I’m afraid 1907 wasn’t a great year for bestselling novels. They were lightweights, one and all.
The Lady of the Decoration
The best of the lot is Frances Little’s The Lady of the Decoration, a sunny epistolary novel purporting to be written by Southern widow working as a nursery school teacher at a mission school in Japan.
Her husband’s untimely death had left her practically penniless. The teaching job offered not only a salary, but also an escape from reminders of of her unhappy marriage.
The Lady finds she has a natural aptitude for organizing and a gift for teaching. She adores and is adored by her students. Before long, the adults of Hiroshima are enthralled by her as well.
Although the lady is often lonely and unhappy far from home, her natural good humor and her fascination with Japan and its people keep her from giving in to unhappiness.
The story is gentle and sweet and funny, just serious enough to avoid sentimentalism but not so serious as to sound preachy. It’s not a great book, but it’s a good one.
The Daughter of Anderson Crow
The only other 1907 novel that still is likely to attract a twenty-first century reader is The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon.
It’s the story of a baby left on the doorstep.
The doorstep belongs to Anderson Crow, the Tinkletown marshal and holder of various other town offices which Anderson Crow and most of the town residents think only Anderson Crow has the mental capacity to fill.
In fact, Anderson Crow’s brainpower falls far short of brilliance and a stone’s throw short of common sense: He’s a pompous rube among groveling rubes.
McCutcheon’s plot is tangled and implausible. He can’t seem to make up his mind what his authorial perspective on his characters should be.
However, McCutcheon’s humor glosses over the novel’s flaws and makes the novel’s silliness seem a virtue.
The Younger Set
My third choice is The Younger Set by Robert W. Chambers, which by comparison to Lady and Anderson Crow feels like an academic treatise.
Chambers focuses on Capt. Philip Selwyn who had been planning on an army career until his wife ran off with another man. Selwyn “did the decent thing” and allowed himself to be branded the guilty party to the divorce, which ruined her career.
It does not, however, stop him loving his wife or feeling unable to consider marriage to another woman while his wife lives.
The Younger Set is remembered today—if it is remembered at all—as the source of the quotation, “He shaves the dead line like a safety razor, but he’s never yet cut through it.”
Chambers’ contemporaries noted the book for another passage, which Vera Brittian refers to in her nonfiction memoir Testament of Youth:
I should like to know…something about everything. That being out of the question, I should like to know everything about something. That also being out of the question, for third choice I should like to know something about something. I am not too ambitious, am I?
Neither of my two top picks is a great novel or a particularly memorable novel, but each one will provide entertainment without over-exerting a reader’s mental faculties.
The Younger Set is a better novel than the other two, but most of today’s readers will be baffled or amused by Selwin’s reaction to his unfaithful wife. They’ll probably be content with no more than the few lines I quoted.
©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni