Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Louis Bromfield’

Readers will still find entertainment in the 1927 bestsellers, but not much besides entertainment. There’s not one of the novels whose plot I can recall beyond a sentence summary, even though I enjoyed all of them but one of them when I read them.

Despite their less than memorable plots, three of the bestsellers are well-written character studies, each of which I may reread when I finish my year’s required reading.

A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield

original "Good Woman" cover with author's dedicationEmma Downs is a Depression-Era Pharisee. Louis Bromfield’s A Good Woman lays her soul bare.

Emma lives by a strict religious code; she has no idea that it’s even possible for religion to be anything other than a list of do’s and do nots.

Bromfield makes clear on the jacket of the first edition that he saw America as full of women like Emma. He doesn’t treat her with scorn, but neither does he excuse her.

After reading  Bromfield’s 1927 bestseller, readers may debate whether America has more or fewer good women today than it had 90 years ago — and whether any change is for the better.

Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep is also a study in personalities but one with a generous helping of satire. Wharton’s satire comes awfully close to sarcasm sometimes, leaving the impression that she really didn’t like her characters.

Twilight is a story of a the family of Pauline and Dexter Munford, well-off New Yorkers of the jazz age. Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world.

Twilight begins to settle in mountains

Pauline’s world is as far removed as this from those of most  in New York City.

Pauline keeps herself well insulated from the unpleasant real world, hence the title which plays off the popular 1920’s name for the drug combination that was given during childbirth to provide pain relief and induce amnesia about any unpleasantness.

Unlike Bromfield, Wharton tells her story in such a way that that readers have to put the pieces together, almost as if they were reading a mystery.

When Wharton’s pieces come together, they go off like a bomb.

To-Morrow Morning by Anne Parish

women in art class about 1900.

To-Morrow Morning‘s Kate Green might have taken an art class like this one.

Anne Parish’s To-morrow Morning is far gentler than the other two character studies. Her technique is more like Ferber’s than Bromfield’s: Parish makes readers work to piece together the story.

In To-morrow, Kate Starr, who becomes Kate Green, is a silly twit with a very modest talent for painting but neither ambition or discipline to do anything with such talent as she has.

Kate marries a man who is her mental and moral equal.

Having lost the money clients gave him to invest for them, Joe dies suddenly, thus escaping the consequences of his actions.

Creditors write off Joe’s debts in for “sweet Mrs. Green,” enabling Kate to avoid ever having to confront the consequences of Joe’s dishonesty.

Kate raises their son to be as undisciplined and purposeless as his parents.

If you have some time for reading, you’ll find any of these three 1927 bestsellers worth a couple evenings’ reading.


May 6, 2017 Corrected name of author of Twilight Sleep, which I had attributed to Edna Ferber in a blinding moment of stupidity while looking at the title page!

Read Full Post »

original "Good Woman" cover with author's dedicationEmma Downes is a good woman.

Deserted by her husband, she started a business, supported herself, raised their son, now a missionary in Africa, and became a force to be reckoned with in her church.


A Good Woman by Louis Bromfield
Frederick A. Stokes, 1927. 432 pp. 1927 bestseller #10. My grade: A.

When natives attack Phillip’s African mission, Phillip escapes, dragging his virgin wife back to the states with him.

Missionaries board steam locomotive in Congo about 1900.

Phillip and Naomi left Africa after their mission was attacked.

Naomi would have preferred martyrdom, but Phillip has lost faith in his mother’s God and in his missionary calling.

Back home, Phillip takes a laborer’s job in the mills while his mother tries to put a good face on things — tough work, especially when her husband shows up after a 26 year absence.

Louis Bromfield builds his complex plot from the story’s setting and the personalities of his characters.

Bromfield draws Emma with deft strokes. She has guts, stamina, business acumen, determination, but she’s also manipulative, controlling, and self-deluded.

Emma’s religion is “ a practical, businesslike instrument of success,” her God conveniently pocket-sized, but Emma doesn’t know that.

Some of the incidents are shocking, but not unbelievable. The superficial way Bromfield relates horrific events powerfully suggests they are too awful to be spoken of.

Emma hasn’t a clue what Christianity is all about. Her cluelessness makes this book important — and vastly entertaining—90 years after its initial publication.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

The bestselling novels of 1908 provide some good entertainment and a couple contains some historical insights, but none really stand out as novels you can’t afford to miss.

