The Younger Set: Friends and marriage

The Younger Set is both a romance and a love story.

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The romance is between a divorced man, Capt. Philip Selwyn, 35, and his sister’s ward, Eileen Erroll, 19.

The love story that of Selwyn and his ex-wife, Alixe.

The Younger Set by Robert W. Chambers
G.C. Wilmhurst, illus. D. Appleton, 1907. 1907 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg ebook #14852. My Grade: B.

Selwyn was on army maneuvers in Manila when Alixe ran off with Jack Ruthven.

Selwyn chose to be legally branded the guilty party rather than contest the divorce, and that dishonor forced him to resign his army commission.

Two years later, Selwyn is back in America, Alixe is married to Ruthven, and she’s also going around with a man whose wife is a friend of hers.

Selwyn has never given Alixe back her photograph, and his sister can’t interest him in other women.

Selwyn becomes friends with Eileen.

Eileen’s brother, Gerald, works for the same real estate firm for which Selwyn worked before the war.

When Gerald gets drawn into high-stakes card games at the Ruthven home, Selwyn plays big brother.

Robert W. Chambers treats even minor characters with respectful nuances. There are no sterotypes in view.

Chambers lends depth to his portraits with backdrops of marriages and romances against which readers can evaluate Sewlyn’s behavior and, perhaps, evaluate their own opinions.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Inner Shrine asks if wife’s flirtation is harmless

American George Evelath uses a duel over his wife’s honor to stage his suicide in Paris.

Friends conceal the details from George’s mother and his wife, Diane, but it’s soon clear George had lost his fortune.
Diane at her desk holding a telegram.

The Inner Shrine: A Novel of Today by Basil King*

Frank Craig, illus. ©1908, 1909 Harper & Brothers. 1909 bestseller #1.
Project Gutenberg Ebook #14393. My grade B.

Sure that George trusted her, and sincerely repenting her extravagance, Diane secretly makes over her dot to her mother-in-law.

The women go to New York.

Mrs. Evelath unwittingly lives on Diane’s dowry while Diane becomes companion to a spoiled debutante whose widowed father, Derek Pryn, proposes marriage.

Pryn meets a Frenchman who says he shot his lover’s husband in a duel. Since Diane’s husband was shot in Paris, Pryn concludes Diane was the lover.

Pryn is willing to marry Diane anyway, but she doesn’t want to marry anyone who thinks she’s promiscuous, though she realizes she gave that impression:

George always knew that I loved him, and that I was true to him. He trusted me, and was justified in doing so. …I played with fire, and while George knew it was only playing, it was fire all the same.

Basil King tangles personalities into an exploration of whether behavior observers interpret as a sexual liaison is actually a “harmless flirtation.”

King does it admirably while dropping a trail of bon mots, such as: “There are times in life when words become as dangerous as explosives.”

If only King didn’t shift focus from one character to another with such unconcern, there would be nothing in The Inner Shrine for me to complain about.

*The author’s name does not appear in the text, nor does the name of the illustrator, Frank Craig, but the drawings are signed.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Gordon Keith Piles Up Implausibilities

Thomas Nelson Page’s Gordon Keith is a novel you’ll be glad to have read, but much happier if you never begin reading it.  (The illustrations below from the novel are more entertaining.)

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The title character is the son of a Southern gentleman. Sidelined by his war injuries, General Keith is sent to England to represent the Confederacy. He takes his son along.

In England, Gordon meets one Yankee, Norman Wentworth, who will become his lifelong friend; another, Ferdy Wickersham, who will become his lifelong enemy; and a little girl who will grow up to become the second love of his life.

Page piles up coincidences the way a logger piles up cord wood. He has his rural, Southern hero tramping the hills on engineering surveys one week, leaving his card in New York drawing rooms the next.

Page doesn’t do any better with characterization than he does with plot.

Gordon’s honor code generally takes the form of demanding satisfaction of anyone who disagrees with him. Gordon wins the respect of men by ever so politely knocking out his opponents.

Page is even less successful with his female characters than with the men.

When Gordon promises his young bride they will share their home with his aged father and equally elderly town doctor, according to Page, she’s thrilled.

If that strikes you as plausible, you’ll probably like Gordon Keith.

Gordon Keith
By Thomas Nelson Page
lllustrated by George Wright
Published 1903
1903 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg eBook #14068

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Street Called Straight May Find Fault With Readers

By the Street Called Straight we come to the House called Beautiful
—New England Saying

Basil King’s 1912 bestseller The Street Called Straight is an arresting character study which will probably be totally baffling to most of today’s readers.

The story begins as Peter Devanant,  the orphan son of medical missionaries whom he never knew, goes to dinner at the Boston home of Henry Guion and his daughter, Olivia.

As conversation swirls around Olivia’s  coming wedding to an English army officer with a brilliant future, Peter sees Olivia was right to refuse his own proposal a decade before. She’s clearly out of his league.

Peter learns that Guion anticipates being arrested soon for embezzling trust funds. He seizes the opportunity to use his wealth for good by offering Guion an interest-free loan for an indefinite period.

The remainder of the novel examines what is the right and honorable thing for each character in the plot to do.

The Street Called Straight is not a great novel, but it’s well-plotted with every complication delicately foreshadowed. King makes Peter and Olivia grow in believable ways. And there’s really no minor character who doesn’t contribute to readers’ understanding.

The novel’s faults are primarily in ourselves.  For contemporary readers seeped in self-esteem, honor is simply an adjective tacked to ceremonial positions:  academic honor society,  military honor guard.  I’m afraid 21st century readers will  find the idea that people  would choose poverty and imprisonment just because they value their self-respect so bizarre  that they’ll toss aside The Street Called Straight for a plausible novel about zombies.

The Street Called Straight
by Basil King
Illustrated by Orson Lowell
NY Grosset & Dunlap, 1911, 1912
Project Gutenberg eBook #14394