Light in the Clearing still glows

The Light in the Clearing begins with its narrator saying, “Once upon a time I owned a watermelon.”

From that magical opening, Barton Baynes escorts readers through his Adirondacks childhood.


The Light in the Clearing: A Tale of the North County in the Time of Silas Wright
by Irving Bacheller.  Grosset & Dunlap, 1917. Illus. with scenes from the photoplay.
414 pp. 1917 bestseller #2. Project Gutenberg ebook #14150. My grade: B+.

Orphaned at 4, the lad is brought up by his Aunt Deel and Uncle Peabody, a poor, hardworking brother and sister.

A bright, polite child, Bart attracts the attention of Silas Wright Jr., then New York’s comptroller, later to be a U.S. senator.

Wright helps Bart get an education and enter law practice.

By himself, Bart attracts pretty Sally Dunkelberger. The two plan to marry when both are 21.

Scene from photoplay version of The Light in The Clearing

In Light, Irving Bacheller combines the best features of the juvenile novel, historical fiction, romance, and coming of age novels—and does them all well.

The chapters in which Bart tells of his childhood convey the sense of a child’s view point, much in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoirs. As he tells of his teens, you can feel the tug between Bart’s inbred values and his acquired desires.

Bacheller weaves all-but-forgotten tidbits of history into the novel, such as the New York State’s rent wars and Silas Wright’s refusal to be nominated for vice president in 1844. None of it seems pasted on or extraneous.

Whatever your tastes in novels, you’ll find something to like in this far-from-ordinary 1917 bestseller.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Daring Deeds of D’ri and I Dulled by Time

Irving Bacheller had two novels among the top 10 bestsellers for 1901. Like  Eben Holden, which was published in 1900,  Bacheller’s 1901 novel D’ri and I draws on his knowledge of New York’s North County.

Ramon Bell’s father, who fought in the war for independence from Britain, teaches his son swordsmanship and national pride. When the second war against the British errupts in 1812, Ray and the Bell’s hired hand, Darius “D’ri” Olin, eagerly sign up. Before long, General Brown is trusting his most difficult assignments to the pair.

Ray and D’ri have more adventures during the short war than most people have in a lifetime. The action stops only long enough for Ray to fall in love with two French girls whose father has sent them to America to keep them from meeting undesirable young men in Paris.

Using Ray as narrator means Bacheller’s plot contains lumps of history, romance, and adventure with very little in the way of character development to bind them together. D’ri and Ray are no more lifelike than paper dolls. Bacheller’s attempts to render D’ri’s dialect in print makes him seem particularly remote.

Bits of D’ri and I are vividly written and quite exciting. On the whole, however, the book is ho-hum reading for the 21st century novel lover.

Project Gutenberg

D’ri and I
by Irving Bacheller
1901 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg ebook #12440
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Eben Holden Finds No Joy in New York’s North County

In New York’s bitterly cold, bleak North Country where calamity lies behind every cloud, people need enormous reservoirs of strength and courage just to survive.

Though only a hired farm hand and no relation, Eben Holden carries 6-year-old Willie in a basket on his back from Vermont to New York, where “Uncle Eb” finds work on the Brower farm after the boy’s parents drown.

Elizabeth and David Brower grow to regard Willie as their lost son. To Hope Brower he’s closer than a brother.

Willie grows up, goes to college. Hope grows up, becomes a professional singer.  Uncle Eb is always around to help with practical advice and carefully saved cash. He brings Willie and Hope together, restores their long-lost “son” to the Browers.

Although the plot line sounds romantic,  Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country is not. There’s no romantic sentimentality in Irving Bacheller’s  plot or his people.

Willie endures the North Country, but doesn’t enjoy it.  By contrast, Almanzo Wilder in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story of the North County, Farmer Boy, bubbles with zest for pitting himself against nature’s challenges.

Eben Holden is heroic because he does what needs to be done, even when life is hard.

Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country
by Irving Bacheller
Lothrop, 1900
My grade: B
Project Glutenberg e-book 2799
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

1901 bestseller list boasts 2 novels by one author

An author does not often have two bestsellers in the top 10 in a single year, but Irving Bacheller did it in 1901. Bacheller is almost unknown today, as are most of the authors who were big sellers as the 20th century started.

Here’s a list of the top selling novels for 1901:

  1. The Crisis by Winston Churchill (Nov. 5)
  2. Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson (Nov. 12)
  3. Helmet of Navarre by Bertha Runkle (Nov. 16)
  4. The Right of Way by Gilbert Packer (Nov. 19)
  5. Eben Holden: A Tale of the North Country by Irving Bacheller (Nov. 26)
  6. The Visits of Elizabeth by Elinor Glyn (Dec. 3)
  7. The Puppet Crown by Harold MacGrath  (Dec.10)
  8. The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay by Maurice Hewlett (Dec. 17)
  9. Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon (Dec. 24)
  10. D’Ri and I by Irving Bacheller (Dec. 31)

Project Gutenberg

Links are to the Project Gutenberg site where the books can be downloaded free. Date in parentheses is when the review will be published on this site.

Note: the Winston Churchill is not the World War II British Prime Minister, but an American novelist (1871-1947)

©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Details Make The Man for the Ages Worth Reading

Abraham Lincoln
Mr. Lincoln

Irving Bacheller has set his novel A Man for the Ages in the guise of an historical account drawn from the narrator’s family diaries and oral history. The result of this literary stratagem is neither a wholly satisfactory history or a wholly satisfactory novel.

Samson Traylor and his family left Vermont in 1831 to settle in Illinois.  Samson is a gentle giant, wise and loyal. He makes friends easily and makes enemies only when principles are at stake.

One of the first people the Traylors meet in Illinois is young Abe Lincoln, with whom they are to be lifelong friends.

The novel twists around the misfortunes of Harry, a lad the Traylors take in, and Bim, the local lass whom he loves; both their stories repeatedly cross that of Lincoln.

A Man for the Ages has too much plot resting on too little character support to be an entertaining novel. The historical elements, however, provide interesting reading.

For example, Lincoln’s personal business failures are well-known. Less well-known is how Lincoln’s lack of business acumen contributed to a land speculation bubble that nearly bankrupted the state and did bankrupt many of its citizens.

A Man for the Ages may not excite you, but it won’t waste your time.

A Man for the Ages: A Story of the Builders of Democracy
By Irving Bacheller
Illus.by John Wolcott Adams
Bobbs-Merril, 1919
416 pages
1920 bestseller # 5
Project Gutenberg ebook #17237
My Grade: B-

Photo credit: Mr. Lincoln by Margantz

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni