Sunday, August 9, 2015

How Green was my Valley and Favorite Books

Roddy McDowell in How Green was my Valley directed by John Ford.

The other day I went back to the Valley. How Green was my Valley, the 1940 best-seller by Welshman Richard Llewellyn.

I've read it twice before, the first time as a young teen, the second time, perhaps, in my twenties.

I remember I read the same edition, where the lead character, Huw, was spelled out Hugh.

When I first read the novel, I could not 'pronounce' Hugh, or many of the other Welsh names. I said "HUG" in my head.

This time, I downloaded the Kindle edition from Amazon where the "Roddy McDowell" character is spelled out properly, Huw.

Now, the reason I took this trip in the way-back machine, yesterday, was because of a story someone wrote this week at my genealogy group.

She wrote about an ancestor who was a Scottish coal miner. According to her well-researched story, in 1606 the Scottish Parliament put through legislation binding coal miners to the mine owners.

These workers were essentially slaves!

I hadn't known about this before last week- and I had read How Green was my Valley, twice.

Apparently, Richard Llewelly claimed his most famous novel was 'autobiographical' but that was a bit of a lie, or might we say, a bit of good publicity.

This being the age of Internet, I looked up info about the novel to find out why I loved it so much back then as a child.  (The double LL in the author's name intrigued me, I know.)

Well, apparently, How Green Was my Valley  was a well-written, well-researched block-buster with wide-appeal, and 'not riddled with double-meanings.' It had become an instant surprise best-seller in 1940 without help from the publicity machine. They blamed this on the War but the novel's popularity has endured.

Like those movies that win  The People's Choice Awards, the novel won only a popularity award in its day; no awards with prestige like the Pulitzer.

The John Ford How Green Was My Valley movie, with Roddy McDowell and Maureen O'Hara, however, won Best Picture.

So, it seems,  I liked the book  because it had broad appeal, and wasn't too erudite, so I didn't have to bring anything but my innocent heart to the reading of it.

Looking over a list of 20th Century bestsellers, most of which wouldn't make any BEST NOVELS OF ALL TIME list, I noticed that many of the books I read in my twenties were there.

Novels by A.J. Cronin and Sinclair Lewis. And John Steinbeck, of course.

Why? Because my mother had recommended them to me. How else would I have known to take them out from the library, back in those Dark Ages, before the Internet?

My mom was French Canadian, but she had been educated at the Sacred Heart Convent where she learned English.

I have read most of the novels that make most of the 100 best novels of all time list, so now I have decided to read the century's best-sellers, too, if I can get them off Gutenberg.

Most of these books are out of print.

I will start with How Green was my Valley, a novel Christopher Hitchens cited as an early favorite of his, then  follow To Have and Have Not from 1900.

Oh, I see that Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence and House of Mirth were best sellers. I found an advert for House of Mirth in a 1905 Ladies' Home Journal, and pasted it into an earlier post.

Edith Wharton's popularity endures, due to BBC Radio Four and television adaptations and her stories about women suffering for just being women.

Read my books about the Edwardian Age in Canada, based on real letters. Threshold Girl, Diary of a Spinster, and Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.