The Princess Aline

September 1, 2010

I’ve been told that Richard Harding Davis was the model for the typical hero of the early twentieth century novel, and you only have to look at a picture of him to see why someone might say that. So I was surprised to find that Morton Carlton, hero of The Princess Aline, didn’t look like an illustration by Charles Dana Gibson. I mean, I can’t say for sure that he didn’t, because Davis doesn’t go in for much physical description, but that’s my point: from the start to the finish of The Princess Aline, I was always much more sure of what the characters were like as people than what they looked like, and that was pretty cool .

ETA: I have just realized that this book was actually illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson. I think my point still stands.

“Morney” Carlton — the nickname is mentioned in the opening pages and immediately forgotten, apparently by the author, definitely by me, and presumably by most other readers — is a wildly successful but modest portrait painter, given to talking a lot about romance and chasing after random women in order to ascertain that they are not “the one.” He sounds like an ass, I know, but he’s not. He just acts like one sometimes, as when he sees a picture of Princess Aline of Hohenwald in a newspaper and decides he’s in love with her. He’s well aware that her unavailability is a big part of the attraction, which I like, and it’s not her looks that appeal to him so much as her “tolerant, amused” smile. I like that too.

On the ship to Europe, Carlton becomes friends with Miss Morris, a young lady engaged to be married, and Mrs. Downs, her aunt. As the trip progresses, they keep bidding each other farewell, only to find that the Hohenwalds and their entourage are heading in the same direction as Mrs. Downs and Miss Morris, and in following the Princess Aline, he gets to keep travelling with the two American women. Somehow, Carlton keeps missing opportunities to be introduces to the princess, despite the efforts of his extremely devoted servant, Nolan, who basically spies on the Hohenwalds on his master’s behalf. His enthusiasm is actually a little disturbing at times — another thing I really liked about the book.

The book broke down a bit for me towards the ending, which is not unusual, but Davis managed to get me back on his side in the last few pages, which is. The Princess Aline isn’t a new favorite or anything, and I probably won’t read it again, but I was very pleasantly surprised by it, and this definitely won’t be my last Richard Harding Davis book.



  1. Princess Aline wasn’t that interesting, I really only clicked on it because it had Princess in the title. I do like RHD’s very short mystery In The Fog, which has a sort of bizarre charm.

    But his real forte was comedic and/or war-related short stories (I believe he worked as a war correspondent for American newspapers). Not sufficiently interested in war to read that type, but on the comedic side, try his Van Bibber stories and the collection The Red Cross Girl. I also like “Miss Delamar’s Understory,” a funny story (from the collection Cinderella) about how a young man determines, in the pre-cohabitation era, whether he could live with his crush Miss Delamar as his wife.

    • The Princess Aline is sort of light and substanceless, which is normally fine with me, but you’re right: RHD is much better at things with substance. I read the collection Somewhere in France and liked it a lot, and I should try some of these others.

  2. I read this as I’m away from home for 6 weeks in Ireland with my daughter & her family. After a few days I found myself with no ‘real’ books to read. I liked it and went in search of more by RHD. After reading two of his short story compilations, I researched him. That’s when I discovered his biography by his brother Charles, and after reading it I was so impressed by the quality of this man. His letters and diary excerpts reprinted in this book are so intimate and revealing. Between that and an article I found online about his first wife, I discovered a person so fine, it’s just hard to believe he’s been utterly forgotten while authors of lesser quality were enshrined.

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