Books disappoint me a lot. Especially older ones, I think, although that may just be because they make up the bulk of my reading material. It seems to be easier to write the beginning of a story than to end it satisfyingly, and I guess that makes sense. I also have what sometimes feel like unnecessarily exacting expectations, especially for romance. Read the rest of this entry ?
Posts Tagged ‘1900s’
The Seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris
Mel was reading this, and it sounded fun, and it is. Six sisters and a brother turn their summer home into a fancy resort to earn a living after their father dies. It starts really, really well, but there’s too much going on. Every sibling has a romance, and in the end, none of them get enough page-time.
Firm of Nan & Sue, Stenographers, by Harriet Carpenter Cullaton
Mostly a series of anecdotes about running a typewriting business, told by Nan. She recruits her widowed friend Sue when she finds she has too much work to do on her own. The two women deal with a variety of customers, are taken in by a con artist, and, perhaps most intriguingly, operate a payphone.
Gentle Breadwinners, by Catherine Owen
Another story/cookbook from Catherine Owen. Two young women, left penniless after the death of their father, move in with their aunt and uncle, poor farmers. After a few false starts, Dorothy, the older sister, figures out how to earn a living, with not as much help as she’d like from her sister May. Don’t let the abbreviated review fool you–I loved this.
I’m obviously falling down on the Christmas story job this year. Here, have another Grace Livingston Hill instead.
I’m not sure if Marcia Schuyler is considered typical of GLH’s output. It’s not typical of the books of hers that I’ve read, but it works really well for me. I mean, the religious stuff is a lot more palatable in a historical fiction context. (Sure, I kept giggling about David’s temperance newspaper, but I can’t fully explain that.) But also this is a he/she fell in love with his/her wife/husband book, and the protagonist overnight finds herself in possession of a dream house and a fabulous trousseau, and there’s an awful older sister, which I enjoy for probably the same reasons that I find inexplicably evil younger brothers difficult. The chances that I wasn’t going to like this book were very low.
I mean, I don’t love it, but I do like it a lot. It’s got more in common with things like Janice Meredith and To Have and to Hold than it does with GLH’s other books, but it’s also got her patented lack of self-awareness. Very few things are less charitable than her attitude towards characters she doesn’t like, and, much as I enjoy that, it’s so at odds with her professed philosophy that it kind of bugs me, too.
Anyway, Marcia Schuyler. She’s a teenage girl from an old and respected family in upstate New York, circa 1830. She’s smart and pretty and totally overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, Kate, who is an asshole. She also has a crush on Kate’s fiancé, David, but she’s not aware of it. It turns out to be sort of helpful, though, when Kate elopes with another man and her father basically offers Marcia to David as compensation. I’m pretty sure that even in 1830 this is a weird thing to do, but Marcia goes along with it and everyone stresses a lot about how they’ve deprived her of her womanhood, or something.
There are some things you want to happen here: you want Marcia and David to fall in love. You want Marcia to do well in her new environment. You want Kate to get her comeuppance and, very specifically, to be humiliated by David. All these things happen, against a backdrop of the launch of the first steam locomotive in New York State. It’s not a great book, but it’s very satisfying.
For whatever reason, I’m having trouble reading anything that’s not by Edgar Jepson. So let’s follow up the two Tinker books with the two Lady Noggs books. (There may be a third, but I think it’s another case of different titles for different markets.)
So far I have observed that Jepson’s books always include the word “truculent,” someone calling someone else a sweep, and someone’s appearance — usually the main character’s — is described with reference to the history of Western art. Lady Felicia Grandison is about ten, and she looks like a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is somehow all the description you really need.
Lady Felicia (a contemporary reviewer points out that Jepson is clueless about titles — he sometimes refers to her as Lady Felicia and sometimes as Lady Grandison) is, like Tinker and Pollyooly, very precocious, but somehow a little more childlike. Also she prefers to be known as Noggs.
Noggs lives with her uncle, the Prime Minister, on his country estate. He’s a nice man, and very erudite, but no match for Noggs in a practical sense. She’s a prankster, but all her pranks come from righteous indignation; she has a very well-developed sense of justice, and the will and ingenuity to enforce it.
Her exploits include getting rid of an adventuress with designs on her uncle, touring the slums with a poor girl she’s taken under her wing, and removing the obstacles that stand in the way of her governess marrying her uncle’s secretary. She isn’t as much of a tiny adult as Tinker, though. Sometimes she doesn’t get the results she intends. Sometimes she doesn’t know how she does get the results she intends. And when she meets Tinker and Elsie, she lets Tinker take the lead.
I like Noggs a lot. When I started Lady Noggs, Peeress I was constantly coming up with unfavorable comparisons to Tinker and Pollyooly, but I’ve come to feel that all of them have their points. One of Noggs’ is that she weathers the transition into adulthood better than the other two.
The first book resolves the governess/secretary situation, and the second, The Intervening Lady, picks up pretty soon afterwards, with Noggs trying to adopt a child her own age. It doesn’t work as well for her as it does for Tinker. In fact, the first half of this book feels geared towards very slightly reducing our expectations of Noggs–not in a condescending way so much as to give her room to grow into someone with even greater strength of character. Which is exactly what happens next. The rest of the book takes place when Noggs is an 18-year-old debutante.
I was worried, because my other experience with a Jepson character growing up is Pollyooly Dances, in which Pollyooly is almost unrecognizable. He does a much better job here. Noggs is recognizably herself, even after acquiring all the trappings of young ladyhood. She saves a friend from a blackmailer, makes and unmakes matches, and is reintroduced to her two childhood protégés: the girl from the slums and the attempted adoptee. She doesn’t short-sheet anyone’s bed, but you get the impression that she would if she thought it would be helpful.
Tinker and Elsie also appear, Tinker in a way that makes me think of Lord Peter Wimsey’s cameo in one of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books, and Elsie not as often as I’d like. They are, of course, paired off romantically, as are Noggs and her adoptee, Michael Broome. The romance was probably my least favorite part of The Intervening Lady — I expect Edgar Jepson thought he knew how to write romance, but nothing I’ve read would lead me to agree. For me, the best moments are Noggs’ interactions with other women. I would have especially liked to see more of Susie, who would make a far more plausible grown-up Pollyooly than the one in Pollyooly Dances.
I still don’t like Tinker as much as Pollyooly, but he’s grown on me, mostly thanks to the second Tinker book, variously known as The Triumph of Tinker and Tinker Two. It feels a lot less episodic than the first one–the initial section basically sets the rest of the book in motion, so there’s no more than a couple of chapters that could stand alone as short stories.
Tinker and his dad are no longer bumming around Europe, as they did for most of the first book. They’re now established in London with Sir Tancred’s new wife Dorothy and Tinker’s adoptive sister Elsie. Elsie was abandoned in Monte Carlo by her gross uncle in the last book, but now her gross uncle is back and hoping that Elsie’s association with millionairess Lady Dorothy Beauleigh means he can make something off her. He and his associate, the equally beery and vulgar Mr. Oliver Brown, concoct a plan to regain custody of Elsie and then mistreat her until the Beauleighs will pay to get her back, but they fail to take Tinker into account. He and Elsie escape to Germany, picking up a beautiful young Russian revolutionary on the way.
Tinker twists the world around his little finger, as usual, with just enough difficulty to keep things interesting. The wicked uncle and his friend are vanquished, Sonia the Russian Countess gets married, and Elsie drives a car. There’s also an episode featuring Lady Felicia Grandison, the heroine of at least two other Jepson books (of whom more later).
Elsie really comes into her own in this book–or maybe she did it in between the two. When she was first introduced, Elsie was delicate and a little weepy, and didn’t really get better defined before the end of the book, but by the time she appeared in Lady Noggs, Peeress she had established an identity: still delicate and frail-looking, but willing to try anything, and casual about Tinker’s plans in a way that even Tinker himself isn’t. Tinker is apt to decide very seriously that something ridiculous must be done. Elsie acquiesces to his plans in a way that suggests she both takes him very seriously and humors him a little. I find myself liking her more and more.
I still feel like Pollyooly has something to offer that the more privileged children in Jepson’s earlier stories don’t, but Tinker is such a well-defined character, predictable but not too predictable. You’re not always sure how Tinker will respond to a situation, but his response always seems inevitable. Tinker is fundamentally the character who, when introduced to a beef-canning millionaire who can estimate by eye how many cans of beef a cow will produce, will a) learn how to do it just as well and b) apply the same methods to human beings. So, if an angelic looking young boy assessing people by how many cans they would fill is entertaining to you, I think you’ll enjoy Edgar Jepson. If not, I’m not entirely sure why you’re reading this blog.
Shorty McCabe is no Torchy, but sometimes that’s okay, like when you stop your Torchy reread before the last book because the dog stories make you inexplicably uncomfortable, and switch over to an excellent children’s book about pirates and then a super weird Eleanor Hallowell Abbott book, but then you sort of start to have regrets? But you can’t go back to Torchy as a Pa, because you can’t start a Torchy reading with Torchy living in the suburbs; you have to work up to that. Read the rest of this entry ?
At this point 75% of the books I’ve read by Tompkins have as a thesis the idea that no one can be happy without some kind of work. That’s a thing I also believe — probably for slightly different reasons — and it tends to produce exactly the kind of book I want to read. Read the rest of this entry ?