AudreyFlatters Neither Characters or Colonists

Mary Johnston sets Audrey in Virginia in the years when the colony proudly regarded itself as an English land.

Feigning a sprained ankle, Marmaduke Hawarth deserts the 1716 expedition to find a route over the Blue Ridge. Before he can get back to the pretty frontier lass he saw on the way west, Indians massacre all her family except her young sister.

Hawarth places the child, Audrey, with a minister and his wife and goes off to England for 12 years with never a thought to the child.

When he returns, Audrey is 18, beautiful but barefoot, starved for affection, accustomed to physical and mental abuse, and terrified of the half-breed who is the minister’s drinking and gaming partner.

Barefoot Audrey

Hawarth accepts the barefoot girl’s adoration without thinking that his attentions ruin her reputation. He’s busy making plans to marry the lovely Evelyn Byrd,Virginia society’s leading lady.

Johnston tries to position Hawarth as a hero, he comes off as a conceited jerk. Even Evelyn Byrd, who would have married Hawarth, seems glad that she did not.

Audrey isn’t much account as a heroine either. She may be beautiful, but she’s about as personable as a tree stump.

The interest in the novel is primarily in the historical details about colonial life. Johnston shows the stark contrast between the affluent Virginians with royal land grants and poor ones with branded arms and indentured years of indentured servitude. At least by twenty-first century reckoning, colonial Virginia had as much reason for shame as for pride.

Mary Johnston
Illus. F. C. Yohn
Houghton, Mifflin 1902
400+ pages
Project Gutenberg EBook #14513
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Long Roll buries romance beneath history

The Vedette
The Vedette

The Long Roll is a long novel in search of a plot.

The story opens with the passage in 1860 of the Botetourt Resolutions declaring Virginia’s willingness to secede from the Union if that becomes necessary.

When war starts the following year, some of Botetourt County’s finest men serve under the command of Stonewall Jackson. Mary Johnson marches her readers with the Jackson troops three years and nearly 800 pages from first Manassas to the Wilderness campaign in 1864.

Keeping track of who’s who among dozens of characters is tricky, and flipping back through page-long paragraphs is not a good option.

the lovers embrace in illustration by Wyeth
The Lovers

An eccentric, Bible-thumping, lemon-sucking disciplinarian without a trace of personal magnetism, Jackson is not an ideal protagonist for a novel. The romantic subplot in which  the lovers meet fewer than a half-dozen times in the novel is equally exciting.  Before the story is half over, the invented elements collapse under the weight of history.

If Johnson had stuck to history, the book might not have been better, but it would have been more honest. As it stands, The Long Roll is a novel only the most loyal of Civil War buffs can really enjoy.

The Long Roll
by Mary Johnston
Illus. by N. C. Wyeth
Houghton Mifflin Co.
1911 bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg E-book  # 22066
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni