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The General's Choice

de Alice Wilson Fox

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Late this past summer I happened upon an obscure, long out-of-print children's novel, entitled Hearts and Coronets, and, being intrigued by the name, which reminded me of the classic film, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and thinking the cover rather pretty, I picked it up on a whim. How glad I am that I did! Not only did I enjoy a charming story, but I discovered an early twentieth-century author, previously unknown to me, whose work falls into the realm of sentimental girls' fiction - a genre I find quite interesting. Since then, I have read and enjoyed Alice Wilson Fox's A Dangerous Inheritance, as well as this, The General's Choice.

It is the story of two young cousins, Dorothy Wyndham and Mollie (Mariam) Willoughby, who journey into Cumberland to visit their irascible old grandfather, General Stuart. Estranged from both his daughters, who married against his wishes, the old general had never met any of his grandchildren. But with the tragic death of his only son in the Boer War, the general found himself without an heir, and determined that one of the girls would inherit his vast estates. They, of course, knew nothing of this, and arrive with the idea of spending an extended holiday with the grandfather they never knew...

The general premise, outlined above, is quite promising, but although it begins well enough, The General's Choice wasn't as satisfying as Wilson Fox's other novels. I liked the two main characters, but the author's class biases - evident in her other books as well - are here too pronounced to ignore. The sub-plot involving the social-climbing Miss Stanley felt somewhat crudely drawn, and the inclusion of the "feckless gypsy boy in the woods" just made me roll my eyes. The resolution of the general's dilemma was a little too pat, and was an unpleasant reminder of how very patriarchal the ideas of property and inheritance were at that time.

I wish that I could locate a bibliography of Wilson Fox's work, as many of her books are undated, making it difficult for me to determine their order of publication. If I had to guess, I would say that The General's Choice is the earliest of the three titles I have read thus far. At 128 pages, it is significantly shorter than the other two, and also seems somewhat less sophisticated in style. The third-person narrator frequently summarizes the action, rather than letting it unfold, and the characters sometimes seem to speak in overly expository prose, rather than in more natural dialogue.

But for all its obvious stylistic short-comings, and rather jarring plot elements, I nevertheless enjoyed The General's Choice. Its is an excellent example of the highly sentimental, overtly moralistic fiction being written for girls in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and although I would not recommend it to children today, the scholar researching that period and genre will find much to fascinate her. ( )
1 vota AbigailAdams26 | Jul 5, 2013 |
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