The early 1900s saw a spate of novels about clergymen who came under bad influences in big cities. Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia is one of the more ridiculous examples of group.
The One Woman contains some interesting insights into what today are sneeringly called traditional values, but the novel’s plot and characterization are implausible even by the standards of melodrama.
The title character, Ruth Gordon, is the jealous wife of the Rev. Frank Gordon, a handsome and charismatic preacher who is packing a New York City church with a beguiling blend of scriptures and socialism.
Ruth has reason to worry: Frank has an ego twice the size of his church’s sanctuary.
When sexy, sophisticated heiress Kate Ransom tells Frank his words seem divine, Frank’s a gonner.
Frank leaves Ruth and the kids for Kate.
Frank invents a new, utopian religion that features open marriage.
When Kate tells Frank she’s leaving him, Franks kills her new lover.
In the nick of time, Ruth rescues Frank from the electric chair, restoring the confessed murder to his rightful place as husband, head of the household, and father to their dear, innocent little children.
The One Woman: A Story of Modern Utopia
by Thomas Dixon Jr.
Life Country Press, 1903
1903 bestseller # 9
If you can imagine a novel written by Alfred Hitchcock, you’ll understand the fascination of Louis Bromfield’s 1928 bestseller The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg.
Annie Spragg, an American, dies in a small Italian village. Her body shows what villagers say are stigmata. Mr. Winnery, who dabbles in writing, decides to investigate the “miracle.”
He learns Annie was one of 13 legitimate children of a frontier cult leader murdered by a jealous lover of one of the virgins who served him. After their parents’ deaths, Annie and Uriah, her creepy preacher-brother who idolized their mother, lived together until Uriah was murdered.
Suspicion fell on Annie. She was stripped, examined, and questioned. Investigators found she had unusual scars. There was a heavy whip in the cabin and handcuffs that Uriah used to chain her in her bed at night.
No one was ever charged in Uriah’s murder.
Like a horde of letters and newspaper clippings in somebody’s attic, Annie Spragg leaves plenty of clues but no conclusion.
Bromfield increases the fascination of the story by his squeaky-clean presentation. Readers grasping for clues can’t be sure whether the sordid story they infer is in the material or in their own dirty minds.
The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg
By Louis Bromfield
Grosset & Dunlap, 1928
My Grade: A