Dere Mable sees WWI recruit’s funny side

Dere Mable is what it’s fictional narrator would probably call an E. Pistol Larry novel.

Dust jacket of Dere Mable shows Bill Smith in his tent in France penciling a letter to Mable back home.

The American army is attempting to turn Bill Smith into a clog in its fighting machine in France.

Bill had mastered the clog part before he reached training camp.


Dere Mable: Letters of a Rookie by Edward Streeter

G. William Breck. illus. 1918 bestseller #4. Project Gutenberg ebook #13993.
My grade C.


Turning Bill into a soldier makes defeating the Germany army look like child’s play.

Bill writes Mable chatty letters about life in the Army where “bed and board mean the same thing” and recruits are told to “walk a post but their aint no post.”

Bill tells Mable he’s taking French lessons at the YMCA so he can talk to girls when he gets to France, but when Bill hears Mable has been spending a lot of time with someone named Broggins, he is furious.

Dere Mable has little plot and virtually no character development. G. William Breck’s droll illustrations bring the story to life and make it long enough to be called a book.

Though he makes Bill a comic figure, Edward Streeter’s tone is gentle. He doesn’t mock Bill for lack of education, but for his smug self-delusion.

Streeter’s respect for the American conscript is what makes Dere Mable a more durable work than Mac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants 36 years later.

Streeter dedicates his novel to the privates who "serve as a matter of course."
The dedication page of Edward Streeter’s Dere Mable

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Amazing Interlude explores the meaning of America

It was fitting that I read The Amazing Interlude  on July 4, because the plot of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel grows out of a young girl’s developing sense of what being an American means.


The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Illustrations by the Kinneys. 1918 bestseller #3.
Project Gutenberg ebook #1590. My grade: A-.


Sara Lee Kennedy, 19, is planning to marry a man “as slow as he was sure, as unimaginative as he was faithful,” when a letter telling of the appalling conditions of the Belgian Army touches her imagination.

Sara offers to go to France before marrying Harvey if the Methodist women donate money for her to run a soup kitchen.

Though she knows no French, has no credentials, and has no contacts to help her, Sara gets to Europe and sets up a soup kitchen in a roofless house in Dunkirk, a few hundred yards from the front.

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Her finacé regards her decision as treacherous. While Sara makes soup and cleans wounds, Harvey fumes at home.

Finally Harvey explodes.

He accuses the Methodist ladies of being publicity hounds just as Sara’s letter arrives asking them for more funds for the kitchen.

She’s recalled to America.

When Harvey refuses even to listen to Sara’s stories of what she saw in France, Sara breaks the engagement.

She saw him for what he was, not deliberately cruel, not even unkindly, but selfish, small, without vision. Harvey was for his own fireside, his office, his little family group. His labor would always be for himself and his own. Whereas Sara Lee was, now and forever, for all the world, her hands consecrated to bind up its little wounds and to soothe its great ones. Harvey craved a cheap and easy peace. She wanted no peace except that bought by service, the peace of a tired body, the peace of the little house in Belgium where, after days of torture, weary men found quiet and ease and the cheer of the open door.

Rinehart lets Sara find love, but the romance is secondary to Sara’s finding herself.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

All Quiet on the Western Front Still a Disquieting Tale

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque takes readers into the German trenches of World War I. By the time readers meet the novel’s 20-year-old narrator, Paul Baumer, and his friends, they are battle-hardened veterans.

All Quiet on the Western Front is not a pleasant novel, but it is a well-written one. There is a reflective, meditative tone to Paul’s narration that gives the story immediacy and humanity.

The events of the novel, graphic and horrible, are the events of war.

Soldiers bleed and die at the front, at aid stations, in hospitals.

Rats attack in packs.

Horses scream in agony, sending shivers down the spines of veterans who have watched unmoved as men died.

Worn out artillery kills the men it is supposed to protect.

All the while, safe at the rear, commanders make plans that send hundreds more to extinction.

A sniper’s bullet ends Paul’s life shortly before the armistice. But ironically the bullet saves Paul from what he most feared: the attempt to re-enter civilian life burdened by the memories of war.

As long as nations send their young people straight from schoolyards to combat zones, All Quiet on the Western Front will continue to be an important book.

All Quiet on the Western Front
By Erica Maria Remarque
Trans. A. W. Wheen
Little, Brown, 1929
291 pages
1929 Bestseller #1
My grade: A
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni