Under the Greenwood Tree (Thomas Hardy, 1872)

In rural Wessex, a church string ensemble is upset by a newcomer to town who’s been engaged to replace them on the organ. Fancy Day is her name, and Dick Dewy — one of the redundant musicians — falls madly in love with her. She rather likes his attention, as she does anyone’s attention; if Fancy is nothing else, she’s an incorrigible flirt. It’s an uphill climb for Dick, what with his being the son of a simple country tranter (and I had to look that up, too — it’s an archaic term for mover) and the Days having pretensions to high society. At last, Dick wins out and he and Fancy are married, and though the other villagers doubt how long it will last, the couple are happy for the moment and that counts for something.

Inscriptions: From the Livermore Falls, Maine public library. There’s quite a bit of marginalia throughout, most of which has been erased but some the librarian must have missed. It seems that somebody read it for a school book report and left their notes.

Barriers Burned Away (E.P. Roe, 1872)

From the very first page, and from every subsequent page, if one thing is clear, it’s that E.P. Roe sure was keen on Jesus. That’s not an issue in and of itself, but Roe’s incessant moralizing is so stilted and distracting that it comes across as a sermon that only half-tolerates the existence of its characters or their narratives. It was not a surprise when I searched for his name and discovered that he was a preacher who wrote for a congregation that still saw the concept of novels as being vaguely suspect and needed the constant, reassuring religion injection in every single scene.

Dennis’s father moved from New England to the Midwest to become a farmer and utterly failed. To support his mother and young siblings, Dennis leaves college to get work in Chicago. Mr. Ludolph is an art dealer who takes on Dennis as a porter in his showroom. Ludolph is heir to a barony in his native Germany and has high aspirations for his daughter Christine, hoping to marry her to some European noble. Dennis falls in love with her. The social divide is one thing, but a bigger problem for Dennis is that Christine is an atheist.

Angst for 400 pages.

Cue the Great Chicago Fire. Ludolph is killed trying to save his financial papers from the showroom. Dennis rescues Christine from her mansion just as the flames reach it. They make their way to the lake, where Christine sees a displaced poor woman and becomes a Christian. She decides to marry Dennis. If I make it sound abrupt, it’s because it is. All that occurs in a few paragraphs.

It’s an incendiary screed — and I’m not talking about the fiery backdrop. The group of people that Roe actually approves of is quite exclusive and vanishingly small, and everyone else is an “infidel” that will surely burn in the afterlife as they did in this one if they don’t come to Jesus.