Of the 10 novels that were bestsellers in 1924, four stand out for providing far more than just an entertaining story: So Big by Edna Ferber, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield [Fisher], The Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick, and The Midlander by Booth Tarkington.
In Edna Ferber’s So Big, Selina Peake rejects her father’s philosophy that life is “just so much velvet” worth experiencing regardless of how good or bad it appears at the time.
Late in life Selina comes to regret teaching her son the only things worth having in life are earned through hard work. Dirk reaches mid-life without having enjoyed living.
In The Midlander (which became National Avenue when Booth Tarkington put it in his single-volume trilogy Growth in 1927), Dan Oliphant never varies from the real estate career he chose almost at random in his early twenties.
Dan is so sure that his housing development will be a success, he lets every personal relationship shrivel while he puts all his effort into the Ornaby Addition.
Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s The Little French Girl is the only one of my quarter of favorites not set in America. Alix Vervier’s mother has decided her 15-year-old daughter will marry within the family of an English war-time acquaintance. Mme Vervier ships Alex across the cultural solar system from France to England.
Alix must mature enough to regard her mother with sufficient dispassion that she can determine what of her mother’s behavior is motivated by love and what is motivated by self-interest.
In The Home-Maker, Dorothy Canfield [Fisher] shows Eva and Lester Knapp trapped in roles they both hate. By accident, Lester becomes the stay-at-home mom and Eva becomes the wage earner.
There’s no doubt everyone in the household is financially and emotionally better off as a result of the switch. It is also clear, however, that those gains come at a significant moral cost that the family may regret in the future.
To understand what’s happening in The Little French Girl demands full concentration and either a French dictionary or a reading knowledge of French. Readers who give it a chance will find it worth the effort.