V.V.’s Eyes See Behind a Pretty Face

V.V.’s Eyes is a surprising novel from an author whose forté is the unexpected.

As the story opens, a letter written by V. Vivian, M.D., attacking local factory conditions has just been published in the paper.

Within hours, V. V. meets the lovely Carlisle Heth, whose family owns one of those factories. His insightful eyes find her both beautiful and heartless, so taken up with her pursuit of a rich husband she has no time for anything else.

The few times Carlisle encounters V. V., he seems so good, so determined to do right regardless of the personal consequences, that she comes off looking bad, even to herself.

She finally realizes her only value is ornamental; she make a lovely bride, she says, but is totally unqualified to be a wife or mother.

Readers will recognize the set-up and prepare for Henry Sydnor Harrison to turn the adversaries into bride and groom.

Harrison has other plans.

The story is against the backdrop of early twentieth century social changes. Women are going into factory work and office work. The women’s suffrage movement is gathering steam. There’s a sense of opportunities opening as women bond across socioeconomic lines. Harrison gathers all these disparate threads into an exploration of the importance of the value of the individual.

The story is a a bit too sentimental, the narrator a bit too didactic, but there’s no mistaking the power of Harrison’s depiction of a spoiled young woman rising to the challenge of becoming more than just a pretty face.

V. V.’s Eyes
By Henry Sydnor Harrison
Illustrated by Raymond M. Crosby
Approx 500 pages
1913 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg eBook #13985

@2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Queed’s ‘cosmos is all Ego,’ his story all pleasure

Sharlee Weyland tells Queed of his deficiencies
Sharlee Weyland tells Queed of his deficiencies

Queed is a witty, charming, romantic comedy about a brilliant but decidedly un-charming young man with the emotional intelligence of a newt.

Called “The Professor” by all but his two friends whose surname he bears, Queed moved to Richmond, VA., at the request of the father he has never met. When the book opens, Queed is writing the definitive text on evolutionary sociology while waiting for a further communication from his parent.

By accident, Queed meets Miss Sharlee Weyland. He strikes her as “the most frankly and grossly self-centred person she had ever seen in her life.”  Sharlee also finds him pitiable. She gets the city’s most eligible bachelor, Charles Gardiner West, to wrangle an editorial-writing job for Queed on the local paper.

Faced with dismissal for “crushing all the interest out of any subject he touches,” Queed sets out to master editorial writing. In the process, he grows to know his adopted city, finds a passion for the news business, and develops some self-awareness and empathy.

By contrast, the well-connected West flounders when his charm fails to conceal his lack of character.

Henry Sydnor Harrison sets his story against the background of South rising above the debilitating attitudes of Reconstruction. The novel ridicules the ridiculous aspects of Queed’s self-absorption without either attacking or excusing the man. Harrison shows Queed maturing without shaking off entirely the behaviors he learned as a child. That realism elevates Queed from a pleasant story to a serious study of emotional growth.

And Harrison throws in enough laugh-out-loud lines to make the study enormous fun to read.

by Henry Sydnor Harrison
Houghton Mifflin Co.
The Riverside Press
1911 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg EBook #14303
My grade: B+
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni