Collecting obscure authors from yesteryear presents many joys and challenges. Some of those challenges include locating copies of titles, or finding much about the author’s life.
Mabel McElliott wrote short stories and a handful of articles of newspapers during the 1920s and starting in 1931, wrote a novel each year for newspaper syndication: Love Feud (1931), The Man Hunters (1932), Darling Fool (1933), Married Flirts (1934), and Summer Sweethearts (1935). The newspaper syndication of the stories varied in appearance from newspaper to newspaper. For example, some newspapers included photos of a cast of characters, while others had text-only versions of the stories, sometimes to be found adjacent to the comics section. It also meant that these stories were divided up into smaller segments than those serialized in magazine and pulp publications. While I can’t find any evidence that her final novel was published, I’m pleased to share that I own a dust jacketed copy of each of her four published books.
This brings me to the other bit of information I found about Mabel McElliott: her New York Times obituary is terrible. Per the convention of the era, she doesn’t even get her own name, and her accomplishments are downplayed. The headline reads, “Mrs. R.W. Clarke, Wife of Daily News Editor.” Also, from the article, “Mrs. Clarke was the author of two novels.” Excuse me? I’m pretty sure that Mabel McElliott’s FOUR published novels are in my collection, with the fifth novel partially saved from a newspaper database in fragments on my computer. This may have led to a mini Twitter rant, and I’m honestly considering sending a correction to the New York Times.
This summer, I read Mabel McElliott’s first novel, Love Feud. I snagged my copy way back in 2011, and have always found the Mach Tey dust jacket somewhat awkward yet delightful. As a novel, it’s not great, but I’ve definitely read worse. The main character, Liane Barrett, reads as childlike and frustratingly naive. Also, it’s like the author wasn’t sure which book she was writing and threw dozens of plot points very quickly at the wall to see which would stick. The book is busy, but without being exciting. Tropes that I’ve seen used to bring other novels to a dramatic climax are simply another episode in Love Feud: a dramatic crime scene with guns, a blackmailing attempt, a kidnapping, a marriage of convenience, running away from said marriage and nearly starving to death, etc. There’s also an entire sub-plot about Liane’s guardian being her aunt rather than her mother, with her estranged father’s family wealth waiting to be inherited by the end of the novel.
Love Feud opens with Cass Barrett, an aging stage actress, raising eighteen year old Liane while barely scraping by. A wealthy patron of theater, Mrs. Cleespaugh, offers Cass a summer job at a theater in the fictional Willow Stream, Long Island, and by extension Liane works at the theater’s box office. Once in Willow Stream, the cast of characters is slowly introduced including Liane’s spoiled coworker, Muriel Ladd, as well as the handsome and mysterious Van Robard. Upon hearing that Liane has met Van, Cass is horrified and makes Liane promise never to speak to him again. This only sparks Liane’s curiosity and the promise is swiftly broken. Various episodes during the summer include the theater getting held up at gunpoint. At the end of the summer, Mrs. Cleespaugh offers to let Liane stay with her as a companion and the Barretts accept.
The love feud of Love Feud is more like a love square, or possibly some other polygon, only without much love. Clive Cleespaugh wishes to marry Liane to fulfill the terms of a wacky will which stipulates that he’ll only inherit his great wealth if he marries before turning twenty-five. However, Tressa Lord would prefer to marry into the Cleespaugh fortune herself. Meanwhile, Liane has a “case” (i.e. crush) on playboy Van Robard and only agrees to marry Clive because Van Robard becomes engaged to Muriel Ladd, who in turn elopes with Chuck Desmond.
About the middle third of Love Feud follows the various antics and shenanigans that Tressa Lord tries to thwart Liane from marrying Clive. She tries to have Liane blackmailed, but Liane’s police friend runs the blackmailers out of town. She has Liane kidnapped, but the kidnappers are pursued and Liane escapes. She resorts to putting a thumbtack in one of the tires of the Cleespaugh family car and arranging for Van Robard to rescue a stranded Liane from the side of the road. Finally, on Liane’s wedding day, she gives Liane a note from Van Robard and implores Liane to go to him. None of these plans work out, and Liane marries Clive without any expectation of romance.
What follows is then one of the more discontented marriage of convenience plot lines. Liane continues to pine after Van Robard. It’s revealed that Van Robard is Liane’s half-step-brother. When that’s somehow not an instant and complete dealbreaker, Van Robard’s character is abruptly killed off in a drunk driving accident. Liane reacts by running away for six weeks, working in the stocking department of a large store until she faints from hunger and exhaustion. She’s reunited with Clive, but they’re still miserably contemplating divorce.
Liane and Clive’s happy ending comes from an unlikely source. When Tressa Lord returns to make a final play for Clive, she unintentionally drives Clive and Liane together. They declare their feelings for each other and continue their marriage, but no longer as a business arrangement. The novel ends with a time jump and Muriel paying a social call to Liane and admiring Liane’s newly born baby.
Copies of other Grosset and Dunlap romances can be found here.