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WWI Reviews

A look into how WWI-based romance novels were received by reviewers

By Scout Rice (2023)

In this paper, I will discuss the reception of romance fiction novels written during World War I and published in the United States. I will argue that war-based romance fiction novels published during WWI received recognition and high praise because of their ability to portray the devastation and seriousness of war to American citizens. I will do this by analyzing the reviews of two romance novels published during the first half of WWI: My Heart’s Right There by Florence Barclay and The Splendid Chance by Mary Hastings Bradley. These reviews were written immediately following each novel’s publication and appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Boston Evening Transcript, as well as magazines such as The Dial and The General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

The first novel of discussion is My Heart’s Right There by Florence Barclay in 1914. Barclay, an Englishwoman, had previously garnered fame from her novel The Rosary which was the number one bestseller in 1910. With an established platform, Barclay felt the need to provide literature to her readers, despite the atrocities occurring in Europe around her. The Life of Florence L. Barclay: A study in personality, a book written by one of Barclay’s six daughters in 1921 after her death, discusses Barclay’s life and interests in depth. Regarding Barclay’s thoughts on WWI, the daughter wrote that Barclay felt “that a book from her pen could do so much to cheer the sad, the anxious, the suffering; that she ought to try and meet the needs of the great public that counted on her.”[1] With this sentiment, Barclay produced My Heart’s Right There, a short novel about a soldier who goes to war, leaving his family at home. He returns home wounded and recounts the tales of war to his family.

The first review is from The New York Times Book Review, a section of the New York Times published every Sunday. This review, published in the January 24, 1915 issue, appeared on a page titled “Current Fiction: G.K. Chesterton’s Detective, Books by Florence L. Barclay, H.W.C. Newte, and Others.” This alone establishes Barclay as an influential name in the literary scene as her name was listed first in the headline when five other authors with new novels appeared on the same page. The review offered no negative criticism of the plot or the writing itself. Instead, the bulk of the review focuses on Barclay’s success at writing a war tale that evokes strong patriotic emotions by the readers. The anonymous author of the review commented that “the aim of the author has been to put into personal form and so make all the more vivid the courage, the love of home, and the feeling toward his country of the British solider.”[2] Furthermore, while the US had not formally declared war in 1915, people were sympathetic to the war efforts occurring in England and finding ways to help. Most news articles published in this same issue of the NY Times are focused on the war occurring in Europe, and there was a subsection in the Book Review section titled “War and America.” This reviewer emphasized the importance of the British perspective seen in the book: “American readers will get a unique view, all the more interesting because of the author’s unconscious naivete in its presentation, of the psychology of the English working-man’s attitude toward the King and Queen.”[3] Barclay’s publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, published this novel in New York and London. Therefore, based on this reviewer’s analysis, I argue that while the plot focused on the British cause, the patriotic influence extended to those in the United States in a way that increased empathy for those on the front lines of the war.

The second review, “Mrs. Barclay Writes of War,” appeared in The Boston Evening Transcript on January 27, 1915 in a section titled “Books of the Day.” While short, this review focuses on the general plot and purpose of the book rather than critiquing the writing heavily. The reviewer describes the “simple little story” and the “meagre plot” as the foundation for promoting patriotic attitudes on the home front in England.[4] The lack of plot itself suggests that readers, like this reviewer, were captivated by emotion alone rather than a plot in the novel. The title, My Heart’s Right There, was a significant cultural reference to the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” performed first in Ireland in 1912. Jane Potter, the author of Boys in Khakis, Girls in Print: Women’s literary responses to the Great War 1914-1918, emphasizes the importance of the title and the reference to Tipperary as it “would have been familiar to any of its wartime readers… which quickly became one of the most popular marching tunes and an anthem for departing soldiers.”[5]  The Boston Evening Transcript reviewer also touches on the use of the “Tipperary title presumably to promote patriotism.” This creative decision in the publishing industry further emphasizes the use of the novel as a vehicle to promote patriotism. If contemporary readers, especially in the United States, did not understand the reference between song and book, the reviewer explicitly stated it, therefore increasing the patriotic meaning of the novel for the American reader.

The third review, “Authors as Recruiting Agents,” was published in The Independent on February 8, 1915. The Independent was a weekly magazine that started as a place to promote Congregationalism in the US and then expanded to cover political topics like abolitionism and women’s suffrage. This entire review, which appeared alongside other short reviews under a section titled “The New Books,” is short. There is no discussion of the plot in the review. Rather, the reviewer writes, “Even such slight stories as this, without a semblance of plot or incident, afford striking evidence of her power.” The reviewer demonstrates Barclay’s accolades and popularity in fiction by mentioning her other well-known titles at the time: The Rosary and The Wall of Partition. The reviewer further praises Barclay’s patriotic impact with her words by suggesting Barclay “ought to be a first rate recruiting agent for the British War Office.”[6] This review, by including her past works and commending her influence on the war efforts, suggests that the novel has the potential to move readers and establishes Barclay as a successful author. Dorothy Goldman, author of Women Writers and the Great War, a work that analyzes the contribution of various types of writing by women during WWI, discusses the evolution of romance due to the war. Goldman writes, “Such a revival of romance in war writing may at first appear to be a simple anachronism: the resuscitation of a genre that… could now lay claim to no more than a very narrow, fundamentally patriotic ideology.”[7] Clearly this review, along with the other two already discussed, supports Goldman’s claim that the war romance was a tool for promoting patriotic ideals. With reviews published in various cities in the US and an overall lack of negative critique about Barclay’s writing, I conclude that her novel received this recognition and celebration largely because of the strong emotions felt while reading, as these three reviewers each described.

The second novel of discussion is The Splendid Chance by Mary Hastings Bradley published in 1915 by D. Appleton & Co., in New York. Bradley, born in Chicago, was a writer and traveler. Throughout her life, she wrote numerous short stories, mysteries, and novels. Her commitment to the war effort was clear, as evidenced by not only her novel The Splendid Chance, but by her later contribution as a war correspondent during WWII in Italy, France, and Germany.[8] The Splendid Chance focuses on Katherine King, an American girl who turns down the proposal of a compatriot in order to study art in Paris, and Captain Jeffrey, a man Katherine meets on the steamer over. They fall in love, but then the war breaks out in Europe, Katherine becomes a nurse and watches Captain Jeffery die, thus leaving Katherine to heal her broken heart and she finds love again with a sculptor from Paris, an old friend of hers.[9]

The first review appeared in The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Magazine in August 1915 under the section “The Library Table” by Helen M. Winslow, an editor of the magazine at the time. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Magazine was based in Boston and released new magazines monthly. Winslow spends a large portion of the review providing a synopsis of the plot and the rest praising the work, providing no negative commentary. The emphasis on the plot is important for readers of the magazine to understand the buildup in the novel itself. After building up a perfect romance for half the novel, the war begins and the promised happy-ever-after between Katherine and Jeffery is disturbed. Winslow writes, “From this point the novel has an even greater interest, for the succeeding incidents are connected with the German ‘drive’ upon Paris, and bring home to us, as only the best ‘fiction’ can, the ‘facts’ of history, the terror of the German invasion, and the steadfast valor and self-sacrifice which met and turned it back.” The contents of the novel, while a romance story, are devastating. Having to watch a betrothed die in war is a heartbreaking event, evidenced by Winslow’s description of Katherine’s reaction to his death in the novel. However, Winslow calls the novel “timely and enjoyable.”[10] I argue that while a romance novel, the love for country was a central theme that was obvious to contemporary readers, as shown by Winslow’s positive review of the novel. Although Katherine’s happily-ever-after is not with Jeffrey, readers like Winslow felt connected to Katherine, Jeffrey, and their country. This serious depiction of the grave consequences of war led to sympathetic feelings from Americans like Winslow.

The second review, “The Splendid Chance,” was published in The New York Times Book Review on June 27, 1915 under a page titled “Modern Problems of Current Fiction.” The review was surrounded by other short reviews, many of which were also war-themed novels with titles such as Aunt Sarah and the War and The Enemy. This reviewer praises the novel for its ability to build up “a pretty romance” in the first half, only to have that love story shattered by war by “a bolt from the blue,” which allows a new romance to flourish.[11] Sharon Ouditt in her work Fighting Forces, Writing Women details the experiences of women in WWI and discusses the impact of romance novels during the war: “The power of romance… often seemed an antidote to the trauma of war.”[12] This review in the NY Times corroborates that sentiment through the positive commentary despite the agonies of war presented, writing that “the ending, unusual in fiction, is natural and satisfying.” Once again, this review is overwhelmingly positive and based off the emotional journey the reviewer experienced when reading. There is a clear consensus from this reviewer that other people will feel strongly reading this novel, even though it was published in the United States, as citizens will be emotionally drawn into the war.[13]

The third review of The Splendid Chance is from The Dial, an American magazine focused on politics and literary criticism. The review appears under a segment titled “Recent Fiction” by William Morton Payne in the June 10, 1915 publication. The review includes Mary Hastings Bradley’s other well-known novels, including a historical romance The Favor of Kings, which adds to her credibility as the author of this war romance. Similar to the other reviews, Payne reflects on the importance of the first half of the novel to set readers up for the second half, writing “the tragedy that ensues is but one of millions bred of Germany’s wanton onslaught upon the peace of Europe, but it is set before us with such sympathetic grasp that it is made a typical crystallization of the whole horrible meaning of the great war.”[14] It is clear from Payne’s language about Germany that the novel resonated deeply with him, and he shares that sentiment with readers of The Dial, further recognizing the influence of the novel from the emotional response created from the portrayal of the war through the character’s lives. Payne offers no negative commentary, but simply describes the novel as a “very tender, wise, and beautifully written story.” [15] This review by Payne further supports the argument that this novel received recognition not only for its literary excellence, but also for the cultivation of an intense, emotional journey that allows readers to truly feel the grief and trauma that war brings to those involved.

In conclusion, My Heart’s Right There and The Splendid Chance are two novels that highlight the ability of the romance fiction industry to recognize the atrocities of war and create a strong response, despite readers not being on the home front. These reviews are confirmation that contemporary readers of both novels were exposed to emotional plots rooted in patriotism, courage, and a love for their country. The lack of negative criticism and overwhelming support for the novels and the war itself confirms that romance fiction novels appealed to the emotions of readers through their characters, therefore eliciting a positive, empathetic response as these reviews described.

[1] One of her daughters, The Life of Florence L. Barclay: A study in personality (London; New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921), 270, https://archive.org/details/lifeofflorencelb00lond/page/270/mode/2up.

[2] Unsigned review of My Heart’s Right There, by Florence Barclay, New York Times, January 24, 1915, Sunday Book Review, https://www.proquest.com/docview/97720618/D717271D962F466AP Q/1.

[3] Ibid.

[4]  Unsigned review of My Heart’s Right There, by Florence Barclay, The Boston Evening Transcript, January 27, 1915. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=sArNgO4T4MoC&dat=19150127&printsec=frontpage&hl=en.

[5] Jane Potter, Boys in Khakis, Girls in Print: Women’s Literary responses to the Great War 1914-1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 96.

[6] Unsigned review of My Heart’s Right There, by Florence Barclay, The Independent, February 8, 1915, 215. https://archive.org/details/independen81v82newy/page/n231/mode/2up.

[7] Dorothy Goldman with Jane Gledhill and Judith Hattaway, Women Writers and the Great War (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995), 52.

[8] “Mary Hastings Bradley,” LibraryThing, accessed April 10, 2023, https://www.librarything.com/author/bradleymaryhastings.

[9] Helen Winslow, review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley, The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Magazine, August 1915. https://go-gale-com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/ps/i.do?p=NCCO&u=duke_perkins&id=GALE%7CJJGBDH870113849&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon.

[10] Helen Winslow, review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley, The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Magazine, August 1915. https://go-gale-com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/ps/i.do?p=NCCO&u=duke_perkins&id=GALE%7CJJGBDH870113849&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon.

[11] Unsigned review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley, New York Times, June 27, 1915, 238. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1915/06/27/issue.html.

[12] Sharon Ouditt, Fighting Forces, Writing Women (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1994), 128.

[13] Unsigned review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley, New York Times, June 27, 1915, 238. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1915/06/27/issue.html.

[14] William Morton Payne, review of The Splendid Chance by Mary Hastings Bradley, The Dial, June 10, 1915, 465. https://archive.org/details/dialjournallitcrit58chicrich/page/465/mode/2up.

[15] Ibid, 466.



Goldman, Dorothy with Gledhill, Jane, and Hattaway, Judith. Women Writers and the Great War. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

New York Times. Unsigned review of My Heart’s Right There, by Florence Barclay. January 24, 1915. Sunday Book Review. https://www.proquest.com/docview/97720618/D717271D962F466AP Q/1.

New York Times. Unsigned review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley. June 27, 1915. Sunday Book Review. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1915/06/27/issue.html.

One of her daughters. The Life of Florence L. Barclay: A study in personality. London; New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921. https://archive.org/details/lifeofflorencelb00lond/page/270/mode/2up.

Ouditt, Sharon. Fighting Forces, Writing Women. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1994.

Payne, William Morton. Review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley. The Dial. (June 10, 1915): 465-466. https://archive.org/details/dialjournallitcrit58chicrich/page/466/mode/2up.

Potter, Jane. Boys in Khakis, Girls in Print: Women’s Literary responses to the Great War 1914-1918. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

LibraryThing. “Mary Hastings Bradley.” https://www.librarything.com/author/bradleymaryhastings.

The Boston Evening Transcript. Unsigned review of My Heart’s Right There, by Florence Barclay.  January 27, 1915. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=sArNgO4T4MoC&dat=19150127&printsec=frontpage&hl=en.

The Independent. Unsigned review of My Heart’s Right There, by Florence Barclay. February 8, 1915. https://archive.org/details/independen81v82newy/page/n231/mode/2up.

Winslow, Helen. Review of The Splendid Chance, by Mary Hastings Bradley. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Magazine. August 1915. https://go-gale-com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/ps/i.do?p=NCCO&u=duke_perkins&id=GALE%7CJJGBDH870113849&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon.

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