It is time for me to eat my words, kind of. One year ago today, on December 30, 2012, I wrote about mid-late 1930s romance novels in my post about You Can’t Eat Orchids, where I clearly stated that these books were somewhat out of my collecting scope and that I had no intention of adding any more to my collection. Any equivocation in that paragraph is a nod to the fact that even then, I realized I’d probably have to take those words back. In 2013, since writing that I had no intention of adding any of those mid-late 1930s books to the collection, I have acquired no fewer than NINE books published from 1934 to 1939.
One of those books is Hotel Hostess by Faith Baldwin, published in 1938. The text itself for Hotel Hostess isn’t terribly uncommon, as it was reprinted by Triangle Books, Bantam, and even was reprinted in the twenty-first century by Thorndike. It isn’t one of Faith Baldwin’s best known titles, but it certainly isn’t the most obscure. What drew me to this copy was that it is the original Farrar & Rinehart edition, and between the dust jacket art and the plot summary that was in this title’s catalog listing, I could not resist. The hairstyle depicted on the dust jacket also may have been a determining factor.
Hotel Hostess starts with Judith Gillmore doing math on a bus when she suddenly spots an old friend who she hasn’t seen in many years. We learn that Judith is down on her luck but on her way to try for the job of hotel hostess at the Rivermount Hotel. This is used as a expository plot device so that we are caught up on the last few years of Judith’s life. Then she runs into an old acquaintance at the train station on the way to the Rivermount and they catch up on the townspeople of Hillhigh. The repetitive introductory set-ups serve to introduce the reader to the characters, but makes the first thirty or so pages a little clunky.
The story picks up when Judith gets the job as social director, or hotel hostess, of the Rivermount. It is unconventional for a woman as young as Judith to take on the role of social director, but she feels equipped with the correct wardrobe and attitude for the job.
Judith is essentially a babysitter to the cast of unusual characters that frequent the Rivermount resort: the constantly arguing elderly women, ill guests, shady “gentlemen” with dishonorable intentions, youth, the lonely set, the boss’ teenage daughter, and the village doctor. The “villain” of Hotel Hostess is Bert Wallace, whose wealthy parents hold a good deal of control over the resort. He gets a bad rap in the book, but I think he isn’t the worst shady suitor covered on this blog by a long shot. He’s about Judith’s age, he’s good looking, he arrives to help Judith during an emergency at her request, and he’s an old childhood friend. He is almost endearingly sleazy and is spectacularly obnoxious.
The hero, Bill Martin, has a lot in common with Dr. Caleb Powell of Men Forget: they are both hardworking countryside resort-affiliated doctors who take the protagonist on at least one house call. His terrible handwriting is mentioned at least twice. The obstacles keeping Judith from Bill are her lack of money and her rivalry with the resort director’s eighteen year old daughter.
Three melodramatic plot devices are thrown together, one right after the other, to wrap up the book. A hasty teenage elopement is foiled, Bert Wallace nearly gets himself and Judith killed, and a crazy cat lady aunt provides Bill Martin and Judith with a stable financial future. Overall this book is a rather light, straightforward read but with a handful of notable moments concerning money, women, and women’s place in contemporary society. 1938 publication date aside, this book is definitely “in scope” and provides insight into the slow evolution certain cliches. For example, “slapping complacent faces and hissing, ‘Sir, how dare you!’ had gone out of style a good many years ago. There were other ways.”