Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Blue Camellia, Frances Parkinson Keyes, Julian Messner Inc, 1957, 430 pp

 Frances Parkinson Keyes had six top 10 bestsellers between 1945 and 1957. I have read them all. Blue Camellia was #5 in 1957. Most of her novels are historical fiction written in the style of women writing for women readers, though almost every book has at least one strong female character who defies convention. She produced over 40 novels in her career and I am happy that I did not have to read all of them.

  The River Road was my favorite with Blue Camllia as a second favorite. It is based on the history of rice cultivation in Louisiana. The story begins when Brent Winslow decides to buy land in Louisiana. He and his wife Mary are the children of Illinois settlers, they are farming people in the late 1800s and have just survived a brutal winter which left Brent bedridden for weeks with pneumonia.

 The story of their move with a nine-year-old daughter, the possibly shady land auction in Louisiana (which turned out fine) and their assimilation into what was essentially a rural Creole population, is good reading. Lavinia, the daughter, becomes a tomboy and runs wild with the Creole children but grows up to be an extremely self-willed and competent woman. Brent Winslow plants, works hard, studies and develops the best variety of rice in the area.

 Most everyone prospers, there are joys and sorrows, Lavinia suffers great loss and heartbreak, but it all comes out well. I've concluded that Keyes' work covers numerous lesser known aspects of American life in the early 20th century. Her research was thorough including her habit to spend extensive periods of time in the locales about which she wrote. She indulges in that wordy style of her times but it reads smoothly while she makes you care deeply about her characters.

(Blue Camellia is out of print but can be found in libraries and through used book sellers.)

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