Mary's Library

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Best Sellers of the Past

The #2 best selling book in the US in the year 1900 was Mary Cholmondeley’s RED POTTAGE, published in England in 1899. A minor sensation at the time, the book is a satire on middle class hypocrisy. It features Hester, a novelist, and her friend, Rachel.

Hester is forced to live with her narrow-minded clergyman brother, who in disgust with her work throws the manuscript of her most recent and best novel into the fire. She is nearly undone by this vandalism, but pulls herself together to assist her friend, Rachel, who has had the misfortune to fall in love with Hugh Scarlett.

The novel begins with a melodramatic scene in which Lord Newhaven, having discovered that Scarlett is having an affair with his wife, presents the man with two straws. He who draws the shorter will commit suicide within the year. Scarlett draws, and finds himself with the short straw.

Will he have the courage to kill himself? If he fails to do so what will Newhaven do? You can see why this plot would ruffle a lot of ostrich feathers in 1900.

The title is taken from the quotation: "After the red pottage comes the exceeding bitter cry," a reference to Jacob and Esau in Genesis. Cholmondeley is pronounced "CHUM-lee."


At 3:43 AM PST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just catching up on your past few days' postings and see this intriguing list of mysteries and "oddball" books. I've printed out your postings in hopes of getting some of these books from the library. Bleak House, as done by the BBC, is just wonderful. So Dickensian!


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