Engaging Guttersnipe Entertains In the Bishop’s Carriage 

Model of closed horse-drawn carriage
The  bishop’s carriage might have looked like this scale model.

My fear that Miriam Michelson’s In the Bishop’s Carriage was going to be soppy, religious novel was dispelled on page one when Nancy Olde nips into the womens’ room with a watch Tom Drogan has just lifted and, after tidying her hair, walks out wearing a stranger’s red coat with a chinchilla collar.

To avoid a cop, Nancy nips into a waiting carriage, naps, and awakes to find the carriage’s other occupant is a bishop. Nancy talks herself out of the danger and into the heart of the childless bishop.

Nancy returns to Tom and does some pleasant thieving until a burglary goes wrong.

While Tom spends most of his time in solitary confinement at Sing Sing. Nancy turns her powers of observation and talent for mimicry into work in vaudeville.

When Tom breaks out, Nancy refuses to join him again.

Then Nancy is caught with a purse full of stolen money that she didn’t steal.

Michelson lets Nancy narrate the story first to Tom, then to a childhood friend from Cruelty. Through oblique references, readers can piece together a picture of Nancy’s childhood.

Through everything, Nancy bubbles with fun. Nancy enjoys life and readers will enjoy it with her by proxy.

In the Bishop’s Carriage
By Miriam Michelson
1904 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg EBook #481
My grade: C+

Photo credit:  Carriage  uploaded by jakubson

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

 

Lovey Mary gets help from Mrs. Wiggs

In Lovey Mary, Alice Hegan Rice returns to the Cabbage Patch with a cheerful novel that redeploys Mrs. Wiggs from her 1902 bestseller.

Orphaned Lovey Mary, 13, is acutely aware that she’s not loved.

When Mary’s former tormentor, Kate Rider, drops her infant at the orphan asylum, Mary becomes his foster mother.

Two years later, when Kate returns for Tommy, Mary kidnaps him rather than give him up.

The pair end up in the Cabbage Patch. Mrs. Wiggs and her children help Mary find work, make friends, and overcome her feelings of inadequacy.

Mary wants to live up to her friends’ good opinion. She visits Kate, who is hospitalized after an accident, and brings her back to the Cabbage Patch, where Kate dies.

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Mary and Tommy return to the orphanage.

Mary’s good behavior is rewarded: She and Tommy are taken on a railroad trip to Niagara Falls.

Lovey Mary has slender plot and inadequate character development. The novel’s best scenes, such as Mary’s recitation of her lines from Faust “with a volubility that would have shamed an auctioneer,” have no bearing on the plot.

Five years later, Lucy Maud Montgomery will use themes and incidents similar to those of Lovey Mary with far greater skill in Anne of Green Gables.

Go with the redhead.

Lovey Mary
by Alice Hegan Rice
1903 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #5970
 
Photo credit: Niagara Falls by jnystrom

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Daddy‘s Charm Is as Long as His Legs

If you liked Pollyanna and Anne Shirley, you’ll love Jerusha Abbott, heroine of Daddy Long-Legs.

A page from Daddy Long Legs with stick figure illustrationsThe oldest orphan at John Grier Home, Jerusha is awarded a college education by an anonymous trustee who thinks she may have a future as a writer. She’s to acknowledge her monthly stipend by letter addressed to “John Smith” and sent to the trustee’s secretary.

All Jerusha knows of the man personally is that he’s tall (she glimpsed his back as he left the home) and doesn’t like girls.

Jean Webster’s novel about what happens to Jerusha is told through the girl’s letters to her benefactor, whom she calls “Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs Smith.”

In her letters, which she illustrates with her own sketches, Jerusa reveals her joys and sorrows to the father-figure she invents for herself.

After first term failures in two subjects, Jerusha settles into her studies. She finds college work less difficult than “college play.” She has no experience of the normal experiences of family life or popular culture. However, her natural cheerfulness and adaptability soon make her part of the college community.

Through a roommate, she meets Jervis Pendleton, a wealthy, young, New York gentleman with whom she has much in common. If she didn’t feel obligated to pay Daddy Long-Legs for her education, Jerusha could easily fall for Jervis.

The heroine is believable as a person and as a fledgling writer. If the plot is a bit too pat, it’s nevertheless plausible for a girl with Jerusha’s orphanage upbringing.

Alhough it didn’t make the bestseller list (Dear Enemy, the sequel about the John Grier Home did)  Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel is simply charming.

If you’re at a loss for a last minute Christmas gift for a stary-eyed adolescent or a senior citizen with a gentle sense of humor, Daddy Long-Legs might just fit the bill. The novel is readily available in both paperback and hardback. If your local independent bookstore doesn’t have it in stock, they can get it for you.

Daddy Long-Legs
by Jean Webster
Grosset & Dunlap, 1912
304 pages
 

Photo credit: page of first edition of Daddy Long-Legs, yellow with age, by Linda Aragoni

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Don’t Bother Taking The Founding Home

Francis Cardinal Spellman has a remarkable memory for plots: He’s woven every one he ever read into The Foundling.

Peter Taggart, a wounded World War I vet, finds a baby in a Catholic cathedral at Christmas.  Paul and his wife want to adopt Peter, but the church won’t allow the baby to go to a Protestant home.

Peter grows up in an orphanage where he learns to farm and play the organ. His music teacher leaves him her unfinished symphony to complete.

When a respected critic calls Peter’s composition “puerile,” Peter is crushed. Fortunately, war is starting in Europe again, which gives Peter something to do.

He comes home blind, but his girl is waiting for him and he’s ready to finish the fourth movement of the symphony.

That synopsis doesn’t do The Foundling justice. The plot is really far more silly  than it sounds.

I suspect the reason The Foundling became a bestseller was that the good cleric gave the book rights to the New York Foundling Hospital, a fact touted on the book jacket and frontpiece.

Charitable folks in 1951 may have bought the book to help poor little orphans. Today, however,  even poor, little orphans couldn’t find any value in The Foundling.

The Foundling
By Francis Cardinal Spellman
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951
304 pages
1951 bestseller # 9
My Grade: C-

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni