A Far Country is reached via expediency

A Far Country is presented as the autobiography of a corporate lawyer, a “typical American” disciple of the doctrine of enlightened self interest.

Winston Churchill dealt the results of that doctrine in his 1913 bestseller. This time, however, he treats it from the perspective of the man who pursues expediency.

A Far Country by Winston Churchill

     MacMillan, 1915, 509 pages. 1915 bestseller #2. Project Gutenberg ebook #3739 My grade: C​+.

After his father’s death, Hugh Paret goes into law. He learns to use the law to manipulate, and thus becomes a behind-the-scenes political power.

Cartoon shows corporate interests running the US Senate
The Bosses of the Senate, a cartoon by Joseph Keppler from 1889

Hugh is opposed by Hermann Krebs, skillful advocate for the powerless, whom Hugh respects and despises.

Only his childhood friend Nancy seems to see Hugh’s career as a downward path, but she, too, chooses expediency.

Hugh marries a woman without ambition and soon regrets choosing Maude, though it draws him and Nancy closer than ever.

Maude keeps up appearances until the children are in their teens. Then she quietly takes them off to France just as Hugh is being considered for a run for the US Senate.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hugh faces strong opposition from his old opponent, Krebs.

The plot of the novel is essentially a romance, albeit an unconventional one.

Churchill’s characters are believable enough to keep readers’ interest, but not believable enough to make the book memorable two weeks after reading it.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Modern Chronicle Is No Vanity Fair

Winston Churchill’s A Modern Chronicle starts off well, with Tom and Mary Leffingwell assuming charge of his late brother’s infant daughter along with the brother’s debts.

From a beautiful baby, Honora grows into a beautiful woman, steeped in romance and convinced her late father was rich, respected, and distinguished. Readers are ready to see Honora learn the truth about her parents, grow up, and recognize that nice, dull, Peter Erwin is the man of her dreams.

By the end of volume 1, however, Churchill forgets the background he so carefully established.

In the turning of a page, Honora acquires Amelia Sedley’s moral code and Becky Sharp’s ambition. A Modern Chronicle goes to ruin faster than Becky Sharp did.

The next seven volumes of A Modern Chronicle show Honora using her looks and charm to climb the social ladder. By 30 she’s been married, divorced, remarried, and widowed. Through it all she’s rarely missed church and never been seen with uncoiffed hair.

The novel has occasional scenes that prove Churchill has a keen eye for telling detail and true scene-painting skill.

Too bad he didn’t deploy them in support of a better story.

A Modern Chronicle
Winston Churchill
1910 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg EBook #5382

Elizabeth Appleton a treat for active readers

John O’Hara can transform a drab plot about unremarkable characters into an unexpected and unsettling exploration of human behavior. In Elizabeth Appleton, O’Hara is in peak form.

Elizabeth Appleton is an attractive woman who passes for intelligent, but she has no intellectual interests or aspirations. She’s married to a college professor who likes being a college professor. Elizabeth would like him to be a college president.

John and Elizabeth have been getting along fine for nine years, but she’s beginning to feel their sex life is boring. The celebrities that she’d like to meet don’t show up on the lecture circuit in their small Pennsylvania college town.

From an unlikely cast of academics and small-town businesspeople, O’Hara creates a world in which sexual stereotypes twist like reflections in a carnival mirror. Yet O’Hara does it with a respect for his characters that keeps the story from being sordid or smutty.

O’Hara’s writing is smooth, deceptively easy to read. But he demands readers work with him, imagining the scenes, deciphering how the characters speak their lines.

Those who aren’t willing to put in the effort O’Hara demands may wonder why Elizabeth Appleton was a bestseller. Active readers will know.

Elizabeth Appleton
by John O’Hara
Random House, 1963
310 pages
1963 bestseller # 5
My grade A-
©2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Gown of Glory has worn very well

County Church
County Church

The Gown of Glory is a quaint, gentle novel, ideally suited to an afternoon when your cold is a little better but not all gone yet.

David and Mary Lyall came to the small village of Ladykirk planning to stay at most five years—just long enough for the world to see what a wonderful choice David would be to pastor a big city congregation. Twenty-five years and three children later, they are still in Ladykirk, still hoping for better things to come.

The Lyalls have good sense, kind hearts, abundant humor, and enough faults to be believable. Their world may be provincial, but its crises are none the less real: envy is envy, whether its object is a millionaire’s wealth or an evangelist’s converts.

Surely there’s no funnier scene in religious fiction than when Mary realizes she’s given all her savings for a much-wanted kitchen cabinet to a visiting missionary and sobs, “I hate the heathen. I want my cabinet.”

The Gown of Glory is not great literature, but it’s a durable novel that will make you smile, perhaps shed a tear, and maybe even decide to go to church next Sunday.

The Gown of Glory
Agnes Sligh Turnbull
Houghton Mifflin, 1952
284 pages
1952 Bestseller # 8
My grade: B

Photo credit: “Country Church” uploaded by organmaster

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni