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Dr. Joyce Kinkead on The Recreation of Brian Kent
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

<<< Continued from previous page. . . .  

When he discovers her infidelity, he attempts suicide by drowning but is saved by Auntie Sue, an elderly woman who lives in the Ozarks.  She is modeled after Wright's real Auntie Sue.  With the assistance of her companion, Judy Taylor, a crippled girl abused by her alcoholic father, she helps Brian to return to his former good character before his wife's influence affected him.

            After the school teacher rehabilitates the former thief through hard work, he stays to help her.  They discuss river philosophy and she suggests that he write a book.  He agrees after he explains that he failed when he tried to write before.  This time he succeeds because he has learned the meaning of life with Auntie Sue's help.  To prepare the manuscript for the publisher, Betty Jo, a friend of Auntie Sue's, comes to serve as a typist.  Brian and his typist fall in love, but a barrier stands between them--Brian's wife.  Also, Judy Taylor declares her love for Brian and unsuccessfully attempts to kill Betty Jo.

            A group of tourists, which includes his wife, discovers Brian.  She has become a totally dissipated woman as a result of her reckless, but wealthy life with her lover.  Fortunately, the wife drowns in the river in an opportune accident though Brian attempts to save her, an action which demonstrates the height of his moral character, since her death would free him to marry Betty Jo.  Brian and Betty Jo marry upon the arrival of her uncle and guardian, the bank president from whom Brian stole the money.  Not recognizing the "recreated" Brian, the uncle lauds him as the new genius whose book is so sensible.  Glad to find him so much changed, Betty Jo's guardian grants his consent for the marriage, and the entire group is happy, including Judy, who realizes that she can never have Brian.  She will try to become a better human being by following the example set by Brian and Auntie Sue.

            The novel lacks the dynamic plot of Wright's previous work, but as one reviewer notes, "it will appeal to and delight hundreds of thousands of its predestined audience just because its people are impossible and its sentiment mawkish."[1]  The nature of Wright's audience is described by another reviewer:

            However, given on the part of the reader, an equal fervor for truth, courage, forgiveness, and sobriety (and surely there is much to be said for them all) "The Re-Creation of Brian Kent" will provide all the other ingredients they like.  A lively plot with something doing all the time and a love story revolving around sin forgiven and effort rewarded.[2] 

The printing of 750,000 copies of the first edition reveals the popularity of the book.

            Focusing on the development of virtuous character, the novel employs the imagery of the river to trace the moral, physical, and spiritual rise of Brian Kent.  The river is constantly mentioned because of its proximity to Auntie Sue's house.  Upstream from the house is "The Bend" with its lazy current, but as the stream passes the cabin, it narrows and rushes into Elbow Rock which juts out into the stream.  After the water hits this cliff, it turns a right angle and once again becomes quiet.[3]  In the current by the log cabin is a small eddy which saves Brian Kent in his stolen boat from the furious waters of the cliff (Brian Kent, p. 51).  Not satisfied to let the imagery of the river stand by itself, Wright tells the reader exactly what the river means:

            She saw, now, that the river symbolized not only life as a whole, with its many ever-changing conditions and currents, amid which the individual must live;--the river symbolized, as truly, the individual life, with its ever-changing moods and motives,--its ever-varying and often-conflicting currents of instinct and training;--its infinite variety of intellectual deeps and shallows,--its gentle places of spiritual calm,--and its wild and turbulent rapids of dangerous passion. (Brian Kent, p. 96) 

            As Brian discovers himself, he realizes the importance of the river and compares its currents not with the life force, as Auntie Sue does, but rather with people.  The river represents, then, the world (Brian Kent, p. 145).  Judy fails to see the river's beauty because she is a cynic despite Auntie Sue's kindness toward her.  She is aware of the river's snags, quicksand, sunken rocks, cross currents, and deceptive depths because she was taught the river's ways as a child so that she could survive (Brian Kent, pp. 220-21).  She provides the pessimistic note in the novel.

            Brian, in finding Auntie Sue, is past the snags in his life:  wife, city, and ambition.  He finds the quiet current with Betty Jo, and it is fitting that they begin their married life with a river journey (Brian Kent, p. 343).  Brian develops physically and spiritually, as well as morally, under the care of the teacher.  Through his physical labor, he becomes healthy and strong, an asset when he fights the river to save his wife.  The river also represents a spiritual development since it begins as a spring, travels its path, and finally merges with the ocean or infinity.  Auntie Sue decides that she has seen enough of the river and prepares to meet the ocean, her acceptance of her approaching death (Brian Kent, p. 111).

            Auntie Sue symbolizes the boatman who guides souls, in this case Brian Kent, down the river:

            With artful suggestion and skilful [sic] question and subtle argument, she stimulated his mind and fancy to lay hold of the truths and beauties that life and nature offered.  But ever the rare old gentlewoman was his teacher revealing himself to himself; guiding him to a fuller discovery and knowledge of his own life and its meaning, which, indeed, is the true aim and end of all right teaching. (Brian Kent, p. 139) 

Although Brian is Auntie Sue's success story, her eventual triumph in teaching Judy to see the river as Brian Kent sees it is the more important of the two because Judy is handicapped physically, morally, and spiritually.  Brian Kent simply has to regain the character he has lost; Judy has to develop her character since she never has been able to trust anyone.  At the novel's conclusion, Judy, who has dealt with many snags, decides to follow the current which has guided Brian, Betty Jo, and Auntie Sue.


Back to The Recreation of Brian Kent

    [1]Rev. of The Re-Creation of Brian Kent, by Harold Bell Wright, New York Times Book Review, 31 Aug. 1919, p. 438.

    [2]Dorris Webb, rev. of The Re-Creation of Brian Kent, by Harold Bell Wright, Publisher's Weekly, 16 Aug. 1919, p. 485.

    [3]Harold Bell Wright, The Re-Creation of Brian Kent (Chicago:  Book Supply, 1919), p. 36.  Subsequent references to this book will be incorporated into the body of the text as Brian Kent and pagination.

 Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

 

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