Sunday, August 1, 2010

Old Rose & Silver by Myrtle Reed

364 pages
Published 1910
by G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London

The Knickerbocker Press

Sometimes when I finish a particularly "meaty" read I find myself desiring something light and sweet, like a delicate slice of angel food cake, a "dessert read" if you will. I find it amusing that this year I have found myself picking up a Myrtle reed novel time and time again when I have this craving. In a way it's a little ironic that I would find such enjoyment in the stories of a woman who had such an unhappy ending to her own life. Perhaps Mrs. Reed, like so many lovers of fiction, found her escape from the ugliness of life by creating a world where the hero and heroine do live happily-ever-after and the "bad guy" doesn't win.

I suppose that is why I enjoy fiction so much. It is a way to briefly escape from reality. Not to say that my life is unhappy because nothing could be further from the truth; but it does allow me to set aside the problems or stresses of the day and for a few minutes lose myself in a time and place where the problems are not my own and I know within a few chapters everything will be set right and the characters blissfully happy... (That is, so long as I choose a novel with a happy ending.) Obviously for some people a happy ending is too trite, too unrealistic, but all I can say is -- to each their own.

My most recent "dessert" read by Myrtle Reed is Old Rose & Silver which ranks fairly high on my list of "favorite reads by Reed". The story is set at the turn of the last century and revolves around three women and their close friends. First there is Madam Bernard (a.k.a Aunt Francesca), a widow in her late 60s who is as wise as she is beautiful. Next there is Rose, a 40 year old spinster whose personality is richly warm and who's heart is pure gold. (Rose is the heroine of the story and the one who must bear some very difficult trials.) Last there is Isabel, who is in the bloom of youth at the age of 20 and who is nicknamed "Silver girl" because of her resplendent beauty. The story would be nothing without the addition of four other main characters, particularly the men -- Colonel Kent (a longtime and very dear friend of Francesca's), his son Allison Kent (a gifted violinist and the hero of the story), and the wild but lovable Crosby twins named Romeo and Juliet.

At this point you are probably picking up on some of the humor that Reed has woven into this story. Yes, the twins are indeed named after the couple in William Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, but thankfully their parting isn't quite as disastrous. And while it might appear a mistake, Colonel Kent's son IS named Allison. (I checked and apparently pre-WWII the name "Allison" was more commonly used for boys with the occasional exception. It was only in the late 1940s that the switch occurred and it became a popular name attributed to girls.)

Although I found the ending of Old Rose & Silver predictable I didn't know which path the characters would take to get there. It is the journey to this end that makes this story so worthwhile to read. Myrtle Reed's wit and sharp insights into human nature are visible in the rich tapestry of personalities and dialogue. Her love for food and music and nature is evident in her descriptions. And her desire for closure means that in the end everything is as it should be (more or less) and no main character is left without their lose ends tied up neatly. But most of all, the lessons in "loving thy neighbor as thy self" that are woven throughout the novel I found to ring as true today as they did 100 years ago when this book was written or 2000 years ago when they were first given.

As is the case with most of Myrtle Reed's novels there is always some pearl of wisdom that I want to jot down. In Old Rose & Silver the words of counsel that Aunt Francesca shares with Rose were often worth repeating. I quoted one such moment in a recent Tuesday Teaser and here is another:

"Sometimes I think that all of Life is waiting,' she went on, with a little catch in her voice, 'and yet we never know what we were waiting for, unless--when all is done--'

A warm, friendly hand closed over hers. 'Do not question too much, dear friend, for the God who ordained the beginning can safely be trusted with the end, as well as with all that lies between." (Chpt.11, pg 157)

Some might consider Old Rose & Silver a sentimental romance and in some ways it is. It is not the "high-brow" fiction that some distinguished readers would deem to call "literature" of the 20th century, but in my opinion that doesn't mean it isn't worth reading. I think Old Rose & Silver might be better classified as a classic from the "popular fiction" novels of the Edwardian era (1901-1910) -- or in modern terms: Edwardian chic-lit. The Edwardian era is often considered to be a golden era. It was a time when fashion was a thing of beauty and summer evenings would find couples visiting at a garden party, or waltzing to a record on the phonograph, or taking a spin in the new automobile. It was a time before the ugliness of World War I could dampen the blissful outlook that so many Americans held. Because of this, the Edwardian era might be considered the perfect setting for a romance, especially one woven with the tongue-in-cheek wit and inspiring words of wisdom like Myrtle Reed has so skillfully done.

So the next time you're looking for a "dessert read" stop to consider something from another century. You might just be surprised at what you find.

Related links:
Online Literature E-Book: Old Rose & Silver
Project Gutenberg E-Book: Old Rose & Silver
Public Bookshelf: Old Rose & Silver
Kindle E-Book - Amazon: Old Rose & Silver ($0.00)

Entreaty, A Love Song (Sheet Music)

Other Books & Quotes by Myrtle Reed:
The Spinster Book
Weaver of Dreams
A Spinner in The Sun
Lavender And Old Lace
The Master's Violin

Tuesday Teaser: A Spinner in the Sun
Tuesday Teaser: Lavender and Old Lace
Tuesday Teaser: Old Rose & Silver

1 comment:

hopeinbrazil said...

I've been on the lookout for Myrtle Reed ever since you first mentioned her. I saw her this week for sale at Lanier's Books so I may take the plunge. Blessings, Hope