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Posts Tagged ‘William J. Locke’

The 1917 bestseller list contains three novels that are definitely read-again novels for 2017:  The Red Planet by William J. Locke, His Family by Ernest Poole, and In the Wilderness by Robert Hichens.

The only thing that common thread among my choices is that each is decidedly uncommon.

A domestic novel: His Family

Image of stick figure family group surprinted with His Family by Ernest Poole

I’ll start with Poole’s novel, which is in many ways the least unusual of the trio.

His Family is about a self-made man around the turn of the century.

When his wife died after 20 years of marriage, Roger Gale froze emotionally.

For the next 20 years, Roger kept his business going and saw to it that his three daughters were fed, clothed, and educated; he had no strength left to care for their emotional needs.

The novel explores Roger’s often ham-fisted attempts to connect with the adult children who he’d let grow up parent-less.

In one way, His Family is not a memorable book. The events are very much the sorts of things that happen in every family.

However, the ordinariness of the events the Gales experience makes His Family a novel one can come back to repeatedly to see how an ordinary family handles — or mishandles — life’s problems.

A cozy mystery: The Red Planet

Photo of Mars suprinted with text  The Red Planet by William J. Locke

Although the World War I provides the backdrop to much of the action of His Family, the war in Europe didn’t touch their lives significantly.

By contrast, the Great War permeates the pages of The Red Planet.

The Red Planet is a cozy mystery, presented as a memoir of a Boer War veteran living in a small English village when WWI broke out.

Duncan Meredyth, a paraplegic, is cared for by his ex-sergeant who was disfigured in the same shell blast that took Duncan’s legs.

When Duncan’s neighbors learn their son has been killed in France, Duncan remembers the Fenimore’s daughter, Althea, who was drowned less than a year earlier.

Duncan wonders what Althea had been was doing on the tow-path beside the canal at midnight.

His wondering leads to his listening, observing, and putting the clues together.

Readers of The Red Planet get far more than a good mystery.

They also get a peek into the great changes Britain experienced in 1914-18. Locke writes:

Thus over the sequestered vale of Wellingsford, far away from the sound of shells, even off the track of marauding Zeppelins, rode the fiery planet. Mars. There is not a homestead in Great Britain that in one form or another has not caught a reflection of its blood-red ray. No matter how we may seek distraction in work or amusement, the angry glow is ever before our eyes, colouring our vision, colouring our thoughts, colouring our emotions for good or for ill. We cannot escape it. Our personal destinies are inextricably interwoven with the fate directing the death grapple of the thousand miles or so of battle line, and arbitrating on the doom of colossal battleships.

A spiritual biography: In the Wilderness

Wilderness scene with surprinted text In the Wilderness a novel by The Garden of Allah author Ribert Hichens

In the Wilderness is a pre-war novel about a young man, Dion Leith, who was passionately in love with a woman who had turned him down numerous times.

Rosamund relinquished her plans and agreed to marry Dion after hearing a sermon urging “sharing a path” as a way to combat egoism.

Both Dion and Rosamund are intense and basically self-centered individuals, although their selfishness takes on very different expressions.

Dion thinks Rosamund’s religious faith stands between them, when the truth is that neither of them has real faith: Both have only emotion.

There’s nothing preachy about Hichens’ novel. His characters’ faith, or lack thereof, interests him as a facet of their personalities.

To the extent that Dion and Rosamund grow up, they outgrow the self-centeredness that marked their youthful religious beliefs.

Each of these three 1917 bestsellers is worth reading in 2017. Each is available to read for free at Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg

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Poem from frontpiece to The Red Planet superimposed on NASA photo of Mars

Poem from the front piece to The Red Planet

The Red Planet is a memoir narrated by Duncan Meredyth, a widowed Boer War veteran living in a small English country village in 1914. Duncan is cared for my his ex-sergeant who was disfigured in the same shell blast that took Duncan’s legs.


The Red Planet by William J. Locke
1917 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg eBook #4287. My grade: A-.

As friend to his peers and “Uncle” to local young people, Duncan gets to know nearly every thing that happens in Willingsford.

As the story opens, Duncan’s neighbors, the Fenimores, learn their son has been killed in France.

Less than a year earlier their daughter had drowned.

No one had asked aloud why Althea was on the tow-path at midnight.

While Fenimores mourn, Duncan learns Betty Fairfax, who had been engaged to the heroic Major Leonard Boyce, is going to marry Capt. Willie Connor, whom Duncan thinks a nonentity.

Duncan is also surprised to see upper-crust Randall Holmes with his arm around Phyllis Gedge, daughter of a socialist builder.

As Duncan hears village gossip, observes who is with whom, and puts two and two together, William J. Locke develops and redevelops the novel’s characters.

By turns funny, morose, sympathetic, and dogmatic, Duncan always seems like a real person whose opinions on patriotism, heroism, and human nature need to be taken seriously.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Septimus is another of William J. Locke’s rollicking tales of eponymous characters who knock the traditional notion of the fictional hero into a cocked hat.

The death of her husband from delirium tremens within six weeks of their wedding turned Zora Middlemist off marriage.


Septimus by William J. Locke

1909 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg eBook #14395. My grade: B+.


Since Zora is well endowed physically and financially—and totally lacking in ambition—the widow’s a walking male-magnet.

Septimus Dix, an eccentric inventor, is the first to fall for her charms.

Septimus is a kind and honest man, totally incapable of remembering an umbrella or firing an incompetent servant. He tells Zora:

I shouldn’t like to pass my life without dreams, Zora. I could give up tobacco and alcohol and clean collars and servants, and everything you could think of—but not dreams. Without them the earth is just a sort of backyard of a place.

Next to fall is Clem Sypher, “friend of humanity,” and inventor of Sypher’s Cure in which he believes with religious fervor.

With Zora favoring neither, Clem and Septimus become friends.

Meanwhile, Zora’s younger sister has been dumped by a man who left her pregnant.

Septimus offers Emily the protection of marriage, with the understanding that after the baby is born she can divorce him and not even Zora need know the child’s origins.

As silly as the plot sounds, Locke makes the absurdities arise so naturally from the goodness and foibles of the characters that it not only seems plausible but also reveals some home truths about faith, love, and having a dream.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Jaffery is an odd novel in which war correspondent Jaffery Chayne, a character better suited to a graphic novel than a literary one, appears only sporadically.


Jaffery by William J. Locke

Illus. F. Matania. Publisher, John Lane, 1915. Project Gutenberg ebook #14669. 1915 bestseller #6. My grade: B-.


Jaffery arrives back in England, escorting widow Liosha Prescott, just as Adrian Boldoro publishes a novel to great acclaim.

Liosha deals with loose cargo during a storm at sea

Loose cargo in the hold during a storm is no problem for Liosha Prescott

Liosha is Jaffery’s mate in appearance and temperament, but Jaffery is too besotted with Doria Jornicroft to notice her.

Despite her father’s opposition, Doria has gotten engaged to Adrian,  which skewers Jaffrey’s plan to fix Liosha up with Adrian.

Neither Jaffery nor Hilary Freeth would have been surprised had their deceased Cambridge pal, Tom, published a bestseller, but no one expected “precious, finnikin Adrian” to amount to anything.

When Adrian dies suddenly with a new book unfinished, Jaffery sees his chance to win Doria.

Jaffrey’s plan backfires.

Liosha has her own romantic contretemps.

Both sign on as hands on a tramp steamer, returning home in time to tie up the plot.

Liosha quiets a horse while Jaffrey talks to a native.

Liosha and Jaffrey are in the war zone in the Balkans.

William J. Locke packages the novel as Hillary’s memoir. Funny, loving and loveable, Hilary, together with his wife and daughter, provide a common-sense perspective for viewing the antics of others who seem be playing roles they scripted for themselves.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Close up photo of toad

Yes, my parents were a prince and princess.

The Fortunate Youth is far from a literary masterpiece, but William J. Locke knows how to spin a yarn so ideas worth pondering stick to it.

As the story opens, 11-year-old Paul Kegworthy  is living in a dirty industrial town with parents who are, in Locke’s tongue-in-cheek phrase, “not a model couple.”

A beautiful visitor to town says she’s sure Paul’s parents were a prince and princess. Paul thinks so, too. He itches to find his noble family.

A peddler gives Paul both a lift toward London, good food and good reading material.

Until he’s 23, Paul gets along on his good looks, first as an artist’s model in London, then as an actor in a rural touring company.

Every job that comes his way, Paul turns into an opportunity to develop noble behavior.

Paul has been selected a candidate for the House of Commons and as potential husband by the wealthy and lovely Princess Zobraska, when he discovers who is parents really are.

Needless to say, they weren’t of royal blood.

The candidate-suitor is revealed to be an imposter.

What can Paul do?

Locke keeps the story zipping along, slowing occasionally to let readers consider larger issues of determination, faith, and providence but never slipping into sermonizing.

The Fortunate Youth
By William J. Locke
Project Gutenberg EBook #4379
1914 bestseller #5
My grade: B

Photo credit: Toad by thegnome54

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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eu-moi-rous.  you MOI rus.  adj.  happy because of being innocent and good 
 

Simon the Jester is an offbeat tale about a British M.P. with a highly developed sense of the absurd and the prospect of having no more than six months to live.

When Simon de Gex, 37, gets his death sentence, he decides it offers the ideal opportunity to become eumoiros.  (The word tickles Simon; he uses it every time he gets a chance), since he won’t be around “when the boomerang of his beneficence comes back to hit him on the head.”

He breaks his engagement to Eleanor Faversham, resigns his seat in Parliament, and throws his support to Dale Kynnersley to assume the seat. He also throws his support to Maisie Ellerton to become Dale’s wife.

Dale, however, won’t give up Lola Brandt, a ex-circus performer, even to win an election.

Simon meets the luscious Lola, whose intuition and kindness are as captivating as her looks. She tells Simon of her unhappy marriage; he reminds her she’s still married.

From that set-up William J. Locke weaves a zany story that affords Simon’s humor plenty of exercise.

Though the story is told primarily for laughs, Locke doesn’t let anyone forget that laughing at situations may make them more bearable, but doesn’t actually change the situation.

If you liked Kitty Foyle, Daddy Long-Legs, or The Melting of Molly, you’ll enjoy Simon the Jester.

Simon the Jester
by William J. Locke
1910 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #3828 

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