The Foxes of Harrow not worth digging out

Steven Fox arrives in New Orleans in 1825, broke and friendless.

By his gambling and his good looks, he makes a fortune and buys land, working along side his slaves to make it prosper.

The Foxes of Harrow by Frank Yerby

Dial Press, 1946. 408 p. 1946 bestseller #6. My grade: C-.

Before long Harrow is the greatest plantation in Louisiana, its manor house a gem on the Mississippi.

Steven marries Odalie Orceneaux by whom he has two children.

After her death he marries her sister, Aurore.

And on the side he has a quadroon mistress.

As Harrow grows more prosperous and influential, the South prepares for war. Steven lays aside his anti-secession principles to fight for the South.

In the introduction to The Foxes of Harrow, Frank Yerby makes the glory and ruin of Harrow Plantation almost palpable, but the story never lives up to its setting.

Yerby starts out writing about people in the pre-Civil War South, and ends up writing an historical novel about the South.

The characters, too, are not consistent.

Initially conniving, thieving, self-centered, and cruel, Steven magically becomes loyal, generous, and statesmanlike by the book’s end.

The best thing to be said for The Foxes of Harrow is that it’s better than its sequels.

But it’s no Gone With the Wind.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Benton’s Row Is Uneven and Unoriginal

If I were asked whether Frank Yerby’s Benton’s Row is

a) a typical Yerby novel
b) better than the typical Yerby novel
c) worse than the typical Yerby novel
d) all of the above

I’d choose D.

Benton’s Row is in three parts. The first is standard Yerby: Tom Benton, an ambitious poor boy, irresistible to women, achieves fame and fortune in America’s South before the Civil War.

Part two, set during during Reconstruction, focuses on Tom’s widow, Sarah, remarried to the local doctor, and the extended family of Tom Benton’s legitimate and bastard children.

Yerby, who usually uses paper dolls for his female characters, does a surprisingly good job portraying Sarah.

In this middle section, Yerby also surprises with his depiction of plantations of the interior South as an unpainted log homes and the planters as not substantially better off financially than their slaves.

Unfortunately, Yerby destroys the impact of his original elements by ending the middle section with an incident distressingly similar to a scene from Zane Grey’s  To the Last Man.

The third part of Benton’s Row is a hodgepodge of stories about Tom Benton’s progeny and grandchildren during and after World War I. It’s hard to keep track of who’s who — and even harder to care.

Benton’s Row
by Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1954
280 pages
1954 bestseller #10
My grade: C-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Saracen Blade is dull and dumb

Frank Yerby’s speciality is novels about men and women who rise from poverty to wealth, fame, and marital bliss through their brilliance, loyalty, and sexual prowess.

Yerby sets The Saracen Blade in the 13th century. Pietro di Donati, a blacksmith’s son, is born on the same day and in same town as the baby who will become Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire.

In that era, the aristocracy ruled by violence, usually having become aristocrats by violence. Though slightly built, inclined to intellectual rather than physical pursuits, Pietro becomes part of the violent world in which kingdoms clash, religions compete, and the poor suffer the consequences.

Pietro seeks his fortune in the only way boys of his era know: attaching himself to powerful knight and hoping to rise with him. For 30 years, he trudges around Europe, North Africa, and Asia as squire, knight, Crusader and trader. He pauses occasionally to admire the women and to retch when someone other than himself inflicts mayhem.

When Pietro finally gets back home, his childhood sweetheart is waiting. By that time, I was ready to retch.

I recommend reading the appendix. Yerby’s notes are better than his novel.

The Saracen Blade
Frank Yerby
Dial Press (book club edition), 1952
1952 Bestseller #9
295 pages + notes
My grade: C
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Woman Called Fancy Should Be Called Foolish

On page two of A Woman Called Fancy, Frank Yerby tells us that Fancy is the first Williamson  in seven  generations to learn to read and write — and that she is entirely self taught.  If you can swallow that, you’ll think this novel is peachy keen.

Fancy is a raven-haired knockout with a bodice begging to be ripped. She flees her Carolina hills home in 1880 at the age of 19 rather than marry a 65-year-old farmer.

In Atlanta, Fancy is pursued by dastardly Duke Ellis, politician Jed Hawkins, and snake-oil salesman Wyche Weathers. Weathers gives her a job dancing in his sideshow.

