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Blog category: American Literature

"The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow" by Anna Katharine Green

Anna Katharine Green was noted for her scientific approach to the murder mystery. In The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow she breaks more ground with her in-depth study of the psychological interplay between the murderer, the victim and the witnesses. Although more quietly paced, this mystery presents many elements of a current psychological thriller: blind ambition, narcissism, obsession and betrayal. Green adds a peculiar twist with the fact that two heartbroken relatives of the victim sacrifice virtually everything to protect the murderer. Continue reading .

"Eight Cousins" by Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins is a series of vignettes that illustrate the affection of the cousins and their parents, aunts, and uncles for each other. The tales demonstrate that family members can disagree with, and even disappoint, each other yet still hold each other in the highest regard. Rather than a series of conflicts or problems to solve, the novel tells about the ways in which the family works things out before they become conflicts. In spite of its dearth of conflict or challenge, however, the novel does come through with many amusing and satisfying stories. Continue reading .

"An Old Fashioned Girl" by Louisa May Alcott

First published in two parts between 1869 and 1870, An Old Fashioned Girl follows Polly, a simple country girl, during two visits to the big city of Boston. Polly’s stay with the rich and sophisticated Shaw family shows her that flashy clothes and loud personalities are the characteristics by which many frivolous city folk are judged. Polly in turn teaches her city friends that simplicity and honesty are the things that really matter. Continue reading .

"A Strange Disappearance" by Anna Katharine Green

First published in 1880, this second novel in the “Mr. Gryce” series lays out two apparently unrelated mysteries to which Mr. Gryce assigns “Q” to investigate. Green introduced Q in The Leavenworth Case as rather a shadowy character who gets the job done in spite of, or more likely because of, his strangeness. The Leavenworth Case has been Anna Katharine Green’s best-known and best-selling novel. However, owing to the storytelling prowess of Q and a compelling story-within-a-story told by Holman Blake, A Strange Disappearance was for this reader even more enjoyable than the first. Continue reading .

"What Katy Did" by Susan Coolidge

Published around 1870, What Katy Did tells the story of a rambunctious, headstrong twelve-year old girl who is infinitely likeable in spite of (or perhaps because of) these unfeminine traits. Katy has a zillion plans for the future, and any efforts at gentility go out the window as she rushes headlong into her destiny. Unfortunately, her destiny is not exactly what she had foreseen. Continue reading .

"Captivity and Restoration" by Mary Rowlandson

Published in 1682 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was one of the first books published in the New World. It became a best seller in the New World and in England and went through fifteen editions by 1800. In the literary history and review, A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter calls it the first American literary form dominated by Women’s experience. Continue reading .

"The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton

First published in 1913, this is the story of Undine Spragg. Undine’s social and monetary aspirations show themselves early in her life, as she convinces her parents to move from their comfortable existence in the Midwest to New York City. There she throws herself into high society and finds her ambition and greed grow as she climbs the social ladder, all the while hoping to keep her checkered past hidden from view. Continue reading .

"Youth and the Bright Medusa" by Willa Cather

Mix a liberal dose of Opera with a pinch of Art. Add a dollop of Wall Street and season with a few wasted lives. This combination comes close to the recipe for Youth and the Bright Medusa. The plots in most of the stories have more in common with a Picasso painting than the great American novel. I’ve read enough short stories to realize that authors frequently use this genre to break a few rules. However, several of the stories left me hanging uncomfortably, and the smile level of the story was not sufficient to incline me to forgive. Continue reading .

"The Leavenworth Case" by Anna Katharine Green

Horatio Leavenworth, Esq., a millionaire, is murdered in his library while he is engaged in reviewing a book he plans to publish. He was shot cleanly in the back of the head (with his own pistol), meaning that he did not turn his head when his assassin entered the room. This fact led detective Ebenezer Gryce to conclude that he recognized the footsteps of his assailant and felt he had nothing to fear from this person. Thus begins this first novel in the “Mr. Gryce” series. Continue reading .

"The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is a story of Old New York manners and traditions. As always, Wharton writes about people in a pickle. Always they seem to have extraordinarily bad timing. Always they get in the way of their own happiness. The Age of Innocence belongs to a time when societal obligation invariably supersedes personal fulfillment. At times, the novel was a satire; the traditions of the upper crust verged on ridiculous. Although Newland is the protagonist of the story, I found him to be the weakest character. As a man, he had more options than a woman in his place would have. Instead, he caves into the expectations of the family. He gets played, by just about everyone, but especially the women. Continue reading .


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