Thursday, December 28, 2006


Continuing with the bestsellers I read from 1950.

The Parasites, Daphne Du Maurier, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1950, 305 pp
The #6 bestseller in 1950 is the most contemporary of Du Maurier's books that I've read. The back story beings in WWI times when three children, Maria, Niall and Celia, are being raised in the theatres of Europe. Their parents are performers; the mother a dancer, the father a singer. They were successful and popular, so had a nurse/nanny to care for the kids.

Now those kids are adults but each one is a bit off in some way due to their unusual upbringing. Their lives aren't really working. Maria married a landed gentleman but after having three children returned to the stage, as she had been a famous actress herself. Now the marriage has broken down and Maria's husband calls the three of them parasites.

It wasn't a deep book and the writing is not her best, but I was intrigued by the odd life of these people. They loved their life as children because it was rich in adventure, fantasy and variation. They were never bored, but they got virtually no parenting and learned few social skills for handling adult life in England. When life becomes difficult for any one of them in terms of personal relationships, all they can do is turn to each other as they did in childhood and tragedy ensues. Since Du Maurier's grandfather was an artist and a writer and her father was an actor, I would guess that the book is somewhat autobiographical.

Floodtide, Frank Yerby, The Dial Press, 1950, 342 pp
The yearly bestseller by Yerby came in at #7. It is 1850 and Ross Pary arrives back in Natchez, MS, having spent some years abroad studying architecture and learning how to be a gentleman. He was born Under-the Hill amongst the brawling illiterate poor but now has plans to become a rich planter On-the-Hill.

His plans work out just fine. Ross Pary's trouble is women: Morgan, the beautiful but evil wife of the man who helps Ross the most in his social climb; Conchita, the fiery daughter of a Cuban revolutionary; Cathy, the homely yet fascinating daughter of another planter, who can run a plantation like a man herself.

We also have political and social change, as the Southern slaveholders fight against abolitionists and scheme to maintain slave holding as a way of life. Yerby's writing is getting better and so is his character development, which is a good thing since he has bestsellers every year until the mid 1950s.

The Jubilee Trail, Gwen Bristow, Thomas Y Crowell Company, 1950, 564 pp.
This is a quite good historical novel and was #8 on the bestseller list for 1950. Garnet Cameron is 18 years old, has just finished school and the only thing she has to look forward to is getting married to some young man from her rather wealthy class of people in New York City. It is 1844 and Garnet is a girl who craves adventure.

She meets Oliver Hale, a young prairie trader from the mysterious land of California. Since Oliver was raised in Boston, he knows how to play the gentleman. The next thing you know, he has won over the parents, he and Garnet are married and headed for the Jubilee Trail. From Independence, MO (the edge of civilization in those days) to Santa Fe, NM runs the Santa Fe Trail. From there to the village of Los Angeles, it is the Jubilee Trail. Huge trains of covered wagons, filled with goods to be traded, go back and forth across these trails every year. This year Garnet will go too.

Of course, another woman comes into the picture before Garnet and Oliver have even left New Orleans, where they have spent their honeymoon. Florinda Grove is a woman on the run. She has been a dance hall girl in New York and got mixed up in some bad trouble. In the way of historical romance novels, she ends up on the Jubilee Trail as well, where she and Garnet become great friends.

The whole book is adventure all the way. You totally get what it was like to ride those covered wagons and cross the desert. Reading about life in the early years of California was fascinating and when Garnet and Florinda are thrown together by tragedy, Bristow creates a realistic picture of what it was like for women in those uncivilized and wild times. The romances are pretty silly but the history is great. Here is another book I would never have read if I hadn't done this project.

The Adventurer, Mika Waltari, G P Putnam's Sons, 1050, 377 pp
One more rousing historical novel on the list for 1950 is The Adventurer, by the author of The Egyptian (#1 in 1949.) In Finland, early 1500s, Michael is about five years old, son of an unmarried woman, when his entire family is killed in a raid by the Jutes. He was raised a Catholic but the King of Finland is a conquering Dane and a Lutheran.

Michael grows up with a desire to be a priest and a scholar, nevertheless he spends most of his years in adventures all over Europe as a soldier and spy for various factions in all the many wars of the time. The book is a diatribe against religion, war and the hopeless nature of mankind though presented in a humorous light. It is all about men and their ways; the only females are the healer/witch who raised Michael and a courtesan/camp follower. Martin Luther comes off no better than the Pope. Good read and good history.

The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg, Random House Inc, 1950, 388 pp.
The #10 bestseller starts out in Hollywood with a young writer, just hired by a movie studio. He is made the assistant/collaborator to Manley Halliday, a formerly famous novelist from the 1920s. Halliday needs money, has a nasty drinking problem which has devolved into diabetes and has taken this screenwriting job. The young hopeful writer is at first overawed by Halliday but as the story moves along and the older author's washed up condition outweighs his brilliance, things get extremely rocky.

The two writers are to work together on a vapid romantic comedy. The stereotypical studio head, Victor Migrim, drags them through a journey to the East coast college which is the setting for the movie. On and on it goes with Halliday steadily drinking and falling apart while telling his own back story as they go. The young writer is forced into the role of caretaker. After a while, the story begins to sound awfully familiar, so I Googled Schulberg and sure enough, Halliday is a fictional F Scott Fitzgerald, while Schulberg turns out to be the son a of movie studio head and had done a stint of collaboration with Fitzgerald back in the day.

I had no trouble reading the book which pulls you along relentlessly. The tragic downfall of a talented novelist was intermingled with incidents that ranged from comedic to slapstick, a combination which made me queasy. But The Disenchanted is a forerunner of many Hollywood novels, so stands as a historic volume of that genre.

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