A Woman Named Smith

March 4, 2007

Yesterday I read A Woman Named Smith, by Marie Conway Oemler. I think it was the title that attracted me. Also the fact that one of the author’s other books is called Slippy McGee.

Sophy Smith is a thirtysomething-year-old woman working as a secretary. She’s accepted that nothing exciting is going to happen in her life. Then she inherits Hynds House from Sophronisba Scarlett, a horrible great-aunt only related to Sophy by marriage who only left her the house in order to spite her neighbors.

Sophy and her friend Alicia arrive at the house and find that it’s a mess, but it’s a mess full of valuable old furniture and things, and they set to work cleaning it up. Everyone in town seems to hate them except for their neighbors on either side. They are Dr. Richard Geddes — sarcastic and short-tempered, but kind — and Nicholas Jelnik — mysterious, musical, and dazzlingly handsome — and both of them are related to the Hynds family. There is also a Hynds family mystery, a cache of jewels that went missing sometime in the 18th century.

This book starts off a bit slow, but it picks up once Sophy and Alicia finish restoring the house and start making it into a sort of upscale boarding house. The first person they invite to stay is The Author, a famous literary figure who is never given a name. He falls in love with the house and doesn’t seem to want to leave. I love fictional famous people, and The Author is hugely entertaining. Other guests include a suffragist, a famous illustrator, and a lady from Boston with an interest in the occult, and with the help of their guests, Dr. Geddes, and Jelnik, the two girls win over the townspeople. And Sophy gets proposed to by Geddes, Jelnik, and The Author.

I won’t say which one she says yes to, although it’s obvious pretty early on, but I will say this: I’m often disappointed in the heroine’s choice of husband, as I am here. But I’m only a little disappointed, which says a lot, considering how much I liked one of the guys who got turned down.

Guys, this book has everything. The haunted house, the missing jewels, the lost — and not so lost — family members, the mysterious personage in Oriental costume, the car crash, the nearly fatal illness…there’s even a mummy and a secret midnight visit to a graveyard. What more could one want?

I should add that since this was published in 1919 and is set in the south, there’re a lot of stereotypes about black servants, which can be kind of off-putting. I’ve learned to bypass that kind of thing without thinking about it too hard.



  1. WOW. This book is just marvelous. Such a modern feel to the writing (southern stereotypes notwithstanding), and personally, I thought it was hilarious at times.

    Now, I have to practice cultivating that “cold, accusing, ‘I-die-a-martyr-to-your-stupidity’ voice that women punish men with”.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! It’s become one of my favorite books.

  2. I also really enjoyed this one!

    Although I liked how the romances ended up, I did feel more potential at the beginning for the one who marries her friend (to avoid spoilers). It seemed like a good opportunity for banter and an interesting meeting of minds, but his proposal lessened my opinion of him somewhat. Then again, Sophy’s real romance was a bit too convoluted and melodramatic at the end. Still, not so much as to really mar my pleasure in reading the story.

    Sophy is an interesting character and the setting and atmosphere of the book were enjoyable. I’m definitely considering the other books by Oemler.

    Also, your site is a lot of fun! I have discovered several good books already from your recommendations and look forward to finding more. Even your summary of “bad” books are fun to read – it’s lovely to get these glimpses into the past, the good, bad and mediocre (and so bad it’s good). Keep up the wonderful work!

    • Yeah, the romance might have actually been the thing that worked least well for me, although I do like it. And then, I kind of fell in love with The Author and started rooting for him, even though I knew nothing would come of it.

      As far as Oemler’s other books are concerned, I loved Slippy McGee, but The Purple Heights had a vary good first half and a not particularly good second half. There are a couple of others, but I’m saving them for a rainy day.

      And thanks for enjoying the blog! I have so much fun reading and writing for it, and it’s always nice to hear that other people like it too.

  3. For some reason, those titles remind me of Norbert Davis’ Doan and Carstairs novels, which have titles like The Mouse in the Mountain, and Sally’s in the Alley. Other than that, I guess there’s not too much in common with this post, but they’re fun reads, combining hard-boiled detectives and a strong sense of humor.

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