Gentle Julia has nostalgic charm

Portrait of Gentle Julia
Gentle Julia

The absurdities of American adolescents are a recurrent theme in Booth Tarkington novels. In Gentle Julia he’s in peak form.

Every bachelor and widower in town is after Miss Julia Atwater. Julia wouldn’t hurt any of them by declining his advances.

For all her 20 years, Julia has no more sense than her 13-year-old niece, Florence. Florence alternates between hating boys, especially her cousin Herbert, and inventing romances. Julia merely alternatives between liking all males and loving herself.

Florence eavesdrops on her Aunt Julia and shares her news with all the other Atwaters in town. When Herbert and a friend set up a weekly newspaper, Florence elbows her way in and finds a literary outlet for what she has overheard.

Gentle Julia has about as much substance as aerosol whipped topping. The characters are all lightweights. The plot trivial.

The world Tarkington reveals is one in which people are comfortably well-off. Children are loved and disciplined but allowed freedom to roam. Neighbors gossip, but never in a mean way. Families rally in support of one another. No one drops litter.

If that world ever existed, it’s long gone.

Nostalgia for it remains.

Gentle Julia
by Booth Tarkington
Illustrated by  C. Allan Gilbert & Worth Brehm
Doubleday, Page, 1922
375 pages
1922 #3 Bestseller
Project Gutenberg Ebook 18259 
My grade: C
Florence in her role as newspaper editor dominates the boys.
“‘Well, men … I don’t want to see any loafin’ around here, men. I expect I’ll have a pretty good newspaper this week.'”
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mary’s Neck Pleasant as Ocean Breeze in August

Mary’s Neck is a breezy, lighthearted account of a midwestern family’s summer at a New England seashore resort patronized by “the right sort of people” at the height of the Jazz Age.

Mr. Massey is a jovial businessman who wants to be friends with everyone. Mrs. Massey longs be a leading family in Mary’s Neck. Enid and Clarissa are primarily interested in securing the society of boys with sports cards, hefty allowances, and good prospects.

The Masseys’ wear their aspirations like targets painted on their shirts. People can’t help taking shots at them.

The Masseys are regularly cheated by the shrewd Yankees they think so provincial. They fare no better at the hands of those they consider socially prominent.

Booth Tarkington plays this story strictly for laughs, and he provides plenty of them.

The adolescents are adolescent, which is always funny to all but the adolescents. Mrs. Massey is too dim to be funny, but Mr. Massey is sharp enough to learn to pass the losing ticket on to someone else. Tarkington keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek throughout the book.

Mary’s Neck is a pleasant diversion for those days when all you want is a laugh at someone else’s expense.

Mary’s Neck
Booth Tarkington
Doubleday, Doran, 1932
318 pages
 
©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

Pulitzer winner Magnificent Ambersons no great prize today

Booth Tarkington didn’t have a novel on the bestseller list in 1918, but he did win a Pulitzer Prize for a novel he published that year.

The Magnificent Ambersons is a coming of age novel plastered on top of a study of the rise and fall of an American family.

During the panic of 1873, General Amberson made a killing that propelled his family to the top of the Midland social ladder.

Grandson Georgie is a snob of the nastiest sort. Most of the town would like to see him get his comeuppance.

Georgie falls for a charming girl whose father, Eugene Morgan, had been in love with his mother years before. Eugene is in the automobile business, on his way to becoming far richer than the Ambersons.

When his widowed mother begins seeing her old beau again, Georgie throws a fit. Used to doing everything Georgie wants, his mother gives in and dies without seeing Eugene again.

Georgie finds himself sudenly penniless, jobless, homeless. He’s gotten his comeuppance, but the people who wished it on him are not around to see. Autos and industrialization have changed the town beyond recognition.

The Magnificent Ambersons is one of Booth Tarkington’s less successful stories. Georgie is too nasty to be an appropriate target for Tarkington’s usual gentle satire, and Georgie’s growing up is too sudden to be plausible.

The Magnificent Ambersons
By Booth Tarkington
Illus. Arthur William Brown
Doubleday, Page, 1919
516 pages
Project Gutenberg ebook #8867
My grade: C+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

My pics for the best bestsellers of 1928

Literature with a capital L topped the 1928 bestseller list in the form of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. That novel’s entertainment value has plummeted as badly as the bridge. Forget that turkey.

Fortunately some non-literary novels from 1928 provide great reading.

The Strange Case of Miss Annie Sprague is my top pick. Louis Bromfield weaves together threads as disparate as stigmata and the American frontier into a complex novel that raises more questions than it answers. Bromfield’s “I’m just reporting this” narrative style leaves readers wondering there’s really a sordid story beneath the surface of the novel or if the dirt is all in their minds.

Second place on my list is a tie between Clarie Ambler by Booth Tarkington  and All Kneeling by Anne Parish. Both books are about self-centered women who spend their lives deliberately constructing a public image. Claire has an occasional moment when she realizes the immorality of using other people. Such insight never occurs to Christable Craine.

Third place goes to Vina Delmar’s Bad Girl, an inside view of a teenage marriage doomed by poverty. Delmar deserves better than third place, but her subject is just too depressing. I cannot forget Bad Girl, but I wish I could.

Swan Song is great reading if you’ve read the rest of John Galsworthy’s Forsyte saga. If not, pass it up.

One final note. I haven’t yet been able to find a copy of Old Pybus by Warwick Deeping, which was number 7 on the 1928 bestseller list.