The Doctor: Its plot is as rocky as its setting

ruggest mountains with light dusting of snow
The Doctor is the story of a love quadrangle that ends in a religious tract.

The Boyle family can afford college for only one son. Mrs. Boyle determines Dick will go to become a minister.


The Doctor : A Tale of the Rockies by Ralph Connor¹
1907 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg ebook 3242. My Grade: C+.

Dick loves Margaret Robertson who loves his older brother, Barney.

Barney sets his heart on becoming a surgeon. He also sets his heart on marrying Iona Lane, who loves him but doesn’t want marriage until after she’s had a successful singing career.

Barney falls out with Dick in the mistaken impression that Dick and and Iona are lovers. Dick tries repeatedly for reconciliation, but Barney refuses.

Dick ends up working as a missionary in the Canadian Rockies where Margaret, now a nurse, is working.

Barney ends up as medical superintendent on the a railroad line being built in the Canadian Rockies.

Ralph Connor plays on readers’ emotions.

A few isolated bits of the story have the verisimilitude of reportage, but the plot is generally absurd.

Under Connor’s pen, all four principal characters get religion and either live happily or die happily.

A week after reading The Doctor, happily, you won’t be able to remember what it was about.


¹Ralph Connor is the pen name of the Rev. Dr. Charles William Gordon, who served first in the Presbyterian and later in the United churches in Canada.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Major an amalgam of familiar plot lines

Canadian Expeditionary Forces artillerymen prepare shell as early Christmas present to Germany, Nov. 2016
Canadian artillerymen ready early Christmas package to Germans.

Larry Gwynne, normally an obedient 10-year-old, plays hooky from school with some other boys one spring day.

Challenged to prove himself in a fight, Larry refuses. The other boys say he’s a coward, like this Quaker mother.


The Major by Ralph Connor

1918 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg ebook #3249. My grade: C.


From that beginning, Ralph Connor produces a novel about how rural Canadians responded first to the threat and then to the fact of the first World War.

The plot is an amalgam of familiar story lines.

As the title suggests, Larry grows up to become a major in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

There are several romances in the novel as Larry’s two sisters, some of their friends, and then Larry himself find true love.

There’s also a plot of sorts about Larry’s beloved mother, scrimping to supply the necessities her husband’s inept management deprives them of.

Connor doesn’t actually develop any of the plots: He merely drags them through the same pages together.

The novel is not a bad first draft, but it needs a good working over with a blue pencil to reduce the number of plots, and give more definition to the central characters, and smudge the outlines of the lesser ones.

Connor’s skills improved with practice, as his bestseller the following year shows.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land Honors WWI Noncombattants

Canadian military chaplain Canon Frederick George Scott
Canadian military chaplain Canon Frederick George Scott

The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land begins like a romance for religious spinsters, but within 20 pages, the handsome missionary Barry Dunbar turns out to be asthmatic, pedantic, and tactless.

When war breaks out, Barry, a Canadian, tries to enlist. He is rejected on medical grounds, but his father is accepted.

Barry reluctantly accepts a chaplaincy and attempts to enforce godliness among the troops.

On the eve of his arrival in France, an elderly Anglican chaplain sets him straight: “My dear fellow, remember they are far from home. These boys need their mothers… And, my boy, they need God. And they need you.”

Those words change Barry’s attitude.

Later as Barry watches while his father, both arms blown off, die of his injuries, he learns personally what it means to be alone far from home.

Ralph Connor’s descriptions of trench warfare are horrific. Oddly, the descriptions of the sleep deprivation, loneliness, and submerging of their own needs that Barry and other non-combatants endure are even more painful.

Despite some implausible elements — the medically unfit Barry remains healthy, for example—Connor spins an unforgettable yarn about men and women who picked up the pieces of those who went over the top.

Though Connor’s story is fiction, the war’s horrors are not. In The Official History of The Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1919, Vol. 1, A. Fortescue Duguid writes: 

Carrying out their spiritual duties the Chaplains were to be found both in the field and at the dressing stations giving comfort to the dying. Major (Canon) F. G. Scott on the evening of the 22nd encouraged an advancing battalion with the words “A great day for Canada, boys—great day for Canada,” and he was in their midst when they charged the wood.

The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land
By Ralph Connor
1919 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg e-book#3288
My grade: B
 

Photo of Military Chaplain  (and noted Canadian poet) F. G.  Scott is from the George Metcalf Archival Collection  of the Canadian War Museum.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Musings on the 1918 bestseller list

Older of the bestsellers are increasingly hard to find. When I do find them, the pages are yellow and brittle.

Publishers are reissuing many of the older books as their copyrights expire and the move into public domain. I’d rather read the books first, though, and then buy those I want to read more than once.

I’ve recently discovered that Milne Library at the SUNY College at Oneonta has a superb collection of vintage fiction, some of which is in the regular circulating collection. The library staff and student assistants are wonderful. They even helped me get a long term parking permit so I didn’t have to get a permit on every visit.

According to my posting scheme, I should begin  posting the reviews for 1918’s bestsellers this week.  These novels are . . . .

  1. The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey
  2. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair
  3. The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  4. Dere Mable by Edward Streeter
  5. Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter
  6. Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell
  7. The Major by Ralph Connor
  8. The Pawns Court by E. Phillips Oppenheim
  9. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter
  10. Sonia by Stephen McKenna

Several of these authors were incredibly prolific and popular in their day. E. Phillips Oppenheim, who I’d never heard of, published over 150 books and is credited by some with originating the thriller.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was no slouch either. She wrote over 60 popular mysteries and originated the phrase “the butler did it”.

Zane Grey also has 60 novels on his resume and an organization devoted to keeping his work alive.

Ethel M. Dell, another author unfamiliar to me,  appears to have knocked out a novel a year from 1911 to 1939.

Despite their incredible output, I have located only a few of these authors’ books.

Of course, not all the 1918’s bestselling novelists were so prolific.

Ralph Connor, who wrote just 11 novels and two volumes of short stories, was a full-time Presbyterian minister. Edward Streeter produced a similarly small volume of novels in his spare time. His day job was vice president of Fifth Avenue Bank, which later became Bank of New York.

Gene Stratton-Porter, who I thought was just a novelist, was actually a naturalist, wildlife photographer, and one of the first women to start a motion picture studio. The state of Indiana now operates two of her homes, Wildflower Woods and Limberlost, as state historic sites.

When I run out of reviews of bestsellers, I’ll fill out the year with reviews of some classics that didn’t make the bestseller list. Stay tuned.