Anthony Adverse Proves Size Isn’t Everything

Anthony Adverse sold 300,000 copies in its first six months on the market. Perhaps the whopping size of Hervey Allen’s novel made thrifty, depression-era readers think they had a bargain.

Here’s the gist of the confusing tale.

In 1775, Spanish diplomat Don Luis dumps his dead wife’s love child at a convent. Anthony Adverse grows up and is apprenticed to a slave trader who is really Anthony’s grandfather, although Anthony doesn’t know that.

Anthony is seduced by his late mother’s maid, Faith, before he takes his first sales trip. When he returns, Faith has married Don Luis and one of Anthony’s old flames is Napoleon’s mistress.

Anthony’s work takes him to Louisiana where he marries another childhood sweetheart who dies when their plantation house burns.

After the fire, Anthony retreats into the wilderness where he becomes a spiritual giant through some vague metamorphosis.

Captured by Indians, turned over to Don Luis, now governor of Santa Fe, Anthony is rescued by another childhood sweetheart. The couple live happily until Anthony’s death in a freak accident.

The freak accident is the most plausible incident in the novel; the characters and message are equally improbable.

No matter how hard up you are, you won’t find Anthony Adverse any bargain.

Anthony Adverse
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinehart, 1933
1224 pages
1933 Bestseller #1
My grade: C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Forest and the Fort more history than story

The Forest and the Fort is a historical novel about America’s prerevolutionary western frontier.

Salathiel Albine was raised as the son of a childless Indian chief who had murdered Sal’s family. An itinerant preacher befriends the young Sal, help him relearn English, teaches him to read and write, and brings him to the attention of Fort Pitt’s acting commander, Captain Ecuyer.

Ecuyer’s orderly trains Sal as his replacement. When Ecuyer is assigned to visit all the frontier forts, Sal accompanies him in a dual role of orderly and scout. Sal can scalp an enemy and powder a wig with equal efficiency.

Hervey Allen’s publishers brought out The Forest and the Fort  as the first of a trilogy intended to be read as a set. Much of the novel reads as a set-up to events that will happen in future books.

Allen slips all sorts of interesting period details into the novel, such as Ecuyer’s giving Indians handkerchiefs and blankets from the smallpox hospital. However, the plot is totally forgettable and none of the characters is memorable.

You will find the novel a palatable way to learn about the political conflicts of the 1700s, but you will find little entertainment in its pages.

The Forest and the Fort
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinhart, 1943
344 pages
1943 bestseller # 9
My grade: C+

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Action (and More) Make Action at Aquila a Keeper

Action at Aquila is a Civil War novel that breaks the mold.

On his first leave four years into the war, Colonel Nathaniel Franklin is appalled by the “hang the rebels” sentiment of his pre-war Pennsylvania neighbors. Having to execute Sheridan’s scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah Valley had drained his desire for revenge.

Back at camp in the Southern Shenandoah, Franklin befriends a confederate family whose home he had torched at Sheridan’s orders.

When the rebels attack Aquila, Franklin’s careful planning lets his men repel the vastly larger force with a minimum of bloodshed. Then Franklin, a cavalry man, blunders. Unwilling to let artillery decide the battle, he attacks. It’s a bloodbath.

Hervey Allen enlists reader’s sympathy for Franklin from the start. He’s smart, brave, kind, but a soldier. In battle he does what he is trained to do, almost at the cost of his own life.

The plot appears predictable, but at the last minute Allen twists it to keep readers guessing. He tops off the story with a romance, and oddball characters that made me laugh out loud, and musings on how the Civil War changed America.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better evening’s entertainment than Action at Aquila.

Action at Aquila
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinehart, 1938
369 pages
1938bestseller # 10
My Grade: B+
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni