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Andrew the Glad

October 27, 2010

I really didn’t like Andrew the Glad, which was disappointing. I liked the two Maria Thompson Daviess books I’d read previously, and I liked the ad campaign for this one, but unfortunately neither of those things are actually relevant.

Andrew the Glad came out in 1913, like V.V.’s Eyes, and it’s also set in a city in the South (I think this one is Nashville). Both books deal with the growth of the cities involved,but Henry Sydnor Harrison  was in favor of progress, and Maria Thompson Davies…may have thought she was interested in progress. But the fact is that everything “good” in the world of the book is massed on the side that includes all the available Confederate veterans and their friends, and the way forward is inextricably bound up with feelings of nostalgia; the other side consists solely of corruption and booze.

The political storyline is a B plot. But then, so are the two romances. There is no A plot. The whole time I was reading, I felt like I was being told about the story without ever coming into contact with it directly. In The Melting of Molly and Phyllis I felt like I was right in the middle of the story, but in Andrew the Glad I felt like the story was somewhere pretty distant. I suspect Daviess would have done well not to stray from the first person point of view.

I certainly never felt like I knew any of the characters. But I suppose there wasn’t much to know. We have two young men and two young women, none of whom has much of a personality, and there’s never any doubt about who each person is going to end up with.  Andrew is an engineer and a poet, and we’re told that he’s kind of glum, although it doesn’t particularly show. Caroline has purple eyes and looks at people confidingly a lot. Also she likes Andrew’s  poetry. They have to fall in love because her father basically caused his father to kill himself. Then there are David and Phoebe. Theirs is a romance of the wear-her-down-until-she-says-yes variety, which is rarely fun. Especially when it includes a large helping of “I know she’s been happily earning her own living for the past ten years, but what she really wants is for a man to take charge of her.”

David’s arrogance is characteristic of the whole novel. I kept having the feeling that the things the good characters did were only right because they were being done by those characters. I can set aside most of the racism — of the extreme condescension variety — but not when Daviess makes it central, which she kind of does when she describes a hotly contested election. The white voters are to be swayed by speeches. The black voters have to be bribed. At no point does anyone consider the idea that any black voter could be persuaded to have an honest opinion about a candidate. They just assume that, since the booze-and-corruption candidate is handing out bribes, he’s going to get the black vote. That is, until the “good” side offers an alternative bribe. Just because it’s bad for someone to bribe voters with money and whiskey, that doesn’t mean it’s good to offer a counter-bribe of an ice-cream party. And the counter-bribe works, too — but I guess it was obvious that everyone was classing the black population with children anyway.

I wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t all so self-congratulatory.

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