Coniston exposes power politics at the grassroots

Winston Churchill’s narrator confides right away that Conison is going to have two love stories and revolve mainly around the ungainly figure of Jethro Bass.

That description is like saying Moby Dick is about fishing.

Coniston by Winston Churchill

Florence Scovel Shinn, illus. MacMillan, 1906. 540 p. 1906 bestseller #1.
Project Gutenberg Ebook #3766.
My grade B+.

In New Hampshire in the mid-1800s, uneducated, stuttering Jethro falls hard for Cynthia Ware.

Jethro Bass sits on a porch, hands in pockets, legs crossed,
Jethro Bass is a patient man.

Cynthia returns Jethro’s affection, but deplores his political ambition to rise above his station.

Though they part and marry others, each remains the other’s true love.

After Cynthia’s death, Jethro becomes friend to her husband and “Uncle Jethro” to the daughter with the mother’s name.

Jethro both loves and respects Cynthie, but will he give up his political power for her?

Will Cynthie hold to her principles or bend to win the man she loves?

Churchill works things out in proper romantic fashion, but not before he’s treated readers to a fascinating behind the scenes glimpse into grassroots politics (drawing, no doubt, on his experience as a New Hampshire legislator and candidate for governor.)

In Churchill’s pen, Jethro Bass becomes a figure as distinctive and memorable as any creation by Thomas Hardy or Anthony Trollope.

Coniston fairly begs to become a Masterpiece Theatre presentation.

Until it is (and afterward) read the print version.

It is a gem.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Class distinctions make The Valley of Decision

photograph,  Wharf at Pittsburgh, 1890
Pittsburgh’s three rivers play an important role in The Valley of Decision.

In 1873, Mary Rafferty goes to be ’tweenmaid in William Scott’s Pittsburgh home.

Her patience, humor, straight-thinking, practicality, and unswerving loyalty win the entire family. For nearly 60 more years, Mary remains in the Scott household, neither fully family nor fully employee.

When Paul Scott choses Mary as his bride, William father sees no reason to object to his son’s choice.

Mary, however, had other ideas. She feels her working class origins (both her father and brother worked in the Scott steel mill) make her unfit to marry into the family.

She refuses to marry Paul and pushes him into an unhappy marriage that ends in his wife’s suicide.

Afterward, Mary returns to bring up Paul’s children, run his house, help his grandchildren, keep his mill intact for the family.

Mary’s refusal to marry the man she loves was bizarre to her contemporaries. But Marcia Davenport makes Mary’s reasons so much a part of Mary’s essential character that she’s entirely believable, even admirable, in spite of her rigidly absurd social class standards.

By the time she puts the kettle on for tea in the last paragraph of The Valley of Decision, you’ll like Mary as much as the Scotts did.

The Valley of Decision
By Marcia Davenport
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944
790 pages
1944 bestseller # 2
My Grade: B-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni