The Dorrance Domain

April 3, 2014

Cathlin recommended The Dorrance Domain, and I was frustrated enough with Peter the Brazen (which I’m still reading, bit by excruciatingly awful bit) that I started it almost immediately. It’s by Carolyn Wells, and it’s about a family consisting of four kids and their grandmother, who sick of life in New York boarding houses, decide to try living in a defunct hotel.

It’s a good concept, and it’s Carolyn Wells, so the execution should be good, too. But instead the whole thing just feels kind of halfhearted. I hear “kids living in an empty hotel” and yeah, I think, “oh cool, everyone can choose whichever room they want” and “they can spread out all across the hotel dining room.” And Wells provides that. But I also think I’m going to get kids biting off more than they can chew at first, and making mistakes, and slowly becoming more competent, and there’s barely any of that. Saying “barely any” instead of “none” is really nice of me, actually.

The problem, I guess, is that there’s no conflict. The Dorrance kids are like, “let’s try this thing,” and it goes really well, and then they’re like, “oh, cool, let’s try this other thing,” and that goes really well, too. And the magic of Carolyn Wells is that she can usually make that work, but, for whatever reason, she can’t pull that off here. I’ve talked before about how good she is at making her characters enjoy themselves convincingly, but she only manages it once in a while in The Dorrance Domain. Moments like the one in which Dorothy and Leicester collapse into giggles after signing in their first hotel guests, not knowing that their guests are basically doing the same thing upstairs, were too few and far between.

This feels like hackwork, basically. And — because it’s Carolyn Wells, and she is great — it’s not bad (except for some offensive stereotypes that seemed pretty mild in comparison to the ones in Peter the Brazen) just uninspired.



  1. Humn… the premise is rather brilliant and altho I too am a giant fan of Wells I think she was pumping ’em out a bit too fast at times and so there were some misses. Great review and I’m gonna read it anyway. It’s been on my mind lately that with the popularity of cable period shows (Downton Abbey, for example) that my childhood DREAM of Patty Fairfield on the big screen could come true. Perhaps we should pull together a small group of Wells’ fans and make it happen…. Thanks once again for what you do here. It makes my heart sing to read your words.

    • I actually had a job interview a few years ago at a literary agency where the woman interviewing me wanted to know if there was, basically, a 1910s version of Gossip Girl, and I told her about Patty Fairfield. I think there is a market for that–either just a reissue of the books or a TV show, but I suspect Patty would be unrecognizable by the time she made it to TV.

  2. You’re quite right about there being no conflict and everything coming too easily for them. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and found myself wishing there was a sequel.

    • There is a sequel! It’s called Dorrance Doings, and I forget how I knew it existed, but I looked it up when I finished the first book and it doesn’t seem to be available online.

      • Thanks for the info. I will keep an eye out for it. Carolyn Wells certainly was a prolific author!

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