Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Secretary of Frivolous Affairs

1911, original Bobbs-Merrill edition
May Futrelle
Secretary of Frivolous Affairs
Bought used (of course) for $2.50
Hardcover with stains, worn corners and broken spine

A generation after From 18 to 20, the seaside novel has started to consider the possibility of ladies working.  The title character here, Loulie Codman, grew up with servants and luxuries, but she and her elder sister Jo have fallen on comparatively hard times.  Jo might pursue teaching, which horrifies Loulie as much as it would a Jane Austen heroine a century earlier, but mostly because she thinks Jo is too beautiful to wear glasses.  Loulie decides to become a lady's companion, but a modern one who "speaks" French and baseball.  A wealthy widow, Mrs. Hazard, takes her on for that summer, at $3000.  The "frivolous affairs" are the social gatherings that Mrs. Hazard, her debutante daughter Laura, and her son Hap throw.

Hap, a football player at Harvard (he's an '09), is of course the love interest.  He's involved with an "older woman," Natalie, who's six years his senior.  Natalie seems to be the villain of the piece, apparently involved in insurance fraud over her missing jewellery, but she turns out to be all right in the end.  Not good enough for Hap of course.

Hap is a more developed character than either of the Charleses in From 18, but I can't say I like him.  Loulie swoons at his manly strength, but he seems a bit of a bully.  Every time he kisses her, she tries to be sensible and remind him of the class difference, but he kisses her into compliance.  The novel ends with her arm in a sling, an injury caused while she was trying to solve the tepid mystery, and she tells us, "There was no use struggling against a kiss.  I was on the injured list anyhow, and he was the best tackle Harvard ever had."  Hardy-har!

Meanwhile, Jo is going to marry Hap's uncle, because it's OK to marry a man 15 years older than you.  Besides, "'He would not have listened if I said no, so I didn't.'"  Yes, the girls love these men, but there's no reason to take away their consent.

If the book is this bad, why do I give it so much of a higher grade than From 18 to 20?  Well, I like the zippy narration and the posh setting.  It's nice how Mrs. Codman and more particularly her daughter are far from snobs.  I like seeing how the "fiends" (tennis, golf, automobile, etc.) are organized.  If there'd been more about the frivolous affairs, and less about the affairs of the heart, or if the mystery had been better done, I could see giving this a B.  As it is, I'm not keeping it anyway, due to the condition.

IMDB says this was made into a movie in 1915.  The star, May Allison, died in 1989, at 91.  As for the May who wrote this book, the year after it came out, she went for a ride on a certain boat called The Titanic.  She survived, and also died at 91, in 1967.

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