Engineers are heroes of The Winning of Barbara Worth

The Winning of Barbara Worth is a romance in which the romance is the  least interesting element.

An orphaned child found by an engineering team is adopted by financier Jefferson Worth when search fails to find any indication of her family. He adores Barbara; she respects him.

Barbara’s dream is to see Imperial Valley turned from desert into farmland, a dream she shares with the men of the civil engineering outfit. When a handsome, rich Eastern engineer comes to work toward that goal, Barbara falls for him. There are the usual complications of the romance genre.

In Harold Bell Wright’s narrative, California’s Imperial Valley becomes a vivid character, acting out one of several subplots, each more exciting than the main story.

The most exciting subplot is battle of the engineers to reclaim the land by channeling water from the Colorado River into the ancient seabed.

As they push on with the work, another a battle looms over the meaning of good business. Easterners want to develop the valley to benefit Eastern stockholders. Jefferson Worth wants to develop it to benefit westerners like himself.

Wright orchestrates all the plots toward a climax that thunders like the 1812 overture.

The main plot has a Zane Grey feel, but the novel has a much more intricate plot than a typical Zane Grey novel. Moreover, where Grey waxes philosophic about nature, Wright is more pragmatic: His  heroes are civil engineers and entrepreneurs, not cowboys.

Anyone interested in geology, business, or American history will find this well-crafted novel an entertaining way to satisfy their curiosity.

The Winning of Barbara Worth
By Harold B Wright
1911 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg E-Book #6997
My grade B+
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Broad Highway is bathed in silliness and sunshine

The Broad Highway, Jeffrey Farnol’s highly visual novel of the late 1800’s English countryside, took top honors on the 1911 bestseller list, and its good-natured, bookish hero’s absurd adventures still draws guffaws from readers.

The story starts in a mock fairy tale manner. Peter and Maurice Vibart inherit 20,000 pounds and 10 guineas, respectively, from their late uncle, with the promise that whichever succeeds in marrying Lady Sophia Sefton within a year will inherit the rest of the estate.

The cousins know each other only by reputation. To Peter, Maurice is a blackguard; to Maurice, Peter is a “terrible example of Virtue run riot.”

As Peter’s tastes in women (of whom he knows nothing) incline him to soft, clinging females, he decides to hike around England until he finds a way to earn a living short of marrying the tempermental Lady Sophia. By the end of the first day’s hike, the story has more loose ends than a yarn basket full of kittens.

A series of misadventures transforms Peter into an apprentice blacksmith, living in cottage believed by locals to be haunted. As Peter Smith, he rescues beautiful Charmian Brown from being abducted. And that’s just the beginning of Peter’s adventures.

In a style reminiscent of Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, Farnol mingles slapstick with witty commentary on his hero’s deficiencies, all amply illustrated in a string of absurd situations.

Farnol dawdles to let Peter be ridiculed, then streaks through more active scenes with hardly time for readers to note who was in them.

The Broad Highway is not a great novel, but it’s sunny silliness is a joyous escape from the gloomy seriousness of the twenty-first century. I wish someone would make it into a Masterpiece Classic presentation.

The Broad Highway
by Jeffrey Farnol
1911 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg E-text #5257
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Valley of Silent Men lovely place for absurd novel

On his death bed, James Grenfell Kent, 36, sergeant in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, confesses to a murder he didn’t commit. From his deathbed, he also  falls in love with the mysterious raven-haired beauty, Maretta, who tells him she knows who really committed the murder.

Instead of dying, Kent recovers, which means he’ll be hanged for the murder, unless someone else is found guilty, in which case he’ll do 10-20 for deathbed perjury.

Finding either of those outcomes undesirable, Kent plots his escape.

The plan misfires.

Kent finds the Mounties Inspector Kedsty dead, strangled with black hair, and Maretta standing over the body.

Kent and Maretta flee, becoming separated when their boat breaks apart in river rapids. Desolate, Kent wanders for almost two years before heading toward Maretta’s home in the Valley of Silent Men.

There he learns how Maretta knew he had not  killed Barkley and discovers how she was involved with Kedsty.

There’s a happy ending, all mysteries solved except why the legalistic Mounties decide not to place those perjury charges.

James Oliver Curwood’s plot is absurd and his characters utterly  implausible, but his description of the Canadian scenery is breathtaking. This is one novel that you’ll enjoy most by ignoring the story and focusing on the descriptive passages.

Thee Valley of Silent Men: A Story of the Three River Company
By Janes Oliver Curwood
1921 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook-No. 29407
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Age of Innocence honestly pictures hypocritical era

As Edith Wharton’s title sugests, The Age of Innocence is a picture of an era.

The story opens in the 1870s. Newland Archer, from whose perspective the story is seen, is a New York nob with a law practice as a hobby; he doesn’t need the money.

Engaged to much younger May Welland, Newland urges a speedy wedding to counter the unpleasantness surrounding the reappearance in New York of May’s cousin Ellen Olenska, who left her European husband under unsavory circumstances.

Once married to May, through his inlaws, Newland gets roped into seeing whether it is feasible for Ellen to get a divorce.

It’s a touchy situation.

Divorce is considered scandalous; it would diminish the social status of all Ellen’s family. Besides that, Newland’s sympathy for Ellen has been interpreted by the family with some acuity as a love interest.

Wharton blows up the hyposcrisy of America’s late Victorian social leaders that’s ridiculed by their less-innocent children.

Wharton is a keen observer and fine writer, yet for all its literary merit the Age of Innocence has little punch. The fault is not Wharton’s writing. The problem is that shallow characters do not make deep books.

The Age of Innocence
By Edith Wharton
D. Appleton,  1920
365  pages
1920 bestseller # 4
Project Gutenberg Ebook-No. 541
My Grade: B+
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mysterious Rider appealingly predictable in western garb

The Mysterious Rider is a classic Zane Grey western, combining romance with adventure cushioned by the sights and sounds of the untrammeled frontier.

Bill Belllounds wants his son, Buster Jack, to marry the girl he raised after her family was killed in an Indian attack. She’ll comply to please her adopted father, but cowboy Wils Moore has touched her heart.

Belllounds must find hands willing to work with Jack, a bully and an abuser of horses. A stranger, who says his name is Bent Wade, answers the call. Wade has been wandering ever since his girl and their child disappeared in an Indian massacre.

You don’t need a map to know where the story goes from there. You know what the cowboy stands for and what he won’t stand for. By the code of the old west, the handsome young cowboy will get the girl, and the bad guys will get their comeuppance.

Grey’s predictability is part of his appeal. Readers enjoy an excursion through pristine wilderness led by a novelist who may be the best nature painter to ever dip his brush in ink—and to do it all from the comfort of their favorite chairs. No wonder Grey’s novels keep on selling year after year.

The Mysterious Rider
by Zane Grey
1921 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg EBook #13937

© 20111 Linda Gorton Aragoni