Sorrell and Son has guts and grace

Sorrell and Son is a sweet tale of a decent English gentleman, weakened by war wounds, deserted by his wife, who makes raising his son his life’s work.

Down to nearly his last shilling, army veteran Stephen Sorrell takes a job as a hotel porter.

Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping

Alfred A. Knopf, 1926. 400 p. 1927 bestseller #3. My grade: B.

It’s an awful job, but Sorrell does his work to his own exacting standards.  Impressed, a hotel guest, Thomas Roland, taps Sorrell to be second porter at the new country hotel he is opening.

The head porter there makes Sorrell’s life miserable until Roland gets fed up with the man’s bullying and womanizing.

Sorrell takes over as head porter.

Sorrell turns out to have managerial ability, and works his way up to become manager of one of Roland’s chain of hotels.

Sorrell makes enough to live comfortably and also pay for son Christopher ‘s Cambridge education, medical schooling, and surgical practice.

Christopher grows into as fine a man as his father could wish.

Warwick Deeping makes Sorrell just stubborn and resentful enough to keep him from appearing a plaster saint. Christopher, too, has his flaws.

Readers will care what happens to them.

Sadly, American class distinctions are based on economics rather than on ethics: Today’s readers will view this only as a story of a determined man.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Within This Present Proves Need for Challenges

granny retro250Margaret Ayer Barnes, who published the haunting Years of Grace to popular and critical acclaim in 1930, pleased her public again in 1934 with Within This Present.

Both novels follow a character from the cusp of womanhood through midlife, allowing readers to live through a slice of history from a domestic perspective.

The woman in Within This Present is Sally Sewall, a girl from a wealthy, close-knit Chicago banking family. At 19, she marries Alan MacLeod before he goes off to the Western Front.

Alan sees only five days of fighting. He comes home feeling cheated of the opportunity to do something that matters.

When Sally says she’s pregnant, Alan says perhaps being a father is what matters. Alan goes to work in the Sewall family’s bank.

Ten years later, Alan becomes involved with a woman in their set. He and Sally are living apart in 1929 when the bank fails. The family crisis predictably brings them back together.

Although Within This Present is an entertaining and enlightening novel, Barnes lets Granny Sewall talk from beginning to end about how young people need challenges to show what they’re made of. Sadly, even dear, sweet Granny’s sermons grow dull with repetition.

Within This Present
By Margaret Ayer Barnes
Houghton Mifflin, 1933
611 pages
1934 bestseller #5

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: Granny Retro by unknown photographer

V.V.’s Eyes See Behind a Pretty Face

V.V.’s Eyes is a surprising novel from an author whose forté is the unexpected.

As the story opens, a letter written by V. Vivian, M.D., attacking local factory conditions has just been published in the paper.

Within hours, V. V. meets the lovely Carlisle Heth, whose family owns one of those factories. His insightful eyes find her both beautiful and heartless, so taken up with her pursuit of a rich husband she has no time for anything else.

The few times Carlisle encounters V. V., he seems so good, so determined to do right regardless of the personal consequences, that she comes off looking bad, even to herself.

She finally realizes her only value is ornamental; she make a lovely bride, she says, but is totally unqualified to be a wife or mother.

Readers will recognize the set-up and prepare for Henry Sydnor Harrison to turn the adversaries into bride and groom.

Harrison has other plans.

The story is against the backdrop of early twentieth century social changes. Women are going into factory work and office work. The women’s suffrage movement is gathering steam. There’s a sense of opportunities opening as women bond across socioeconomic lines. Harrison gathers all these disparate threads into an exploration of the importance of the value of the individual.

The story is a a bit too sentimental, the narrator a bit too didactic, but there’s no mistaking the power of Harrison’s depiction of a spoiled young woman rising to the challenge of becoming more than just a pretty face.

V. V.’s Eyes
By Henry Sydnor Harrison
Illustrated by Raymond M. Crosby
Approx 500 pages
1913 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg eBook #13985

@2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Years Not Kind to Woolf’s Readers

In The Years, Virginia Woolf lifts the curtain on one English family over a 50-year period.Woolf’s novel isn’t a story in the conventional sense. It’s a collection of episodes, like pieces of a drama. There’s little description of people or settings. No one character predominates. Readers have to figure out who is who before they can figure out what is going on.

When the book opens, it’s 1880 and the Pargiters of Abercorn Terrace are waiting for the Mrs. Pargiter to die. She’s been an invalid so long, her death is a relief to her husband and children.

Woolf pops in on the family periodically over the years. Several of the children marry and have children of their own. The family home is put up for sale. The long-time housemaid is dismissed. The unmarried Pargiter children become poorer and more eccentric.

The Years is not a book to read when you are recovering from the flu. It’s a book that requires all your concentration, and maybe even a notepad to keep the characters straight. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t warrant the effort. Woolf’s genius is evident, but the novel fails to make her characters or their world come alive for readers.

The Years
By Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, Brace 1937
435 pages
#6 on the 1937 bestseller list
My grade: C+


© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni