The Tin Soldier Explores the Why of The Great War

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The Tin Soldier is one of the better bestsellers about why The Great War was fought.

The novel’s centerpiece is a love-at-first sight story. Jean McKenzie and Derry Drake meet while Derry is tracking down his father who’s off on a binge.

Jean has one qualm: Derry hasn’t enlisted. Is he a slacker?

Jean’s widowed father, a doctor, is altogether too fond of his office nurse, Hilda, whom Jean distrusts. Jean would prefer her mother’s cousin Emily Bridges as their companion, even as her step-mother.

Emily is too clear-headed to think Dr. McKenzie would ever regard her as anything but household help. Anyway, she has a toy shop to run, no easy task when the best toys are German-made and Americans won’t buy them.

When Derry’s father has a stroke, Dr. McKenzie sends Hilda to nurse him.

Hilda knows Dr. McKenzie won’t marry her; she thinks rich General Derry may.

Temple Bailey makes each character entirely plausible, gives them challenges, and lets them grow.

Bailey wraps the plot in the American flag. In the pen of a less able writer, the effect would be laughable. But when Bailey writes that women “won’t know what suffering means until your men begin to come home,” it sounds real and true.

The Tin Soldier
by Temple Bailey
Illustrations by F. Vaux Wilson
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1918
1919 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg ebook#18056
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

This Above All is a patriotic potboiler

In This Above All, Eric Knight explores the meaning of patriotism through the experiences of the English between the Dunkirk evacuations and the London blitz.

Private Clive Briggs is on leave when he meets Prudence Cathaway. They have a roll in the hay, then spend a week together at sea coast hotel.

Clive has had his fill of war. He has no intention of going back. He spends most of the book telling Prue about how the war treats poor slum kids like him as disposable units. Prue counters with platitudes drawn from her experience growing up as the daughter of a well-to-do brain surgeon.

Some of Knight’s verbal snap shots of the war in France and Clive’s youthful work experiences are superb. On the whole, however, This Above All is disjointed and disappointing.

Knight resists the temptation to produce a happy ending, but grabs nearly every other lure for the unwary novelist. He holds Prue and Clive up like marionettes and fills their mouths with speeches. Periodically, he abandons them entirely and pops in on Prue’s relatives who have nothing to do with the main plot.

In the end, the novel is as platitudinous the speech from which the title is taken.

This Above All
By Eric Knight
Grosset & Dunlap, 1941
473 pages
1941 #3
My grade: C-
 
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni