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Bertram Cope's Year - Henry Blake Fuller

4.5 stars—it’s not perfect, but it’s fun. I’m ever-so-gently inching back from my string of 5 star reviews in a feeble attempt to attain some sort of legitimacy knowing, full well, that’s it’s often your fault that I’m reading as many good books as I am. I can only feel so bad about that, and you…you’ll just have to live with the guilt you share for recommending so many of them. Deal with it.

Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Well, the novel doesn’t ask, and it doesn’t tell. It tells quite a lot, but doesn’t tell.

Meet Bertam Cope, a handsome, (I was going to say ‘comely’—but I know how some of you are—this is not that kind of review or novel) 25-year-old, though boyish, instructor at Churchton who’s been taken under the protective wing of Mrs. Medora Phillips, a widowed socialite who organizes parties, dinners, outings, etc. for the purpose of introducing her young female borders to visiting distinguished guests, members of the Churchton elite, and young Cope. Some contemporary readers may suspect she’s somewhat ‘cougarish’—not the only problem some contemporary readers might have with this tale.

While being guided through Churchton’s social maze, Bertram corresponds with his close friend, Arthur Lemoyne, who he hopes will join him at some point in the near future, and he also attracts the attention of the older Basil Randolph (egad! 50ish). Anyone’s ultimate interest, including Cope’s, remains determinedly subtle.

Through a series of mishaps, Cope somehow becomes engaged, somehow attracts the amorous attentions of both Medora’s niece and her secretary, and gains the special privilege and favor of Randolph, before all wander off-stage to their respective fates/lives/loves/whatevers.

The novel has been called the ‘first American gay novel’ and it may be, but its gayness is veiled, certainly nothing like Forster’s Maurice. Cope and Lemoyne’s orientations are suggested but never confirmed, nor are Randolph’s. They’ll seem blatant enough to contemporary readers, but readers of the early ‘20s, well, who knows what they must have thought. As it is, it’s very tame—no sex, no scandal. A novel of manners yields to become a comedy of manners (read diligently with haste, especially the last half). It was my good fortune to read this so soon after The Importance of Being Earnest. There’s a sensibility about the whole thing, a humor that develops with the pace. Imagine Jane Austen channeled by Harvey Feirstein.

Some ebook readers can get this title for free (gotta love the public domain titles); I got my copy through amazon, and it was worth every one of those non-existent pennies.