The Captain from Castile finds love in a nasty era

The eponymous captain from Castile is Pedro de Vargus, a handsome young cavalier from a distinguished Spanish family of modest circumstances.

Pedro has taken Luisa de Carvajal as his lady, but the spirited serving wench Catana Perez has her sights on Pedro as well.


The Captain from Castile by Samuel Shellabarger

Blakiston, 1945. 503 pages. 1945 bestseller # 8. My Grade: B.


Masts of replica of 16th century Spanish ship
The ship in which Pedro de Vargus sailed to Spain’s New World colonies probably looked much like this replica.

In 1518, Pedro sails for the Caribbean, followed soon by Cantana.

Hernando Cortes is raising an army to invade Mexico, contrary to the orders of the Spanish Governor of Cuba.

Pedro distinguishes himself in the campaigns to conquer, convert and loot the natives.

Cortes sends Pedro back to Spain to persuade the Crown to support further colonization. Pedro has trunks full of golden persuaders to use.

Pedro barely sets foot in Spain before he’s arrested.

He has to use his wits and his sword to save himself and his family, serve his General, and get the girl he truly loves.

Samuel Shellabarger keeps his focus on the story, refusing to make the novel into a history book. Without knowing a bit about 16th century history, however, readers will find it difficult to understand the plot.

The characters and general outline of this novel are romance staples. Its selling point is its setting: Shellabarger makes the Spanish Inquisition and Spain’s conquest of the Aztecs truly repugnant.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: The still photo is from a video of El Galeon, a 16th century replica Spanish sailing ship,  docked in New York Harbor.   The 2 minute video is at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5U0CC4uxHQ

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The Bridge of San Luis Rey Toppled by Weighty Prose

The Bridge of San Luis Rey won Thornton Wilder a Pulitzer Prize in 1928. The novel has since been ignored in favor of less literary but more entertaining reading.

The story is this. In 1714, a woven-willow bridge outside Lima broke plunging five people to their deaths. A monk who saw them fall decides to prove that the collapse was not an accident but a demonstration of God’s perfect wisdom.

Brother Juniper spends six years investigating. He accumulates mountains of information, but never gets any closer to knowing why those people died rather than some other five people.

When the Inquisition burns Brother Juniper and his book, he’s not even sure of the purity of his own motives.

After Brother Juniper’s death the paths of those the victims left behind cross just as the victims’ paths had. And an observer wouldn’t be able to say what, if any, purpose their lives served.

Like Brother Juniper’s book, Wilder’s book is a report, not a memoir. He builds his characters from bits; they aren’t organic wholes. And, like Brother Juniper, Wilder tacks a vague moral on the tail end of ponderous prose.

Unlike Brother Juniper’s book, Wilder’s novel doesn’t require burning. It’s so dull, it will just crumble away.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
By Thornton Wilder
Grosset & Dunlap, c1927
235 pages
#1 bestseller in 1928
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni