My picks of the 1926 bestselling novels

Undoubtedly the best of the 1926 bestselling novels two are definitely “English” works, The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy and The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson.

Both novels are written from the vantage point of  England in 1924.

My pick #1: The Hounds of Spring

lines from poem "The Hounds of Spring" on background of dog prints in snow
Lines from a poem by Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Thompson’s novel is about events of 1914-1924. She writes from the perspective of having lived through most of that decade as a teenager, as does the younger Renner daughter in Thompson’s novel.

The Renners lose a son over France.

The Renner’s also lose money in the war; 1924 finds them living in a London flat, their country estate with its stables, tennis courts, and gardens sold to pay debts.

More significant than those visible losses are their emotional losses as each family member realizes no one else feels their grief as keenly as they do.

Thompson takes her readers into the Renners’ lives to feel how they experienced the war and its aftermath.

Like a phone call about the accidental death of a loved one, The Hounds of Spring simply stuns readers as its events stunned the Renners.

My pick #2: The Silver Spoon

By contast, The Silver Spoon is definitely a post-war story.

title The Silver Spoon with P replaced by silver spoon

The bright young things of London society had their illusions thoroughly shattered by the guns and the gas, but in 1924 the Great War is history.

The Jazz Age young don’t want to remember the past.  They’re holding on with both hands to their privileged status: rich, pampered, and most of all, alive.

Against this background, Galsworthy looks at a husband’s love for his wife and a father’s love for his daughter.

Both husband and father are bewildered by how different their loved one’s view of the world is from their own. Parents and spouses will be able to identify with those feelings.

Thompson and Galsworthy make readers feel they know each novelist’s characters so well, they’d recognize them in the grocery line.

My pick #3: Blue Window/Sorrell and Son

For the third spot, it’s a toss-up between Temple Bailey’s The Blue Window
Quote from The Blue Window superimposed on blue semicircular window shutter
and Warwick Deeping’s Sorrell and Son. Man looking at job postings at employment agency

Both of these novels are fathoms below Thompson’s and Galsworthy’s work, but they are above the level of ordinary entertainment.


That wraps up our dip into the bestselling novels of 1926. On July 19, we’ll step back a decade to see more bestselling novels.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Blue Window charms

The Blue Window opens with the funeral of widow Elizabeth Carew at age 41, and ends with the marriage of her daughter, Hildegarde.

Between the two events is a predictable but charming romance given piquancy by Temple Bailey’s failure to establish a consistent point of view.


The Blue Window by Temple Bailey

Penn Publishing, 1926. 328 ps. 1926 bestseller #10. My Grade: B.


girl looks out window in illustration opposite title page of The Blue Window

Elizabeth left a letter for Hildegarde saying she was divorced, not widowed. Her still-living husband, Louis Carew, does not know he has a daughter.

Hildegard leaves her aunt’s farm to go to her father’s estate near Chesapeake Bay.

She also leaves Crispin Harlowe, her dear friend, who loves her but whom she does not love.

Carew is delighted with his beautiful daughter: She might attract the money he needs to keep his estate.

While Hildegarde is being groomed, gowned, and feted, the story’s focus shifts to Crispin.

Crispin graduates, goes to work in a Washington D. C. law firm, and buys a house near Mount Vernon.

He never gives up believing Hildegarde will marry him.

There’s nothing particularly novel about the story, but Bailey draws her portraits well, with the exception of Louis Carew, whose peculiarities are mainly told rather than shown.

The Blue Window will entertain throughout, and occasionally will grab with a particularly well-crafted observation.

© 2016 by Linda Gorton Aragoni

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

 

The Dim Lantern Gives a Warm Glow

black piglet The Dim Lantern is old-fashioned romance that, despite a well-worn theme and predictable plot lines, is as cozy as hot tea and scones in a room smelling faintly of lavender.

Jane and Baldwin Barnes live in an unfashionable suburb of Washington, D.C. in mortgaged house inherited from their parents. Baldy is artistic, but works in an office to pay off the mortgage. Jane exercises her creativity by stretching money and having faith that good will ultimately prevail. There’s a nice boy next door, badly traumatized by his experiences in The Great War. Jane is a dim lantern in the blackness of his depression.

On his way to work, Baldy gives a ride and his heart to a young woman who obviously has never had to make her money stretch. Socialite Edith Towne is running away after the humiliation of her bridegroom’s failure to appear at their wedding.

Baldy enlists Jane to speak for Edith to her wealthy bachelor uncle, Frederick Towne. He falls for Jane, luring her with the prospect of how his wealth can provide the medical care her ailing sister desperately needs.

By page 344, Temple Bailey has provided all the answers everyone who has ever read a romance novel expects except one: Where did city-bred Edith acquire her knowledge of black Berkshire pigs?

The Dim Lantern
by Temple Bailey
Grosset  & Dunlap,  1923
344 pages
1923 bestseller #5

Photo credit: Black Pigs 2 by nedbenj

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni