Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

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The “Polly of the Hospital Staff” series

April 27, 2016

Do you ever realize, halfway through a book, that you’ve read it before? That happened to me this week with When Polly Was Eighteen, by Emma C. Dowd. I assume that means I’d also read Polly of Lady Gay Cottage and Polly and the Princess before. Probably I raced through them just as fast last time, and that’s why I don’t remember.

Let’s backtrack. I talked a bit about Polly of the Hospital Staff when I first read it. It’s a totally average story about a sunny orphan making a home, except that it’s more than averagely enjoyable. It’s also got the most typos I’ve ever seen in a Project Gutenberg text, so, you know, be warned. It’s followed by Polly of Lady Gay Cottage, which covers Polly’s transition to life as the adopted daughter of Dr. Dudley and his wife. She gets to meet some of her biological family, but her found family turns out to be more real. Dowd is a little bit obsessed with adoption, but in a nice way.

Next comes Doodles, the Sunshine Boy, which isn’t a Polly book, but has Polly in it. I didn’t read this one last time around, I’m pretty sure, but I dug deeper this time. I don’t really know what to say about Doodles. He can’t walk. He can sing. His family is poor, and various nice things happen to them. Another average but enjoyable book.

Doodles also appears in the next book, Polly and the Princess. There is no princess; the book is about Polly’s involvement with a nearby…I don’t know what to call it. A home for women without any outside means of support. It’s a particularly satisfying book, in that certain characters are victims of injustice and then eventually they’re vindicated.

When Polly Was Eighteen skips ahead about five years to find Polly home from college for the summer, and wrestling David Collins’ jealousy. David is one of Polly’s oldest friends, and was always the obvious future love interest. Emma Dowd does a good job of laying the groundwork for his jealousy in the earlier books, and of showing how unromantic it is in this one.

So, yeah. I like this series a lot. There’s very little you wouldn’t expect, but Dowd makes a virtue of predictability–call it trustworthiness. If you like orphans and found families and an improbable number of disabled children learning to walk again, I thoroughly recommend her.

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9th Blogiversary catch-up

March 4, 2016

Oh hey. It’s been another year.  Thanks for sticking around for nine years (!!!) even when I continue to do things like post half a dozen times in two weeks and then go the next two weeks without posting anything at all.

Anyway, it seems like a good day for a catch-up. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Mary Minds Her Business

February 15, 2016

Someday I’m going to run out of books from the late 19th and early 20th century about women doing jobs, and then I will be a little heartbroken. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. Let me tell you about George Weston’s labor fantasy, Mary Minds Her Business.

Mary Spencer is the last of a long line of Spencers–mostly Josiah Spencers, who built a large factory complex and brought prosperity to the town surrounding it. Mary is obviously as well fitted to running the business  as any of the Josiahs, but because she’s a girl, no one expects her to step in. Still, she’s interested in the business, and wary of her shifty uncle, and she has an ambition to bake the world a better place.

World War I gives her the opportunity she’s been waiting for. She’s read up on what female workers are doing in Europe, and she starts bringing women into her factory when the men start filtering out to the army. She sets up amenities for them, too–break rooms and nurseries–and has the satisfaction of seeing the factory run just as smoothly with a largely female staff as it did with a male one. It’s a clear success, but then the war ends and the men return, and she can’t not give them back their jobs. And some of them aren’t happy with even a few women working alongside them. That’s when things get really interesting.

There’s the usual labor intrigue, conveniently blamed on foreign Bolsheviks. There’s family drama. There’s romance. But mostly there’s Mary’s vision and stubborness, and her conscience pushing her forward. I’m less sure about the quality of this book than I was a couple of days ago, but while I was reading it I loved it.

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Catching up, 2/5/16

February 5, 2016

It’s time for another clearing-out of things I’ve read recently, so I can write at greater length about one or two in particular.

The Phantom Treasure, by Harriet Pyne Grove

This story of an orphan discovering her long-lost family and moving into their home, which is historical and filled with secret passages and things, ought to be great. I just wish it had been written by Margaret Sutton or Augusta Huiell Seaman or someone. Jannet, the main character, gets fried chicken mailed to her at boarding school. She and a friend try on historical costumes in the attic. She finds a stash of notes written by her ancestors when they were being forced to host British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. I just wish the author had felt some kind of enthusiasm about any of those things. But since she didn’t, I couldn’t either.

Carolyn of the Corners, by Ruth Belmore Endicott

Run of the mill story about an orphan softening the heart of a cranky relative, by an author who has definitely read Pollyanna and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Probably other versions of the same trope, too, but those are the ones I’m sure about.

A Poor Wise Man, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

I’ve read this one before, but only once, probably because I’d already sort of read it as V.V.’s Eyes and The Clarion. Still, it’s Rinehart, and if you want to read a book about a rich girl in a growing city falling in love with an idealistic young social reformer, this one’s pretty good. Few authors understand better than Rinehart how attractive it is when a character combines strong emotion with massive amounts of restraint.

This is fun, this catching up thing. It’s better to write a bit about a bunch of books than to sit around feeling guilty about not writing about them, or to write about them at length and then never bother to type up the review, both of which are things I’ve been doing lately.

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Books I failed out of last week

January 11, 2016

Four and Twenty Beds, by Nancy Casteel Vogel.

I kind of wanted someone to read this for me so that I didn’t have to, but eventually I decided I didn’t care that much. It’s from the fifties and it’s about a Californian couple who, with their two children, move to a small town to run a motel. I stopped reading just after they took possession of the motel, figuring that at worst there was going to be an endless series of uncomfortable disasters and at best I was going to continue not finding the book particularly funny.

Good References, by E.J. Rath.

So, like. 1921. Stenographer can’t get a job because she has no references. Ends up taking a job under another girl’s name, as social secretary to a young man who has no interest in society. What could be more fun than that? Well, almost anything, as it turns out. The young man is profoundly unsympathetic, and the friend posing as his valet is worse. Everyone is lying to his aunt, and she ended up being the only person I had any sympathy for. I have very little patience for books about people getting themselves in increasingly worse scrapes by lying, and I got through exactly four chapters before getting fed up.

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Catching up

December 17, 2015

I’ve been reading a fair amount, I think. Some of it’s been re-reading–the usual suspects: The Amazing Interlude, Pam Decides, etc.–but I’ve also read a few new things, and I don’t think I can remember what all of them are.

Anyway, here’s a roundup of the things I can remember, so I can get caught up and back to writing actual reviews.

The Loudwater Mystery, by Edgar Jepson. 1920.
From my Edgar Jepson phase. This is sort of the most English of English mystery novels, but not in a particularly interesting way. I didn’t like any of the characters very much. I would prefer to have Jepson stick to books about precocious children. Still, I always enjoy it when he describes his characters in extremely specific art historical references.

Jan and Her Job, by L. Allen Harker. 1917.

I enjoyed this story of a young woman going to India to take care of her sister’s children and eventually returning home with them, but I sort of wished Jan’s job had been more, you know, job-like. The nephew and the love interest are both very appealing, and I enjoyed the villain’s unrelenting awfulness.

Tenant for Death, by Cyril Hare. 1937.

I think I really liked this, sort of, maybe. It took a while to grow on me. It’s a very technical, measured mystery novel, sort of in the tradition of R. Austin Freeman. If you like the drier kind of golden age detective fiction, you will probably like this.

The Obsession of Victoria Gracen, by Grace Livingston Hill. 1915.

I think I get Grace Livingston Hill now? She can get caught up in stuff you don’t want–like, this is obviously an author who doesn’t know what’s appealing about her own work–but there are things she does really well: materialism, hitting villains when they’re down, finding people their proper places in the world. And when those things are mixed together in the right proportions, she’s pretty great. This one was a little heavy on religion and inexplicably light on Victoria Gracen’s nephew in comparison to the other boys, but it’s very enjoyable.

 

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The Little House

December 14, 2015

It’s that Christmas story time of year again. Well, sort of. I’m writing this in early November. I’m allowing myself a slow start.

My previous acquaintance with Coningsby Dawson comes from The Kingdom Round the Corner, which I liked a lot of things about without actually liking. The Little House is similarly almost-good, and similarly post-war, and also marginally a Christmas story. And it’s narrated by a house, which is sort of important at the beginning, forgettable through most of the middle, and briefly relevant again at the end. It’s almost cute in the same was Dawson is almost good. You know: there’s a lot of that furniture-having-conversations-after-midnight stuff. I want to like it, but I have limited patience.

The story begins during an air raid shortly before Christmas. The titular house is untenanted, and its caretaker has left the front door open in her haste to find a shelter. Meanwhile, a young widow — known to the house as “the little lady” — is passing through the square in which the house stands with her two small children, Robbie and Joan. They see the open door and take shelter, and so, a few minutes later, does an American soldier on his way to the front. They strike up a sort of friendship, but part without learning each other’s names.

A year later (the Unity of Christmastimes!) the soldier returns to the house, minus an arm, and finds that the little lady and her children live there now. They introduce themselves a little more formally, and take up their friendship where they left off before. He takes the kids to the zoo. He takes the little lady to the theater.It;s pretty obvious where this is going to everyone but the two principals.

She expects him to go home and forget about her. He thinks about whether he’s in love with her and decides that he’s not. So he has to change his mind, and she has to swallow her pride, and the structure of the narrative sort of requires that the house somehow make those things happen, so it does.

I almost really enjoy Coningsby Dawson. He has clever ideas. But his execution leaves me unmoved, and his insistence that a woman isn’t complete without a man to take care of her moves me in probably the opposite direction to what he would wish. This is a small, focused story — just two people, a single setting, a brief span of time and an inevitable conclusion. And if you’re going to do something so simple, you have to do it well. To hold your readers’ attention, if nothing else. But I kept getting distracted by the outside things, the things Dawson didn’t talk about. Like the little lady’s family and narrowing social life, and the soldier’s experience of war.

It’s frustrating when something is almost good. I think I would have really enjoyed this story in the hands of another writer. I think it’s going to take a lot to make me try Dawson again.

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