Saturday, December 4, 2010

Scarlet Royal (1952)

This is one of those books I had as a kid and remember with great fondness. The review below has almost no quotes largely because my copy is now extremely fragile. Just re-reading it pulled loose some pages; propping it open with a candlestick or flower pot so I can copy some quotes will kill it altogether. So I'll limit myself to the summary on the back cover, which does a good job.

The only thing in Margo's life that really counted was the horses themselves: riding them, hunting, showing, caring for them, loving them. Especially her own horse, Scarlet Royal - hers until the wealthy Cranshaws offered more than the struggling Macintyre's could afford to refuse. Be nice to the Cranshaws, her mother said. How could she like Ginevra Cranshaw who went off with her beloved horse and her best boy friend?
A story of sportsmanship and courage by the author of Senior Year.

Scarlet Royal
Anne Emery, il. Charles Waterhouse (cover)
1952, Macrae Smith Company

Margo Macintyre is 15 when her mare, Red Queen, produces a chestnut filly dubbed Scarlet Royal. The foal is to be the final triumph for Margo's father, William, an Irish immigrant whose rags-to-riches story has culminated in a gentleman's farm, Green Meadow, filled with horses, an adoring wife, three daughters, a cook, a housekeeper and a groom.

Jump ahead two years. William Macintyre is newly dead, killed by the stress of seeing his real-estate venture fail, and his widow presents their daughters with reality: they have a farm and horses, but virtually no income. They can either sell out and go live more frugally in an apartment, or they can try to launch a riding school. Relieved to save their beloved home, they agree to tackle domestic and stable chores none of them have ever handled. It's not easy, but they are making it work by the end of that first summer. Margo and her sisters help teach the beginners and their mother, Madeleine, has a private student who's more advanced. It's this student, Ginevra Cranshaw, who brings Margo's world crashing back down. A competitive, calculating daughter of rich and indifferent parents, Ginevra has only one interest in a horse - can it win for her. In Scarlet, she sees a horse who can take her to the Maclay Finals, and win her parents' attention at last. When Mr. Cranshaw offers Margo a price the family can't afford to refuse, a beaten Margo sells the mare.

When, adding insult to injury, Ginevra also walks off with Margo's boyfriend, the now 17-year-old Margo declares she's never going to trust another man. Shortly thereafter, the Macintyres hire a college student to work on the farm, and Neil begins to patiently prod Margo away from her bitterness and obsession with somehow winning back her lost horse.

This is a well-written book with a thin but consistent horse plot, and a strongly sympathetic heroine. It has a powerful hook in that the heroine actually loses the horse, and is also one of those great horsey books where the villain is the villain because she doesn't care about horses; she's a good rider, but she doesn't have the right attitude. Margo's love for Scarlet is criticized, but she remains focused on rescuing the mare, although she admits she's being selfish in some ways. It's a balanced book, which is typical of Emery. Her books were all teen romances, but they were intelligent and her characters were surprisingly complex. They were also far more feminist than you'd expect from the genre. Here, she kills off the blarneying father in under 10 pages, and he's virtually never mentioned again. The all-female family manages to resurrect its fortunes almost alone, with no male advice until the romance angle begins with the hiring of Neil Campbell, college kid from Wyoming, who quickly becomes annoyingly perfect - he charms the Macintyres, cleans stalls, knows horse shows, sorrowfully points out Margo's faults re: obsessing over Scarlet, etc., etc. He does a pretty good job of redeeming himself, though.

Note: The cover shown is from the 1961 paperback by Scholastic Book Services's TAB Books. The original 1951 Macrae Smith hardcover apparently contains interior illustrations by Manning deV. Lee; there is one illustration of his in the paperback, serving as a frontspiece.

The book, along with Emery's others, is back in print with Image Cascade, which publishes fondly recalled teen novels of the mid-20th century.

Odds and Ends

Equine Characters

Scarlet Royal - chestnut filly
Red Queen - chestnut mare
Counterpoint - grey hunter gelding
Gingham Girl - Welsh pony
Domino - black hunter gelding
Bittersweet - bay hunter gelding
Kingpin - Ginevra's jumper
Coquette - Ginevra's saddle horse

I don't remember noticing the name Ginevra as a kid (I was too busy booing her evil, crop-swishing ways) but this time around it caught my eye as a strange name. According to some fairly random research, it's either Welsh meaning "white, fair, smooth" and is a form of Guinevere, or Italian meaning "white wave." It was also the name of a Chicago socialite from the early 20th century thought to have inspired Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Since Emery was a Chicago girl all her life, and since writers are magpies and since people with roots tend to be people who inherit the memories of their parents and grandparents, you have to wonder if she had that story somewhere in mind when she named her spoiled, wealthy villain.

Image Cascade - Scarlet Royal

Author Bio
Anne Eleanor McGuigan was the eldest of five children with a father who was a professor. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1928, spent a year traveling with her family, and then began teaching. She married John Emery in 1933, and had five children. She lived in Evanston, Illinois most of her life, and that Chicago suburb is where most of her books are set.

The illustrators
The paperback's cover and its sole illustration aren't particularly memorable, which is odd considering both artists were respected illustrators with decent careers. I'm not 100% sure of my research on the cover illustrator, Charles Waterhouse; there is an American artist of that name who seems to have specialized in military paintings; the name fits, and the timing is possible, but I'm not sure. There's no direct link - nothing about the Marine Corp. artist mentions this book - and the art itself doesn't seem very similar.

The frontspiece illustrator, Manning deV. Lee (1894-1980) was a graduate of Philadelphia's spectacular old art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He served in WWI, and then resumed his career as an illustrator for magazines and over 200 books.

Manning deV. Lee - other horse illustrations
The Stubborn Mare by Jo Sykes (1957)
Steel Dust, The Story of A Horse by Hoffman Birney (1928)
Horses, Horses, Horses edited by Phyllis R. Fenner (1951)
Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys, ed. Phyllis R. Fenner (
Sidi, Boy Of The Desert by Alida Malkus (1956)
The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (1925 edition by Macrae Smith)
Dogs, Dogs, Dogs, ed. Phyllis R. Fenner


AC said...

This is one of those books I remember fondly in large part because I was too young to really get the plot the first time I read it. So it wrankled in my mind, half understood, until I moved back to my hometown after college, bought a house, and unpacked my boxes of childhood stuff.

My copy is the exact same one and I thought it was in pretty good shape...but I never knew till right now that there was supposed to be a frontispiece illustration! It's the only page that's missing.

Susan in Boston said...

A hardcover of this book is one of the easiest and most inexpensive US horse books to obtain, in good condition (not ex-library) came out as part of the "Best Loved Girls Books" series (book club?). All the books look identical to their original trade editions, even to the publisher's name on the spine, except for a blurb somewhere about the series (usually back cover or back flap).

Other horse books that appeared in the series were Saddles for Breakfast by Janet Randall and Lasso Your Heart by Betty Cavanna

sumik said...

Isn't Ginevra an Italian name?

This sounds like a book I would have loved as a child.