The Story of a Whim

May 5, 2017

I reread The Obsession of Victoria Gracen the other day, and it left me wanting a very specific Grace Livingston Hill thing: Good people doing things, and triumphing over bad people who are overtly small-minded and cruel. Victoria Gracen is firmly in that category, and so is Aunt Crete’s Emancipation, but her other books I’ve read only have it in small quantities.

Anyway, I poked around on Google Books, and chose The Story of a Whim for its title. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted–for one thing, there are no bad people–but it’s a cute religious romance and I enjoyed it.

The story begins with several college girls on a train platform waiting for a friend to join their Christmas house party. They see a pile of stuff waiting for a cargo train–a few boxes and some depressing furniture addressed to a Christie Bailey in Florida–and get interested. They see an apron in one of the boxes, and concoct a story about Christie, who they imagine to be a schoolteacher about their own age. Hazel Winship, the girls’ hostess, suggests sending some nicer things to Christie: a cover for the sofa, the Winships’ old organ, and a few things to help Christie start a Sunday School.

These gifts are bewildering to the real Christie, a young man trying to grow oranges. He’s got education, but little money and no culture, and his little shack by the beach is a mess. The nice things the girls have sent him highlight the squalor of his living space, so he starts trying to neaten things up. One of the boxes holds a painting of Jesus Christ, and it quickly becomes more of a person than an object to Christie, and inspires him to live better.

This is a romance: Christie begins corresponding with Hazel, pretending he’s the young woman she imagined him to be. She’s his religious mentor for most of the book, and the romance only comes to the forefront when they actually meet. The main theme is Christie’s growth, as a Christian and as a person. In religious fiction the two go hand in hand.

Usually I’m a little suspicious of quick conversions. I want it to be work, and I want to see the work, which is why I liked the Chautauqua Girls books so much. But there’s something nice about Christie’s gradual-but-not conversion, too. I guess it’s that he’s immediately, unconsciously adjusting to a higher standard, and only catching up with himself later. Also all his disreputable companions are really excited and encouraging about him not, like, carousing with them anymore. And Hill does a great job of making them and their humor gratingly unappealing (possibly not 100% on purpose).

Oh, also: Hill, like most white authors of her time, doesn’t know how to write black people. So, while her intentions seem relatively kind, the Sunday school scenes can be uncomfortable to read. They were by far the low point of the book for me. Everything else was nice. Not exciting, but nice. There’s an unpretentiousness about The Story of a Whim that makes it easy to take as it comes.



  1. This sounds sweet. Like an Emilie Loring novel but religious

    • I’m unfamiliar with Loring. Anything in particular I should look out for?

      • Oh my mom has a TON of her books that I devoured when I was in middle school. The one I remember the most is Here Comes the Sun! (written prior to the Beatles song), which has political backstabbing, future telling, trains, cabins, a runaway dachshund, smugglers, everything!

        • That sounds amazing, if a little over the top.

  2. To be honest, I think “The Emancipation of Aunt Crete” is the clear-cut champion in petty mean people getting their comeuppance out of all the Grace Livingston Hill I have read (although I also really like “The Obsession of Victoria Gracen”).

    However, “A Daily Rate” might fit the doing-things bill (if you are interested in boarding houses), and incidentally also contains a misused aunt who gleefully escapes to do things.

    One of the plot threads of “The Tryst” contains petty mean people panicking, which is lovely, and while I do not find most conversions plausible in GLH, the second (or the adjunct to the second?) plot line has one in there that is well-supported by what has happened so far, very consistent with the characters (which incidentally means it’s very funny), and just golden all around. I should note that there is also a literal mountaintop conversion earlier in the book, but that is not the one I mean.

    In not-public-domain (aka: library!) ones, “Re-Creations” and “April Gold” both have nesting heavily featured. “Head of the House” is basically what happens when GLH writes The Fabulously Rich Boxcar Children, and is largely satisfactory (there is also some comeuppance present).

    Unrelated to GLH: I have not previously had a wordpress account, so I haven’t been able to get a comment to go through, but I have thoroughly enjoyed your book reviews – five gold stars! I have read many books, and found many authors who are new to me, based on your archives. Thank you for your blog!

    • So many people have recommended A Daily Rate to me that I’m scared my expectations are too high. It does seem to contain lots of things I like.

      Fabulously Rich Boxcar Children sounds the fulfillment of most of my book-related dreams, and in general you’re really effective at recommendations: I want to read all of these.

      I’m glad you enjoy the blog. It’s very much a labor of love, but it wouldn’t be as much fun without people’s responses and recommendations.

      • If you think your expectations of A Daily Rate are too high, they probably are. It has a lot of the right ingredients to be absolutely amazing, and there are definitely some great scenes, but it doesn’t have a really solid arc or follow through. But it is a fun read, to the degree that I’ve read it more than once (although that is not a terrifically high bar, it’s one that many GLH books do not clear…).

        I actually laughed out loud at one point in the Fabulously Rich Boxcar Children, where my expectations for homemaking in a GLH book (based, at that point, on probably over a dozen homemaking-containing GLH books) were utterly confounded. The book is a lot stronger in the first and middle sections, though, and kind of… ehhh… at the end, which I think is more the plot/setup’s fault than anything (the adventures are frankly a lot more fun for the reader than the “real life” that things have to return to for it to be a happy ending), and GLH does try to throw things together to make it work, but… eh. Still, definitely worth a read.

        Really, your reviews have been absolutely spot-on for giving me the right information about books, and also a great deal of entertainment. Thank you so much!

        • Okay, I’m going to read A Daily Rate now, so I don’t end up saving it and being disappointed later.

          Fabulously Rich Boxcar Children sounds a little like the Enchanted Barn, in terms of starting with a strong setup and going downhill–not to mention the Boxcar Children-ness.

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