There was always something about Boston. It wasn’t just that Emilie was born there. Generations of her family had felt its inspiration. This was where her grandfather started anew after a Portland fire and founded the Boston Herald. It was where her father forged one career in publishing and another in amateur drama, where Emilie and her siblings acted on stage for friends and family. Marriage and motherhood took her to Wellesley Hills, but as her career took off, Emilie Loring returned to Boston.
The adage that success breeds success is especially true with books. When The Solitary Horseman came out in March, 1927, The Trail of Conflict, Here Comes the Sun! and A Certain Crossroad were in multiple printings, and publicity came easily. The book was reviewed in both the Boston Herald and Boston Transcript, and John Clair Minot interviewed Emilie on his radio program, “Monday Evening Book Talk.” Soon, it was a best-seller.
The Solitary Horseman begins with a widowed mother whose son David is killed by a drunken driver, Anthony Hamilton. To make amends, “Tony” pledges himself to the family for ten years–to work as David would have worked, to make the family orchards a success.
“Tony, always you remind me of my first hero, the solitary horseman in The Talisman….You never turn your back on difficulties. You face things.”
The Grahame’s home, “White Pillars,” and the town’s orchards are reminiscent Victor Loring’s childhood home and his hometown of Marlborough, Massachusetts.
When the story opens, Tony’s pledge to the Grahames has been fulfilled, the daughter of the house, Rose, is fresh out of college, and Tony is bound in a pretend engagement to the petulant Daphne Tennant. But then, the Hamiltons come to town, “Nap” Long gets in his deviltry, and nothing goes as expected…
Was that lovely girl the child he had seen grow up?… She was a woman, young, radiant, shyly conscious of her charm. Her eyes flashed with mischief as they met his.
Broken rails! The forward wheels of the car hung over the edge of the bridge. The headlights illumined the glittering gulch below… My God, if he touches this car we’re done for.
Emilie’s characters are capable and confident, and Rose Grahame not the least of them. She runs for the town council, even though she suspects that Tony is opposed.
“Most of us women have to consider the dollar. We are trained to that much more than are men. There is criticism of the few women who are filling political offices in the country. Is there any reason why the woman whom we propose couldn’t make good? Let’s elect her and see that she does make good.”
And Emilie, who had just turned sixty when she wrote the book, countered expectations about the passing years.
Her eyes were brilliant with laughter. Her zest for life, her glowing charm made one realize that youth was not the greatest of woman’s attractions, Rose thought for the first time in her young life. No wonder that Nicholas Cort loved her. She regarded her mother with puzzled eyes as she queried: “Do you care about being attractive?”
“Care! Of course I care. Do you think that I don’t care for lovely frocks? That I don’t care when a man’s eyes flash into interest when he looks at me? When I cease to care the real me will be gone though this body of mine lives on.”
Emilie wrote a stage version of The Solitary Horseman, “A Romantic Comedy in Three Acts.” The play had a dog in it, at first, but Emilie had to take him out, because he proved too hard to control on stage. Dogs did as they were told in novels.
I love her stage setting:
“Time: Just before the guns shook Europe. While we still dressed for dinner.”
“While we still dressed for dinner.” It’s so reminiscent of an older, more graceful time, a time of prescribed social relations and the niceties that went along with them. I know there’s much to be said for casting off artifice and “being yourself,” but sometimes I yearn for the elegance and courtesies of Emilie’s day and her novels.
The Solitary Horseman was one of Emilie’s favorites, “because it is a mother and sons story. I have two sons.” It certainly has something special going for it. The book was a best-seller when it first came out and again in 1968 when it was released in paperback. I suspect that women of any era are attracted to stories in which a woman is strong, capable, charming, and loved.
Next on our reading list: Gay Courage