Three Loves Reveals One Controlling Woman

Old photos of women

If you expect A. J. Cronin’s Three Loves to be one of his typical heartwarming tales of a dedicated doctor, you are in for a shock.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Lucy Murray married Frank Moore, an easy-going commercial traveler, whom she loves as much for what she thinks she can mold him into as for what he is. She’s willing to do anything for Frank except let Frank decide what he wants done.

Frank’s death in a boating accident for which Lucy was really responsible leaves her to raise their son, Peter, alone. She’s willing to accept any hardship to see that Peter becomes a doctor.

Lucy wrangles her way into Frank’s old job, and does it better than he. When the firm is sold, she is forced to take the only job available: collecting rent in the slums.

Peter gets his degree, but marries a rich girl whose father made his fortune renting the slum dwellings where Lucy collected rents. Lucy’s fortunes sink lower.

She wanders into a church where she falls in love with Jesus and decides to enter holy orders. Instead of the ecstatic spiritual union she seeks, she finds debilitating emotional and physical deprivation.

Lucy’s personality mingles resourcefulness, perseverance, and loyalty with a selfish passion for control, which she calls love. Having established her essential characteristics, Cronin turns her loose and watches what happens.

The novel is uneven. It would be stronger without plot elements Cronin introduces only to drop them again. But despite its flaws, Three Loves is a compelling portrait that readers won’t soon forget.

Three Loves
A. J. Cronin
Little, Brown, 1932
Pyramid Books, 1960
1932 Bestseller #10

Photo credit: “Old photos”  by juliaf  http://www.sxc.hu/photo/706638

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Scarlet Sister Mary: Memorable Black Single Mom

In Scarlet Sister Mary, Julia Peterkin writes a deceptively shallow story of the post-Civil War South that focuses on a black woman.

Mary is a pretty, spirited teenager raised by Maum Hannah, a pillar of the Quarters church that calls the teen  “Sister Mary.”

Pregnant, Mary weds July, who promptly deserts her. The church that would have rallied around a deserted wife has little sympathy for a girl who had premarital sex, a scarlet sin.

Mary  keeps the roof patched and food on the table by field work. July’s twin brother, June, long in love with Mary, is close at hand.

Before Mary is much more than 30, she has five children by different fathers and two of her grandchildren to raise as well.

When July comes back, she kicks him out.

Mary is a proud woman. She’s also getting old. What’s she to do with a passel of kids to raise?

Peterkin deftly shows how one woman copes as a single parent. Mary’s choices may not be good ones, but Peterkin makes them appear plausible. Similarly, she makes believable Mary’s easy acceptance of both organized Christianity and black magic.

You may not side with Mary, but when you’ve finished Scarlet Sister Mary, you’ll feel you understand her.

Scarlet Sister Mary
by Julia Peterkin
Bobbs-Merrill. 1928
345 pages
1929 # 9
My grade B+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni