Class distinctions make The Valley of Decision

photograph,  Wharf at Pittsburgh, 1890
Pittsburgh’s three rivers play an important role in The Valley of Decision.

In 1873, Mary Rafferty goes to be ’tweenmaid in William Scott’s Pittsburgh home.

Her patience, humor, straight-thinking, practicality, and unswerving loyalty win the entire family. For nearly 60 more years, Mary remains in the Scott household, neither fully family nor fully employee.

When Paul Scott choses Mary as his bride, William father sees no reason to object to his son’s choice.

Mary, however, had other ideas. She feels her working class origins (both her father and brother worked in the Scott steel mill) make her unfit to marry into the family.

She refuses to marry Paul and pushes him into an unhappy marriage that ends in his wife’s suicide.

Afterward, Mary returns to bring up Paul’s children, run his house, help his grandchildren, keep his mill intact for the family.

Mary’s refusal to marry the man she loves was bizarre to her contemporaries. But Marcia Davenport makes Mary’s reasons so much a part of Mary’s essential character that she’s entirely believable, even admirable, in spite of her rigidly absurd social class standards.

By the time she puts the kettle on for tea in the last paragraph of The Valley of Decision, you’ll like Mary as much as the Scotts did.

The Valley of Decision
By Marcia Davenport
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944
790 pages
1944 bestseller # 2
My Grade: B-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Culture Conquors All in The Constant Image

Young, well-heeled American divorcee Harriet Piers accepts the winter loan of a Milan apartment while she decides what to do with the rest of her life.

Harriet studies Italian and mingles with the Milanese.  She sees their flirtations and affairs in no way affect the family structure that dominates Italian society.

Harriet tries to take a Milanese view of Carlo Dalverio’s attentions, but before long the pair find themselves head-over-heels in love. Their affair threatens Carlo’s relationship with his wife and family as none of his previous affairs have.

Within a few weeks, Harriet and Carlo have to decide: does love conquer all or is it just one factor among many?

Marcia Davenport makes Harriet a sympathetic, almost heroic, character. You’ll like her, root for her, want her happy for more than one winter.

Although the relationship between Harriet and Carlo is based on sex,  Davenport focuses on what happens outside the bedroom. Her characters are intelligent and sensitive enough to realize that they cannot live apart from society.  Carlo could divorce his wife, but he couldn’t divorce his family or his heritage.

In the last analysis, the one constant in The Constant Image is not the loved one, but the loved one’s culture.

The Constant Image
By Marcia Davenport
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960
253 pages
1960 #6
My grade: B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

East Side, West Side shows ordinary events become pivotal

Marcia Davenport’s East Side, West Side is a psychological novel that holds a mirror up to ourselves.

Jessie Bourne had been passionately in love with New York aristocrat Brandon Bourne when they married. Over 17 years, dissimilar tastes and interests along with Brandon’s womanizing have killed that passion.randon will never divorce Jessie. He has never actually loved any of his women. Besides, Jessie has money.

Jessie won’t divorce Brandon; she regards divorce as an admission of defeat.

At a party, Jessie meets General Mark Dwyer. They are moving discretely toward an affair when Brandon comes home in a panic. His brother had seen his mistress killed by a man who had been using the woman as a tool in his blackmail schemes.

Jessie’s quick thinking and loyal contacts save Brandon’s family from scandal, but in the process Jessie takes a hard look at Brandon and herself.

East Side, West Side is almost too good for comfort. In its pages we see how ordinary experiences like being bored by one’s relatives or arguing with one’s spouse can become catalysts that change the course of a person’s life.

Find a copy of East Side, West Side.

It’s a novel worth rereading.

East Side, West Side
By Marcia Davenport
Schribner’s, 1947
376 pages
1947 bestseller #9
My Grade: B+

© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni