My favorites from the 1912 bestseller list

It is easier to name the novels from the 1912 bestseller list that are not my favorites than to pick the ones I like best.  Here in no particular order are my favorites.

Their Yesterdays by Harold Bell Wright is either nostalgic or sentimental depending on how charitable you are feeling when you read it. I’ll admit it tugged at my tear ducts.

On a more cerebral level, however, Their Yesterdays is rather amazing technically. Wright breaks all the accepted novelistic rules and yet makes the novel feel right.

The Melting of Molly by Maria Thompson Daviess has to be on my favorites list because it made me laugh again and again. Molly is so droll, you just know you’d love having her live next door.

The Net by Rex Beach and Tante by Anne Douglas Sedgwick look at the dark side of human nature. Beach based his guns-and-gore novel on the true adventures of a New Orleans sheriff who took on the mafia. Beach’s fictional characters are not entirely believable, but the story overall was one I couldn’t put down long enough  to eat dinner.

Guns are too physical for Tante, the aging pianist in the title role of Sedgwick’s novel.  Tante’s weapon of choice is a sharper, less traceable instrument.  Reading about how Tante schemes is like watching a snake eyeing its prey in one of those up-close-to-reptiles PBS nature shows. Sedgwick shows in shuddering detail how one twisted woman can ruin lives with a few ill-chosen words.

Remember, you can read any of these bestsellers free. They are all available from Project  My reviews give a link direct to the download page.

Project Gutenberg

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pick your favorite 1912 bestselling novels

The novels that were bestsellers in 1912 may not have something for every taste, but they certainly are a diverse lot. Select the titles that are your personal favorites (up to three selections allowed) on the poll below.

If you’d like to say why you love a particular book, please use the comment form.

Fran Will Charm Readers as She Did Lions

There’s no shortage of novels about orphans whose rich fathers deserted the women they had secretly married.  In Fran,  J. Breckenridge Ellis mocks those novels by heaping one absurdity after another onto the standard plot line.

Fran appears at the Littleburg home of philanthropist Hamilton Gregory one evening, announces she is going to make it her home, and does.

Gregory lies about who Fran is to protect his reputation as a pillar of the church. She’s willing to let him have his cover story if there’s a chance she can have a real home.

Fran quickly wins the hearts of Mrs. Gregory, her mother and her older brother, but not as quickly as she makes a enemy of her father’s secretary, Grace. Fran senses the relationship between her father and Grace is unhealthy for the household.

Fran doesn’t see how getting rid of Grace could be any harder than taming lions, and she knows how to tame lions.

Fran enlists the handsome and socially inept school superintedent to  help her get rid of Grace and teaches him the proper way for a man to declare his  love to an ex-lion tamer.

Nothing about Fran is plausible, but everything is charming.

by J[ohn] Breckenridge Ellis
Illus by W. B. King
1912 Bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg EBook #6057

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Tante succeeds where tabloids seek to tread

Tante is a fictional, behind-the-scenes account of an international celebrity of the late Victorian-era whose drug of choice is popular adulation.

Mercedez von Marwitz, 48, stage name Madame Osraska, is a still-beautiful and famous pianist with a tabloid past and a strange entourage.

When a good looking barrister Gregory Jardine shows more interest in Karen Woodruff, her 24-year-old “niece”  than in herself, Madame is insulted.

When Gregory proposes to Karen, Karen’s beloved Tante sees a way to get rid of an unnecessary expense and revenge herself on Gregory.

Karen is bland and almost pathologically self-effacing, but Gregory sees her as a Hans Christian Anderson heroine with braids and basket.

Gregory casts Tante as the wicked witch.

The woodcutter role falls to Mrs. Talcott, the homely American chicken farmer who has cared for Tante since birth.

At 70, “Tallie” can still sit on Tante, and literally does to rescue Karen and save the Jardine’s marriage.

Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s novel is long and uneven, the plot overly contrived, the atmosphere as murky as a Norwegian forest.

Those faults scarcely matter.  The characters are riveting: I read Tante in one 10-hour block, unable to put it down even for meals.

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick  (Mrs. Basil De Sélincourt )
1912 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg ebook #30115
My grade: B+
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Net Is a Great Catch

The Net is a murder mystery and more.

Much more.

Norvin Blake arrives in Sicily in 1886 for the wedding of his best friend, Martel Savigno, who is a Mafia target. When assassins ambush them on the eve of the wedding, Norvin is unable to save Martel and his overseerer. Margherita is  widowed before she is wed.

Norvin is called home his dying mother.  Margherita and her companion, Lucretzia, have left Sicily and disappeared in New York City before Norvin gets his mother’s affairs settled in New Orleans.

Norvin enters the family cotton business. Mindful of his cowardice during the ambush, he trains himself to behave courageously.

When Sheriff Donnelly gets letters about Mafia activity in New Orleans, he recruits Norvin to help root it out. When Donnelly is murdered, Norvin takes over the chase personally.

Rex Beach lets readers enjoy seeing their predictions of the plot realized, then destroys their expectations in an astounding American version of Mafia mentality.

Beach ties up the story neatly, leaving nothing but the definition of justice unsettled.

The Net
by Rex Beach
Illus. Walter Tittle
1912 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg EBook #6379
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Just Live by Faith That Innocence Wins Out

In his earlier bestseller The Prodigal Judge, Vaughan Kester showed his talent for bringing out the best in flawed characters. In The Just and the Unjust he has several flawed characters with which he explores how people are judged by the choices they make.

Young Jack North has blown through close to $20,000 by keeping too much company with Andy Gilmore, whose rooms are the local gambling parlor. Jack has also come close to getting sexually involved with his friend Marshall Langham’s wife.

Jack determines to leave Mount Hope and start over,  hoping to redeem himself enough to one day win Elizabeth Herbert. He gets only as far as Chicago when the local sheriff invites him to return to answer some questions.

murder victim is discovered.

Within three months, Jack is in jail on a murder charge.

Jack is both innocent and naif. He thinks because he’s innocent, it’s impossible for him to be convicted.

With the notable exception of the prosecuting attorney, who people appear to dislike on general principles, the best of Kester’s characters have their flaws, the worst their good points. Readers will have no doubt whom they should cheer for, but they’ll feel bad for the also-rans.

Unlike Jack and the police, readers know who committed the murder and why. They are privy to the secrets of those who could have proven Jack’s innocence and didn’t. They see the real villian of the novel get away scot free. In spite of all their insider knowledge, readers are kept on the edge of their chairs to the last page by the possibility that Jack might hang for a crime he didn’t commit.

The Just and the Unjust
by Vaughan Kester
Illustrated by M. Leone Bracker
1912 bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg E-book #14581
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Hoosier Chronicle Entertains and Enlightens

A Hoosier Chronicle has something for lovers of practically every novel genre except science fiction. Amazingly, Meridith Nicholson manages to blend romance, politics, mystery, philosophy, and history without compromising characterization.

The Hoosier Chronicle illustration
Dan and Aunt Sally confer

Yale-educated Dan Harwood hand-delivers a letter to a math professor, which prompts the professor to take his granddaughter off to Indianapolis while he tries to raise money to send her to college.

The professor doesn’t know who Sylvia’s father was or if her parents were legally married. His friend “Aunt Sally” Owens, a feisty, rich old widow, says Sylvia is so promising that her background is no matter. She writes a check for Sylvia’s college expenses.

While Sylvia studies at Wellesley, Dan reports for The Courier and studies law. In his work he meets Morton Bassett, a rising state politician married to Aunt Sally’s neice. Though Bassett is rumored to be unscrupulous, Dan genuinely likes him.

When Morton offers him a job, Dan takes it. He  thinks his moral principles enough to keep him from being co-opted if Bassett’s reputations turns out to be founded on fact.

Nicholon sets up the plot carefully. He makes all the things that you expect to happen, happen in surprising ways.

Dan is not as quick at unraveling Sylvia’s mysterious past as a shrewd lawyer should be, and the ending is too neat to be believable, yet not one of the 600+ pages of this novel is dull. Nicholson will keep you entertained and give you some ideas to chew on after you’ve finished reading.

A Hoosier Chronicle
by Meredith Nicholson
with Illustrations by F. C. Yohn
Houghton Mifflin, 1912
Project Gutenberg EBook #15138
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Melting of Molly Is Laugh-Out-Loud Funny

Molly in hot sheets melts fat away
Molly melts in hot sheets

Happily widowed Molly Carter receives a letter from the boyfriend who left her at 17 for a career in the foreign service. He’s coming home.

Molly is 26 years old,  5’3″ tall and 160 pounds. She’s horrified that Al will find her fat.

As she always does, Molly consults Hillsboro’s Dr. John, her widowed next door neighbor and father to little Billy, whom Molly loves as if he were her own.

Dr. John gives Molly a red journal in which he’s written out a reducing regimen that includes diet, exercise, and wrapping herself in hot sheets to melt her fat.

Molly follows the plan, but writes her reactions in the journal. Novelist Maria Thompson Daviess gives the journal to readers to enjoy.

“What I am,” Molly writes, “is just a poor foolish woman, who has a lot more heart than she can manage with the amount of brains she got with it at birth.”

Maria Thompson Daviess is funny. With the able assistance of illustrator R. M. Crosby, she unreels her words like a movie projector, giving The Melting of Molly the feel of a classic 1930s war-between-the-sexes romantic comedy.

Readers get to see Molly melt.

They watch her slide into home while the gorgeous, womanizing Judge Wade peeps over the picket fence.

They tingle at the fireworks that burst every time Molly and Dr. John are in the same room.

And in between scenes, they get Molly herself, confiding to her journal her thoughts on life, love, and the importance of having lots of thin children.

Cast Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the leading roles and watch the fun on the screen of your imagination.

Dr. John listens to Molly's heart
Dr. John listens to Molly’s heart
The Melting of Molly
By Maria Thompson Daviess
Illustrated by R. M. Crosby
Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1912
1912 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg eBook #15817

Images are from the American novel publication of The Melting of Molly. A British magazine publication of the novel is also available from Project Gutenberg.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Their YesterdaysReaders’ TreasureToday

Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life there are. No life can have less. No life can have more. All of life is in them. No life is without them all: Dreams, Occupation, Knowledge, Ignorance, Religion, Tradition, Temptation, Life, Death, Failure, Success, Love, Memories.

In Their Yesterdays, Harold Bell Wright does all the wrong things and turns out an exactly right novel, brimming with tears of joyous nostalgia.

A little boy and little girl grow up separated only by a hedge in a rural community. After she moves away, they lose touch,  but each remains a central figure in the other’s memories. Grown to adulthood, they face the normal challenges of life strengthened by the values they learned as children.

Eventually the grown up boy and girl meet again, marry, and raise a family.

Wright has a knack for fastening emotion in a phrase like a bee in amber. He tells of the lad “stretched on a cross of nothing to do.” He says, “One need not die to orphan a child,” and “Life itself is nothing less than this: a continual trying again.”

Wright doesn’t give his characters names. He doesn’t tell where they lived, what they did for a living, or relate any but the vaguest suggestions of the piviotal experiences of their lives.  He outlines the entire tale in the proem, quoted above, and organizes each chapter in exactly the same manner.  The book should be a disaster. Yet somehow Wright makes the characters so vivid they sing on the page.

And this was the true glory and the fulfillment of their lives…that they could see themselves renewed in their children and in their children’s children.

Their Yesterdays
by Harold Bell Wright
Illus by F. Grahman Cootes
1912 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg ebook #6105

1912 bestseller list novels set for review here

The novels on the bestseller list for 1912 will appeal to a wide range of tastes.  You may even find, as I did, that a well-written novel can make you belive their might just be something worth reading in a genre you think you dislike.

Each of the 1912 bestsellers is available to read free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.  The links for novels making their first appearance go directly to the Project Gutenberg page for that book. If the book is making its second appearance on the bestseller list, links will take you to my review which will direct you to the download page at Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg

Here’s the 1912 list, and the dates when you can expect to see the review on this blog.

  1. The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter (second year on the bestseller list)
  2. The Street Called Straight by Basil King [Sep. 9, 2012]
  3. Their Yesterdays by Harold Bell Wright [Sep. 12, 2012]
  4. The Melting of Molly by Maria Thompson Daviess [Sep. 16, 2012]
  5. A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson [Sep. 19, 2012]
  6. The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright (second year on the bestseller list)
  7. The Just and the Unjust by Vaughan Kester [Sep. 26, 2012]
  8. The Net by Rex Beach [Sep. 30, 2012]
  9. Tante by Anne Douglas Sedgwick [Oct. 3, 2012]
  10. Fran by J. Breckenridge Ellis [Oct. 7, 2012]
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni