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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Books Within Books: When A Man Marries

We love when our favorite novel characters love to read as much as we do! In Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel, When A Man Marries, Kit McNair and her society friends are an educated lot, and the story features a few literary references that would have resonated with the early 20th century reader, but might be a little mystifying to today’s reader. Here, a few of those references from Rinehart's delightful romantic comedy are explained! The first comes when Kit meets the handsome Tom Harbison, who has a sense that they've met before:

"I beg your pardon," he said, and let my hand drop. "Just for a second I had an idea that we had met somewhere, a long time ago. I suppose--no, it couldn't have happened, or I should remember." He was smiling, half at himself.

"No," I smiled back at him. "It didn't happen, I'm afraid--unless we dreamed it."

"We?"

"I felt that way, too, for a moment."

"The Brushwood Boy!" he said with conviction. "Perhaps we will find a common dream life, where we knew each other. You remember the Brushwood boy loved the girl for years before they really met."

But this was a little too rapid, even for me. "Nothing so sentimental, I'm afraid," I retorted. "I have had exactly the same sensation sometimes when I have sneezed."

Rudyard Kipling’s The Brushwood Boy (available for free download from Legacy Romance) first appeared in The Century Magazine in December 1895. The title is in reference to the dream sequence that the hero frequently has; passing a stack of brushwood he enters his dream realm where he meets his dream-love. The original title of the story was to be "The Infants of Bohemia," an homage to his new acquaintance, Arthur Conan Doyle, and his Sherlock Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia. The comparison to this romantic tale is meant to be complimentary; the heroine, Miriam, was referred to in 1932 by the French Ambassador to the UK as “the proof that Kipling had a thorough understanding of women.” Rinehart’s reference to this story might be a teasing joke, as well: Kipling’s story opens with the hero, as a young boy, waking from a nightmare about a police officer, while Rinehart includes a sleeping police officer in this novel (who does, in fact, frighten her characters). 

Aunt Selina announced that the next day was Monday, that she had only a week's supply of clothing with her, and that no policeman who ever swung a mace should wash her undergarments for her. She paused a moment, but nobody offered to do it. Anne was reading De Maupassant under cover of a table, and the rest pretended not to hear.


In 1910, an English edition of The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant was released in seventeen volumes. Guy de Maupassant, a French writer, is often considered one of the greater modern short story writers. His themes and characters touch upon the more unappealing aspects of life--greed, selfishness, lust, and cruel pragmatism--and Rinehart’s inclusion of him in her story might be a broad, teasing nod toward her own characters, who have thus far behaved selfishly and been quite silly.


I stayed in the den and read Ibsen, and felt very mournful. And after Hedda had shot herself, I lay down on the divan and cried a little--over Hedda; she was young and it was such a tragic ending--and then fell asleep. When I waked Mr. Harbison was standing by the table, and he held my book in his hands.

"She wasn't worth it," he said, indicating the book.

"Worth what?"

"Your tears. You were crying over it, weren't you?"

Henrik Ibsen’s play, Hedda Gabler, was published in 1890, but achieved fame in the U.S. with a highly regarded Broadway production in 1902. The eponymous heroine, Hedda, is an unhappy wife with a boring but reliable husband, who grows jealous when a rival writer seeks another woman’s attentions. She tries to drive him toward a "clean death" but he instead dies rather messily, and she kills herself instead. In 2009, the New York Times wrote: “In a review of the first Broadway production, way back in 1898, a critic for The New York Times described Hedda as a 'degenerate,' 'selfish, morbid, cruel, bitter, jealous, something of a visionary, something of a wanton, something of a lunatic.'" Another writer for the paper, on the occasion of a revival in 1903, moralized that “her soul is too small even for human sin.”

Hedda--difficult and snobbish--could relate to Rinehart’s character Bella, who is selfish and caustic to the rest of the house, save for wealthy Aunt Selina. Things end more pleasantly for Bella, however. Kit’s empathy for Hedda might have come out of the literal imprisonment Kit felt, trapped for a week in a house with her dramatic, self-absorbed acquaintances, but happily, she too comes to a better end. And how does she get there? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out!

POSTED BY:  Audra


When A Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart
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