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Project Project Gutenberg: B is for The Bars of Iron

July 18, 2009

[Project:  Project Gutenberg–where I’m reading and reviewing public-domain fiction from Project Gutenberg from A to Z]

It’s so, so hot here that I can hardly bear to breathe.  The amorous slugs you see above had the energy to contemplate the making of baby slugs late last night, which gives me some questions about the word sluggish.  I barely had the energy to contemplate the slugs.  But I wasn’t going to let even the ungodly heat stand in the way of Project Project Gutenberg.  .  .

So.  The Bars of Iron, by Ethel M. Dell (1916).  Holy cow.  This was a bit of a surprise.

The Bars of Iron is the most spank-o-licious novel you’ll ever read that wasn’t written by Pauline Reage or the Marquis de Sade.  So be prepared.  I, for one, did not expect a novel written in 1916 to include a scene in which an elderly man  storms into the bathroom to inspect the god-like, naked, and dripping wet body of the boy he just finished flogging.  Particularly since it’s his grandson he’s checking out.

There’s also a nearly fatal beating of a dog, one manslaughter by jujitsu, a couple of attempted murders, a marital rape, protracted child abuse by a clergyman (again with the beatings!) which leads to the agonizing death of one child, and two dead babies.  The Great War comes as quite a relief–the carnage slows quite a bit once our hero enlists.

Oh, did I mention this is a romance novel?  By one of the most popular novelists of the period?

The length of the novel (monumental) makes it difficult to summarize, but the heart of the conflict of the novel is this:  as a teenager, our hero accidentally-on-purpose kills a drunkard in a fist fight in Australia, using a jujitsu trick; although he is filled with remorse, he doesn’t get any better at controlling his temper.  Later, he falls in love with and marries the widow of the man he killed.  He knows he’s responsible for her husband’s death.  She doesn’t.  Still later, she  finds out by accident about both the murder and his concealment of it, and the two are estranged.  After he enlists and is nearly killed, she forgives him, and then it turns out he’s also become a Christian, so all is well.

The Bars of Iron was exhausting.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  If things don’t pick up soon here at PPG Headquarters, I’m going to be one sad little reader . . . but I refuse to give up. We’ve got 24 more chances!

Next time:  The Crimson Blind (1905), by Fred M. White.  (I took a look at The Comrade in White –but instead of being a socialist retelling of a Wilkie Collins novel, it was a collection of stories about soldiers who saw Jesus in the trenches, poor things.)

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