Eccentrics abound in Angela’s Business

By day, Charles Garrott, 29, earns a skimpy living as private tutor.

By night, he’s “the coming American novelist.”

Angela’s Business by Henry Sydnor Harrison

Frederic R. Gruger, Illus. Project Gutenberg EBook #34297. 1915 bestseller #10. My grade: B+.

1915-10_illus4Charles is a Modern Man. He considers his dear friend Miss Mary Wing a perfect example of the New Woman. She’s the first female City High School assistant principal and a rising star in the education reform movement.

When Charles meets Mary’s young cousin Angela Flower, who considers home-making a full-time business, he feels less scorn than his modernity might dictate.

And when Mary is demoted for championing a woman who ran off with a married man Charles is unwilling to call it “a plucky thing.”

Angela’s Business is raised two steps above the typical romance by its almost-eccentric leading man and a plot nearly too odd to have been invented.

Henry Syndor Harrison neatly sets readers up to expect Charles to fall in love with Angela and conventional attitudes.

But Harrison doesn’t do the expected.

Instead, he presents people who are bundles of contradictions.

They face challenges and learn, but they never quite get their acts together.

There’s always an emotion they can’t quite control or a question for which they can’t find an answer.

The result feels like life, only more amusing.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

V.V.’s Eyes See Behind a Pretty Face

V.V.’s Eyes is a surprising novel from an author whose forté is the unexpected.

As the story opens, a letter written by V. Vivian, M.D., attacking local factory conditions has just been published in the paper.

Within hours, V. V. meets the lovely Carlisle Heth, whose family owns one of those factories. His insightful eyes find her both beautiful and heartless, so taken up with her pursuit of a rich husband she has no time for anything else.

The few times Carlisle encounters V. V., he seems so good, so determined to do right regardless of the personal consequences, that she comes off looking bad, even to herself.

She finally realizes her only value is ornamental; she make a lovely bride, she says, but is totally unqualified to be a wife or mother.

Readers will recognize the set-up and prepare for Henry Sydnor Harrison to turn the adversaries into bride and groom.

Harrison has other plans.

The story is against the backdrop of early twentieth century social changes. Women are going into factory work and office work. The women’s suffrage movement is gathering steam. There’s a sense of opportunities opening as women bond across socioeconomic lines. Harrison gathers all these disparate threads into an exploration of the importance of the value of the individual.

The story is a a bit too sentimental, the narrator a bit too didactic, but there’s no mistaking the power of Harrison’s depiction of a spoiled young woman rising to the challenge of becoming more than just a pretty face.

V. V.’s Eyes
By Henry Sydnor Harrison
Illustrated by Raymond M. Crosby
Approx 500 pages
1913 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg eBook #13985

@2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni