When Knighthood Was in Flower, by Charles Major, was the #9 bestselling book of 1900. On one hand that was a relief, because it would have been horrifying to find that it sold better than To Have and To Hold or Janice Meredith, both of which were, you know, good. On the other hand, it’s worrying to think that this book was a bestseller at all, since it’s kind of terrible. Actually, I can’t think of anything I liked about it. Or, I don’t know, the title is okay, I guess. If by “knighthood” you mean “being fickle and selfish.” And there’s one sort of entertaining bit in which Charles Brandon imagines going to New Spain and pining for Mary Tudor: “I shall find the bearing of Paris, and look in her direction until my brain melts in my effort to see her, and then I shall wander in the woods, a suffering imbecile, feeding on roots and nuts.” I don’t know what kind of success he’d have with the roots and nuts, but believe me, he’s got the suffering imbecile part down. Read the rest of this entry ?
Posts Tagged ‘bestseller’
February’s Edwardian Promenade guest post is on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s first mystery novel, The Man in Lower Ten. This is partly because I reread it when I was on that train murder kick earlier this month, and partly because I was just reading a (nonfiction) book in which Rinehart was continually being compared to Mary Higgins Clark, which seemed somewhat unfair.
The Heart of Rachael is a 1916 bestseller by Kathleen Thompson Norris, and the best word I can think of to describe it is ‘involved.’ I had a whole synopsis of the plot written out, but it was kind of dull without all the semi-coherent insights into people’s characters interspersed with the exposition. So, let’s see how radically I can simplify it.
Rachael Fairfax, age 21, marries Clarence Breckenridge, a divorcé with a young daughter. Their marriage turns out very badly, mostly because Clarence doesn’t really care about anyone but his daughter Carol, commonly known as Billy. Also, Clarence is an alcoholic. Seven years into the marriage, Rachael decides she can’t stand it anymore and divorces him. She spends the summer becoming a better person, or something, and at the end of it she marries Dr. Warren Gregory, who is very much in love with her, because she has realized that she’s also very much in love with him.
Things go pretty well for them, but, although everyone is pretty much agreed that Rachael’s divorce was as justified as any divorce ever, she’s still really sensitive about it. Especially when, soon after Rachael and Warren are married, Billy runs off to marry another alcoholic divorcé, and Clarence kills himself. No one else seems to be bothered about this as much as Rachael is. Read the rest of this entry ?
It occurred to me this morning that probably a lot of you haven’t read Trilby. This, it seems to me, is a problem, and should be rectified. Trilby was published in 1894, but set in the 1840’s or ’50s, and it was massively popular — Wikipedia says Dracula was more popular, but I don’t think Dracula inspired hats, and I’m quite sure it didn’t inspire foot-shaped ice cream.
It’s hard to explain what makes Trilby so special, but it undoubtedly is. Part of it is probably George Du Maurier’s illustrations — he was a staff member at Punch before he was a novelist, and the characters in Trilby are as much visual creations as literary ones. The book is also full of songs and bits of poetry, so it’s sort of a multimedia experience in a way that’s only beginning to be discussed again now with the advent of ebooks. Actually, some kind of enhanced ebook version of Trilby would probably work really well.
Anyway. Read the rest of this entry ?
The Melting of Molly is by Maria Thompson Daviess, whose last name really is spelled like that, and it was a bestseller in 1912.
The melting in question is a metaphorical description of Molly falling in love, of course, but it’s nominally meant to refer to weight loss. Molly Carter is a twenty-five year old widow, and this book is supposed to be her diary, written to keep track of her diet and exercise regimes.
Mr. Carter, dead approximately one year, was nobody particularly interesting–just someone Molly married after Al Bennett, the young man she was in love with, had gone off into the world to try and make a name for himself or something. That was when Molly was seventeen, and now Al Bennett, having heard that Mr. Carter is out of the picture, has started sending Molly love letters and talking about coming home. Apparently he expects to see her in the same dress she was wearing when he left, only that was eight years ago, and it doesn’t quite fit. And by “quite” I mean “at all.” Read the rest of this entry ?
The Definite Object is the second Jeffery Farnol book I’ve read. It’s also the second Jeffery Farnol book I’ve picked hoping to find out that it was an early regency romance in the vein of Georgette Heyer, as I’ve read that they co-created the genre. I guess I missed the subtitle. But I find myself wondering whether the regencies are any different. Do they also all feature disaffected millionaires going incognito in order to hang out with poor people? Perhaps someday I will find out.
The disaffected millionaire in The Definite Object is Geoffrey Ravenslee, who likes to race cars and box with his chauffeur and (apparently) be cheated by his servants. He realizes that he’s not doing anything with his life, so when he finds young Spike Chesterton attempting to burgle his home, he follows Spike home to Hell’s Kitchen, hoping to find someone to fall in love with. He finds Hermione Chesterton, Spike’s sister, who is of course exceptionally beautiful, as well as virtuous and hardworking.
Usually I do a little bit of research on a book before I write about it — not much beyond googling the title and author to make sure I haven’t missed anything important. So I took a look at Wikipedia this morning, and while I didn’t learn anything about Janice Meredith that I didn’t already know (bestseller in 1900, made into a silent movie), when I looked up Paul Leicester Ford, I discovered to following: he was murdered in 1902 by his brother Malcolm, a famous athlete, who then shot himself. Nothing to do with the book, I guess, but any chance that I was going to forget who Paul Leicester Ford was is now gone.
Not that I really thought I would forget, because Janice Meredith is pretty good. It’s sort of like Under Two Flags, only set during the American Revolution, and about one fifth as ridiculous.
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I’m having trouble putting into words how much I liked When A Man Marries. The is the second Mary Roberts Rinehart book I’ve read, and it’s not much like Dangerous Days. For one thing, nothing particularly tragic happens. For another, it’s mostly pretty funny (I suspect these two things are related). Also, it’s a mystery novel. And at first, I thought a lot about those differences, but then it occurred to me that the things that make the two books similar–good writing, for example–are at least as important. After that, I got really absorbed, and mostly stopped thinking about anything that wasn’t actually happening in the book for a while. Read the rest of this entry ?
I’ve been very busy lately, but I always make time to read. What I can’t always make time for is the writing part. So, in an effort to catch up, here are my brief thoughts on Graustark:
Graustark is about a rich American named Grenfall Lorry — and his name is pretty much the coolest thing about him — who falls in love with a mysterious foreign girl traveling through America with her aunt and uncle. He follows her home to Europe, only to find that she is actually Princess Yetive, ruler of the tiny principality of Graustark. Read the rest of this entry ?
I first started reading Dangerous Days several weeks ago, and, because it was by Mary Roberts Rinehart, I assumed that it would be a murder mystery. And if it was, it was clear that the murder victim would be Clayton Spencer, and I didn’t like the other characters enough to get through more than three hundred pages worth of them if he wasn’t there too. So I put the book aside.
I picked it up again this weekend, because, after all, I wasn’t positive that there was going to be a murder, and I was in the middle of too many things and wanted to finish one. And I really did like Clayton Spencer, and I wanted to find out what happened to him.
I finished Dangerous Days this morning, and I’m not really sure what to say about it. I liked it, definitely. And I was absorbed almost from the moment I picked it up again, although there were times when I had to put it down, like when Graham Spencer hit Clay’s caddie in the head with a golf ball, or when Audrey Valentine’s husband died, or when Herman Klein beat up his daughter.
Bad things happen to the people in this book. And the characters are somewhat clichéd, and so is pretty much everything else, and the logic of the book backs a lot of opinions I disagree with, but I was completely hooked, and, as Rinehart’s philosophy was internally consistent, I just went with it. Because no matter how clichéd and/or silly some part of Dangerous Days are, taken out of context, it’s honest about where it stands, and it means everything it says. Read the rest of this entry ?
So, I just read another Eleanor Hallowell Abbott story: Molly Make-Believe. And it’s a full-fludged romance novel this time — although a very small one — which is sort of not in its favor.
Molly Make-Believe tells the story of a winter in the life of Carl Stanton, a young businessman who is confined to his bed by his horrible rheumatism. He has recently become engaged to a girl named Cornelia, although it hasn’t been announced yet. Carl’s doctor is astonished to discover that Cornelia is going South for the winter in spite of the fact that Carl is ill, but, as Carl puts it, “Every girl like Cornelia had to go South sometime between November and March.” Read the rest of this entry ?
The Wide, Wide World was written by Susan Warner and published in 1850 under the name Elizabeth Wetherell. It was an enormous success, and probably America’s first bestseller — it was as popular in the second half of the 19th century as Uncle Tom’s Cabin was, and was published two years before it. It was also one of the first books intended for girls rather than children. I guess it’s sort of similar to the works of Charlotte Yonge, who was writing around the same time.
For all these reasons I’ve been intending to read it for a long time, but there are so many things I want to read, and so I didn’t get around the The Wide, Wide World until the fact that Elsie Dinsmore reads it in Elsie’s Girlhood made me feel like I had to.
Well, it took me a while, but it was no hardship. It’s actually a pretty good book, and I’ surprised it isn’t still considered a classic. It’s overtly religious nearly to the extent that the Elsie books are, but I think religion is dealt with much more sensitively in The Wide, Wide World. Possibly this is because Warner was a much better writer than Martha Finley. Everything is dealt with more sensitively. Characters stay in character. There is interest outside of religion in The Wide, Wide World, and sometimes, when children are playing games, you actually get the sense that they’re having fun, as opposed to just being told that they are. And I kept having moments where I’d look up from the page and think to myself, “Yeah. That seems like something a person would do.” Much as I love old girls’ books, I don’t have many moments like that while reading them. Read the rest of this entry ?
Last week I was on an Eleanor Porter kick. I’d never realized how many books she wrote that weren’t, you know, Pollyanna. Her Wikipedia entry says she wrote mostly children’s lit, but I’m not sure how much I trust her Wikipedia entry, seeing as it calls the three Miss Billy books children’s lit (questionable) and Just David a novel for adults (untrue). I have no idea whether it’s right about the rest of her books, since those are the four I’ve just read.
Just David came first, and I think I’d have been able to tell that it was by the author of Pollyanna even if I hadn’t already known. Either that or I would have thought an unknown author was just copying Eleanor Porter.
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