I used to read a lot of quirky out-of-print books which I unearthed at Project Gutenberg and in used bookstores. Go to my original Frisbee blog at Blogger (before I moved to WordPress) , click on 2009, and you’ll read about Pamela Hansford Johnson, Pamela Frankau, Hugh Walpole, Eleanor Hodgman Porter, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
So I read an absolutely charming novel by Eleanor Hodgman Porter, Oh, Money! Money! (free at Project Gutenberg).
Eleanor Hodgman Porter is best known for her children’s books, and you may know Pollyanna (or the Disney movie). But she also wrote some slight but very entertaining adult books: I very much enjoyed Sister Sue (which I wrote about here) and the Miss Billy trilogy (here).
Porter is in good form in Oh, Money! Money! It is an absorbing, fun read, and reasonably well-written. I read this in my back yard when I was ousted from my house by carpenters and handymen. Anything you can read in a lawn chair has to be good.
The unlikely premise–and who wants likely?–is as follows: Stanley G. Fulton, a 50-year-old multi-millionaire, goes “undercover” to decide who should be his heir. Three distant cousins, the Blaisdells, live “back east” in the town of Hillerton, and he arranges for his lawyer to give $100,000 to each. Suddenly it is printed in the newspapers that Stanley has disappeared in South America, and the lawyer gives the Blaisdells their $300,000, explaining that in two years an envelope will be opened revealing the heir of the millions. And Stanley has really “disappeared” from Chicago: He goes to Hillerton under the name of Mr. John Smith, as a genealogist writing a family history of the Blaisdells.
Hillerton is a charming small town, which you will recognize from your travels. Porter writes:
The common marked the center of Hillerton. Its spacious green lawns and elm-shaded walks were the pride of the town. There was a trellised bandstand for summer concerts, and a tiny pond that accommodated a few boats in summer and a limited number of skaters in winter. Perhaps, most important, the common divided the plebeian East Side from the more pretentious West. James Blaisdell lived on the West Side. His wife said that everybody did who WAS anybody. They had lately moved there, and were, indeed, barely settled.”
The three Blaisdell cousins are very different, as you can imagine. Will money have a sanguine effect on them?
Jim Blaisdell is a bibliophile and harried realtor who lives beyond his means on the West Side. He can’t make enough money to please his ambitious, silly wife, Hattie, but he is proud of his children, Fred, a hard-working boy who wants to be a lawyer, beautiful 16-year old Bessie, and energetic eight-year-old Benny.
Cousin Flora is a sweet, generous, rather scatterbrained seamstress. She is poor, and doesn’t feel comfortable visiting on the West Side.
The third Blaisdell cousin, Frank, is a successful grocer married to miserly Jane, who feeds them the cheapest food, covers rugs with other rugs, “to save them,” and won’t allow their exuberant teenage daughter to wear new clothes.
Mr. Smith experiences culture shock when he boards with Frank’s family, though he likes them. But when the cousins learn they have inherited money, Jane kicks him out, saying Hattie told her the rich shouldn’t have boarders. Mr. Smith must now board with “Poor Maggie.”
By far the most important character is “Poor Maggie.” Maggie is a brilliant, middle-aged, Cinderellaish poor relation who was never able to finish college because she had to come home and take care of her difficult “Father Duff.” Every time she leaves Hillerton, there is a crisis and she must return. Maggie is tactful, charming, and creative, and solves most of the family problems.
Does money help the Blaisdells? Their difficulties multiply. Mr. Smith is shocked. He had no idea what money could do.
This comedy says a lot about money’s advantages and disadvantages. There are some good and terrible moments.
And, for those who want to know about Porter, here is a brief bio from my own blog entry about Sister Sue in 2009:
“Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868-1920) was a pop turn-of-the-century girls’ writer whose briskly-plotted novels explored the conflict between duty and self-expression in girls’ and women’s lives. Her novels are comparable to those of L. M. Montgomery and Gene Stratton Porter, and her plots race along, though her uneven style ranges from serviceable and lively to wooden and didactic. Yet there is a sparkle to Eleanor Porter’s stories, even when the characters lapse into the kind of pre-feminist wearying duty and drudgery that can ruin lives. Porter’s moralistic themes seem pertinent today: how many women in this depressed economy must, like the heroine of Sister Sue, postpone pursuing their dreams to make a bare living or care for more than one generation of their families?”