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Posts Tagged ‘immigrants’

photo of boxing gloves

 

The American setting of The Definite Object allows Jeffery Farnol to diversity his usual cast of minor characters with immigrants, gangsters, slumlords, and professional pugilists.

The variety adds complexity to the novel without noticeably changing Farnol’s usual story line.


The Definite Object: A Romance of New York by Jeffery Farnol
1917 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg eBook #16074. My grade: C+.

Half-English Geoffrey Ravenslee is “so rich that [his] friends are all acquaintances.”

He wants a wife who wants him more than his money.

When Geoff catches Spike Chesterton breaking into his mansion, he decides not to prosecute if Spike will take him to Hell’s Kitchen to meet his sister, Hermione.

Geoff gets a room in the same tenement as the Chestertons and proceeds to charm everyone except gangster Bud M’Ginnis.

Spike hangs around M’Ginnis hoping to break into fighting. He’s sure he could make a fortune to give Hermione the country home she wants.

Geoff’s courtly behavior wins over women.

Men, except M’Ginnis, are more impressed with his boxing behavior.

As English characters are thrown in with American characters, neither comes off as believable. The large cast allows ample time for the absurdities of the characterizations to punish the never-strong plot.

Farnol gets in some of his delightful wry observations, but they aren’t enough to raise this novel beyond the level of mediocrity.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Novels about orphans who won fame, fortune, and family were a staple of popular literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Alice Hegan Rice’s Sandy is an example of the deserving orphan novel at its worst.
Sandy waves his jacket in salute to his new homeland, America.


Sandy by Alice Hegan Rice

New York: The Century Co., 1905. Project Gutenberg ebook # 14079. 1905 bestseller #2. My grade: C.


The novel opens with Sandy Kilday, age 16, stowing away on a ship bound for America. He’s been on his own since age 14 when he ran away from nasty relatives.

Cover art shows Sandy leaning on a post, looking out on a ship heading to America.On board ship, Sandy sees a pretty girl, meets a minor crook, and decides to be a doctor.

When he gets off the ship, Sandy gives up plans of medicine and goes off with the crook who is going to Kentucky where the pretty girl lives.

After exciting adventures, such as losing his kitten, Sandy is taken in by Judge and Mrs. Hollis in Clayton, Kentucky, which is where the pretty girl lives.

Sandy has more exciting adventures, such as having to sit out most of a dance with a girl he doesn’t like, before he can prove his heroism.

By the time the novel ends, Sandy is a married lawyer with the maturity of a 10-year-old.

Rice’s novel reads like a collaborative project by an elementary school writers’ group.

Adult readers should seek entertainment elsewhere.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Mary Roberts Rinehart, noted for her mysteries, hit the bestseller list in 1921 with a romantic thriller. A Poor Wise Man is an exciting read that still leaves readers with plenty to think about.

Lily Cardew, heir to the Cardew steel fortune, is home after a year of war work in Ohio. Labor trouble is brewing at the Cardew mill.

Trouble is also brewing at home, where years of resentments between Lily’s parents and her grandfather are heating up.

And Lily is impatient with the old social barriers, having made friends with the lower classes, represented by Willy Cameron, whose limp had kept him from World War I. Willy is one of the “plain men” who love their country, but fight for their homes.

When Lily decides to visit her Aunt Elinor, who is married to an anarchist, she draws the disapproval of her household.

At the Doyle’s, Lily meets Louis Akers, an attorney and Red agent, running for city mayor. Akers “hated the rich because they had more than he had, but he scorned the poor because they had less.”

Willy Cameron is allied with the other major mayoral candidate, who is likely to lose to the nefarious Akers if Lily’s father stays in the race and splits the vote.

Rinehart applies all her plotting skills to weaving a complicated story embellished with fist fights, gun fights, street riots, and midnight chases on back roads.

The hero and heroine are a bit too pat, the romance a tad too predictable, but several minor characters are vividly real.

And the Rinehart’s picture of economic conditions after the first World War, based on historical facts, have an uncanny similarity to contemporary events, as these selected passages show:

 “The miners wanted to work a minimum day for a maximum wage, but the country must have coal. Shorter hours meant more men for the mines, and they would have to be imported. But labor resented the importation of foreign workers.”
——————————————————————————-
“The cry of the revolutionists, to all enough and to none too much, found a response not only in the anxious minds of honest workmen, but among an underpaid intelligentsia. . .Neither political party offered any relief; the old lines no longer held, and new lines of cleavage had come. Progressive Republicans and Democrats had united against reactionary members of both parties. There were no great leaders, no men of the hour.”
——————————————————————————–
Howard Cardew’s musings on the labor union movement:
“It was like representative government. It did not always represent. It, too, was founded on representation in good faith; but there was not always good faith. The union system was wrong. It was like politics. The few handled the many. The union, with its all-powerful leaders, was only another form of autocracy. It was Prussian. Yet the ideal behind the union was sound enough.”

A Poor Wise Man
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
Project Gutenberg E-Book #1970
My grade: B+
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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When Emily Thayer tells her family that she is going to marry Roger Field, they tell her he will never set the world on fire. That’s just  fine with Emily. She wants the world “peaceful and pleasant and safe.”

Emily gets her wish.

Roger is predictable and their marriage happy. In the years before and during World War II, Roger rises in his law firm by dint of hard work rather than brilliance. Together Roger and Emily expand their acquaintance beyond Beacon Hill society to Boston’s immigrant community, represented in Roger’s firm by a token Jew, a token Irishman and a token Italian.

David, Brian, and Pell, the “new Boston” lawyers, are vivid and vigorous characters who introduce Roger and Emily to facets of life they hadn’t known existed.

And  Roger and Emily surprise themselves by discovering new facets of their own personalities.  The plot grows organically out of those  personalities.

Even though Emily thinks herself capable of an affair, in imitation of her impressive grandmother,  readers realize a grand passion is not Emily’s style. Emily is believable in part because she remains true to her essential personality.

In Joy Street, Frances Parkinson Keyes gives readers a story that, like Emily’s world, is peaceful and pleasant and safe.

Joy Street
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
Jullian Messner, 1950
490 pages
1950 bestseller #2
My Grade B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In Peder Victorious, O. E. Rolvaag looks at the second generation of Norwegian pioneers who broke the Dakota prairies to the plow.

Peder Victorious Holm and his siblings think of themselves as Americans. Their mother, Beret Holm, still regards herself as Norwegian. She wishes her children to speak, read, think in Norwegian; have only Norwegian friends; marry within the Norwegian community.

The outcome is never in doubt: the Norwegians will assimilate.

The Norwegians cannot get along among themselves.  Even Beret displays American independence in speaking out in church in defiance of tradition over the matter of the Lutheran congregation split.

Moreover, Norwegians are deeply divided over the question of whether the Dakotas should be admitted to the Union as one state or two.

Against this background, the adolescent Peder is trying to define his identity.

Rolvaag’s plot is pulled in as many directions as Peder is. Rolvaag will focus on Peder, then on Peder’s mother, zoom out to talk about the community, zoom in on a church deacon. The shifting point of view has an unsettling, centrifugal effect.

Eventually Beret’s late husband appears to her in a dream and tells her how to handle Peder.

Too bad he didn’t appear to Rolvagg. The author needed serious help with this fractured plot.

Peder Victorious
By O. E. Rolvaag
Trans. Nora O. Solum &
Harper & Brothers, 1929
350 pages
1929 bestseller #6
My Grade: C-
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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