Appearances to the contrary, Fancy is a woman of virtue, intellect, and moral purity, according to Yerby. She’s not over-strict about killing, but she draws the line at marrying without love.

Fancy loves temperamental, self-centered, arrogant Courtland Brantley, who also happens to be in love with his brother’s wife.  She sobers him up long enough to marry her.

When Court realizes there’s not a stitch ripped in Fancy’s bodice that he didn’t rip himself, he’s in jail for murder. Of course, Fancy fixes even that.

Poor Yerby has given readers Fancy, when they required Plausible.

A Woman Called Fancy
By Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1951
340 pages
My grade C+

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

2016-01-09 Corrected first name of Fancy’s husband.

Floodtide Is a Wash Out

In 1850, Ross Pary returns to his native Natchez attired as a gentleman. He has an Oxford education and credentials as an architect. He aims to become a gentleman planter.

Before he is off the boat, Ross is smitten by the gorgeous, amoral Morgan Brittany, whose much-older husband becomes Ross’s best friend, helping him gain acceptance in planter society.

Ross falls for the daughter of a Cuban freedom fighter. He follows Conchita to Cuba and joins in the fight against the Spanish. Ross and Conchita marry just before they are caught and separated, each thinking the other is dead.

Ross goes back to America, where he eventually marries. Conchita goes to Europe and becomes a celebrated dancer.

As Civil War looms, Ross frees his slaves, incurring the wrath of his neighbors and his vehemently pro-slavery wife. Morgan connives to separate Ross from his wife, and succeeds in a way she never imagined.

Floodtide is a hodgepodge of episodes from standard romance fiction strung together with Ross Pary in the leading male role. Unfortunately, author Frank Yerby’s doesn’t stick with romance. He pulls in a half dozen other genres as well.

Whatever your literary tastes, you’ll find something to dislike in this awful novel.

by Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1950
1950 bestseller #6
My grade: C
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pride’s Castle Is Overvalued Property

Pride’s Castle is the tale of a poor boy determined to be rich and the women who love him.

Pride Dawson and his trusty sidekick, Tim McCarthy, land in New York after the Civil War. Two women fall madly in love with Pride immediately. One is honest but poor Sharon O’Neil. The other is the rich but unscrupulous Esther Stillworth.

Before long, Pride is on his way to being a robber baron on a par with the Goulds and Vanderbuilts.

He marries Esther for her money, but continues seeing Sharon, who eventually becomes his mistress. Both women exist at the back of his life.

Pride’s real passion is making money. He spends it ostentatiously, among other things modeling the décor of his pseudo-medieval castle on the Hudson on that of an upscale New Orleans brothel.

The ups and downs of the American economy and labor movement of the late nineteenth century form the backdrop of the story. Tim and Pride split over Pride’s treatment of workers, and even Esther argues for workers’ legitimate concerns.

Plot is everything in this novel.  Frank Yerby ties up all the lose ends but never shows what makes Sharon tick — and she’s what makes the novel interesting.

Pride’s Castle
By Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1949
382 pages
1949 bestseller #9
My Grade: C
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Vixens Deserves Extinction

Frank Yerby had a smash hit with The Foxes of Harrow in 1946. The next year, he published a sequel, which also became a bestseller, even though The Vixens is even more awful than its predecessor.

The story is about ex-Union soldier Laird Fournois who returns to Louisiana hoping to get elected to the state legislature and make his fortune.

Laird meets the rich, unscrupulous Hugh Duncan and marries Hugh’s cousin Sabrina. Sabrina goes mad. Laird wants to be faithful, but succumbs to the charms of Denise Lascals, a sexy Creole who has loved him since childhood.

The dastardly Hugh has also fallen for Denise. Ultimately Hugh and Laird have to fight for their principles and Denise.

The totally unbelievable characters in this story fit perfectly in the totally unbelievable plot.

The interest in the novel is primarily in the historical background of the story. For example, at one point Laird goes looking for the polls whose locations whites move several times during the night to keep blacks from voting. That may not seem exciting, but compared to the story line, it’s hot stuff.

The Vixens is neither a good romance nor a good historical novel. It’s simply a bore.

The Vixens
By Frank Yerby
Dial Press, 1947
#5 bestseller in 1947
My grade: D+
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni