Wallflowers is a 1920s romance novel classic. Penned by the prolific Temple Bailey in 1927, this relatively widely read romance was reprinted by Grosset and Dunlap in the 1920s and by Dell as a paperback in the 1940s.
Reviewed here is the Penn Publishing Company first edition, with R. Pallen Coleman dust jacket art, complete with the publisher’s promotional bookmark still attached. Also, a “R.H. Macy & Co. Inc.” imprint stamp graces the title page. A copy this beautiful and complete could only have come from one place, so my thanks are owed to Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books!
Unlike the past couple of 1930s romances I’ve read, Wallflowers is one of those longer, more melodramatic sagas. When the going gets tough, the main characters turn to prayer. Our protagonists are Sandra Claybourne (played by Jean Arthur in the 1928 silent movie adaptation!) and Theodora “Doady” Claybourne, who are living in Washington, D.C., along with their mother.
Wallflowers reflects the changing of the times, contrasting the sentimental wistfulness of yesteryear with the more modern and practical ways of the 1920s. Sandra daydreams on balconies while Doady immediately gets a job at an antiques store and practices her image in society. Wallflowers is but a moment in time, and the novel starts off with the hero, Rufus Fiske, reminiscing about a “bleak March day” when he had attended (Theodore) Roosevelt’s inauguration. Bailey introduces Rufus with a nod to the past and our second hero, Gale Markham, with a nod to the future. Gale’s present moment of first seeing the twins warps into the future’s past as, “He was not aware that she had made more than a slight impression on his mind, yet years after, when he thought of her, it was as she had appeared to him then, a slender, smiling child clothed in a pink frock as became her youth.” All that about the sister he doesn’t end up with!
Rufus Fiske and Gale Markham are as different from each other as Sandra and Theodora and they each come with their own melodramatic plot line. Gale Markham salvages the twins’ evening at a party where Sandra and Doady awkwardly realize they are wallflowers. He is comfortable and friendly but has a riches-to-rags story, complete with the socialite ex-fiance who is still very much in his life. Whereas Gale, “was not handsome, was not graceful,” Rufus is described as being incredibly good looking and is used to swooning women. Rufus’ plot involves an evil step-mother and family heirlooms, which naturally has turned him into a jaded, brooding character that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in one of today’s young adult novels.
Griselda the cat is one of the many elements that draw Sandra and Rufus’ story together with Gale and Theodora’s. Sandra is drawn to Rufus in part because she is “enchanted” by his cat and thinks that Griselda is a cute name for the beast. Rufus dumps both Sandra and the cat at one point, and I honestly judged him more for leaving the cat behind. Griselda also brings Gale and Theodora together as Theodora trips and falls on a decoration that the cat had dislodged on a set of stairs. Being a 1920s novel, Doady of course then faints in Gale’s arms. No other ending would do.