The Hundredth Chance is too predictable

The theme of The Hundredth Chance is familiar: A rough but noble man offers a marriage of convenience to an impoverished gentlewoman.

Ethel M. Dell keeps the story moving so readers have little time to notice how preposterous the characters and story are.

The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.  1917 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg Ebook #43069. My grade:B-.

Jack Bolton sits by Maud as he offers her marriage.
Jack offers Maud a marriage of convenience.

The poor gentlewoman is Maud Brian. Maud is 25 and worn out from caring for her 15-year-old brother.

Bunny is physically crippled from a fall in infancy and emotionally crippled by getting his own way ever since.

Maud refused rich Lord Saltash when he was named in an ugly divorce suit, but she remains infatuated with him.

Jake Bolton, a horse trainer for Lord Saltash, offers Maud marriage and Bunny a home.

The likelihood of the marriage succeeding is about 1 in a 100, but when Jake believes in the value of a horse or a human being, he’s willing to bet all on the hundredth chance.

Readers know how the story will end.

The real question is when will it end.

Dell’s characters are not believable enough to warrant close scrutiny.

The pasted on religious message is also suspect.

In the end, The Hundredth Chance fails because it does what 99 percent of novels on this theme do.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Septimus seizes chances to be kind

Septimus is another of William J. Locke’s rollicking tales of eponymous characters who knock the traditional notion of the fictional hero into a cocked hat.

The death of her husband from delirium tremens within six weeks of their wedding turned Zora Middlemist off marriage.

Septimus by William J. Locke

1909 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg eBook #14395. My grade: B+.

Since Zora is well endowed physically and financially—and totally lacking in ambition—the widow’s a walking male-magnet.

Septimus Dix, an eccentric inventor, is the first to fall for her charms.

Septimus is a kind and honest man, totally incapable of remembering an umbrella or firing an incompetent servant. He tells Zora:

I shouldn’t like to pass my life without dreams, Zora. I could give up tobacco and alcohol and clean collars and servants, and everything you could think of—but not dreams. Without them the earth is just a sort of backyard of a place.

Next to fall is Clem Sypher, “friend of humanity,” and inventor of Sypher’s Cure in which he believes with religious fervor.

With Zora favoring neither, Clem and Septimus become friends.

Meanwhile, Zora’s younger sister has been dumped by a man who left her pregnant.

Septimus offers Emily the protection of marriage, with the understanding that after the baby is born she can divorce him and not even Zora need know the child’s origins.

As silly as the plot sounds, Locke makes the absurdities arise so naturally from the goodness and foibles of the characters that it not only seems plausible but also reveals some home truths about faith, love, and having a dream.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Harriet and the Piper romance in Jane Eyre tradition.

Instead of a mad wife locked in the attic, wealthy businessman Richard Carter has a wife he cannot keep home at all. Isabelle Carter, 41, runs off with her son’s best friend, Anthony Pope, 26.

Richard enlists the help of governess-secretary Harriet Field to keep the scandal from hurting his children.

Harriet is eager to help the employer she adores, but a scandal in her own past makes her bow to pressure when the dastardly Blondin takes an interest in the emotionally vulnerable Nina Carter.

Richard becomes increasingly dependent on Harriet’s managerial skills to keep the household running and make it possible for him to put through a big business deal.

Haughty dowager Madame Carter, who  always feared Harriet would marry her grandson begins to worry that her son is giving Harriet too much attention. And grandson Ward, who only 5 years younger than Harriet, fancies himself in love with her.

When Isabelle conveniently dies during an operation in Europe, Richard marries Harriet in a strictly business arrangement.

There’s no need to tell you how the story turns out in this all-too-predictable novel.

The novel is not badly written, but the basic story line has been told too many times for it to have any real attraction for today’s readers.

Harriet and the Piper
by Kathleen Norris
Project Gutenberg ebook #5006
1920 bestseller #10
My grade: B-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Wintersmoon Never Catches Fire

Hugh Walpole’s Wintersmoon turns the romance novel on its head.

Janet Grandison and Wildherne Poole marry for companionship and convenience. Love isn’t part of the arrangement. Janet wants to give her sister Rosalind a home; Wildherne wants an heir to his title and estate that the married woman he loves can’t give him.

Nothing goes according to plan.

Rosalind and Wildherne can’t stand each other. She marries a man she doesn’t love to get out of living at Wintersmoon.

Janet gets on the wrong side of Wildherne’s mother and her entourage. Then she finds herself in love with her husband and pregnant with his child.

Wildherne has grown to love Janet as well, but neither says anything because they agreed to a loveless marriage. Their son’s death brings their marriage to a crisis that has far-reaching repercussions.

The plot is predictable. Walpole’s characters are not. They are very distinct personalities. I didn’t like Janet or Wildherne, but they won my respect by novel’s end. Walpole’s minor characters are well-drawn, the minor scenes extraordinarily realistic.

Selfishness masquerades as love throughout the novel, causing no end of problems, just as it does in real life.

Sadly, all Wintersmoon‘s fine points don’t add up to a great novel.

by Hugh Walpole
Grosset & Dunlap, 1927
446 pages
#2 1928
My grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni