Tracy Park, 1/11March 30, 2007
Tracy Park, by Mary Jane Holmes, is perhaps my favorite of the books I’ve discovered online. I’m not really sure why that is, because I can’t really think of anything that makes it special, but I’m ridiculously fond of it and I’ve read it quite a few times now.
Frank and Arthur Tracy are brothers. They’re not well off, but they have a wealthy uncle, after whom Arthur is named. Frank marries a young woman named Dolly, and they’re quite poor, but they love each other and they’re pretty happy. Then the uncle dies and leaves all his money to Arthur. Frank and Dolly aren’t too happy about this, but Arthur buys a grocery store for them to run, and they’re better off than they were before. Meanwhile, Arthur moves to Tracy Park, the deceased uncle’s home, and sets himself up as a model gentleman. And he’s naturally aristocratic and generous and stuff, so everyone likes him. He spends most of his time with his best friend, Harold Hastings, and they live at the Park House with the housekeeper, Mrs. Crawford, and her daughter Amy.
The Crawfords are poor, but very refined, and Amy is very sweet and beautiful. Arthur falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, but she refuses because she’s fallen in love with Hastings. Eventually the two of them run off together and get married. When Arthur finds out he follows them to Europe and keeps an eye on them, because he knows that Hastings isn’t really the nicest guy, and he wants to protect Amy. Eventually Hastings runs off somewhere, leaving Amy alone in London with their baby boy. At that point Arthur starts taking care of her and soon sends Amy and baby Harold back to Mrs. Crawford. Then Hastings and Amy both die — it’s not really clear which of them kicks the bucket first. This is maybe two years after they ran off together.
When Arthur went chasing after Hastings and Amy, he asked Frank to move into Tracy Park and keep it as it should be kept, i.e. expensively, I guess. So Frank and Dolly move in, and Frank is like, “hey, this is pretty cool, huh?” but Dolly is massively uncomfortable. And then she fires all the servants and starts doing all the housework herself. Eventually she does get used to luxury and even becomes incredibly stuck up. By the time ten years have passed, Dolly is one of the leaders of society in their neighborhood and Frank is a member of the state legislature and is running for Congress.
I’ve been putting things in chronological order that aren’t so in the book, and actually, the first chapter takes place at the end of those ten years. Frank and Dolly have come to look on Tracy Park as their own, and they’re about to have a fabulous party in support of Frank’s run for Congress. The day of the party, Frank receives a telegram from Arthur, of whom he hasn’t heard anything for two years, announcing that he’ll be arriving that night. Frank knows Dolly’s not going to be so happy about that, so instead of telling her himself, he sends young Harold Hastings, son of Amy, to Dolly with the telegram.
Harold is excited to hear that Arthur is coming home — he knows that the elder Tracy brother has been something of a benefactor to his family, and actually, Arthur gave Mrs. Crawford the cottage that she and Harold now live in. Dolly is not quite so pleased. She’s afraid Arthur’s going to ask them to leave. Also the telegram says “us” and she worries that Arthur’s bringing home a wife and kids. She’s sort of glad to see Harold, though, because the little boy she’d hired to stand in the hall at her party and tell people where to put their coats has called in sick, and Harold will make a good replacement.
By this time, the Tracys have kids, too: There’s Tom, who is around ten, the same age as Harold, but they’re not friends. Tom is kind of arrogant and makes fun of Harold for being poor. Then there’s Jack, who is nice, but not too bright, and Maude, a pretty little toddler with black hair and eyes.
The party is huge. The Tracys have invited everyone they think might have some influence on the election, including some with whom they normally wouldn’t want to be seen, like Peterkin, the canal-boat owner turned manufacturer and millionaire. Peterkin is impossibly vulgar and loud, and flaunts his wealth in the most obnoxious way possible.
I’m being really long-winded here, I know, but I really love this book, and I intend to recount the entire plot in detail because it’s fun. Now would probably be a good time to point out a few other characters, people who will be present at the party. There’s Grace Atherton, a wealthy, youngish widow whose home is called Brier Hill, there’s her childhood sweetheart Squire Harrington, who lives at Collingwood, and there are the St. Claires, a youngish couple who live at Grassy Springs. The St. Clairs have two children: Dick, a very nice boy who is a good friend of Harold, and Nina, his younger sister. There are a peculiarly large number of families in this story with boys of the same age and girls a few years younger. It makes for numerous love triangles and such when they’re older. Peterkin’s got two kids, too: near-midget Billy and red-headed Ann Eliza. Peterkin’s wife is named Mary Jane, but he insists on calling her May Jane. The only other character I can think of who has been introduced so far is Colvin, Arthur’s business agent.
And that’s how things stand at 7:30, the hour named on the party invitations. This has ended up kind of long, so I’m going to leave off for now.