The Mettle of the Pasture Probes Ethics of Truthfulness

The Mettle of the Pasture by James Lane Allen combines two of life’s most essential themes—  love and ethical behavior — into an incredibly forgettable novel.

The plot pivots on the question of whether it is ethically necessary for a couple about to marry to reveal their moral lapses to their intended partner.

When he proposes to Isabel Conyers, Rowan Meredith decides that he must reveal his dark secret.

She would rather not have known.

Knowing, Isabel sees no option open to her but to uphold her virtue by refusing to marry. For Rowan’s sake, Isabel attempts to conceal the reason for the break-up.

Her grandmother, an accomplished scandalmonger, makes a shrewd guess.

Allen clearly wants readers to admire Rowan and Isabel for their “mettle.” Readers might admire Rowan if his honesty were accompanied by a realistic appraisal of the situation.

Rowan, however, doesn’t see having sex outside marriage as in any way immoral. He expects Isabel to regard it as unfortunate at worst — which shows how little he knows Isabel.

Rowan comes out looking like a fool.

Isabel is not much better.

Her high moral standards generally take back seat to her high regard for her own social standing. She (and Allen) may wish to believe her acquaintances respect her, but from what Allen shows, I believe that, like her grandmother, her acquaintances fear Isabel’s tongue.

The Mettle of the Pasture
by James Lane Allen
1903 Bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg eBook #12482

In Bad Girl is Teen Parents Struggle in Slums

In 1928, someone was “a bad girl” if she had sex before marriage. By that definition, Dot Haley deserves her title role in Vina Delmar’s novel Bad Girl. However, the epithet doesn’t do Dot justice.

A friend sums her up better: “You’re an awful nice kid,” Maude tells Dot, “but you’re a moron.”

Maude got it in one.

Dot meets Eddie Collins at a dance. The first time they have sex, Eddie says he’ll take off work the next day and marry her. When Dot announces her wedding plans, he brother calls her a bum and kicks her out of the apartment.

Dot and Eddie marry. Within weeks she learns she’s pregnant with a child neither she nor Eddie is ready to have.

Dot and Eddie are both back-of-the-room, bottom-of-the-class slum kids. They’ve grown up among adults too worn out from grubbing for a living to even talk to their kids.

If they could talk to each other, there might be hope for Dot and Eddie, but they all they know is lashing out, profanity, and withdrawing into silence.

Delmar swings from Eddie’s thoughts to Dot’s, letting readers see the limits of their adolescent minds. The total effect is morbidly depressing.

Bad Girl
by Vina Delmar
Harcourt, Brace,  1928
275 pages
1928 bestseller  #5
My grade: C+

© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni