Red Pottage a Feast for Readers

Red Pottage is the story of a fashionable, young, 19th century Londoner, Hugh Scarlett, who like Esau in the Bible, threw away an honorable position to satisfy an immediate hunger.

As the novel opens, Hugh has decided to dump his mistress. He has met Rachel West and decided she “would save him from himself” if she became his wife.

Hugh is shocked when Lord Newhaven demands satisfaction for Hugh’s affair with his wife. Dueling being outlawed, Lord Newhaven offers an alternative: They draw straws with the loser to commit suicide within five months.

On that bizarre premise, Mary Cholmondeley grows a rich psychological drama about characters that are more believable than your next door neighbors.

In the small, intermarried British upper class, Hugh and the Newhavens have many mutual acquaintances and some mutual relatives. Cholmondeley enlists them to help her explore complex issues of love and marriage, justice and mercy, sin and repentance, and the art of writing novels.

Cholmondeley’s ability to craft a plausible story on an implausible premise makes James Hilton’s Lost Horizon look like writing by a third grader.

Cholmondeley’s characters are far more credible than Hilton’s as well. She gets even the tiny details right. You’ll want to read some of her sentences aloud to savor their sounds.

When, for example, Hester Gresley having written a critically acclaimed but unprofitable first novel, goes to live in the country with her clergyman brother, Cholmondeley says, “[Hester] now experienced the interesting sensation, as novel to her as it is familiar to most of us, of being nobody, and she disliked it.” Can’t you hear the sniff above the stiff upper lip in that sentence?

Red Pottage is a rich stew.

Enjoy it.

Red Pottage
By Mary Cholmondeley
Harper & Brothers, 1900
1900 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg #Ebook #14885
My grade: A-

@ 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The One Woman Is Too Ridiculous

The early 1900s saw a spate of novels about clergymen who came under bad influences in big cities. Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia is one of the more ridiculous examples of group.

The One Woman contains some interesting insights into what today are sneeringly called traditional values, but the novel’s plot and characterization are implausible even by the standards of melodrama.

The title character, Ruth Gordon, is the jealous wife of the Rev. Frank Gordon, a handsome and charismatic preacher who is packing a New York City church with a beguiling blend of scriptures and socialism.

Ruth has reason to worry: Frank has an ego twice the size of his church’s sanctuary.

When sexy, sophisticated heiress Kate Ransom tells Frank his words seem divine, Frank’s a gonner.

Frank leaves Ruth and the kids for Kate.

Ruth throws herself at Frank's feet
Ruth is overcome when Frank says he’s leaving her

Frank invents a new, utopian religion that features open marriage.

When Kate tells Frank she’s leaving him, Franks kills her new lover.

In the nick of time, Ruth rescues Frank from the electric chair, restoring the confessed murder to his rightful place as husband, head of the household,  and father to their dear, innocent little children.

The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia
by Thomas Dixon Jr.
Life Country Press, 1903
350 pages
1903 bestseller # 9

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Selfishness Bred by The Sheltered Life

In The Sheltered Life, Ellen Glasgow tells a story about a girl who grows up in the early 1900s “without coming in touch with the world.”

When Jenny Blair Archbald scrapes her knees roller skating, Eva Birdsong’s laundress, Memoria, patches her up. George Birdsong, Eva’s handsome husband, swears he won’t tell Jenny’s mother she was in the colored section of town if she won’t say he was at Memoria’s house.

As she grows into her teens, Jenny has no interest in boys her own age. She adores Eva Birdsong while fantasizing about Eva’s husband.

Victorian style American home
What lies behind Victorian facade?

Eva knows all about George’s weakness for women, but insists he loves her. He does care enough to try to protect her from being confronted by evidence of her affairs.

Weakened by the emotional stress of keeping up appearances, Eva is despondent after “female surgery.” George takes her away to recuperate.

Jenny is young and pretty, but she’s not innocent, only naive. Her sheltered life has kept her from knowing the destructiveness of selfishness.

When the Birdsongs return, Jenny throws herself in George’s way. The results are disastrous.

In the final chapter, Jenny sees her motives stripped bare, while her family clings to the deception that she’s young and innocent.

The Sheltered Life
Ellen Glasgow
Doubleday, Doran, 1932
395 pages
1932 Bestseller #5
My Grade: B+
 

Photo credit: “Victorian home”  uploaded by andrewatla

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni