Slim pickings among 1909 bestsellers

Some years see several novels that are unforgettably good.  Other years see novels that are forgettable.

Most of the 1909 novels fall into that latter category.

The most memorable of the lot are The Silver Horde by Rex Beach and The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

words "The Silver Horde by Rex Beach" superimposed on photo of salmon spawning

photo of Pullman car with caption "The Man in Lower Ten is classic--and classy-- mystery

Neither of these novels can be said to offer any principles to live by, but both will keep 21st century readers interested and leave them with a sense of having been pleasantly entertained.

Some days, that’s enough.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Septimus seizes chances to be kind

Septimus is another of William J. Locke’s rollicking tales of eponymous characters who knock the traditional notion of the fictional hero into a cocked hat.

The death of her husband from delirium tremens within six weeks of their wedding turned Zora Middlemist off marriage.

Septimus by William J. Locke

1909 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg eBook #14395. My grade: B+.

Since Zora is well endowed physically and financially—and totally lacking in ambition—the widow’s a walking male-magnet.

Septimus Dix, an eccentric inventor, is the first to fall for her charms.

Septimus is a kind and honest man, totally incapable of remembering an umbrella or firing an incompetent servant. He tells Zora:

I shouldn’t like to pass my life without dreams, Zora. I could give up tobacco and alcohol and clean collars and servants, and everything you could think of—but not dreams. Without them the earth is just a sort of backyard of a place.

Next to fall is Clem Sypher, “friend of humanity,” and inventor of Sypher’s Cure in which he believes with religious fervor.

With Zora favoring neither, Clem and Septimus become friends.

Meanwhile, Zora’s younger sister has been dumped by a man who left her pregnant.

Septimus offers Emily the protection of marriage, with the understanding that after the baby is born she can divorce him and not even Zora need know the child’s origins.

As silly as the plot sounds, Locke makes the absurdities arise so naturally from the goodness and foibles of the characters that it not only seems plausible but also reveals some home truths about faith, love, and having a dream.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Peter intrigues by what it might have been

Nobody runs over a child if he can help it. Even a thief will bring you back your pocket-book if you trust him to take care of it. It is the trusting that does it. Few men, no matter how crooked, can resist the temptation of reaching, if only for a moment, an honest man’s level.

Peter is a romance, albeit with twinges of philosophy, but Peter is not one of its lovers.

Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero

by F. Hopkinson Smith. 1909 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg eBook #4516.
My grade: B-.

Peter Grayson, a bald, 60-year-old banker, meets a young Marylander working in his uncle’s stock brokerage company.

Jack Breen has no love for Wall Street, but he has no training for any other white-collar work and thinks himself above manual labor.

Birdseye view of Lower Manhattan painted
Birdseye view of Lower Manhattan in 1914 by artist Richard Rummell.

When Jack learns a friend was bankrupted by a dirty deal his uncle put over, he resigns and moves out of Uncle Arthur’s home.

Peter gets Jack a job working for an engineer with a beautiful daughter.

Jack is smart and brave, but inclined to put his brain into neutral where people he likes are concerned.

When Jack’s friend Garry Minott commits suicide after unwise speculation leads him to embezzle, Jack rushes to save his friend’s reputation for the sake of Garry’s infant son.

F. Hopkinson Smith starts out well with plot and characterization, but he never lets either develop their potential.

Smith doesn’t let Jack learn, for example, how his lame-brained attempts to raise cash affect his future father-in-law’s business, though Smith lays all the groundwork that lesson.

Peter remains nothing more than a pleasant diversion, albeit one with very intriguing “what ifs.”

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Goose Girl: A fairy tale for grownups

I initially thought The Goose Girl was going to be a Graustark knock-off, but Harold MacGrath’s plot contains complex characters that George Barr McCutcheon can’t match.

The Goose Girl revolves around two girls of approximately the same age, Hildegarde and Gertrude.

The Goose Girl by Harold MacGrath

Andre Castaigne, illus. Bobbs-Merrill. 1909 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg  eBook #14598. My grade: B.

Princess Hildegarde interviews the goose girl
Princess Hildegarde interviews Gertrude, the Goose Girl.

Abducted as a toddler, Princess Hildegarde is reunited with her father at age 16 after experiencing hardship and freedom.

Hildegarde wants to marry Arthur Carmichael of the American consulate, but she’s ordered to wed King Frederick of Jugendheit for reasons of state.

Youthful King Frederick has also been given much freedom.

He rejects Hildegarde in favor of Gertrude, a beautiful goose girl with socialist sympathies.

Although the Grand Duke hates the idea of Hildegarde marrying his enemy’s son, he’s ready to go to war with Jugendheit when Frederick refuses to wed her.

Such irrationality is all too human.

Anyone who ever read a fairy tale knows how the romance is going to end.

The interest is in who engineered Hildegarde’s abduction and why.

The denouement is dramatic because the culprit is so believably the last person anyone would suspect.

No one would mistake The Goose Girl for literature, but neither can anyone deny that MacGrath’s characters are a far cry from the stilted cardboard pieces of McCutcheon’s romances.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Truxton King battles real villians in fairy-tale setting

Truxton King is the third of George Barr McCutcheon’s novels about Graustark, a tiny East European monarchy.

Graustark’s fairy-tale existence is threatened by forces making their presence felt worldwide at the dawn of the 20th century.

Truxton King talks with 7-year-old Prince Robin, who leads a collie.
Truxton King talks with Prince Robin, heir to the throne of Graustark.

Truxton King by George Barr McCutcheon

Harrison Fisher, illus. Dodd, Mead 1909. 1909 bestseller #3.
Project Gutenberg EBook #14284. My grade: B-.

Graustark’s titular head is 7-year-old orphan Prince Robin. Three regents rule for the Prince.

The task of raising Robin belongs to his father’s American friend John Tullis.

Truxton King stops in Graustark hoping to find romance so he won’t have to settle down to “domestic obsolescence” when he gets back to New York.

King finds romance.

He also uncovers a double conspiracy: One is by malcontents intent on killing the Prince and establishing a socialist state. The other is by exiled “Iron Count” Marlanx to use the Reds’ assassination of the Prince to make himself king of Graustark.

McCutcheon develops his characters only to a level of realism suitable to fairy-tales. He covers that shortcoming by a story replete with secret passages, spies, double crosses, and dark-of-night adventures by the intrepid hero and the less intrepid, but well-informed, travel agent who aids in his escapades.

The novel’s strength is its weakness: Abhorrent topics are treated with a light touch so they don’t seem abhorrent at all.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni



The prize in The Silver Horde is gold

Rex Beach’s The Silver Horde is a breathless story of competition to make a killing in the short salmon spawning season.

Engineer Boyd Emerson and “Fingerless” Frasier, whom he rescued from police on an ice-floe in Norton Sound, arrive in Kalvik, Alaska, just barely alive.

Salmon spawning
Salmon spawning

The Silver Horde by Rex Beach

1909 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg E-Book #6017. My grade B+.

All doors but one are closed to them.

Miss Cherry Malotte, a lovely young entrepreneur living alone, takes the men in.

She convinces Emerson to start a salmon canning company to compete with her arch enemy, Willis Marsh.

Emerson has a girl in the States whose rich father disapproves of penniless engineers and wants his Mildred to marry Willis Marsh.

Even without peeking,  readers know how the romance will end.

What they don’t know is how bloodthirsty salmon fishing can be.

Beach makes sure they don’t remain ignorant.

Cherry has a past; Boyd has depression. Those traits make make them miserable.

Frasier is another matter.

The good-hearted crook talks incessantly to fill Boyd’s morose silence. Frasier tells Boyd:

If you prefer to swallow your groans, you do it. I like to make a fuss when I suffer. I enjoy it more that way.

And readers will enjoy The Silver Horde: Beach doesn’t let any character’s misery get in the way of his story.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: “Salmon Spawning at Hood Canal” by Hood Canal


Katrine: a waste of world and time

Katrine, according to its author, is the story a woman who threw a world away for love.

Unfortunately, Elinor Macartney Lane adds nothing to her preview.

Katrine by Elinor Macartney Lane

1909 bestseller # 2. Project Gutenberg E-book #14263. My grade: B-.

Frank Ravenel, home at Ravenel Plantation from his philandering, is attracted by his overseer’s pretty, young, tuneful daughter.

Dermott McDermott, a friend of Katrine and her father, is Frank’s competitor.

Frank realizes Katrine is too pure for dalliance, too socially inferior for marriage.

Katrine goes off to study vocal music in Paris.

Frank takes up business to occupy his time.

Unknown to Frank, his father had married a woman in Europe prior to meeting his mother. That woman was Dermott’s aunt and, he believes, is the rightful heir to the Ravenel estates.young girl crying alone in yard

The novel is syrupy and silly. Katrine, Frank, and Dermott are stick figures whose behavior is implausible from start to finish.

The defining story of Katrine’s life — the lesson she gleaned from the different reaction of a boy and girl to a painful experience — is buried:

Afterward the girl cried all the rest of the morning, but the boy went out and made a swing, and in a little while was quite happy.…

I don’t want to cry; I want to make swings.

Now that’s a story.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Inner Shrine asks if wife’s flirtation is harmless

American George Evelath uses a duel over his wife’s honor to stage his suicide in Paris.

Friends conceal the details from George’s mother and his wife, Diane, but it’s soon clear George had lost his fortune.
Diane at her desk holding a telegram.

The Inner Shrine: A Novel of Today by Basil King*

Frank Craig, illus. ©1908, 1909 Harper & Brothers. 1909 bestseller #1.
Project Gutenberg Ebook #14393. My grade B.

Sure that George trusted her, and sincerely repenting her extravagance, Diane secretly makes over her dot to her mother-in-law.

The women go to New York.

Mrs. Evelath unwittingly lives on Diane’s dowry while Diane becomes companion to a spoiled debutante whose widowed father, Derek Pryn, proposes marriage.

Pryn meets a Frenchman who says he shot his lover’s husband in a duel. Since Diane’s husband was shot in Paris, Pryn concludes Diane was the lover.

Pryn is willing to marry Diane anyway, but she doesn’t want to marry anyone who thinks she’s promiscuous, though she realizes she gave that impression:

George always knew that I loved him, and that I was true to him. He trusted me, and was justified in doing so. …I played with fire, and while George knew it was only playing, it was fire all the same.

Basil King tangles personalities into an exploration of whether behavior observers interpret as a sexual liaison is actually a “harmless flirtation.”

King does it admirably while dropping a trail of bon mots, such as: “There are times in life when words become as dangerous as explosives.”

If only King didn’t shift focus from one character to another with such unconcern, there would be nothing in The Inner Shrine for me to complain about.

*The author’s name does not appear in the text, nor does the name of the illustrator, Frank Craig, but the drawings are signed.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Preview of 1909 novels to be reviewed here

For the next few weeks, I’m going to post reviews of novels I hadn’t located back when they should have appeared in my rotation. I’ll be reviewing the eight bestsellers of 1909 that I hadn’t posted earlier.Cover of *The Inner Shrine* and quotation from it.

As usual, if I haven’t already reviewed the novel, I’ve linked to ProjectGutenberg, where you can read the book for free. If I have already read the book, I’ve linked to my review, which should also link to where you can get a free e-version to read.

The Inner Shrine by Basil King [Sat. Nov. 7, 2015]
Katrine by Elinor Macartney Lane [Tue. Nov. 10, 2015]
The Silver Horde by Rex Beach [Sat. Nov. 14, 2015]
The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine by John Fox Jr.

Goose Girl in traditional costume descends palace stairs.
Truxton King by George Barr McCutcheon [Tue. Nov. 17, 2015]
54-40 or Fight by Emerson Hough [Sat. Nov. 21, 2015]
The Goose Girl by Harold MacGrath [Tue. Nov. 24, 2015]
Peter: A Novel of Which He Is Not the Hero  by F. Hopkinson Smith [Sat. Nov. 28, 2015]
Septimus by William J. Locke [Tue. Dec. 1, 2015]

*The Silver Horde" by Rex Beach superimposed on photograph of spawning salmon
Salmon Spawning at Hood Canal

Poll: Your picks of the 1909 bestsellers [Sat Dec. 5, 2015]
My picks of the 1909 bestsellers [Tue. Dec. 8, 2015]