An early 20th-century Bridget Jones

As I’ve mentioned, I worried about what I would do for comfort reading during My Year in 1918. Sure, I love Edith Wharton, and I look forward to discovering some of her lesser-known works. But what if I’m not in the mood for finely wrought prose? What if my brain is fried and I just want to relax?

Well, having just finished The Melting of Molly by Maria Thompson Daviess, the #4 fiction bestseller of 1912, I can put that worry to rest. Molly Carter is an early 20th-century Bridget Jones, a ditzy diarist obsessed with men and weight loss. Bridget starts every diary entry by noting her weight and calorie consumption, but Molly doesn’t have to count calories, since she’s on a crash diet that requires her to eat the same thing every day. Here’s her daily fare:

  • Breakfast: one slice of dry toast, one egg, fruit and a tablespoonful of baked cereal, small cup of coffee, no sugar, no cream.
  • Dinner: one small lean chop, slice of toast, spinach, green beans and lettuce salad.
  • Supper: slice of toast and an apple. (“Why the apple?” Molly mourns. “Why supper at all?”)

Molly’s a more successful dieter than Bridget—she drops over thirty pounds in three months or so, and somehow doesn’t end up with scurvy. But she’s just as confused about her love life. Where Bridget’s romantic tribulations are modeled on Pride and Prejudice, though, Molly’s story seems to be inspired by Emma.

Married off to a rich older man at eighteen after her true love abandons her to join the diplomatic corps, Molly is widowed at age twenty-four. The story begins a year later, with her old flame announcing that he’s coming to town as she prepares to shuck off her widow’s weeds. Hence the crash diet—he expects her to greet him in his favorite blue muslin frock with the twenty-three inch waist. Meanwhile, she’s the mother figure to the five-year-old son of the widowed doctor next door, who keeps a fatherly eye on her (and prescribes the crash diet). Other suitors materialize, including a pompous judge and Molly’s rakish cousin Tom, who showers her with not-so-brotherly kisses. If you don’t see where this is going from the beginning, well, you’re not paying much attention, and you definitely haven’t read Emma.

Maria Thompson Daviess at home (public domain photo, digitized by Google)

The Melting of Molly is no forgotten literary classic. Molly’s feelings for the doctor veer abruptly between love and hate, often in a single sentence, for no apparent reason other than to keep the suspense going. The arrival of Molly’s former beau, which the whole book builds up to, ends up being a non-event. And Molly’s ruminations can be difficult to follow at times, unless that’s just 21st-century me. The Melting of Molly was one of fifteen novels Daviess wrote between 1909 and 1918, and this torrid pace may explain the less-than stellar writing.

Still, I’m glad those other fourteen books are out there. I’ll have plenty to keep myself entertained between Edith Wharton novels.

One thought on “An early 20th-century Bridget Jones

  1. Barbara Dinerman

    This is fabulous! And the blog will keep me on my toes (even though I’m usually sitting down when reading). From melting to meltdowns, these 100 years have so much history, and you’re the one to illuminate it all. Crash diets in 1918 — I’d have a sore mouth from all that dry toast. Of course, one can see why the ditzy diarist should lose weight; rather portly, I’d say, more like a 35-inch waist. Such details and literary comparisons will keep me all agog for this time-well-spent blog. Congrats on a great beginning!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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