Archive for March, 2008


The Motor Car Dumpy Book

March 25, 2008


“These are the kind of clothes you wear when you go moting if you are a man.”


“These are the kind of clothes you wear when you go moting if you are a woman.

“This is the magistrate who fines you £20 if you have been driving too fast. It is best not to drive too fast.”

The Motor Car Dumpy Book, by T.W.H. Crosland


Betty Wales

March 25, 2008

I’ve spent the past week writing the first draft of my thesis, which is why I haven’t updated. But although I may stop writing here, I never stop reading, and one of the things that made working on my thesis the most difficult was that I became completely absorbed in reading the first few Betty Wales books.

I had a very strong sense of déjà vu all the way through the first half of Betty Wales, Freshman and then again through the second half of Betty Wales, Sophomore, and I’m still not sure whether I’ve read them before or whether it’s just because these college girl books are all so much alike. My best guess so far is that the beginning of Freshman uses a number of incidents that appear in lots of similar books, and that I did at some point — probably about six years ago — read Sophomore. Read the rest of this entry ?


My Friend the Chauffeur

March 15, 2008

I enjoyed Secret History Revealed by Lady Peggy O’Malley so much that I immediately went in search of another book by the Williamsons. My Friend the Chauffeur is different from either Peggy O’Malley or It Happened in Egypt, but I think I’m beginning to get a feel for how the Williamsons write.

The chauffeur in question is not actually a chauffeur. He is Lord Terence Barrymore, an impoverished Irish nobleman (the Williamsons are obviously very fond of impoverished Irish noblemen, as they have appeared prominently in all three of the Williamson books I have read). Terry’s best friend is an English baronet named Ralph Moray, who spends his winters at the Riviera, where he edits the English newspaper. Sir Ralph, in an attempt to make some money for Terry, has placed the following advertisement in his paper:

“WANTED, LADIES, TO CONDUCT. An amateur automobilist (English, titled) who drives his own motor-car accommodating five persons, offers to conduct two or three ladies, Americans preferred, to any picturesque centres in Europe which they may desire to visit. Car has capacity for carrying small luggage, and is of best type. Journeys of about 100 miles a day. Novel and delightful way of travelling; owner of car well up in history, art, and architecture of different countries. Inclusive terms five guineas a day each, or slight reduction made for extensive trip. Address—”
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Tom Slade’s Double Dare

March 12, 2008

There’s a particular kind of plot, particularly common in adventure novels, where the hero, after having done something particularly heroic, is thought to have done something bad instead and is shunned by everyone until he is vindicated at the end.

I suspect that this was the only plot Percy Keese Fitzhugh knew how to write. His Tom Slade series is a paean to it. But if he only did one thing, he did it well. The Tom Slade series is my favorite boys’ series. None of the several companion series have the same self-righteous (but not sulky) angst that the Tom Slade books do. Read the rest of this entry ?


One Year of Redeeming Qualities

March 10, 2008

Last week was the one-year anniversary of this blog. I still enjoy writing about weird old books. I’m a little bit impressed that I’ve managed to keep it going for so long. I don’t know that there’s much else to say about it, but I thought I should do something to celebrate, so here’s a list of my favorite finds since I began writing Redeeming Qualities, in order of discovery.

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A Romance of the Republic

March 7, 2008

I recently finished a book by Lydia Maria Child called A Romance of the Republic. Child was a well-known children’s author before the Civil War, but she made herself unpopular by openly espousing abolitionist views. She wrote this novel after the war, but according to the professor who recommended that I read it, it didn’t go over very well.

I wrote a summary of it, but it’s ridiculously long, so I’m going to talk about it a little here and provide a link to the longer summary at the end.

This book is about octoroons. An octoroon was the technical term for the child of a white person and a quadroon. A quadroon was the offspring of a white person and a mulatto. And so on. In other words, the two protagonists are one eighth black, but the word ‘octoroon’ is far more fun. Say it out loud. Doesn’t it kind of sound like ‘nectarine’?

I think octoroons must’ve been used to criticize slavery often. One of the characters, a Mr. Bright, says that he was converted to abolitionism by seeing an advertisement about an escaped slave who was described as having sandy hair, blue eyes, and a ruddy complexion. You get the idea.

The two octoroons of this novel are young women, not sandy-hired and blue-eyed, but Italian-looking, and very beautiful. Their names are Rosabella and Floracita, and they’ve been brought up not knowing that their mother was a slave. Their father’s death, and the plans of his creditors to sell the girls in order to pay his debts, sends them off on a series of adventures, which end up separating them for over twenty years.

It’s a typical, melodramatic sentimental novel: there’s a false marriage with a man named Gerald Fitzgerald, babies switched at birth, hints of incest, estranged relatives, narrow escapes, and lots of instances where the two sisters just miss being reunited — pretty much everything one could possibly want. Rosa even has a short but successful career as an opera singer. And there end up being three Gerald Fitzgeralds.

So. Which is more fun to say? ‘Octoroon’ or ‘Gerald Fitzgerald’?

Full summary and family tree here.


Secret History Revealed by Lady Peggy O’Malley

March 1, 2008

Peggy O’Malley

When I read It Happened in Egypt last year, it was because I had just discovered the existence of the Williamsons (A.M. and C.N.), a husband and wife pair of adventure novelists, and I thought I ought to read one of their books to see what they were like.

It turns out that I was wrong in assuming that once I’d read one, I’d know what they were all like. It Happened in Egypt was okay — a mildly entertaining romp through Egypt with a few really good moments and a disappointing ending — but Secret History Revealed by Lady Peggy O’Malley is kind of wonderful, and actively exciting all the way through. I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to describe a book as “gripping” before. There’s a bit of a disappointment in the last chapter, when the two main characters start speaking as if they’re acting in a bad melodrama, or as if they were suddenly being written by Horatio Alger, but they’re so nice that rest of the time that I’m inclined to forgive them. Read the rest of this entry ?