Reread Sir Richard Calmady

Sir Richard Calmady rides a horse like this

The History of Sir Richard Calmady isn’t a great book, but it’s extraordinary one. The title character is born with a birth defect: His feet are attached where his knees should have been.

Author Lucas Malet called the novel “a romance.”

My review and a link to the Project Gutenberg ebook are here.


1902 bestselling novels disappoint

1902 was not a great year for novels. Of the bestsellers for the year, few have lasting appeal.

Owen Wister’s The Virginian, the great grand-daddy of the western, has the twin distinctions of being historically significant and fun to read.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s  The Hound of the Baskervilles is a classic of print and film. The story has nothing to offer beyond story, so I won’t be upset if you watch it instead of reading it.

The best of the 1902 bestsellers is   Sir Richard Calmady by Lucas Malet.  Sir Richard is a brilliant man with disfiguring birth defect—his feet attach to his legs above the knees. The novel is flawed by a romantic sub-themes, but the depiction of reactions to disability is excruciatingly vivid. If you have time for just one novel from 1902, it should be Sir Richard Calmady.

What are your 1902 favorite novels?

Do you have favorites among the 1902 bestselling novels?  Name your favorites here. (You can pick up to three of the 10.)

I’ll give my choices on Sunday, December 16.

Your comments on books reviewed here are welcome.  Comments from spammers seeing backlinks or trying to sell me SEO services will be zapped.

Sir Richard Calmady breaks the curse of disability

Lucas Malet called The History of Sir Richard Calmady a romance, but it’s a romance like none other.

One of the early Calmadys fathered a bastard by his forester’s daughter, calling down a curse on the family: All the male heirs would die young until a fatherless, shoeless, only child breaks the spell.

In 1843, Sir Richard Calmady dies after losing his legs in a steeplechase accident. His son is born a few months later, with feet attached where his knees should have been.

How the young Sir Richard, who is otherwise a handsome specimen of manhood, copes with his deformity and the effect it has on those around him make riveting reading.

Lady Calmady devotes herself to her son.

Fortunately the hard-bitten doctor and equally tough stable master make sure Richard learns gentlemanly arts of riding, shooting, driving a carriage.

His tutor makes sure he’s well prepared for Oxford.

Nobody prepares Richard for women.

But perhaps no boy could be prepared for the women of this novel: Richard’s beautiful, sadistic, and wonton cousin Helen; his best friend’s sweet, bidable, and dumb sister, Constance; Richard’s feminist cousin, Honoria, who Lady Carmady fears may be a lesbian; and Lady Carmady herself, lovely and loving and lonely.

Malet combines lovely prose passages with crisp dialogue. He shifts focus from chapter to chapter as naturally as the observer on the street shifts attention from one window of a house to another.

You won’t be sorry you picked up this hefty novel.

The History of Sir Richard Calmady: A Romance
by Lucas Malet
Dodd, Mead, 1901
roughly 700 pages
1902 Bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg ebook #23784

Photo credit: Racehorse 2 by Nick Pye

 © 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Blue Flower Is a Happy Story Collection

Henry Van Dyke’s 1902 bestselling fiction book is a collection of stories about the inward happiness, symbolized by The Blue Flower. Van Dyke’s opalescent prose is a misty and mystical swirl of fairy tale and fables, chivalry and Christianity.

About half the stories have a religious theme. The most famous of these is the fable of “The Other Wise Man” who missed seeing the Christ Child because he stopped to care for those in need.

However, the best of the religious stories in the volume isn’t “The Other Wise Man” but  “The Source.”  Although clearly a moral tale, “The Source.” has a clear-sighted realism that makes the Wise Man seem maudlin.

“The Mill” and “Wood-Magic” are charming in different ways. “The Mill, ” drawing on the legends of Camelot, has a rugged, adventureous character, while “Wood-Magic” has a summer siesta dreaminess that feels both fantastic and familiar.

The best—and least typical—of the stories is “Spy Rock.” Set in the New York’s rugged Catskills Mountains in the nineteenth century, it solves the mystery of the moodiness and frequent of teacher Edward Keene from the presence of his fiancee, the lovely Dorothy Ward. The Blue Flower is worth reading just for “Spy Rock” alone.

The Blue Flower
By Henry Van Dyke
1902 Bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg EBook #1603
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Two Vanrevels Tax Credulity

The Two Vanrevels is romantic melodrama set in the Ohio Valley in the hoop-skirted days before the Civil War.

When beautiful Miss Betty Carewe comes home from convent school, the first to see her, lawyer Tom Vanrevel, is immediately smitten. Tom’s profligate law partner Crailey Gray also succumbs to Betty’s charms.

Being unfamiliar with the town, Betty thinks the man she saw with her school chum, Franchon Bareaud, was Franchon’s fiance, Crailey. When Crailey comes courting, Betty thinks he’s Tom, the man whom her father hates for his abolitionist views.

Long used to covering for his parter, Tom continues to protect him even after he realizes Betty thinks he is Crailey.

The story ends in a dramatic denouement in the mode of the silent movies of the turn of the century.

Even readers who appreciate the mores that governed polite 19th century society will find it hard to swallow Booth Tarkington’s plot or believe his characters.

Wouldn’t a young girl who has only one friend in town naturally say to that friend, “Who was the man with you?”

Leave this novel lie with the frock coats and hoop skirts. It doesn’t deserve an airing.

The Two Vanrevels
By Booth Tarkington
A. L. Burt, 1902
351 pages
1908 #8
My Grade: C –
Project Gutenberg ebook #3428
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Hound of the Baskervilles Sniffs Out Wide Audience

When Sir Charles is found dead outside Baskerville Hall, his doctor notices dog tracks near the body. Locals recall the legend of the huge hound who kills Baskervilles who venture onto the moors at night.

Sherlock Holmes discovers the new lord, Sir Henry, is being watched. Holmes sends Dr. Watson to Devonshire with orders to report regularly and not to let Sir Henry wander out alone.

When Sir Henry falls for the sister of a local naturalist, Holmes finds Sir Henry prefers her company to his, which makes being a body-guard difficult.

Of all the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales about Sherlock Holmes, only The Hound of the Baskervilles is achieved bestseller status in its day. Oddly enough, it’s a story in which Holmes is mostly off stage.

What is on stage is the atmosphere. The moors are inhospitable, sucking to their deaths any unwary traveler who misses his footing in the fog. Baskerville Hall is a gloomy place of creaky floors and lugubrious ancestral portraits. And with an escaped convict on the loose, even Watson is spooked when he hears the howl of a hound at night.

Just as in 1902, The Hound‘s mix of mystery, romance, and the supernatural will appeal to a diverse audience today.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle
1902 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg ebook #2852
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

AudreyFlatters Neither Characters or Colonists

Mary Johnston sets Audrey in Virginia in the years when the colony proudly regarded itself as an English land.

Feigning a sprained ankle, Marmaduke Hawarth deserts the 1716 expedition to find a route over the Blue Ridge. Before he can get back to the pretty frontier lass he saw on the way west, Indians massacre all her family except her young sister.

Hawarth places the child, Audrey, with a minister and his wife and goes off to England for 12 years with never a thought to the child.

When he returns, Audrey is 18, beautiful but barefoot, starved for affection, accustomed to physical and mental abuse, and terrified of the half-breed who is the minister’s drinking and gaming partner.

Barefoot Audrey

Hawarth accepts the barefoot girl’s adoration without thinking that his attentions ruin her reputation. He’s busy making plans to marry the lovely Evelyn Byrd,Virginia society’s leading lady.

Johnston tries to position Hawarth as a hero, he comes off as a conceited jerk. Even Evelyn Byrd, who would have married Hawarth, seems glad that she did not.

Audrey isn’t much account as a heroine either. She may be beautiful, but she’s about as personable as a tree stump.

The interest in the novel is primarily in the historical details about colonial life. Johnston shows the stark contrast between the affluent Virginians with royal land grants and poor ones with branded arms and indentured years of indentured servitude. At least by twenty-first century reckoning, colonial Virginia had as much reason for shame as for pride.

Mary Johnston
Illus. F. C. Yohn
Houghton, Mifflin 1902
400+ pages
Project Gutenberg EBook #14513
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mississippi Bubble Better at Finance Than at Fiction

The Mississippi Bubble is a long rambling tale whose hero, John Law, is a 17th century gambler, philosopher, and financier. He captivates women, explores the American wilderness, braves mobs, advises governments, and grows corn.

The main plot line is man finds girl, man loses girl, man regains girl.  Hough pads the basic plot to obese proportions. Some of the historical content, such as the death of Louis XIV, and scene descriptions, such as a storm on Lake Michigan, are powerful, but they are largely extraneous to the plot.

About halfway through novel, to propitiate the Great Spirit, vengeful Iroquois send one of its characters over Niagara Falls in a canoe. It’s unfortunate that author Emerson Hough didn’t send the rest of the characters over to propitiate vengeful readers already weary of flat characters and subplots that go nowhere.

John Law at French Court

On the whole, there’s more illumination than entertainment for readers in The Mississippi Bubble. Odd as it seems, the novel’s value lies primarily in its simple explanation of fiscal concepts such as national debt, monetary policy, and the relationship of government to the banking industry.

The Mississippi Bubble: How the Star of Good Fortune Rose and Set and Rose Again, by a Woman’s Grace,  for One John Law of Laurison
by Emerson Hough
Illus. Henry Hutt
1902 Bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg eBook #14001
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall Joins Sex to Stupidity

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Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall is a fictional memoir of Elizabethan England told by an old ex-soldier who fought appears to have fought a few too many battles without wearing his helmet.

Malcolm François de Lorraine Vernon soldiered in France for many years, attached to the house of Guise and intimately attached to the Duke’s wife, Mary Stuart.

When the now-widowed Mary is imprisoned for plotting against Queen Elizabeth, Malcolm heads for Haddon Hall where Sir George years before had offered him his daughter, Dorothy, in marriage. Dorothy won’t have Malcolm as husband, though she’s happy to have any man hanging around to jump when she flutters her lashes.

Dorothy chooses Sir John Manners, the son of her father’s worst enemy. With Malcolm’s help, she keeps her affair from her father until in a fit of jealousy, she fingers her lover for treason.

Charles Major mingles and mangles Elizabethan history and story lines.

With an absurd plot and ridiculous characters, Dorothy Vernon jerks along like a silent film, which it soon became.  Dorothy dons men’s attire and fools her lover; the lover disguises himself as a servant to be with her. Queen Elizabeth, Mary Stuart, and the Duke of Leicester have cameo roles.

I give it two thumbs down.

Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall
Charles Major
Mary Pickford edition (1908)
Illustrated with scenes from the photoplay
Grosset & Dunlap
1902 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg ebook #14671
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni