Posts Tagged ‘The Street of Seven Stars’

The Street of Seven Stars by Mary Roberts Rinehart ~ 1914. This edition: Grosset & Dunlap, 1918. Hardcover. 377 pages.

First off, I’ll tell you what this book isn’t. It’s not a murder mystery, and it’s not a gothic romance, no matter what later covers and sensationalistic publicists’ blurbs might say.

It’s merely one of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s early-career, sentimental love stories, padded out with a rather good depiction of immediately pre-war Vienna – that would be pre-Great War, in case you missed the publication date – and its fluid population of young foreigners seeking to further their education in one of the greatest centres of arts and sciences in their time.

American Harmony is a violin student, fellow American Peter is a young doctor; both are talented and driven; both are poor as church mice; both are determined to stick it out in Vienna for the boost their access to specialists in their field will give their future careers. Neither has room in their life for romantic love; neither plan to marry. Need I go further?

Point A will lead inevitably to Point B, but the path between is twisted and full of obstacles, such as friends with complicated love lives, a wee orphan boy dying of heart failure, and the judgemental frown of social mores, turning an innocent partnership to share expenses into a forbidden thing, if a young woman would retain her virtuous reputation.

The theme throughout is sacrifice, and every character grapples with it, from charmingly innocent Harmony and her hopes of a musical career, to Bulgarian spy Georgiev who slips up and loses his place in the quickening Great Game as Europe readies itself for open conflict.

The little Georgiev was in trouble those days. The Balkan engine was threatening to explode, but continued to gather steam, with Bulgaria sitting on the safety-valve. Austria was mobilizing troops, and there were long conferences in the Burg between the Emperor and various bearded gentlemen, while the military prayed in the churches for war.

The little Georgiev hardly ate or slept. Much hammering went on all day in the small room below Harmony’s on the Wollbadgasse. At night, when the man in the green velours hat took a little sleep, mysterious packages were carried down the whitewashed staircase and loaded into wagons waiting below. Once on her window-sill Harmony found among the pigeons a carrier pigeon with a brass tube fastened to its leg…

Though the chief love story of this standard sort of novel-of-its-kind progresses along traditional lines, some of the side stories diverge from the expected, and, along with the period atmosphere captured in brief by Rinehart’s facile pen, turn this slight, occasionally melodramatic period piece into something readable – and for the most part, very enjoyably so – a century past its time.

My rating: 7/10

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