The Brown Study

January 12, 2017

I have this embarrassing secret, only it’s not particularly secret and I don’t know if I’m embarrassed: sometimes I really like religious fiction. Yes, sometimes it’s cloying, and I’m not into that. But sometimes it’s Amy Le Feuvre being weirdly mystical, or G.K. Chesterton doing whatever the hell he ever thinks he’s doing. And sometimes it’s the kind of thing Grace S. Richmond writes, where religion is about firm ideals and practical good deeds and it’s almost not condescending. I’ve never had a particle of religious belief, but those ideals are compelling, and I don’t need religion to (to a certain extent) share them. Also, you know what else is compelling? Passionate, tortured, hidden self-denial. And The Brown Study is, like, 70% that.

I’ve read so few of Richmond’s books, but they’ve all featured attractive young clergymen, so I’m forced to assume that’s a thing for her. The Brown Study’s variation goes like this: Donald Brown was the minister at a fashionable city church, but he had to take some time off for his health. He moved to a poor area and offers unofficial spiritual support to his neighbors. He realizes that he can do more good there than at his fancy church, and also that his new work makes him a better person, but his old friends all want him to come home, including the girl he loves.

It’s all spiritual pining and being nice to the neighbors, and I enjoyed it thoroughly–although I might regret the nice plates and carpets and things Brown has to leave behind almost as much as he does.

There’s a second, unrelated story to fill out the book. In it, young Julius Broughton schemes to get his sister Dorothy and his engineer friend Kirke Waldron to meet. Once they’ve done that, though, they don’t need his help–they’re perfectly capable of carrying their romance through as straightforwardly as possible.


  1. Although I’m not religious either, I read a lot of religious-y fiction from the 1900-1920s period. First, because there is a lot of it, and second, because a lot of that is the sort of thing you describe. Practical, applied Christianity boils down to being decent to others, and not judging them. For me, those traits make a desirable hero or heroine. I’m not opposed to a little incidental religion in a book. If the story is imaginative, and well-told, I don’t let the religious business interfere with a good story. But I do have a low tolerance for proselytizing. I’ve abandoned many books where the preaching overtook the story. (I’m looking at you, Grace Livingston Hill!)

    • Same, re: proselytizing. That’s one issue with Hill, but for me the big one is hypocrisy–her preachiness wouldn’t be half as irritating if her writing didn’t make her seem so deeply uncharitable.

  2. Grace S Richmond heroes or other dashing noble clergymen (like her father) or dashing young doctors (like her husband). There are, of course, some exceptions, eg the hero of “twenty-fourth of june” who is a society man reformed through the power of domesticity.

    My embarassing secret that isn’t really a secret and I’m not embarassed by? I’ve cried at every Grace S Richmond book I’ve ever read. There’s just something about the way she writes that moves the same part of me that chokes up looking at puppies.

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