Posts Tagged ‘1911 Novel’

Mother by Kathleen Norris ~ 1911. This edition: Tower Books, 1946. Introduction by Charles G. Norris. Hardcover. 188 pages.

Sometimes I look at the current book pile and think, “This is almost too darned eclectic. Woman, stick with one kind of thing!” But then I look again, and think, “No, this is much more interesting.”

From Paul Theroux’s hookers and existential angst Saint Jack to this sticky-sweet, heavily moralizing, ode to noble motherhood, all in a few hours. It’s a bit brain twisting, but there we have it. Read on, read on!

I have a slightly guilty fondness for early 20th century writer Kathleen Norris‘s entertaining but heavily messaged sagas of young girls being seduced by worldly pleasures and then finding their real purpose through prayer and good works, and I’m slowly amassing a selection of her titles. So when I was poking around in the dusty back room of a Quesnel junk shop yesterday, looking for old picture frames worthy of reuse, it thrilled me no end to notice Norris’s name on the faded spine of a hardcover book peeking out of a heaped box of Reader’s Digest condensed novels and the like.

“Heeeeyyyyy,” I said, keeping my voice deliberately calm, “How much for these tired old books?” The proprietor came over and poked at them a bit. He peered into my eyes. I smiled back, calmly. Don’t show them you’re keen, you know.

“I dunno. How’s about $4.00? Each!” he emphasized, no doubt catching the suddenly interested gleam in my eye.

Well, get out of my way, buddy.

Guess what I brought home?

This one, Mother, by Kathleen Norris, the 1946 reissue of the author’s breakout 1911 bestseller, in a tired but intact dust jacket.

Panther’s Moon, by Victor Canning, 1948. With a dust jacket later found folded up inside it, all there if rather disintegrated.

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse, a 1917 edition – with colour-tinted illustrations! – of the 1916 issue.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, first Canadian edition, 1948, no dust jacket but hey! – we can’t have everything, can we?

and

Coombe St. Mary’s, by Maud Diver, first edition, 1925.

I even found three decent picture frames. $2.00 each, what a deal. (No, really. They are quite nice.)

Life is good.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Mother.

Well, what can I say about the book? It’s absolutely as I expected, which was slightly disappointing, because I always have a tiny secret hope that Norris’s young ladies will prevail in their stubborn initial assertion that there is more to life than winsome but demanding babies and sticking by your husband no matter what awful things he does and so on. But nope, Mother sets the pattern for what is to follow, and it pounds the message home. Later Norris donned more velvety gloves, but here the preacher’s fist is iron, unpadded.

Here’s the story – such as it is – as described on the front flyleaf. I really don’t have anything to add.

Yes, our young protagonist, after wallowing in the fleshpots, finds true happiness in catching herself a worthy man. I’d say “young man”, but as her intended is ten years older than she is I guess that point is debatable. But he’s rich, and of “good family”, so she is to be congratulated. Bring on the babies! Mother approves.

Okay, the rating. Oh boy.

This is really not a very good book in the literary sense, vintage charm notwithstanding. If I wasn’t so weirdly enamoured of Kathleen Norris, it would likely get a dismissive 3/10 or something like that. But as it is her very first novel, and is interesting largely for that reason, I am going to fudge things a bit and push it up to 5/10.

Readers, beware. This is not in any way a recommendation for you to go out and hunt this thing down. Unless of course you’ve been bitten by the same bug, and want to enlarge your experience of the intriguing publishing phenomenon which was Kathleen Norris in her heyday.

I’ve written about several of her other books in the past. The American Flaggs, and An Apple for Eve. That last one starts with a reference to a past road trip, but if you scroll down you’ll find the book review.

I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about Kathleen Norris in the future; I find her strangely appealing, and her titles will no doubt fit in well with the Century of Books project, so I’ll leave you with these last few scans of Mother‘s dust jacket.

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