I wonder if anyone remembers Thomas Armstrong now? He wrote a number of best-sellers, none of which are in print now. The members of my reading group would say this is for good reason!
He is one of the few writers we have read that almost everyone found unreadable. What was it about his books that used to appeal? Until we set one up, Armstrong didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry – and I think in the modern era this truly is a mark of obscurity.
His most famous novel is The Crowthers of Bankdam (1940), a family saga set in the Yorkshire wool trade. It was made into a film, The Master of Bankdam, in 1947.
Here’s a plot summary written by Sue:
This is a family saga set in the Ram valley,in West Yorkshire,spanning 3 generations of the Crowther family against the backdrop of vicissitudes in the cloth trade and important national events.
The patriarch, Simeon Crowther, works his way up to establish the family business, which prospers while others, older and more established, decline. His two sons, Zebediah & Joshua, very different in character & temperament, are rivals in the business. They marry very differently: Joshua’s wife is Annie, a former mill girl. Zebediah marries Clara, devious and ambitious for superior social status over the more established local families. The untimely death of his brother (the latter in an accident caused by his brother’s negligence) and his father’s fatal heart attack, enable Zebediah to take control of the business. However his son, Lancelot, is not interested in the family business unlike his nephew Simeon.
The book is divided into 3 time periods (1854-1867; 1883-1894; 1908-1921) which enables the different generations to play their parts in the future of the family firm. Eventually the quarrels, intrigues & rivalries are resolved, and Simeon, a chip off the old block (his grandfather), is able to fulfil his ambition and take complete control of the family firm.
I have also have a kind of not-review of one his later novels, A Ring Has No End (1958). I am grateful to Sylvia for going to the effort of writing it, so here it is:
Review of A Ring Has No End by Sylvia D:
I don’t usually give up on a book but after wading through three chapters, I decided A Ring has no end (1958) was unreadable as far as I was concerned. The narrative follows the fortunes over the course of 100 years of the aristocratic, extremely wealthy Kaivanov family which had vast estates in the Russian Caucasus. (Armstrong served in the Navy during the First World War and was in Russia at the time of the Revolution). The Kaivanovs are cruel, rapacious and increasingly debauched whilst the head of the family ruled as God. They finally lost everything during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
I have read that Armstrong was considered a good historian but I liked neither the violent content of the novel, nor his pompous style. The opening sentence is enough to put one off straightaway,
‘A land of rape, lust, and feud to the death; . . . a land where many men wear on the right thumb a cruelly-spiked ring, and of tribes who calculate the compensatory value of wounds by grains of barley and wheat alternatively laid in length and breadth to the extent of the injury, reckoning two-thirds of the number of grains to be a fair settlement in cows’ –(p 3).
And a few pages later,
‘They were blessed with three firm-limbed children. Olga, the eldest, was born when myriads of clear-cut stars carpeted the deep-blue heavens and a gentle zephyr sang its lullaby through the trees. A night of good omen, one might say, if one considered such trifles. Certainly Masha did, at least until an owl screeched and a yellow flame illuminating an ikon, a time-cracked painting of a haloed Saint went out . . . (p 9).
And so on for 410 pages.