My picks of the 1926 bestselling novels

Undoubtedly the best of the 1926 bestselling novels two are definitely “English” works, The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy and The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson.

Both novels are written from the vantage point of  England in 1924.

My pick #1: The Hounds of Spring

lines from poem "The Hounds of Spring" on background of dog prints in snow
Lines from a poem by Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Thompson’s novel is about events of 1914-1924. She writes from the perspective of having lived through most of that decade as a teenager, as does the younger Renner daughter in Thompson’s novel.

The Renners lose a son over France.

The Renner’s also lose money in the war; 1924 finds them living in a London flat, their country estate with its stables, tennis courts, and gardens sold to pay debts.

More significant than those visible losses are their emotional losses as each family member realizes no one else feels their grief as keenly as they do.

Thompson takes her readers into the Renners’ lives to feel how they experienced the war and its aftermath.

Like a phone call about the accidental death of a loved one, The Hounds of Spring simply stuns readers as its events stunned the Renners.

My pick #2: The Silver Spoon

By contast, The Silver Spoon is definitely a post-war story.

title The Silver Spoon with P replaced by silver spoon

The bright young things of London society had their illusions thoroughly shattered by the guns and the gas, but in 1924 the Great War is history.

The Jazz Age young don’t want to remember the past.  They’re holding on with both hands to their privileged status: rich, pampered, and most of all, alive.

Against this background, Galsworthy looks at a husband’s love for his wife and a father’s love for his daughter.

Both husband and father are bewildered by how different their loved one’s view of the world is from their own. Parents and spouses will be able to identify with those feelings.

Thompson and Galsworthy make readers feel they know each novelist’s characters so well, they’d recognize them in the grocery line.

My pick #3: Blue Window/Sorrell and Son

For the third spot, it’s a toss-up between Temple Bailey’s The Blue Window
Quote from The Blue Window superimposed on blue semicircular window shutter
and Warwick Deeping’s Sorrell and Son. Man looking at job postings at employment agency

Both of these novels are fathoms below Thompson’s and Galsworthy’s work, but they are above the level of ordinary entertainment.


That wraps up our dip into the bestselling novels of 1926. On July 19, we’ll step back a decade to see more bestselling novels.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Silver Spoon untarnished by time

The Silver Spoon is an easy introduction to one of the most durable writers of the 20th century.

There’s no need to have read earlier books in John Galsworthy’s three-trilogy Forsyte Chronicles (Spoon is the fifth book of the nine) to follow the story.


The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy

Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926. 320 p. 1926 bestseller #6. My grade: A-.


1926-06_silverspoon2In 1924, Fleur and Michael Mont move in a London circle that prides itself on its lack of moral prejudices.

When Fleur’s father overhears a woman make disparaging remarks about Fleur at one of her parties, he makes a scene. Instead of protecting Fleur, his defense makes her social group snub her as ridiculously old-fashioned and hypocritical.

Fleur is determined not to be thwarted in her social ambitions as she was thwarted in love.

Michael knows Fleur is merely fond of him. He has thrown himself into politics in hopes of influencing England’s future since he cannot win his wife’s love.

Although usually described as a social satirist, Galsworthy writes with both realism and compassion.

He likes his characters, even though he sees their faults. He loves his country, too, though he sees its flaws.

Like Fleur, England has a silver spoon it’s unwilling to give up.

Contemporary readers may wonder if the same might be said of America.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My favorites of the 1933 bestsellers

The most important of the 1933 bestsellers has to be Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now?  Fallada shows in very human terms how the subjugation of Germany after World War I laid the foundation for World War II. His characters are ordinary men and women caught in an economic quicksand that pulls them apart while it pulls them down.

As much as I admire Fallada’s work, I have to admit I don’t like it much. It’s too bleak, too horrifying to be pleasant reading,  and Fallada manages to suggest that what happened once could happen again. That’s a terrifying thought.

John Galsworthy’s One More River is a less important book than Fallada’s, but one with substance and durability. While Fallada focuses on the lower ranks of German post-war society, Galsworthy focuses on the British gentry of the period. Although far from wealthy, the Charwells worry about how to live loving and honorable lives rather than about where their next meal will come from.  Galsworthy’s novel isn’t as bleak as Fallada’s, but it, too, has a sadness beneath the British reluctance to accept pity even from one’s self.

By contrast to these two substantive novels, my third pick is a lightweight. Bess Streeter Aldrich’s Miss Bishop is soppy and sentimental and endearingly silly. Miss Bishop is the sort of novel that elicits tears not because it’s so good, but because it’s not true.

 

 

One More River Still Delivers the Goods

One More River is a poignant period piece about durable people and enduring values. The ninth and final novel in John Galsworthy’s Forsyte ChroniclesOne More River  has less bite than the earlier novels.

