The Crossing Reveals Early Public Contempt for Congress

Early Map of Louisiana Territory
Louisiana Purchase Territory

The Crossing is a story of the days when Tennessee and Kentucky were the American frontier and New Orleans was a Spanish colony.

The book is narrated by David Trimble, a Blue Ridge lad orphaned when his father goes to fight Indians. He’s taken in by a frontier couple, Polly and Tom McChesney.

When Tom joins George Rogers Clark to fight the British and their Indian allies, Davey goes along as drummer, errand boy, and mascot.

After the colonies win their independence, the McChesneys and Davey settle down in Kentucky.

Davey goes into law. His clients hire him for investigations that take him to New Orleans and involve him in the international intrigue for control of the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi.

Part romance, part historical novel, The Crossing is an engrossing but forgettable novel.

Winston Churchill’s presentation of Davey as a child is unconvincing. Davy’s small stature would not have afforded him “child” status in 1780, especially since he was old for his age.

His investigative work as a lawyer is scarcely more plausible.

What rings true in the book is the tension between the settled colonies and frontiersmen.

Churchill makes clear that the resentment of Americans toward what they view as an unresponsive Congress is as old as the nation itself.

The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
1904 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg ebook #388
My grade: B-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Image: Map of the Louisiana Purchase Territory, 1903 , from the National Archives ID# 03444_2000_001_A

 

The Reign of Law Is a Dumb “Religious” Novel

The Reign of Law by James Lane Allen is the story of young man  with his heart set on becoming a minister.

David’s parents think he’s too stupid for college, but accept his desire to be a minister as an explanation of why he’s always been so peculiar.

After two years of hard labor in the hemp fields to earn college money, David finds the “nonsectarian” Bible college’s preoccupation with dogma abhorrent.

He visits churches of other denominations, which marks him as a heretic.

“I always knew there was nothing in you,” his father says when, after three semesters, David is expelled as unfit  for the ministry.

His dream destroyed, David goes back to the hemp fields to figure out what to do next.

Allen tries to make the novel about David’s loss of faith, but there’s no sign he had any more faith in God before college than after.

David’s real problem seems to be that he’s a friendless, only child, reared by weird parents in the middle of Kentucky’s hemp fields. Allen makes working with hemp seem idyllic compared to living with David’s parents.

Allen’s solution is to provide David with a nice girl.

If you believe that’s the answer, you have a lot more faith than David.

The Reign of Law: A Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields
By James Lane Allen
1900 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg Ebook #3791
My grade: C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Little Shepherd Wins the War, Loses Readers

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is an improbable tale of an orphan boy genetically predisposed to become a paragon of virtue.

As the novel opens, the family with whom Chad lived has died. Chad and his dog, Jack, take off across the mountains.

They land in Kingdom Come, Kentucky, where Jack wins a dog fight and Chad wins lifelong enemies.

He also wins Melissa, whose family takes Chad in.

By accident, Chad meets Major Calvin Buford who discovers that Chad is his grandson and gives him a home. Chad wants to be friends with the Major’s neighbors, the Deans, especially Margaret Dean, but they think he’s a bastard.

When Civil War looms, Chad chooses the blue uniform. The Major and his Bluegrass friends turn their backs on Chad.

In the war, Chad wins the respect of the Dean men and love of Margaret Dean, but loses all the other people he holds dear.

John Fox Jr. can write great description, but he flunks character development and plot creation. Most of the novel is a recital of Civil War battles.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is as dumb as the summary sounds and even more boring.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
By John Fox. Jr.
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903
404 pages
1903-bestseller #10
My Grade: C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Verbiage Clogs Arteries of Heart of the Hills

Kentucky FieldJohn Fox Jr.’s Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was on the 1903 and 1904 bestseller list. His The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was on the lists in 1908 and 1909. By 1913, readers were ready for a new novel by the popular author.

Fox obliged with The Heart of the Hills.

The story concerns two pairs of cousins, one pair bred from the the feuding Hawns and Honeycutts of the Cumberland Mountains, the other carrying the more genteel bloodline of the Blue Grass. Fox repeatedly drags the cousins up the mountains and back down so they and readers can see the vast difference between the two cultures.

That’s about all readers see.

The characters are rudely drawn, the plot so disjointed it reads like Fox dropped the manuscript and failed to get the pages back in the right order before publication.

The story is padded out with long passages about Kentucky politics, the importance of education for the development of the frontier, and the disastrous impact tobacco had on the state’s environment and economy.

There’s little here to attract today’s reader.

The Heart of The Hills
by John Fox, Jr.
With Four Illustrations By F. C. Yohn
1913 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook #5145
My grade C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Tobacco dominates Drivin’ Woman

Kentucky tobacco field
Tobacco field in Stanford Kentucky

Drivin’ Woman is a historical romance set against the backdrop of the tobacco industry.

As the Civil War ends, America “Merry” Moncure runs what’s left of her family and its plantation. Merry marries a cousin, Fant Annabel, and moves with him to Kentucky from her Virginia home.

When Fant  jumps from a riverboat to avoid a murder charge, he leaves Merry penniless and pregnant.  Fortunately, a distant relative who assumes as everyone does that Fant us dead, leaves his farm in trust to Merry’s child.

Merry drives herself and her hired help hard to make the farm profitable, but her “late husband”  reappears stealthily every few years, leaving her cashless and pregnant. The community and her four children consider Merry a whore.

Meanwhile, few savvy traders are turning tobacco into a major industry. By the time Fant is killed in a shootout in Merry’s yard, the trading syndicate has a stranglehold on tobacco farmers. One of its leaders is Merry’s brother-in-law.

The farmers unite to sell their tobacco as a block to keep the price up, but it’s Merry who saves the day.

Elizabeth Pickett Chevalier chose her historical setting well. It provides cover for a contrived plot and characters that never quite ring true. There’s plenty of entertainment in this novel, and a generous dollop of historical insight as well.

Drivin’ Woman
Elizabeth Pickett Chevalier
MacMillan, 1945
652 pages
My Grade: C+
1942 Bestseller #5
 

Photo credit: “Tobacco Field”  uploaded by carterboy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/560057

©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni