Glory of Youth

June 24, 2008

It will be pretty obvious to regular readers of this blog that I’m a fan of romance novels from the 1910s. We’ve got the Williamsons, Elinor Glyn, Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, and Marie Conway Oemler, among others. And now we have an entry from Temple Bailey, last seen here as the author of Judy.

Glory of Youth was Temple Bailey’s first novel, and it’s a full fledged romance, with all the typical plot points and not one but two beautiful orphans. In fact, to read this book, you’d think that Bettina Dolce was unusual for nearly reaching adulthood before her mother died. No one else in the book has visible parents.

Not that Bettina technically has a visible parent either, since her mother dies before the story begins. But Diana Gregory’s was also orphaned at an early age, as was Justin Ford. Anthony Blake, the fourth main character, never mentions his parents, but he’s about forty, so it is less weird.

For the first several pages, Temple Bailey lets you believe that the book is going to be about Anthony and Bettina. Anthony was Bettina’s mother’s doctor, and now that Bettina is left alone in their gloomy apartment, he still visits and tries to take care of her. She’s young and inexperienced and he has to talk her out of moving to the city — Boston, I think — to find work. Also, she’s very beautiful, with pale skin and long golden hair which she apparently inherited from her father’s Venetian ancestors.

Eventually Anthony asks Bettina to marry him because it’s the only way he can think of to protect her. He’s in love with his old friend Diana, but she refused to marry him, went abroad, and is now apparently engaged to a German guy named Ulric. Bailey doesn’t say so, but I think proposing to Bettina is a bit of retaliation on Anthony’s part. Anyway, Bettina doesn’t know he’s not in love with her, and she thinks she’s in love with him, so she accepts.

And then Anthony gets a letter from Diana saying that she’s no longer engaged to Ulric and is coming home. Oops.

Diana arrives, accompanied by her widowed friend Sophie and ready to marry Anthony, only to find that he’s engaged himself to an eighteen-year-old in her absence (Diana’s in her early thirties). And I like Diana, mostly, but she was kind of asking for it. I mean, Ulric? Seriously.

Diana immediately asks Bettina to move in with her, saying that Anthony’s friends should get to know Bettina before he marries her. For the same reason — what ulterior motive could she have? — she tells them to conceal their engagement for a little while. Meanwhile, Anthony’s young friend Justin Ford spends a lot of time mooning over Bettina when he’s not flying around in his airplane.

There’s the usual passel of misunderstandings, and Anthony and Diana spend a lot of time worrying over whether Bettina is going to ruin his life because she doesn’t like that he’s a doctor and she gets grossed out when he operates on people. Diana, of course, is a perfect nurse, and all the patients at Anthony’s sanatorium love her.

Eventually Anthony realizes Bettina and Justin are in love, although not until Justin has been in a nearly fatal accident, and everything is cleared up. The endings of books like this are always unsatisfying somehow. It seems to be difficult to have the characters retain their personalities when they’re happily in love.

But in spite of the fact that the endings of these hundred-year-old romance novels ever fail to disappoint, and that I’m fully aware when I’m reading most of them that they’re not very good, there’s something I really like about them. The characters’ feelings about each other are always so intense, and it’s kind of…well, cute. Glory of Youth is definitely cute, but it hasn’t got a lot else to recommend it.



  1. I liked this book because the unusual age-appropriate pairings are like a rebuke to the kind of fantasist novel where a 40-year-old man lives happily ever after with a 17-year-old bride. Like pretty much anything by Georgette Heyer or the Williamsons. Those are enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, and I realize that men 100 or 200 years ago probably couldn’t “afford” to get married until they were like 30, but it’s hard to believe that a guy in his 30s/40s would even find any common interests or experiences to talk about with a girl 15 years younger.

    • Agreed. And women in their 30s and 40s are more interesting for the reader, too, most of the time.

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