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Posts Tagged ‘Warwick Deeping’

Ex-soldier Arnold Furze has spent five years trying to bring Doomsday, a hillside farm, back to productivity.

Arnold falls for the pretty daughter of one of his milk customers in the cheap residential development below his farm.


Doomsday by Warwick Deeping
Alfred A Knopf, 1927, 367 pp. 1927Bestseller #3 My grade B+.

photo of dairy farm, 1921

Mary Viner is impressed by the sexy farmer, but turned off at the thought of being a farmer’s wife.

Mary debunks, heads for bright lights. Within a few months, she marries a wealthy financier with the personality of a fence post.

Arnold marries a farmer’s daughter. Their happy marriage is ended by a speeding automobile.

When Mary’s husband commits suicide over his financial failures, she returns to her late parents’ home.

In a standard romance, widow and widower would find each other again and live happily every after, but Warwick Deeping is no standard romance novelist.

Arnold and Mary both have a lot of maturing to do before either can think of happiness.

Deeping’s novel takes its name from the 1086 record of English land holdings called the Domesday, or Doomsday, book. The land is central to the novel.

Arnold and Mary, respectively, represent the war between enduring values and modernity. The split focus keeps Doomsday from being a great novel, but it doesn’t keep it from being fine entertainment.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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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

 

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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

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None of the novels on the 1932 bestseller list are great books. Three of them, however, are  insightful character studies that are well worth reading today.

First place in my list is the 10th place novel on the list: Three Loves by A. J. Cronin.  Cronin tells the story of a passionate woman who devotes herself first to her husband, then to her son, and then to God, only to find none of them is willing to do what she wants them to do. Three Loves, in my opinion, is Cronin’s best novel, far better than the medical-religious tales for which he is best known.

My second place honors are shared by two novels shaped in very different ways by the French battlefields of World War I.

Magnolia Street by Louis Golding looks at the relationship—or more precisely the lack of relationship—between Jews and gentiles on a single English city block.  As a novel, Magnolia Street is disjointed and repetitious; as a living microcosom, it’s heartbreaking.

Old Wine and New by Warwick Deeping tells the story of  returning vet who finds himself old, redundant, and unworthy of notice by the bright young things who weren’t over there.   Solid story telling and  characters who do whatever’s necessary to get up after life’s hard knocks make this novel good reading.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Tyne Cot World War I Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Warwick Deeping’s Old Wine and New is an unexpected and rather extraordinary tale about the making of a novelist in the years between the First and Second World Wars.

Timid, gentle to a fault, scarcely able to make himself a cuppa, Spenser Scarsdale is as unlikely a hero as a protagonist can be. He blunders along through life, finding almost by accident something he’s sufficiently interested in to put in the effort to make a success of it.

Scarscale serves as a medic in France, caring for victims of the trenches. As the war winds down, one dying man gives Scarsdale an envelope to deliver to his daughter. Scarsdale falls for the girl. He leads her to believe, as he does, that he’s a reasonably well-off literary gentleman.

Scarsdale is unaware that, at 45, he’s considered a washed-up editorial hack. In the post-war slump, Scarsdale loses his job, his savings, and the girl, who never was his anyway.

Scarsdale ends up renting a room from a woman who does domestic work for wealthy Londoners.

Eleanor takes Scarsdale in hand, tactfully helping him to see that he needs to write about real life. With her encouragement, advice, and occasional behind-the-scenes manipulation, Scarsdale writes a successful first novel and follows it up with a second.

Unlike the typical novelist-protagonist, Scarsdale has no passion to write. He writes because it’s the only thing he has the least bit of ability to do, and he must eat.

Deeping’s realistic characters and believable plot will delight readers. Perhaps they may even inspire a few who are blundering into middle age still wondering what they want to do when they grow up.

Old Wine and New
Warwick Deeping
Alfred A. Knopf, 1932
387 pages
1932 Bestseller #6
 

Photo credit: Tyne Cot WW1 Cemetery uploaded by ssaanen http://www.sxc.hu/photo/892542

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Bridge of Desire is a bit of a departure for Warwick Deeping from the overdone sentimentality of his more famous works like Sorrell and Son.

Unfortunately, he reverts to sentimentality at a crucial point in the plot, giving a happy-ever-after ending to a story that demands less romance and more nuance.

Here’s the gist of the plot:

Martin Frensham has achieved success as a dramatist thanks in large measure to his wife, Nella, who created the home atmosphere in which he could write.

In the seventh year of a happy marriage, Martin gets restless.

Looking for new ideas, he leaves Nella for a rich American widow whose hobby is collecting men. Nella tells friends her husband is traveling for his health. She is sure Martin will come to his senses and return to her.

Deeping’s probing of the male mid-life crisis is observant rather than psychoanalytical, his prose incisive rather than lyrical. The novel gives the impression of saying something that has to be said, even if the telling gives pain.

Even though Bridge of Desire is not a great novel, it’s one whose story will linger in your memory longer than many better ones.

 Bridge of Desire
by Warwick Deeping
Robert M. McBride, 1931
303 pages
My grade B
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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To relieve her widowed mother’s financial burden and escape England’s gray drizzle, Miss “Billy” Brown goes to Tindaro. Her lack of Italian is no handicap for her job at Julia Lord’s English library and tea shop.

Before long, even Tindaro’s misfit exile community are shocked when novelist Oscar Slade decides to add the lovely and innocent Billy to his conquests through marriage. His jealous housekeeper prevents the marriage by murdering Slade before drowning herself.

Billy, who knew nothing of Slade’s reputation, hardens herself against her loss. She turns her energies to business, helping transform Julia’s modest operation into a thriving service agency.

Thomas Isherwood. an architect gassed in the war, has come to Italy to repair the damage to his lungs. In her professional capacity, Billy helps Isherwood locate and furnish a villa. In her unprofessional capacity, Billy helps him repair the damage to his emotions and softens her own in the process.

In outline, this plot sounds trite, but the novel has depth and perception.

Warwick Deeping’s keen eye for character and detail raise Exile above the pedestrian, subtly revealing the far-reaching consequences of youthful choices. His portrait of her mother’s relationship with Billy is a gem, but it’s only one of the nuanced portraits that make Deeping’s readers feel they are making discoveries about real people.

Exile
By Warwick Deeping
Alfred A. Knopf, 1930
330 pages
1930 bestseller #2
My grade B+

©2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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