Private Worlds explores the craziness of the sane

TItle page of Private WorldsOn one level, Private Worlds is a romance whose outcome is never is doubt. On another level, it’s a realistic story of alliances and jealousies in a closed world where the outcomes are unpredictable.

As the story opens, Jane Everett is waiting to hear whether Alex MacGregor has been named superintendent of the mental hospital at which they, respectively, head the men’s and women’s departments.

Jane is disturbed that instead of going first to his bride, Sally, Alex comes to her to say they should quit: The choice has gone to an outsider Alex’s own age who dislikes women doctors.

For Sally’s sake as well as Alex’s, Jane counsels patience.

Jane senses that though the new superintendent appears cold, he is fair and willing to listen. Jane is sure even Alex can work with Dr. Drummond if they give him a fair chance.

Trouble arises when Dr. Drummond’s sexy, manipulative sister comes to visit.

Phyllis Bottome is interested in the self-defeating behaviors of the legally sane. Instead of the horrific mental disturbances presented in The Snake Pit and Compulsion, for example, she gives us homely pictures of irrational thinking to which everyone falls prey.

Private Worlds isn’t a great novel, but its more than just entertainment. Bottome provides readers ideas to chew on.

Private Worlds
By Phyllis Bottome
Houghton, Mifflin, 1934
342 pages
My grade: B+
1934 bestseller #7

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Mortal Storm Has Gale-Force Power

In The Moral Storm, Phyllis Bottome rejuvenates the tired brother-against-brother theme by putting it into the setting of Nazi Germany.

The story concerns a young medical student, Freya Roth. With her first year exams over, she begins to notice that her parents aren’t thrilled with her two half-brothers’ infatuation with Hitler. Freya thinks, “What do politics matter?”

Olaf and Emil warn their parents that Freya’s friendship with a Communist peasant lad could have serious consequences since Dr. Roth is Jewish. As a matter of principle, Dr. and Mrs. Roth refuse to close the door to Hans because of his politics.

By the time Freya begins to see how serious the German situation is, her lover has been shot dead by a Nazi patrol lead by her favorite bother, her father is in a concentration camp, and Freya is pregnant.

Freya has to get out of Germany. She also has to decide what to do with her baby and what to do about her 12-year-old brother who is part Jewish.

The novel derives its power from the contrast between the loving concern the Nazi boys show to their Jewish stepfather and the self-absorption of their Jewish half-sister. The family is divided by politics, but united by love.

The Mortal Storm
By Phyllis Bottome
Little, Brown, 1938
357 pages
1938 bestseller # 9
My Grade: B+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni