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Dave, the pickmaster for Round 5 and the guy who hammered me with Waters That Pass Away, is trying to strike me down yet again for dragging out The Rough Riders to an unspeakable degree. His goal is to make me wish I had chosen fantasy football as a hobby like other guys. His second nominee for instrument of my eventual destruction: Mistress Content Cradock by Annie Eliot Trumbull.

Selection #5 is drawn from the unnervingly vague category “A Group of Female Novelists,” which sounds like a police report. “A group of female novelists were apprehended at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Tuesday morning adding 'malicious capitalization' to the works of e.e. cummings. No trial date has been set pending syntax evaluation.” I have a sneaking suspicion the common thread in this grouping isn't “chick lit” so much as “lit by chicks.” Silly Victorians, you don't divide books by the sex of the author, you divide them by how much sex the author puts in them. And whether the characters buy expensive shoes. This is called “progress.” Not "annoying."

Enough of the ramble, time to roll through the bramble.

Mistress Content Cradock. By Annie Eliot Trumbull. 12mo. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co. $1

Miss Trumbull's latest work is much enhanced by the illustrations by Charles Copeland. It is a historical tale of New England life, and the action takes place in the Salem colony. Chief among the characters portrayed is Roger Williams, and the story deals with the incidents which surrounded this man's independent personality and his tireless appeals for freedom of thought and action. The thread of romance and love is rendered most attractive by the author's well-known bright and attractive style, her delicately fashioned descriptions, and her entertaining dialogue. Miss Trumbull is very happy in her New England stories, which are always sure to contain interesting types of local character.

Unlike Dave's last pick, I managed to scrape up a few biographical notes for our author: Annie Eliot Trumbull (1857-1949) was an author, poet, and playwright whose first full-length book was published in 1889 and who was just hitting the peak of her renown around the time Mistress Content Cradock was published. Trumbull was a junior member of Mark Twain's Hartford circle, the last surviving member of that group on her passing. She was the daughter of philologist and historian James Hammond Trumbull, of whom George F. Hoar of the American Antiquarian society said “[he] knows the history, the life, the manners, even the gossip, of every New England generation from the beginning, as if he had been a contemporary.” As much as I found about her, I'm finding much more about him, but at least that quote means she may have picked up a good grounding in the historical period she chose. Unless, as I suspect and the following review suggests, historical setting is beside the point.

Given a Puritan setting—a stern shore and grim ancestors. Place Oliver Cromwell, Roger Williams, and John Winthrop in the background, and pink arbutus in the foreground, then bring upon the scene Mistress Content Cradock and her two lovers, Archer and Stukely, and the stage is ready for action.

The whole question of the historical novel must be set one side in any fair discussion of Mistress Content Cradock and her virtues or shortcomings. The place and limits of the historical novel involve issues too diverse to be taken up in any right appreciation of a book so modest as this of Miss Trumbull's. Nor do the charm and value of the book depend, to any appreciable extent, on the historical element. In so far as the character of Mistress Content Cradock could have had existence in no other time or place than Puritan New England, the setting is of moment. In so far as the story is the old one of 'two men wooing a maid,” the setting is irrelevant. Mistress Content's own granddaughter could not have vacillated between her two lovers with more feminine inconsequence or have chosen the wrong one with more inevitable persistence than does Mistress Cradock herself. All the characters are very human. That they move upon a Puritan stage is a mere detail of art. That exits and entrances are adjusted somewhat primly, with an eye to effect, and that the story moves with monotonous evenness are perhaps, faults to be grateful for in a day when art seems to be, for the most part, a series of wild and incalculable experiments. --The Critic, August 1899

Any time “monotonous” is used in a book review, I send up a distress flare. Any time “monotonous” is used in a book review as a positive attribute, I check the reviewer's blood alcohol level. The pull-quotes in the publisher's ads call the book “wholesome.” How wholesome I manage to stay in my play-by-play depends on how quickly I acclimate to a love triangle where the dialogue is liberally doused in “thee”s and “thou”s. That never stopped me with Shakespeare, but the operating assumption here is that Mistress Content Cradock isn't another As You Like It. Will it be as I like it? We shall see.

And now, the text:

  • Google Books has a single copy from the NY Public Library, so that's what we're working from. Them's the conditions wot prevail. Google Books now offers two downloadable formats, the page image PDF versions or an OCR-converted text in EPUB format. Just like Google's (non-proofread) plaintext rendering, scannos abound in the EPUB version. It's not the worst I've seen, but I'm sticking with PDF.

That's all the stage dressing you get, bub. Time to roll up my elbows and get to work.

Chapter Recaps: Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 (Links to the chapter recaps go live upon posting.)


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