Of the lot, The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg by the prolific and versatile Louis Bromfield and The Shuttle by the equally prolific but less versatile Frances Hodgson Burnett are the best: They are certainly the most unusual.

The plots of both novels are set in motion by some really despicable characters.

For something lighter, appropriate perhaps to kicking back after the presents are opened, the Christmas dinner dishes washed and put away, I suggest The Man from Brodney’s by George Barr McCutcheon, another prolific author. Its light humor won’t upset your digestion.

The Shuttle

The Shuttle is touched off by a titled and nearly penniless Englishman’s attempt to restore his fortunes by marrying the the daughter of a rich American businessman.

Any heiress will do: Sir Nigel Anstruthers isn’t fussy as long as the girl is rich and easily cowed.

Rosalie Vanderpoel seems to fit the bill. She’s young, pretty, malleable, and next to brainless.

Sir Nigel doesn’t realize that Reuben Vanderpoel made his money the hard way, and he’s not about to throw it away in supporting a son-in-law he rightly suspects is a leech as well as a loser.

Unable to live in New York City on his father-in-law’s money, Sir Nigel takes Rosalie home to England where he gets her to sign over all her property to him. He leaves her and their son, Ughtred, at Anstruther’s crumbling county estate, while he enjoys Rosalie’s money in London.

Rosalie is so pathetic a doormat that readers will want to smack her up the side of the head and tell her to brighten up.

Rosalie’s younger sister, Betty, grows up under her father’s influence and with his financial acumen. At age 20, Betty comes to England to save Rosalie from her husband and herself.

What keeps The Shuttle interesting today is the historical setting. The titled Englishman who went to America for a rich bride to restore the family fortunes was a familiar tale from the late 1800’s to the World War I. Not all of the cross-Atlantic matches were as successful as the one in Downton Abbey.

The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg

The villain in Annie Spragg was her father.

Or perhaps it was her brother.

Or perhaps there were several villains.

Annie Spragg was an old woman when she turned up in an out-of-the-way village in Italy, not quite right in the head but seemingly harmless.

When she died, the women who laid her out found what they said were stigmata on her body.

An investigation by an amateur writer turned up some background on Annie, but he was unable to find out how she got the odd marks.

He learned Annie grew up in the days when America’s heartland was mostly empty acres. Travelers were few. Those who came were accepted with few questions about their background.

Annie’s father was a cult religious leader who moved his wife and 13 legitimate children around in a covered wagon, setting up wherever he could rally a small following, and staying until he wore out his welcome.

Eventually “Reverend” Spragg set himself up as a prophet, keeping to a tent from which he gave orders to his congregation. The only people allowed to see him were young virgins who attended to his needs.

Eventually Spragg was murdered by a jealous lover of one of the virgins who served him.

After their parents’ deaths, Annie and her preacher-brother lived together. When Uriah was found murdered, suspicion fell on Annie.

There was a heavy whip in the cabin and handcuffs that Uriah used to chain her in her bed at night.

When she was she was stripped and examined, investigators found she had unusual scars. They let her go without probing too deeply.

Neither The Shuttle or The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg is cheerful holiday reading. You might want to save them for a February evening when the wind is howling outside.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

Frontpiece of The FarmBased in part on author Louis Bromfield’s own family history, The Farm is an unsatisfactory novel. Crowded with characters and brimming with anecdotes, many of which seem worthy of being turned into a novel, the book doesn’t succeed in melding them into more than the sum of its parts.

The story begins in 1815. Colonel MacDougal a Maryland aristocrat “sick of dishonesty and corruption and intolerance and all the meanness of civilization and of man himself ” arrives in Ohio to establish a farm and a new life.

As the Colonel arrives a Jesuit priest leaves, marking the end of the French missionary work among the Native Americans, and a Massachusetts peddler arrives, marking the start of the commercialization of rural America.

Bromfield uses the memories and experiences of one of the Colonel’s great grandsons, Johnny, to thread together the story of the rise of towns and decline of farms up to World War I. Unfortunately, Johnny never really comes alive as a person. He’s just a device.

