One Increasing Purpose seeks answer to “Why me?”

In One Increasing Purpose, A. S. M. Hutchinson presents a nice guy, Simon “Sim” Paris, who survived World War I without a scratch.

Sim  wonders why he was spared.

One Increasing Purpose by A. S. M. Hutchinson

Little, Brown,and Company, 1925,  448 pp. 1925 bestseller #10. My grade: C+.

All his family call on Sim’s sympathy.

Andrew, Sim’s oldest brother, is married to a woman temperamentally her husband’s opposite; after 10 years of marriage they are finding passion a poor substitute for shared values.

Sim’s other brother, Charles, is fond of his wife and she of him, but their relationship ends with fondness.

Looking for a sympathetic ear for his own problems, Sims looks up girl he’d known before the war. When Sim tell Elizabeth he’s convinced he was spared for a purpose, she says the purpose “is of God.”

Sim spends the rest of the novel trying to find God’s purpose, while simultaneously trying to help his brothers and sisters-in-laws with their marital problems.

Sims is the sort of person you’d want as a friend, but he’s awfully dull as a male lead. Sim’s declaration of undying love is, “Elizabeth,” which is not a particularly memorable line.

To get the mess untangled, Hutchinson resorts to a deus ex machina, which perhaps is appropriate for a protagonist whose statement of faith is “Christ the Common Denominator.”

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My picks of 1922 bestsellers

The bestseller list of 1922 has everything from comedy to social criticism. Neither category, however, is on my personal list of favorites for the year.

My favorites are the two novels by A. S. M. Hutchinson, If Winter Comes and This Freedom, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Head of the House of Coombe. All three explore facets of the human psyche in very different ways.

This Freedom is the better of the two Hutchinson novels. Hutchinson makes the characters feel real, their choices seem grounded in reality. The exploration of whether women can “have it all” is still timely, as are questions about how to run a two-paycheck household.

That said, I admit I prefer If Winter Comes. With his ability to see other people’s perspectives, his humor, his dedication to doing right the lead character is so un-heroic that I can’t help rooting for him. I’m quite willing to ignore the too-contrived ending as long as it ends well for Mark.

My third choice is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Head of the House of Coombe which takes readers behind the lace curtains to find the upper crust are as bad as the tabloids make them appear. The victim is a poor, fatherless child; to learn who the villain is, you have to read the novel.

Any of these novels will provide good entertainment. Each is available as a free e-book at Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg

This Freedom Examines Wife as CEO of Home

In This Freedom, A.S.M. Hutchinson tells the story of the marriage of two people who never fall out of love, but fall out of harmony.

bank signFrom her high chair, Rosalie Aubyn found the world of men exciting, the world of women dull. She decides to become part of men’s world as a banker — a striking choice in the early 1900s when women in offices were a rarity.

Intent on a celibate life, Rosalie suddenly finds herself passionately in love and as suddenly married to Harry Occleve, a rising lawyer.

Rosalie views running a home like running her business: As CEO she plans, hires, and delegates housekeepers, cooks, nannies, and governesses.

Although Harry is proud of his wife’s career accomplishments, he feels she needs to be more of a mother and homemaker. He sees their children are remote, undemonstrative, and unloving.

Hutchinson’s character portraits mingle precision with nuance. He relates the tale in a way that makes readers understand why each of the main characters feels and acts as he or she does.

The novel’s themes are timeless, but in the last 50 years they have ceased to be topics of real public discussion. Rereading This Freedom might be a useful way to reignite debate once more about the “proper role of women,” that loaded phrase implying a broad range of behavior with significant implications for society.

This Freedom
A. S. M. [Arthur Stuart-Mentet] Hutchinson
1922 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg ebook #6415
My grade: B+
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Make Winter Come Again

Headstone of WWI soldierIf you have time to read only one vintage novel this year, make it A. S. M. Hutchinson’s 1922 chart-topper If Winter Comes.

The plot begins to roll when Mark Sabre discovers that he and his bride do not laugh at the same jokes. As time passes, he discovers they really have nothing in common at all.

Mark retreats into his work in educational publishing, depending for intellectual companionship on two neighbors who have eccentricities of their own.

Mark occasionally sees his soul mate, Nona, now married to the emotionally abusive Lord Tybar, as she passes through Penny Green en route to somewhere else. Only the outbreak of World War I keeps Mark from helping Nona escape from her intolerable marriage.

Mark’s honest heart and instance of seeing things from other people’s perspective renders him incapable of seeing his wife’s and co-workers’ behind-the-scenes machinations.

Hutchinson accentuates the intricate plot and vivid characters with an extraordinary sense of pacing. As Mark gets swept up in events over which he has no control, the story accelerates so readers feel Mark’s loss of control and helplessness.

Hutchinson will make you laugh, and weep, and pause to read aloud lines that glow with a pearly sheen.

If Winter Comes
A. S. M. Hutchinson
Grosset & Dunlap, 1921
415 pages
1922 #1 Bestseller
Project Gutenberg #14145
My grade: A

Photo credit: “Graves 1” by yohanl

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Another Saturday, another library book sale

The Sidney (NY) Memorial Library had a sale Saturday of books from a single donor. I was delighted to find the collection had a good sprinkling of vintage novels. Hardbacks were 50¢; I filled a bag with snow-day reading.

I picked up If Winter Comes by A. S. M. Hutchinson, which topped the charts in 1922. I’m reading it now and finding it hard to put down. Another novel by the author, This Freedom, was #7 that year and #6 in 1923.

Other books that I carted home are:

A Lion in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley (1945) and Kings Row by Henry Bellamy (1941). After reading these to review here, I knew I wanted them  for my own collection. (Kings Row will be reviewed here in 2011.) They are both novels worth reading more than twice.

The Money Moon by Jeffrey Farnol published in 1911, the same year his novel The Broad Highway was the number 1 bestseller. He had other bestsellers:   The Amateur Gentleman (1913) and  The Definite Object (1917).

The Way of an Eagle by Ethel M. Dell (1911), a very popular romance writer who was sneered at by more literary authors. Her novels  The Hundredth Chance and  Greatheart made the bestseller lists in 1917 and 1918 respectively.

Penrod and Sam by Booth Tarkington (1916). Tarkington may be best remembered for The Magnificent Ambersons, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1918. I happen to think Claire Amber (1928) is a more interesting novel.

The U. P. Trail by Zane Grey (1918) is one of Grey’s many bestsellers, but not, I fear one of his better novels.

The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright (1909) is an early novel of the author who went on to best-sellers such as The Winning of Barbara Worth (1911 and 1912), Their Yesterdays (1912), The Eyes of the World (1914 #1), When a Man’s a Man (1916), The Re-Creation of Brian Kent (1919 & 1920), Helen of the Old House (1922), The Mine with the Iron Door (1923).

What about you? Found any great vintage novels in the used book bins lately?

©2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni