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Posts Tagged ‘Time and Time Again’

Good fathers are too dull for novels. At least that’s the impression the scarcity of exemplary fathers in bestselling fiction gives. I turned up just three interesting men in the bestselling pre-1970 fiction who have a demonstrable, positive impact on their own children.

Atticus Finch

To Kill a Mockingbird book jacketOf the three, lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is the most famous. Atticus has achieved the status of an American icon. You can buy mugs and T-shirts asking, “What would Atticus do?”

Atticus doesn’t do much of what passes these days for fathering. He doesn’t coach Jem’s little league team. He doesn’t organize Scout’s birthday parties. He doesn’t help his kids with their homework.

Instead, he gives them a lap when they’re hurting, answers their questions, and makes sure they know right from wrong. And he lives his convictions so unwaveringly that people stand to their feet when he passes.

Charles “Stuffy” Anderson

dust jacket of Time and Time AgainA less well-known father is Charles “Stuffy” Anderson in James Hilton’s 1953 bestseller, Time and Time Again. Charles is both proud and embarrassed that his colleagues call him “Stuffy.” He knows he’s a stuffed shirt, but he tries to always be a man of integrity.

Charles sent his son to America when Gerald’s mother was killed in the London blitz. He’s hoping Gerald’s joining him in Paris to celebrate his seventeenth birthday will establish their relationship on a more adult level.

Charles regrets that having to care for his father, who was descending into dementia, kept him from seeing more of Gerald during his teen years, but Charles believed his first duty was to his father.

When he and Gerald are reunited, it’s clear that Gerald loves and respects his father and follows his moral example.

John Graham

gp_cover1John Graham is the last of the three exemplary fathers. Graham made a fortune in the pork packing industry, which allowed him to send his son Pierrepont to be expensively educated at Harvard. The fictional executive pens Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son to give Pierrepont advice not available in those hallowed halls. (The actual author of the 1903 bestseller is George Horace Lorimer.)

The senior Graham writes conversationally, commenting on what his son writes to him and on what he reads between the lines of the son’s letters, and illustrating his points with humorous stories from his own experiences.

When his son does something of which he disapproves, his father tells him. When he does something of which his father approves, he tells him that, too. But Graham assumes his son will do the right thing as soon as he knows what that the right thing to do is.

Shared expectations

Although these fathers are very different men, they give the impression that they would find their children interesting and enjoyable to have around, even if those children belonged to someone else. These three fathers also share some common expectations:

  • They expect their children to be children.
  • They expect their children to be obedient.
  • They expect their children to do what they have been taught is right .
  • They expect their children to outgrow childishness as they grow up.
  • They expect their children to become good companions when they become adults.

With fathers like those, how far wrong could the children go?

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In a 1985 introduction to a novel I’m to review here in 2014, John W. Aldridge had this to say about American novels:

Until fairly recently in this country it was possible for novels to be both serious and popular without being in any way cheap, titillating, escapist, or, for that matter, depressing. They could often be of high literary quality and at the same time offer not only entertainment, but something instructive about the nature of  American society—the look and feel of the land, the manners and morals of the people. There was a time, in short, when certain novels written for the general reading audience neither pandered to the worst tastes of that audience nor showed discomfort in speaking intelligently  to it.

Among the bestsellers of yesteryear that I reviewed for Great Penformances in 2013, 10 stand out in my mind as fitting Aldridge’s criteria. Each has something to say about the definition of success and the means of achieving it.

In  Unleavened Bread, Robert Grant paints a vivid portrait of Selma White who believes she deserves to be a success at everything because she is “by instinct, by heritage, and without education”  superior to every one else. Selma and her equally self-deluded third husband prove that whatever success may be, it’s not something to which people are naturally entitled.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim is the lightest of my 10 top picks of the year’s reading. In it, four very different English women, previously strangers, rent a medieval Italian castle together for a month of sunshine and wisteria. In addition to the respite they knew they needed, they find self-knowledge, friendship, and love —  elements of a successful life.

Cover, Wanderer of the Wasteland The Wanderer of the Wasteland by Zane Grey has little in common with The Enchanted April except that in both novels the setting plays a pivotal role.    In The Wanderer, the Death Valley setting is the adversary; success is as simple — and as complicated — as surviving another day.

Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada is a story of human endurance in a different setting: Germany after World War I.  In Fallada’s story, a very poor, touchingly young couple try to create a home for themselves and their child in a society crippled by war and the economic sanctions imposed by the victorious allies. As in Zane Grey’s novel, simply surviving another day is a success.

So Little Time by John P. Marquand is a novel about enduring a situation more familiar to most readers than survival in Death Valley or a conquered city.  Middle aged Jeff Wilson realizes he’s not achieved the success he’d hope for as a dramatist and has few years left in which to write Broadway’s greatest hit.   Should he attempt it or admit great drama is beyond his ability? Could he live with himself if he tried and failed? Could he live with himself if he never tried?

James Hilton’s Time and Time Again is another novel about a middle aged man who realizes he’ll never rise to the top of his profession. Having missed the years his son changed from boy to young man in the safety of America during World War II, Charles “Stuffy” Anderson hopes to re-establish a relationship with his son on an adult level. Hilton uses the story of their reunion to explore the meaning of a life well lived.

Betty Smith offers a different perspective achieving success in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In Smith’s novel, a city family living on love and what the mother earns scrubbing floors pushes its children to achieve something better with their lives through the traditional American methods of schooling and hard work.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is gritty and realistic at the same time it’s uplifting and hopeful.

Another novel that merges realism with zest for living is Louis Bromfield’s Mrs. Parkington. Mrs. Parkington is a  feisty widow who finds herself having to bail out her adult children from the situations into which their stupidity and self-centeredness land them. Mrs. Parkington is a model of how to grow old exuberantly, in spite of one’s offspring.

 The Sand Pebbles book jacket by Richard McKennaIn The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Gooden the offspring are definitely in control. When their mother runs off to Italy with her lover, the Clavering children follow to bring her home. They manage to drive a wedge between the couple. Readers can explore the ramifications of the question, “How much do parents owe to their children?” through observing what happens at the Villa Fiorita.

The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna is a novel in which no one has control. The novel follows a Navy seaman with a passion for engines who is serving on an aging gunboat. The boat is patrolling the Yangtze River when China erupts into violence, bringing the Communists to power. The crew and their on-shore friends and acquaintances give McKenna ample opportunity to look at multiple ways of defining success.

There you have the 10 novels I reviewed this year that I’m most likely to go back to reread at least once more — which surely is sign of a successful novel.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Beyond This Place Whopping big books with important messages dominate the 1953 bestseller list. Not one of those hefty novels is one  I’d dig out to read a second time.

The novels with the most entertainment per pound are among the thinnest of the 1953 novels: Beyond This Place by A. J. Cronin and Time and Time Again by James Hilton.

Cronin and Hilton were prolific writers who knew how to write novels that translated well into films. Hilton even worked as a Hollywood screenwriter. Their names were, if not household words, instantly recognizable to the reading public on both sides of the Atlantic for a large portion of the twentieth century.

dust jacket of Time and Time AgainIn their 1953 bestsellers, Cronin and Hilton tell stories of men remarkable for their ordinariness. Cronin’s protagonist is career foreign service officer nearing retirement age; Hilton’s is a young collegian planning a teaching career.

Each of these unlikely heroes would laugh at the idea of doing anything heroic. They go on playing the bit role life assigned them until they each tumble into a situation they cannot in good conscience ignore.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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