The story swirls around the divorce action Sir Gerald Corven brings against his wife, Clare, and a young man who fell in love with her as she fled her husband. Coming from a family that loathes publicity, Clare refuses to explain even to them that Corven is a sadist, leaving her sister, Dinny, to handle the unpleasant details.

Dinny has experience with unpleasant details. She’s still aching from losing her lover to a public scandal, but she nonetheless exerts herself to soothe and support her family.

Although all the Charwells rally around Clare, it’s Dinny they most care about. They want to see her married, and even select a suitable man, Eustace Dornford. After Dinny learns that her lover has drowned in Siam, she begins to see the family is right.

Galsworthy’s people are ladies and gentlemen. Clare aside, the characters are not vivid, but durable. Seeing them, readers can understand why tiny England was able to command an empire on which the sun never set.

One More River
By John Galsworthy, 
Charles Scribner’s, 1933
304 pages
My grade: A

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

1931 top novel picks are not for those who skim

My choices for the most enduring novels of 1931 are an odd lot. Though very different,  each is difficult reading for readers accustomed to stereotypical characters and happy endings.

Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth surely belongs on the list both for its vivid prose and its glimpse into nearly extinct Chinese culture. However, I don’t think the novel is appealing to most people in the world today. In a metropolitan world that values  property, The Good Earth celebrates an agrarian society that values land.

Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy has a similar set of vitues and deficits. I’m afraid the self-controlled, cultured, public-sprited citizens who keep populate this and others of Galsworthy’s 9-volume Forsyte saga will appear as preposterous to today’s readers as farmer Wung Lu. However, Galsworthy has amazing facility to reveal character in undramatic contexts, and he’s a wonderful writer.

The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque is a glimpse of Germany after World War I. As soldiers return home, they find their country and themselves changed forever. The novel provides  insight into the origins of World War II. It also is a powerful glimpse into the effects of post traumatic stress.

Equally compelling reading is Fannie Hurst’s Back Street. This novel about  a kept woman might better be called a novel of an ill-kept woman. Even the son is appalled by the conditions in which his father’s mistress was forced to live while her financier-philanthropist lover lived in luxury.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

Maid in Waiting Is Worth Waiting For

In Maid in Waiting John Galsworthy takes up the post-war fortunes and misfortunes of Dinny Charwell, a young woman with sense, humor, loyalty, breeding, and a big, extended family.

Although he is a marvelous writer, John Galsworthy isn’t an easy read. His characters talk about politics, religion, art, culture — everything except their personal miseries. There’s nothing of  21st century exhibitionism about these people, but they are delightfully real.

Dinny’s brother is facing extradition to Bolivia on murder charges in connection with an expedition mounted by an American, Hallorsen, who blamed Hubert for the trip’s failure.

Dinny pushes Hubert’s case with politicians, makes a match for Hubert with the rector’s daughter, and finds herself pursued by both the rector’s son and Hallorsen.

Meanwhile, the mentally ill husband of the woman Dinny’s Uncle Adrian loves has come home. Dinny stays with Diana until her husband flees the house to end his life at the bottom of a mining pit.

The British  Home Office gets Hubert off, and Adrian goes abroad to give Diana a year to recover.

That leaves Dinny still waiting for love to come to her.

Readers of the ’30s wrote Galsworthy to let Dinny marry somebody nice.

You’ll feel that way, too.

Maid in Waiting
By John Galsworthy,
Charles Scribner’s, 1931
My grade: A
 
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My pics for the best bestsellers of 1928

Literature with a capital L topped the 1928 bestseller list in the form of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. That novel’s entertainment value has plummeted as badly as the bridge. Forget that turkey.

Fortunately some non-literary novels from 1928 provide great reading.

The Strange Case of Miss Annie Sprague is my top pick. Louis Bromfield weaves together threads as disparate as stigmata and the American frontier into a complex novel that raises more questions than it answers. Bromfield’s “I’m just reporting this” narrative style leaves readers wondering there’s really a sordid story beneath the surface of the novel or if the dirt is all in their minds.

Second place on my list is a tie between Clarie Ambler by Booth Tarkington  and All Kneeling by Anne Parish. Both books are about self-centered women who spend their lives deliberately constructing a public image. Claire has an occasional moment when she realizes the immorality of using other people. Such insight never occurs to Christable Craine.

Third place goes to Vina Delmar’s Bad Girl, an inside view of a teenage marriage doomed by poverty. Delmar deserves better than third place, but her subject is just too depressing. I cannot forget Bad Girl, but I wish I could.

Swan Song is great reading if you’ve read the rest of John Galsworthy’s Forsyte saga. If not, pass it up.

One final note. I haven’t yet been able to find a copy of Old Pybus by Warwick Deeping, which was number 7 on the 1928 bestseller list.