Bromfield’s real hero is the farm itself, and even that is largely symbolic. Johnny’s grandfather explained its importance:

Some day…there will come a reckoning and the country will discover that farmers are more necessary than traveling salesmen, that no nation can exist or have any solidity which ignores the land. But it will cost the country dear. There’ll be hell to pay before they find it out.

The Farm is worth reading for social history and cultural perspective, but it’s not worth reading today as a novel.

Slaves being conducted through the farm to freedom in Canada

The farm was stop on the Underground Railroad

The Farm
By Louis Bromfield
Illus. Kate Lord
Introduction by Winfield H. Rogers
Harper & Brothers, 1946
346 pages
1933 bestseller #9
My grade: C+

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

Picking the 1943 bestsellers to which I wouldn’t give shelf space is easier than choosing three keepers.  Five of the 10 have withstood the ravages of time.

My favorite is Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  The novel is the quintessential American Dream tale. Armed only with grit, love, and a belief in the value of education, a poor Brooklyn in a family rises above poverty.  What teacher can fail to tear up at the picture of Francie and Neely Nolan reading each night from the Protestant Bible and collected works of Shakespeare?

For second place, I’ll choose William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy. another novel about growing up in tough times. A boy too young to fight  gets a job delivering telegrams during World War I. When those telegrams are sent by the War Department, the lad learns about the horrors of war far from the front lines.

For third place, I’ll pick a novel about the other end of life. Mrs. Parkington by Louis Bromfield is a study of a remarkable old lady living each day well. It beats  John P. Marquand’s So Little Time by a nose. Although Marquand is the better writer, and his story the more realistic, I choose Bromfield for its emotional tone.

Bromfield’s Mrs. Parkington inspires readers; Marquand’s Jeff Wilson saddens them.

Read Full Post »

Cameo Mrs. Parkington, 84, is the very rich widow of a larger-than-life scoundrel whom she adored.

The only one of herfamily Mrs. Parkington can stand is her great-granddaughter, Janie.  Daughter Alice is addicted to drugs and alcohol, much-married Madeline has just added a cowboy to her string of husbands, and Helen, Janie’s mother, is married to a man she hates.

Janie falls for a young government lawyer investigating her father’s fraudulent securities deals. Mrs. Parkington steps in to help the young lovers and repay the people her son-in-law defrauded.

Then Mrs. Parkington settles her own affairs. She changes her will to leave her heirs enough so they can live very well but “won’t be able to make fools of themselves.” Janie will get her share at age 40, after she’s had 15 years to learn what money can’t buy.

Louis Bromfield tells the story of Mrs. Parkington’s life piecemeal, as events trigger her memories. Readers get a detailed picture of the innocent Nevada lass who became a social leader by dint of her intelligence, perceptivity, moral fiber, and kindness as much as by her husband’s money.

Mrs. Parkington celebrates the art of growing old by living every day well.

Three cheers for Mrs. Parkington.

 Mrs. Parkington
By Louis Bromfield
Harper, 1942
1943  bestseller #6
My Grade: A-

Photo Credit:  Camafe  by girianelli  http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1159631

© 2013  Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

In Twenty-Four Hours, Louis Bromfield takes a plot that appears to be plodding off in one direction, gives it more twists than a bag of pretzels, and turns out a story that seems perfectly plausible.

As the curtain rises, old Hector Champion is giving a dreary dinner to distract himself from worry over the results of medical tests he will get the following day. His dinner guests include a nouveau riche financier, the financier’s current mistress and her husband, Hector’s nephew, the woman the financier wishes to marry, and the woman who had wanted to marry Hector some 50 years before.

As the party breaks up, Hector gets a telegram from his black-sheep sister who scandalized society years before by running off with her brother-in-law.

Bromfield leaves Hector at home fretting and follows the guests home.

Before 24 hours are up, the financier breaks up with his mistress and proposes to another woman, Hector’s nephew marries his actress girlfriend, two people are murdered, the mob puts a contract on one of the murderers, and the cuckolded husband is in a fair way to be fingered for the other murder.

By dinner the next evening, 67-year-old Savina Jerrold has straightened out all the remaining muddles, including Hector.

Twenty-Four Hours
By Louis Bromfield
Frederick A. Stokes, 1930
463 pages
1930 bestseller #10
My grade B+

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »