Who Cares?

March 11, 2007

I’ve been rereading Who Cares? by Cosmo Hamilton, whose name was actually Cosmo Gibbs and who happens to have been C. Aubrey Smith’s brother in law. I found this book about a year ago by browsing through the Project Gutenberg catalog alphabetically by title. Novels with questions for titles tend to be fun, and quite a few of them can be found under ‘W’.

Who Cares? is silly and overwrought, but I keep being seduced by the descriptors Hamilton uses for the hero and heroine: young, clean, honest, strong, etc. And somehow that’s always what I remember about this book, instead of the silliness.

Joan Ludlow lives with her grandparents in the country. Her mother used to live with them, too, but she has just remarried and gone away for her honeymoon, and so Joan is alone with her old grandparents and their old house full of their old servants and old dogs. And she’s bored out of her mind because her grandparents are strict and she’s full of youth and vigor and stuff.

One day she meets Martin Gray, a boy only a few years older than herself, while walking in the woods, and they become friends. He’s lived alone in his big house nearby since his father died not too long ago, and he’s muscular and reliable and has clean eyes. When Joan’s grandmother discovers she’s been hanging out with Martin unchaperoned (this was published in 1919, by the way) she grounds her, but Joan, who can’t stand living with old people anymore, runs away to Martin and gets him to drive her to New York so she can stay with her friend Alice Palgrave.

Unfortunately, Alice is away, and Martin won’t let Joan stay alone with Alice’s husband Gilbert. So they get married, which seems to solve everything nicely (because now Joan has lots of money to spend on clothes, too) except that Martin is actually in love with Joan, while Joan thinks she’s still a kid and just wants to have fun. When he comes to her room on their wedding night, she pretends she doesn’t know what he wants and sends him away. After that, they don’t seem to see a whole lot of each other. Joan goes dancing every night and flirts with Gilbert Palgrave until he falls madly in love with her, while the horribly frustrated Martin makes friends with a chorus girl named Tootles who soon falls in love with him.

Eventually Joan realizes she’s an idiot, but every time she tries to see Martin and make things right, she finds him with Tootles, with whom she thinks he’s having an affair. She becomes really unhappy and retaliates by teasing Gilbert until he literally goes insane.

Of course, everything ends up happily for Martin and Joan, which is nice, although I would have liked to find out what happens to Tootles in the end. What’s funny (well, funnier than the rest) is that Joan and Martin have some kind of supernatural connection. When she needs him, he knows somehow. And they’re really matter-of-fact about it:

Joan: Do you suppose I shall always be able to get you when I want you very much?

Martin: Yes, always.

Joan: Why?

Martin: I dunno. It’s like that.

So eloquent, these young people of 1919. Really, the whole book is about how young and alive Joan is. And I know it sounds like absolute trash, and it is, I guess, but it’s seriously entertaining.

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