Friday, August 3, 2018

The Land of Joy

Rating:
Ralph Henry Barbour's The Land of Joy [New York: Doubleday, 1903] belongs to a genre that I alone (it seems) love—namely, turn-of-the-(last)-century juvenile novels. These books have a small variety of themes: young men on an adventure in the wilds, on the sea, or in some foreign clime; young men playing school sports; and young men and boys in the Scouts. There's usually some kind of mystery to be solved, but not always. 

And it is to this "but not always" category that Joy belongs. It is the story of Phillip Ryerson, a young Southerner freshly arrived at Harvard near the end of the 19th century. Hoping to keep him out of trouble, a friend of his deceased father has written to Harvard senior John North, asking him to take Phil under his wing. Thus begins a meaningful friendship.

Absent the grand adventure or unsolved mystery, Joy concentrates more on romance than most novels in this genre: in Phil's case, his courtship of Betty Kingsford, a Cambridge local; and in John's, his courtship of Phil's sister Margey, who lives on the Ryerson family estate in Northern Virginia.

The tension in the book is provided by the Ryerson family having fallen on hard times, and John having to intervene behind Phil's back to protect him from the consequences of something Phil hasn't been given to understand.

Joy is above average, especially for this kind of book, and Barbour's writing is often amusing, such as this brief description [p. 180] of Phil's first attempt to call on Betty:
...if it’s not greatly out of your way, Mr. Ryerson, you might walk toward the Public Garden. It’s just possible that you’ll meet Elizabeth coming home. It’s about time, I think, and I know she’d be sorry to have missed you altogether.”

Phillip threw her a glance eloquent of gratitude.

“I will then,” he replied. “She couldn’t be nearly as sorry as I.”

Fortune favours the persevering. At the end of Phillip’s third trip between the house and the equestrian statue of Washington—for Mrs. Kingsford had not limited him to one excursion—he spied Betty...
As sometimes occurs in such works, there is a small amount of racial and ethnic stereotyping that modern readers wish they could expunge. It adds nothing to the plot and only serves to expose ignorance, some of which persists to this day. But all in all, I would say that Joy rolls a ⚃.

No comments:

Post a Comment