Demian Katz (demiankatz) wrote,
Demian Katz

Book Review: Dora Thorne

Having successfully revisited Frank Merriwell, I next thought I would pay a little attention to Charlotte Brame, another name that was once quite widely known and is now completely forgotten. Of course, things were a bit more complicated for Ms. Brame since in America she was often known as either "Bertha M. Clay" or "The author of Dora Thorne" -- a long story that I won't get into right now -- but the point is that a lot of people were reading her books a century or so ago... and not so much today. I've been curious to see what the fuss was about.

My first encounter with Brame was my reading of The Shadow of a Sin, which I thought had a good setup and a fairly weak follow-through. For my second reading, I thought I would go for Dora Thorne -- if some publishers decided to use the title of this book to promote the author's other works, it must be a good one, right? As it happens, I wasn't disappointed.

Obviously, it has to be said that there are very obvious reasons that this book has been forgotten. It's written in the story paper style -- flowery descriptions, heavy-handed foreshadowing, "tell don't show" storytelling, etc., etc. It's very concerned with British class distinctions, it is peppered with vaguely derogatory statements about the idea of "woman's rights," and it seems likely that it was written with the intent of justifying the existence of the conservative status quo. If you don't read this book with a certain degree of tolerance and relativism, you will quickly turn against it.

But... there's a but. In spite of the clunky prose, in spite of the inherent bigotry, there's some meat to this one. I expected an insubstantial "people fall in love, misunderstand each other, get back together, HAPPY ENDING!" sort of story... and there's a bit of that here, but it's more complicated. While some of Brame's characters are pretty shallow, and most of them are pretty stupid, for the most part, they seem human -- the twists of the story come from characters behaving in ways that make sense within the constraints of their world, rather than from authorial contrivances designed purely to startle the reader. Don't get me wrong, I like a good authorial contrivance now and again -- people in horror movies have to go to the basement eventually -- but once in a while it's nice to see people acting like people in this kind of story. If you forgive the contextual elements that make the book distasteful to the modern reader, you're left with a story, filled with conflict but free of villains, about people learning the hard lesson that love doesn't solve everything -- and that's refreshing to find in what is essentially a romance novel.

So here's my proposal. I'm getting tired of watching the BBC endlessly remake the same tired old classics that they've already done perfectly good adaptations of. Why doesn't somebody take a look at some Charlotte Brame? Poor old Dora hasn't been seen on screen since a 1915 Lionel Barrymore movie that is now lost to the ages. I think it could work. Of course, nobody is listening to me -- but you saw it here first.
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