Grace Livingston Hill was a writer of mysteries and adventures from 1877-1947. I came across The White Flower in an antique store, as I do so many of the classic era books I love, and decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed. The White Flower was published in 1927 and is full of references to flappers, petting parties, and jazz or “purple music” (tunes by Prince?). The references are not admiring. Once you read The White Flower, you see that Hill was clearly writing to save the youth of America from moral degeneration and inspire them to an evangelical rebirth. She’s warning them that, otherwise, they will fall prey to white slavery or being unjustly imprisoned in an insane asylum by sleazy con men and wealthy, dirty old geezers – or just have an unfulfilling life. Still, there are plenty of rip-snorting chases by car and train, narrow escapes from said asylums and sleazy detectives, as well as cross-country flights and harsh kidnappings. The two main characters, a pure but not wimpy young woman (who doesn’t even bob her hair!) and a smart-aleck wealthy young man with a sense of fair play ( and a conveniently hefty wallet of travelers cheques) are an enjoyable romantic pair. And despite the heavy handed melodrama of lascivious and greedy villains, the adventure keeps you going: kidnappings and rescues, racing cross-country and hopping a freight train to elude dastardly villains, midnight flights, and a late-night ambush of the hero. You also get a nice sense of life during that time period: train travel, scenery and lifestyles on country farms and small towns, Chicago and New York upper-class living. Or perhaps, Hill is only telling us how she sees the world. I will say her descriptions of clothing are evocatively detailed without being boring – and her recounting farm country breakfasts or upper-class dinners is mouthwatering!
It was a little much for the hero to have a conversion experience because he just happened to be recovering from a head blow (dastardly villains at work!) in the same hospital room as a minister. Still, Hill has a nice sense of humor and manages not to come out with any racist comments typical of books of the time. I’m not sure if she how to read the following instance. The lusting older man, trying to “buy” the unsuspecting female lead, on discovering her name was “Rachel” wanted to reject her for fear she was Jewish. Let’s give Hill the benefit of the doubt and conclude that she’s putting a rejection of a Jewish girl in the mouth of an over-sexed creep as a comment on anti-Semites. The only problem for her plans to convert while entertaining her audience – and her novel is entertaining- is that her emphatic preoccupation with the unsavory plans of the wealthy older man might titilate prurient interests rather than scare youth away from sexual danger.
Born in 1865, Grace Livingston Hill was a prolific writer for something like 60 years! I’d actually be interested in reading some more of her stuff. It’s interesting and fun.
Here are some interesting web sites on Ms. Hill