

At 26, when he looks 40, Adam meets a girl he’d like to marry. He has to decide whether to follow his natural instincts or do what he knows is right.

Readers will gasp for breath right along with Adam right down to the last page when they gasp at Grey’s perfectly plausible, but totally unexpected, ending.

The Wanderer of the Wasteland
By Zane Grey
1923 bestseller # 8
A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Photo Credit: Death Valley 2 by pr3vje

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In his earlier bestseller The Prodigal Judge, Vaughan Kester showed his talent for bringing out the best in flawed characters. In The Just and the Unjust he has several flawed characters with which he explores how people are judged by the choices they make.

Young Jack North has blown through close to $20,000 by keeping too much company with Andy Gilmore, whose rooms are the local gambling parlor. Jack has also come close to getting sexually involved with his friend Marshall Langham’s wife.

Jack determines to leave Mount Hope and start over,  hoping to redeem himself enough to one day win Elizabeth Herbert. He gets only as far as Chicago when the local sheriff invites him to return to answer some questions.

murder victim is discovered.

Murdered!

Within three months, Jack is in jail on a murder charge.

Jack is both innocent and naif. He thinks because he’s innocent, it’s impossible for him to be convicted.

With the notable exception of the prosecuting attorney, who people appear to dislike on general principles, the best of Kester’s characters have their flaws, the worst their good points. Readers will have no doubt whom they should cheer for, but they’ll feel bad for the also-rans.

Unlike Jack and the police, readers know who committed the murder and why. They are privy to the secrets of those who could have proven Jack’s innocence and didn’t. They see the real villian of the novel get away scot free. In spite of all their insider knowledge, readers are kept on the edge of their chairs to the last page by the possibility that Jack might hang for a crime he didn’t commit.

The Just and the Unjust
by Vaughan Kester
Illustrated by M. Leone Bracker
1912 bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg E-book #14581
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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