My Favorites of 1914 Novels: No Stars But Some Twinkles

Perhaps the unsettled state of Europe in 1914 is to blame for the less-than-stellar list of bestsellers that year.

Of the lot, Penrod by Booth Tarkington is the most humorous, T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett the most uplifting, and Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter the most familiar.

None of the “mosts,” however, is much more than entertainment.

My choices for three 1914 bestsellers that combine entertainment with insight are The Devil’s Garden by W. B. Maxwell, The Salamander by Owen Johnson, and The Fortunate Youth by William John Locke. Each of these combines an original plot with at least a modicum of reflection on its significance.

The Devil’s Garden looks at a proud man whose respectability covers a violent temper.  Some rather nasty things happen in the novel, but Maxwell suggests redemption may be possible.

The Salamander is a psychological study of a liberated woman who represents the fast, post-Victorian young people whose easy morals and craving for fun appalled their parents. The book is interesting as a picture of young women, who like their brothers, left farms for the excitement of the city. It’s also intriguing because Johnson apparently intended to paint his main character as thoroughly bad, but the novel closes with her headed out of the city to a conventional life as wife and mother.

The Fortunate Youth is a novel about a young man who thinks he’s a prince and discovers he’s only a toad. Because of all the time he spent practicing princely behavior, he’s able to rise above toad-level.  It’s not a great novel, but it’s enough out of the mainstream to be memorable.

That wraps up 1914.

I’ll post the list of 1904 bestsellers on Saturday and begin their reviews next week.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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