Orphaned at 10, T. Tembarom goes to work selling newspapers. Cheerful and practical, the lad makes do with whatever comes his way, even discarding his name for a less embarrassing one.
Through hard work and good sense, Tembarom eventually gets a foot in the newsroom door. He hopes to become a news reporter.
While pounding the pavement, Tembarom finds a man with a wad of money but no idea who he is. Tembarom gives his amnesiac friend, whom he calls Mr. Strangeways, his own boarding house bed.
When Tembarom inherits an English estate, the Brooklyn girl whom Tembarom hoped to marry refuses to even to write him until he’s lived a year under his legal name in his new role in England. From England herself, the Brooklyn realist knows she wouldn’t be socially acceptable as Mrs. Temple Temple Barholm.
The Brits are embarrassed by Tembarom’s Yankee slang and off-the-rack clothes. Gradually, however, his kindness and ability to see things from the other person’s viewpoint win them over. He even wins the friendship of the marriageable daughters whom he has no interest in marrying.
Frances Hodgson Burnett does such a good job of foreshadowing the surprise ending that it’s no surprise. It is, however, a pleasure. Burnett’s characters are so engagingly quirky that the lack of substance in this offbeat, rags-to-riches novel don’t matter.
The absurdities of American adolescents are a recurrent theme in Booth Tarkington novels. In Gentle Julia he’s in peak form.
Every bachelor and widower in town is after Miss Julia Atwater. Julia wouldn’t hurt any of them by declining his advances.
For all her 20 years, Julia has no more sense than her 13-year-old niece, Florence. Florence alternates between hating boys, especially her cousin Herbert, and inventing romances. Julia merely alternatives between liking all males and loving herself.
Florence eavesdrops on her Aunt Julia and shares her news with all the other Atwaters in town. When Herbert and a friend set up a weekly newspaper, Florence elbows her way in and finds a literary outlet for what she has overheard.
Gentle Julia has about as much substance as aerosol whipped topping. The characters are all lightweights. The plot trivial.
The world Tarkington reveals is one in which people are comfortably well-off. Children are loved and disciplined but allowed freedom to roam. Neighbors gossip, but never in a mean way. Families rally in support of one another. No one drops litter.
If that world ever existed, it’s long gone.
Nostalgia for it remains.
by Booth Tarkington
Illustrated by C. Allan Gilbert & Worth Brehm
Doubleday, Page, 1922
1922 #3 Bestseller
Project Gutenberg Ebook 18259
My grade: C
Queed is a witty, charming, romantic comedy about a brilliant but decidedly un-charming young man with the emotional intelligence of a newt.
Called “The Professor” by all but his two friends whose surname he bears, Queed moved to Richmond, VA., at the request of the father he has never met. When the book opens, Queed is writing the definitive text on evolutionary sociology while waiting for a further communication from his parent.
By accident, Queed meets Miss Sharlee Weyland. He strikes her as “the most frankly and grossly self-centred person she had ever seen in her life.” Sharlee also finds him pitiable. She gets the city’s most eligible bachelor, Charles Gardiner West, to wrangle an editorial-writing job for Queed on the local paper.
Faced with dismissal for “crushing all the interest out of any subject he touches,” Queed sets out to master editorial writing. In the process, he grows to know his adopted city, finds a passion for the news business, and develops some self-awareness and empathy.
By contrast, the well-connected West flounders when his charm fails to conceal his lack of character.
Henry Sydnor Harrison sets his story against the background of South rising above the debilitating attitudes of Reconstruction. The novel ridicules the ridiculous aspects of Queed’s self-absorption without either attacking or excusing the man. Harrison shows Queed maturing without shaking off entirely the behaviors he learned as a child. That realism elevates Queed from a pleasant story to a serious study of emotional growth.
And Harrison throws in enough laugh-out-loud lines to make the study enormous fun to read.