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1916, Eyes

1919, Shepherd
1924, Man
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6.  Their Yesterdays


Their Yesterdays, by Harold Bell Wright, dust jacket

Their Yesterdays, by Harold Bell Wright

First Edition

Book Supply Company, 9/1912, burgundy cloth cover, illustrated dj.

Total sales: 515,467

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Description

     Harold Bell Wright wrote 19 books. By most accounts those books include one autobiography (To My Sons), one collection of Indian legends (Long Ago Told), one science fiction tale (The Devil's Highway), one allegory (The Uncrowned King) and 15 romantic novels. Their Yesterdays, Wright's sixth book, is usually described as his worst novel, perhaps one of the worst novels of all time. But why should we treat the book as a novel at all? It is much more like a collection of religious essays than a novel.

So why not call it what it is -- not a terrible novel or a bad allegory, but a collection of creative essays on what is really important in life? It is true that the essays are loosely linked by the developing, then stalling relationship of an unnamed man and an unnamed woman. But those little snippets of story serve mainly as transitions from one essay to the next and from one idea to the next, never as the point of the book. It is also true that the Book Supply Company promoted the book as a novel from the beginning: "'Their Yesterdays' is the love story of a man and a woman in which there is sentiment, pathos, and realism," says the blurb on the dust jacket. But anyone who has read the book knows there is little, if any, sentiment or pathos, and no realism. But positioning it as a novel was good marketing. The book was purchased by hundreds of thousands of people who loved The Winning of Barbara Worth, The Calling of Dan Matthews and The Shepherd of the Hills and thought this would be another good novel.

If Their Yesterdays had been offered as a book of essays by a popular novelist instead of that author's newest novel, it might have received far less criticism. But it certainly would have been purchased by far fewer people.

If this is really Wright's only collection of religious essays (one autobiography, one collection of Indian legends, one science fiction tale, one allegory, one collection of religious essays and 14 novels), it must be given much higher marks than when judged as a novel. Like others who have commented on Their Yesterdays, I would give the book an "F" as a novel, but I would give it a "B+" or an "A" as a collection of essays. Thousands of religious books have been written in the nearly 100 years since Wright penned Their Yesterdays, but no one -- not even such Christian essayists as C.S. Lewis or Frederick Buechner has overshadowed Wright on these 13 topics. Simply put, Wright's essays in this book are well worth reading.

The essays are about the 13 greatest things in life: dreams, occupation, knowledge, ignorance, religion, tradition, temptation, life, death, failure, success, love, and memories. The essays are deep, insightful and unique. Just from reading Wright's list of "greatest things" you recognize these are not ordinary essays. They could have been written only by a philosopher who knew pain and disappointment but embraced faith and optimism.

Still, the book could have been improved. It might have taken Wright a year or two to develop the book into an actual romantic novel. In fact, he would have had to start from scratch, since this book does not contain even the premise for a novel. But in a much shorter time he could have made it into a much crisper and more easily read collection of essays by simply deleting all the sleep-inducing fluff about "the man" and "the woman" and rewriting the essays in his own voice like To My Sons.

Collecting

    All American first editions are by the Book Supply Company and look exactly like the illustrations above.  The first edition was also available in leather. Hodder and Stoughton published a British first edition. The book was reprinted several times by A. L. Burt, and by Appleton, Thall and Carlson, and perhaps by Buccaneer. Most of the early reprints carry no indication that they are not first editions.

Many first editions and reprints are available. Dust jackets are not difficult to find. (First printing: 500,000; total sales, according to Wright's own royalty records: 515,467)

Review of Book by Dr. Joyce Kinkead  Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.

           Riding on the crest of the popularity of The Winning of Barbara Worth, Wright tried a book length allegory in his sixth novel, Their Yesterdays (1912).  The novel also focuses on the development of virtuous character.  Although some 700,000 copies were sold, the novel was a failure.

            The novel centers on the development of an unnamed man and woman, representing Everyman and Everywoman, who were childhood friends, but have not seen each other since youth.    Continue >>>

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11