Mary Peters, Tender Novel with Backbone

Mary Ellen Chase’s novel Mary Peters is a hauntingly lovely tale of ordinary people who face life head on.

Mary Peters is not a great novel, but it’s a good novel.

It’s about giving your kids love and discipline.

It’s about compassion, about doing right just because it’s right, and about the futility of cursing the weather.

Maine Wild Rose
Maine Wild Rose

Born on a ship captained by her father in Singapore in 1871, Mary Peters’ home is the sea. When she is 16, her father’s ship sinks: Mary, her mother, Sarah, and brother, John, to go home to Petersport, Maine.

Sarah Peters welcomes Jim Pendleton, the charming bastard son of a man who jilted her years before, setting the town agog.

When Jim takes off, leaving Mary’s best friend to die giving birth to his child, Sarah counsels her children not to condemn him, but to take the long view and wait for things to change.

Mary and John wait.

Things get better, then worse, then better again.

The novel has the feel of 19th-century New England. Death, suffering, infidelity, poverty are treated as facts. These things happen. No one with backbone wallows in today’s misery.

Life goes on.

Wise men go on, too.

Mary Peters
By Mary Ellen Chase
Macmillan, 1934
377 pages
1934 bestseller list #8
My grade: C+

Photo credit: Maine Wild Rose by kklinzing

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Windswept again

Portland Coastline
Coast of Maine next to Portland Headlight

Mary Ellen Chase’s novel Windswept, about the hardy folk of the Maine coast, took sixth place on the 1942 bestseller list after ranking in tenth place when it appeared the year before. My review of the novel is included with the 1941 bestsellers.

Photo credit: “Portland Coastline”  uploaded by Vanora

©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Windswept is Barren and Boring

In September of 1938, two American tourists can watch a convoy of German military trucks carrying unsmiling young soldiers headed for maneuvers on the Rhine. Watching, each woman thinks of home.

On that ominous note, Mary Ellen Chase sets readers up to expect Windswept to be a passionate war story. Instead, Chase gives us a nice, dull book about nice, dull people.

The story begins when a man named Phillip Marston buys a chunk of Maine seacoast on which to build a home for himself and his son, John. He gets it cheap because nobody wants it.

When Phillip is killed in a hunting accident, John, aided by a Bohemian immigrant whom his father befriended, sees that the home is built. Jan Pisek is a second father to John and later to John’s children.

Three generations of Marstons call Windswept home. They revere Windswept the way Scarlett O’Hara reveres Tara. Whenever anything bad happens, they head for Windswept.

But Windswept is no Tara.

Among the entire Marston clan there’s not one memorable personality. Chase’s sea-gray characters meet every crisis with New England stoicism. These are practical people, with no passion for anything except Windswept itself.

If gray is your favorite color, you’ll love this novel.

Mary Ellen Chase
MacMillan 1941
440 pages
1941 # 10
My grade: C-
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Lovely Ambition Is a Lovely Novel

At the turn of the century, Wesleyan pastor John Tillyard, his wife and their  three children emigrate from their rural England home to Pepperell, Maine.  They bring little with them but their love, good sense,  and John’s copy of Walden.

John’s faith is primarily in the goodness of people, his religion not overly concerned with liturgy and theology. The Tillyards are just good people.

Thanks to the housekeeper who comes with the Methodist parsonage, the family settles into with relative ease. When John is given five dollars for a Memorial Day speech, Hilda insists her husband use it to visit Walden Pond.

On the trip, he meets the administrator of the state asylum and is invited to become its chaplain. John becomes convinced some of the residents are lonely rather than insane. He invites them to stay in the family home. Mrs. Gowan becomes a family and community favorite.

Mary Ellen Chase lets the family’s younger daughter narrate the story, which gives the novel the intimacy of memoir. The move from Old England to New England makes description of the two settings natural and vivid.

The result is a warm, homey novel as comfortable as overstuffed armchairs and flowered chintz.

The Lovely Ambition
By Mary Ellen Chase
W.W. Norton, 1960
288 pages
My grade A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni