Thursday, August 31, 2017


I’m thinking now I should have re-read Walker Percy’s six novels in the order they appeared, and I’m trying to understand why I chose to do it randomly. It’s just occurred to me I might have started the re-reads the way I started the first-reads---at least at first. The Moviegoer appeared first, and I read it first and have no recollection what drew me to it. I’ve since read it twice more, most recently three years ago before I decided to read the other five again, as well. I recall that years after reading Moviegoer a reporter colleague at the newspaper that employed us recommended either The Last Gentleman or The Second Coming, and I read the one she suggested, which hooked me so thoroughly I then read the others on my own, as well as articles and interviews and Percy’s nonfiction books.
This time around my Percy reading hopped to and fro until I came to the two my colleague recommended decades ago. I chose The Second Coming because at this point I remembered enough of it to know it was my favorite of them all, despite the fact it’s the sequel to The Last Gentleman, which I intend to read next, and finally, one more time, The Moviegoer.
There. That said (I hate that expression), I remembered liking Coming best because of the protagonist’s quirky romance with a young woman he discovers while hunting an errant golf ball in a woods near his home and abutting the golf course. I almost wrote “literally stumbles upon” because he’d been falling down of late, and possibly had fallen again in the woods moments before he finds her living in an abandoned greenhouse there. I don’t remember all of the falling down episodes other than that most of them occur on or near the golf course. He’s approaching middle age and experiencing the existential (psychological and philosophical) torments characteristic of Percy’s male characters, and the young woman has escaped from a mental hospital.
The Second Coming was described in a Christian Science Monitor review as “a comedy shot through with serious observations.” That’s a fine description, which I could have paraphrased without crediting its author, Elizabeth Muther, but I wanted an excuse to link you to her review, which is better than anything I might write here. (It’s not that I’m humble, just...well, I think it’s dumb to try to reinvent wheels that have been around thirty-seven years by people who invent such things for a living. So I won’t do a plot synopsis or a philosophical analysis of Coming or rave about Percy’s cleverly satiric approach to his favorite theme: the search for meaning in a social culture that stifles individual awakening in a hothouse atmosphere of stale routine and expectations, other than to note that his caricatures of moneyed Southern archetypes are either dead-on or seem so because he’s such a damned good writer and the only vivid exposure I’ve had to moneyed Southern archetypes is from his damned good writing—even though I’ve lived in Virginia for nearly half a century.)
That said (Jesus, I hate that expression!), what drew me to Coming this time was the recollection of the romance between the falling-miserable-moneyed-slowly-going-nuts protagonist (with whom I identified—as always) and the nubile-amnesiac-slowly-exhibiting-sanity greenhouse dweller who hits it off with him (me). I’m discovering more and more that my long-held notion of being an encrusted, oh-yeah cynical newsman was something of a sham and am trying to hang onto at least some of that protective illusion by resisting my subliminal, puerile romantic inclinations inch by hard-fought inch, yet I enthusiastically gave myself a mulligan on this one, because, well, it’s Percy, what the hell. (And the girl “smells good.”)

I always give you, my faithful readers, a quote or two to both stretch out these reports a tad to make room for the illustrations, as well as to give you a taste of the author’s style. Writers are always told to “show, don’t tell,” so instead of telling you, as do most of the professionals, about an author’s craftsmanship, wit, grace, what have you, here’s a typical sampling. It not only covers all of the bases mentioned in the above sentence, it addresses an aspect of Percy’s work that invariably appears in critiques of his work, i.e. his Roman Catholicism, to which he converted and defended eloquently ever since. He keeps it sly and indirect in his fiction, and is not afraid to poke a little fun at the religious. Here’s what I mean:
IT WAS A FINE SUNDAY morning. The foursome teed off early and finished before noon. He drove through town on Church Street. Churchgoers were emerging from the eleven-o’clock service. As they stood blinking and smiling in the brilliant sunlight, they seemed without exception well-dressed and prosperous, healthy and happy. He passed the following churches, some on the left, some on the right: the Christian Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of Christ in God, Assembly of God, Bethel Baptist Church, Independent Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church.
Two signs pointing down into the hollow read: African Methodist Episcopal Church, 4 blocks; Starlight Baptist Church, 8 blocks.
One sign pointing up to a pine grove on the ridge read: St. John o’ the Woods Episcopal Church, 6 blocks.
He lived in the most Christian nation in the world, the U.S.A., in the most Christian part of that nation, the South, in the most Christian state in the South, North Carolina.”
The title? Oh, that. Percy and I (via his protagonist, Will Barrett) have a little fun with the biblical notion of End Times. Nothing serious...I think.


[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

LANCELOT – Walker Percy

It wouldn't have taken much over the forty years since Walker Percy's Lancelot first appeared to say the novel has gained in critical appraisal. Even damning with faint praise would have improved on its sneering dismissal in 1977 by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, who reviewed it for The New York Times. “...if it is true that Lancelot Lamar is not Walker Percy,” Lehmann-Haupt wrote, “then it is one of the very few respects in which this novel works as fiction.”

Lehmann-Haupt (I despise him alone for his pompous byline) thus concludes his review, which took nose-wrinkling offense at the “upsetting ideas” propounded by the novel’s hateful, murderous, bigoted “Southern gentleman” narrator Lancelot Andrewes Lamar, who is imprisoned throughout Percy’s fourth novel.
I, of course, did not read Lancelot with a critical eye. If I even have a critical eye it’s undoubtedly stunted and rarely if ever involved in my literary experiences. To me the idea of reading with an elevated pinky is akin to an academic exercise, likely to distract me from becoming absorbed in the experience. With Lancelot, though, I find I cannot avoid agreeing to a certain degree with the disagreeable Lehmann-Haupt. This is because I invariably identify with narrators and/or protagonists in novels, and it was a bit of a stretch for me to do so with the hateful, murderous, bigoted “Southern gentleman” Lancelot Andrewes Lamar. Nonetheless, the SOB fascinated me. I suspect this was because I felt Walker Percy’s presence in the guise of his main character walking a perilously high, thin wire, with his less admirable and his better selves on opposite ends of the balancing pole. Taking this risk, perhaps, that we might test our own balance on the same wire, with our own pole.
And there are a lot of distractions: wind gusts, birds flying too close, hecklers, rock throwers, the need to sneeze, pee—so much to jar our equilibrium. This, in 1977, seems nearer than ever to buffeting us into the void, this notion the U.S. is “down the drain. Everyone knows it. The people have lost it to the politicians, bureaucrats, drunk Congressmen, lying Presidents, White House preachers, C.I.A., F.B.I., Mafia, Pentagon, pornographers, muggers, buggers, bribers, bribe takers, rich crooked cowboys, sclerotic Southerners, rich crooked Yankees, dirty books, dirty movies, dirty plays, dirty talk shows, dirty soap operas, fags, lesbians, abortionists, Jesus shouters, anti-Jesus shouters, dying cities, dying schools, courses in how to fuck for schoolchildren.”
I had to check back with my Kindle edition of Lancelot to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently copied the above from something shouted during our last national election season. Sure enough, it’s a diatribe erupting from “Southern gentleman” Lancelot Andrewes Lamar in his long-winded (book-length), evidently uninterrupted monologue to “Percival”, a psychiatrist-priest he’s known since childhood. We see Percival speaking only at the novel’s very end, and then only answering questions from Lamar, and with only “yes” or “no”.
I read the diatribe cringing, of course, because of my inability not to identify with protagonists, but also finding myself agreeing with parts of Lancelot’s indictment. This ambivalence continued for me throughout the book.

Blogger Tom Conoboy, in a more recent (and more literary than this) revisit of Lancelot, says, “Percy creates a caricature to test how far one can go before a simple alienation from the modern slides into nihilism. Like Flannery O’Connor with Hazel Motes (although more convincingly), he tries to view the world through the eyes of someone who has become irreconcilably repulsed by it. Certainty becomes madness, rightful indignation rots into evil: in a world untouched by grace, Percy is telling us, only pain may reside, and only evil may obtain.”
Before he goes literary on us, comparing Lancelot with Camus’s The Fall, Conoboy gives us “the simplistic view,” suggesting that Percy might bedispatching us all to hell, with no hope of redemption whatever. However, the remarkable ending makes clear that Percy believes, on the contrary, that redemption is within our grasp.” Not surprising, as we know Percy is a Catholic and that the possibility of spiritual redemption is never completely out of the picture in his work.
I might clarify that were Lancelot merely a philosophical puzzle simplistically disguised as a novel you would not be reading this review, as I would not have finished the book. It’s the fourth of Percy’s six novels I’ve read more than once. I liked it probably superficially the first time, when it came out, and I liked it in more depth this time. This time I had the advantage of forty additional years of life, as well as having read everything I could find by Percy at least once, and having some time back bought a cheap park bench for sitting under our pecan trees trying to capture the relaxed, sardonic feeling Percy suggests in the publicity photos showing him sprawled on similar park benches. (if this seems a tad over the top for a grown man’s admiration of another grown man, consider this, which I found on the Wiki page devoted to Percy: “As young men, Percy and [lifelong friend Shelby] Foote decided to pay their respects to William Faulkner by visiting him in Oxford, Mississippi. But when they arrived at his home, Percy was so in awe of the literary giant that he could not bring himself to speak to him. He later recounted how he could only sit in the car and watch while Foote and Faulkner had a lively conversation on the porch.” Quite certain I’d have been equally dumbstruck by a similar opportunity to speak to Walker Percy.)
But back to Lancelot Andrewes Lamar, whom I should also despise because of his pompous name, but could not because I had to identify with him. And he really wasn’t that hard to identify with despite the tortured logic of his outrage. He’s a well-spoken, genteel Southern aristocrat from a defunct old family, known mainly for having run a punted football 110 yards for a touchdown against mighty Alabama. He’s been confined to a cell in a mental hospital for a year when we listen in on his book-long confession to the silent Percival. We learn incrementally several tangible things about Lancelot, that before his confinement he was an indifferent lawyer and that he lost his marbles when he discovered that the daughter he thought was his by his current (second) wife was fathered by someone else.
We learn by increments the agonizing steps Lancelot and his wife took from the moment he learned of his cuckoldry to the happening that landed him in the cell.

I learned something provocative as a coda to the novel, in a comment someone posted anonymously on the Conoboy essay. Some might consider it a spoiler, but I read it before finishing my second read of Lancelot, and it introduced a whole ‘nother way to look at the story: “In 1987, I wrote to Walker Percy, reporting that I'd seen a first edition copy of The Moviegoer priced at $600. I also asked about the accuracy of my speculation that the novel, Lancelot, ended with the priest prepared to confess that he was the father of the character, Siobhan.
In a single-leaf, handwritten letter with his rubber-stamped letterhead, Mr. Percy replied on May 29, 1987:

Dear Kevin-
You should have picked up that Moviegoer at $600 if it was in good shape. In NYC last month, I ran into a guy who paid $1500 for one-For odd lesser known books of mine, I'd advise getting in touch with John Evans, Lemuria Bookstore, Highland Village, Jackson, Miss.
In answer to your question re Siobhan: Would you believe I don't remember? I never read a novel once it is written, being sick to death with it. I'll take your version though. It must be so.
Kevin” adds, “To me, it explains much of the story.” I wouldn’t go so far, but it adds a dimension I’m still considering.
Might have to read the damned book yet again!

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


When Walker Percy's sixth and final novel came out in 1987 it ran into some serious critical flak. I recall being surprised that anything by an author whose work had completely won my admiration, and, it had seemed to me, was admired universally, would be derided so severely. "Clumsy plot," said Michiko Kakutani of The Thanatos Syndrome. She was just warming up. The New York Times's notorious hatchet woman went on to pan the plot as “a succession of ill-connected and all too obvious scenes.” The novel, she said, lacked Percy’s earlier “fierceness of language and imagination. It stands, in the end, as one of the weakest efforts of one of our most talented and original authors.”
Michiko Kakutani

Kakutani’s chagrin, and that of other, less prominent critics, had no effect on me. I bought Thanatos, read it, and loved it. I’ve just read it again, and now I know why Percy’s usual literati champions dumped on this one. It has a plot! It has danger and suspense! It’s—gasp--a thriller! It also has one of the most gut-busting, thigh-slapping, laugh-out-loud scenes I have ever read. So funny I can easily imagine self-consciously literary snobs who either missed or ignored the reviews spilling their Chablis after blundering aghast into the X-rated Saturday Night Live-caliber climax that wraps up the central story. True, I didn’t need the anti-climatic, extended epilogue scenes, i.e. what happened to the characters afterward yadda yadda. But I was still laughing as I read them, so no harm done.

Though Thanatos sequels Love in the Ruins, Percy’s third novel, it comes sixteen years and two novels after Ruins. It is uncertain how much time has elapsed between the narratives, but Thanatos picks up with protagonist Tom More just released on parole after spending two years in a federal prison for selling drugs illegally to long-distance truck drivers. His parole is a mere formality, loosely monitored by two former psychiatrist colleagues who allow him to return to his practice. Strange behavior by two of his patients and others, including his wife, soon nudge him to team up with his kissing cousin, Lucy, an epidemiologist, to investigate. Their digging uncovers a secret rogue project to test a powerful psychoactive chemical on unsuspecting civilians. Running the unauthorized government-funded project is one of More’s parole-monitoring colleagues, Bob Comeaux, who threatens to revoke More’s parole and send him back to prison unless he backs off. Comeaux tries to persuade More that the chemical, called heavy sodium, has already proven in the “pilot project” it can greatly reduce crime, anxiety, depression, and other social anomalies by “cooling” the superego and boosting the ego by increasing endorphin production.

No drugs,” says Comeaux, “except our own—we’re talking natural highs. Energies are freed up instead of being inhibited!”
He tells More heavy sodium treatments of the L.S.U. football team has turned the players into supermen. The team, he says, “has not had a point scored against them, and get this, old Tom, has not given up a single first down this season.” Also, he adds, L.S.U. engineering students no longer need calculators, because with the sodium treatments, “they’ve got their own built-in calculators.” 
More responds noncommittally as Comeaux unrolls his exhaustive sales pitch hailing heavy sodium as the cure for a better, brighter, healthier society. When he’s finished, he asks More if he has any questions. More then abruptly changes course with a blunt question about the euthanasia practices of a facility Comeaux runs: “Are you still disposing of infants and old people in your Qualitarian Centers?”
Unfair,” Comeaux squawks, and this might be one of the “clumsy” narrative maneuvers Michiko Kakutani had in mind in her downbeat review. Nor can I disagree. More’s question seems to come out of the blue, with no immediate relevance to the heavy sodium project. Yet it fits a fundamental theme in all of Percy’s work, that the spiritual malaise poisoning society cannot be treated as a societal problem, that ideological solutions, such as Nazism and Communism, have proven too dangerous, and that it’s up to individuals to find their own salvation.
The oracle Percy uses to convey this message in Thanatos is Father Simon Rinaldo Smith, a former parish priest who refuses to come down from a fire tower after losing to Comeaux the hospice he’d been running. Father Smith delivers the shocking conclusion Percy has voiced consistently in his work that “tenderness is the first disguise of the murderer.”

He explains: “If you are a lover of Mankind in the abstract like Walt Whitman, who wished the best for Mankind, you will probably do no harm and might even write good poetry and give pleasure…
If you are a theorist of Mankind like Rousseau or Skinner, who believes he understands man’s brain and in the solitariness of his study or laboratory writes books on the subject, you are also probably harmless and might even contribute to human knowledge…
But if you put the two together, a lover of Mankind and a theorist of Mankind, what you’ve got now is Robespierre or Stalin or Hitler and the Terror, and millions dead for the good of Mankind.”
Odd for one who professed faith in Catholicism as the only reasonable cure for what ails us, Percy conveniently omits the Inquisition from Father Smith’s warning. Also curious is Percy’s mistrust of emotion, including the shedding of tears. If something cannot meet the test of scientific reasoning—except, of course, for the audacious leap of faith to believe in the Catholic god—then, he seems to say, it is too soft to trust, either discounting or overlooking the significance of the Bible’s shortest sentence: “Jesus wept.”
Tom More’s own outlook has changed much in the years between the two novels. In Ruins, a fairly broad social satire, he starts out leaning toward the social engineering side of things, having invented a device that could diagnose spiritual ills by measuring certain areas of the brain. His eye is on winning a Nobel Prize if he can include a treatment feature, as well. Along comes a mysterious character, obviously representing Satan, who does just that, modifying More’s device. But the “treatment” has the same effect as Bob Comeaux’s heavy sodium, reducing people to their baser instincts, resulting, of course, in hellish catastrophe.
By now More has given up on his Nobel quest. He’s content to treat his patients the old-fashioned, sessions-on-the-couch way. Prison, he says, was good for him:
Prison works wonders for vanity in general and for the secret sardonic derisiveness of doctors in particular. All doctors should spend two years in prison. They’d treat their patients better, as fellow flawed humans. In a word, prison restored my humanity if not my faith. I still don’t know what to make of God, don’t give Him, Her, It a second thought, but I make a good deal of people, give them considerable thought. Not because I’m more virtuous, but because I’m more curious. I listen to them carefully, amazed at the trouble they get into and how few quit. People are braver than one might expect.”

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

LOVE IN THE RUINS – Walker Percy

My love affair with Walker Percy has only just begun, despite my having read—at least once--everything I could find that he wrote and that's been written about him. In the early days of my acquaintance with Percy, several decades ago, I even bought a cheap park bench and sprawled on it langorously from time to time under our pecan trees, trying to feel like he looks in one or more book jacket photos and in many Walker Percy magazine features. I probably should not have disclosed this pathetic fact, and surely wouldn't have were it not my intention to impress upon you how deep and lasting an impact Percy has made on my psyche.

I believe I read his first novel, The Moviegoer, first. If so, I have no recollection of whatever or whoever prompted me to read it. I've since read it twice more, each time finding so much more in the writing it was as if I was reading it again for the first time. Some years went by after that actual first reading before I read another of his novels, this time recommended by a friend. It was either The Last Gentleman or Love in the Ruins. This was years ago. Of all the other Percy works besides Moviegoer, Ruins is the only one I've reread. As with my rereads of Moviegoer, while I found Ruins familiar the second time around, I saw much I'd had no inkling of before.

Percy’s novels are layered with meanings that start at the top level with a male narrator and his immediate crisis. Before long, pursuing a resolution to his crisis, he takes us down the elevator through levels of social malaise and its philosophical/Christian interpretations. Percy, who had joined the Catholic Church, considered himself a “wayfaring” Christian, which was a mix of philosophy and faith. I came to understand this more by reading about him than reading his novels, but with the rereads thus far it’s obvious his wayfaring search for a satisfying life based on belief in the New Testament is very much a part of the fabric of both novels. In Ruins, which has an added satiric layer, there’s even an obvious Devil character. Percy balances absurdity with a commonplace surface feel of moving through perilous terrain with signs everywhere pointing to darkness ahead. The opening scene of Ruins kicks things off and sets the tone:

Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?

Two more hours should tell the story. One way or the other. Either I am right and a catastrophe will occur, or it won’t and I’m crazy. In either case the outlook is not so good.

Here I sit, in any case, against a young pine, broken out in hives and waiting for the end of the world. Safe here for the moment though, flanks protected by a rise of ground on the left and an approach ramp on the right. The carbine lies across my lap.

Just below the cloverleaf, in the ruined motel, the three girls are waiting for me.

Undoubtedly something is about to happen.

Or is it that something has stopped happening?

The psychiatrist narrator is a “collateral” descendant of his apparently coincidental namesake, Sir (Saint) Thomas More, the 16th century lord high chancellor of England executed by order of Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church of England. At his execution, More reportedly said, "I die the King's good servant, and God's first." Dr. Tom More, immobilized by Satan incarnate Art Immelman, calls upon his ancestor to banish Immelman as he approaches More’s secretary Ellen to make off with her: “’Don’t touch her!’ I cry, but I can’t seem to move. I close my eyes. Sir Thomas More, kinsman, saint, best dearest merriest of Englishmen, pray for us and drive this son of a bitch hence. I open my eyes.

“Art is turning slowly away, wheeling in slow motion, a dazed hurt look through the eyes as if he had been struck across the face.”

More holds Ellen tight as they watch Immelman vanish into swirling smoke.

Immelman’s the cause of the catastrophe More awaits in the beginning of Love in the Ruins. Having appeared mysteriously and affixed himself seemingly to More’s every move, he has subverted More’s invention—a brain-scanning diagnostic tool—by affixing a treatment element he’s using to arouse people’s basest desires. More fears Immelman’s misuse of the tool over the deep salt deposits under the local golf course will release a heavy sodium cloud from which “an unprecedented fallout of noxious particles will settle hereabouts and perhaps in other places as well.

“The effects of the evil particles are psychic rather than physical,” More tells us. “They do not burn the skin and rot the marrow; rather do they inflame and worsen the secret ills of the spirit and rive the very self from itself. If a man is already prone to anger, he’ll go mad with rage. If he lives affrighted, he will quake with terror. If he’s already abstracted from himself, he’ll be sundered from himself and roam the world like Ishmael.”

As to More’s apocalyptic fear, I can tell you that, yes, all hell does break loose at one point in the complicated, politically, religiously, and socially fragmented community where the story is set. Looking back five years later, these days would be referred to as The Trouble. All is not well five years later, though, and we leave off with Dr. More married to one of the “three girls” holed up in the ruined motel, living contentedly and working to enable his diagnostic tool for curing spiritual ills instead of turning people into beasts.

Sort of a happy ending, it would seem, at least for More, but with Percy’s obligatory ominous overtones for the rest of us.

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Had I read Anthony Hope back in the day—in fact as recently as a year ago—I'm obliged to hope I'd have been a tad more careful putting my heart in harm's way. Much wisdom Hope had in ways of the heart. So wise he'd have smiled knowingly at my hope and cited a line from one of his stories, The Virtuous Hypocrites: "the human heart is very wicked."
The story is part of a collection, Comedies of Courtship, which, had I read them several decades ago, should have given me long pause before placing myself in the position where pronouncing those obligatory words "I do" was the only honorable course. Futile pause, Hope would have counseled, with a nod at another line from Virtuous Hypocrites, only delaying the inevitable. The line, "At first sight they had as little reason for being unhappy as it is possible to have in a world half full of sorrow." Oh, yes. And as to the inevitable crash, yet another line offers a pummeled spirit this modicum of relief: "The only comfort was that shallow natures felt these sorrows less."
Fortunately, Hope knows when to relent, giving us lines like this that bust even the somberest of guts: "Oh, Mr. Ellerton, what shall we do? They're still in love with us!" This from the long awaited reveal scene in Virtuous Hypocrites, a clever minuet of a farce in which the lovers of one couple become a couple themselves quite incidentally, with signals delayed—fortuitously, perhaps, as it it turns out--by lost and misread letters.
The viability of Hope's lovers and wooers, and their beloved and wooed depends largely on their physical appearance, social standing, and wealth. The plain and poor need not apply. In only one story—The Lady of the Pool--did two characters come up short in the physical category. A nubile woman was described vaguely as "heavy", and the filthy rich wooer of the eponymous beautiful woman was ridiculed as froglike—short, squat and cursed with bulging eyes. Otherwise the women, if they're described at all, are simply "beautiful" while the men are tall, broad-shouldered, curly haired and blue-eyed. These were Victorian times, when literature danced delicately around anything that might even have hinted at female physicality beyond blushing faces or sparkling eyes. Nonetheless, with Hope's crafty wit and evident understanding of the human beast, we are permitted rich reading between the lines.

When romantic conniving is involved, women are the slyest, and therefore the most apt to succeed. Trix Queenborough, the object of male desire in The Curate of Poltons, is by far the foxiest of them all. She has, Hope writes, “a bowing acquaintance with her conscience.”
In a conversation with the narrator, a friend but not a suitor, Trix asks what's on his mind:
"I was thinking-," said I, "which I would rather be--the man you will marry, or the man you would like."
"How dare you? It's not true,” she exclaims. “Oh, Mr. Wynne, indeed it's not true!"
But of course Mr. Wynne has hit the nail squarely upon its head.
In A Three-Volume Novel, a seemingly modest but otherwise eminently eligible young man, confronted with the usual feminine wiles, is the one who gets to pick, and, in my opinion, picks the right one.
The eponymous young man in The Philosopher in the Apple Orchard, shares his methodical wisdom with the story's ingenue, advising her to pick one of the two hypothetical bachelors she's eyeing for marriage. Going against her own desire, she takes his advice. In my opinion, there really was no choice.

Dulcissima, a strong, righteous woman, defies The Decree of Duke Deodonato, resisting the duke's order that she marry the hideous Fusbius, the first man to propose to her, as per the decree.
"This day in your Duchy women are slaves, and men their masters by your will," she tells, I mean the duke.
"It is the order of nature," said Deodonato.
"It is not my pleasure," said the damsel.
Then Deodonato laid his hand on his silver bell, for he was very angry. "Fusbius waits without," said he.
"I will wed him and kill him," cried Dulcissima.
Happy ending? Well...of course!

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]