The Harbor is an excursion into lived history

The Harbor is a fictional history of the major upheavals in American life between 1865 and 1915 as experienced by a family who lived and worked on New York City’s waterfront.

[The New York Public Library’s digital book New York City Harbor puts the novel in its historical and visual setting.]


The Harbor by Ernest Poole

Grossett & Dunlap, 1915. Project Gutenberg ebook #29932. 1915 bestseller #8. My grade: B+.


Part owner of a warehouse on the docks, Bill’s father dreams and works his entire life for a golden age of shipping dominated by America and delivered by honorable men in beautiful vessels.

Bill’s college-educated mother is repelled by the harbor’s scenes and people. The family is not rich enough for New York society.

Following his mother’s lead, Bill first sees the harbor as an unpleasant place.

As a youth, Bill comes under the sway of an engineer, soon to be his father-in-law, who serves the god of efficiency and the pocketbooks of Wall Street.

Later Bill falls under the spell of a revolutionary who shows him the human cost of efficiency, and Bill becomes enamored of the wisdom of the masses and organized labor.

Bill narrates with the detachment of hindsight. He is, however, sufficiently self-aware to realize he’s all too likely to jettison today’s struggle for the next big thing.

Into this framework, novelist Ernest Poole pours the personal stories of Bill and his extended family who are as real as the folks at your family reunion.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Tobacco dominates Drivin’ Woman

Kentucky tobacco field
Tobacco field in Stanford Kentucky

Drivin’ Woman is a historical romance set against the backdrop of the tobacco industry.

As the Civil War ends, America “Merry” Moncure runs what’s left of her family and its plantation. Merry marries a cousin, Fant Annabel, and moves with him to Kentucky from her Virginia home.

When Fant  jumps from a riverboat to avoid a murder charge, he leaves Merry penniless and pregnant.  Fortunately, a distant relative who assumes as everyone does that Fant us dead, leaves his farm in trust to Merry’s child.

Merry drives herself and her hired help hard to make the farm profitable, but her “late husband”  reappears stealthily every few years, leaving her cashless and pregnant. The community and her four children consider Merry a whore.

Meanwhile, few savvy traders are turning tobacco into a major industry. By the time Fant is killed in a shootout in Merry’s yard, the trading syndicate has a stranglehold on tobacco farmers. One of its leaders is Merry’s brother-in-law.

The farmers unite to sell their tobacco as a block to keep the price up, but it’s Merry who saves the day.

Elizabeth Pickett Chevalier chose her historical setting well. It provides cover for a contrived plot and characters that never quite ring true. There’s plenty of entertainment in this novel, and a generous dollop of historical insight as well.

Drivin’ Woman
Elizabeth Pickett Chevalier
MacMillan, 1945
652 pages
My Grade: C+
1942 Bestseller #5
 

Photo credit: “Tobacco Field”  uploaded by carterboy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/560057

©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Llewellyn’s Valley Is Still Springtime Fresh

Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley is a nostalgic glimpse of life in days that were at once rougher and gentler than our own.

When the story opens, narrator Huw Morgan is just a boy in a Welsh household made prosperous by the combined wages of his father and brothers who work the coal mines.

As mines everywhere shut, plentiful labor forces wages down. The Morgan household splits over attempts to unionize the mine. Miners strike, but the strike fails.

A new minister in the valley takes an interest in Huw and encourages him to go to school, where he excels. Huw refuses to go to college. He chooses life in the mine over a profession.

A series of fresh disasters strike the valley: mining accidents, a rift in the local congregation over the minister’s relationship with Huw’s sister. The valley grows bleak and barren.

Although Huw tells the story in a flashback, he tells it basically from the perspective of what he saw, felt, and understood at the age when the events happened. Llewellyn’s novel takes readers into an interior world the classic film version of the novel does not capture.

Experience youth again: Read How Green Was My Valley.

How Green Was My Valley
By Richard Llewellyn
Macmillian, 1940
494 pages
1940 bestseller #1
My grade: B+

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni