Book Review from The New York Herald Tribune, 9/20/42
NO BRIGHTER GLORY
By Armstrong Sperry. . . .
429 pp. . . . New York: The
Macmillan Company. . . .
Against a dramatic historical background, Mr. Sperry projects forthright romance.
The time is 1810, when the raw young Republic and England were tensing for war that
began two years later. The scene is the Manhattan which knew John Jacob Astor, dreaming
practically of his commercial empire, and Eliza Jumel, storming social citadels,
and also, by a far remove, the Sandwich Islands and the bleak wilderness of the Columbia
River. The protagonists are MArk Denny, a young doctor Vermont born and bred, and
India de Chambord, whose short life had encompassed the extremes of savagery and
sophistication in both the old World and the New.
Born in Haiti of the Bostonian mother and a French aristocrat, India as a child had seen both her parents slaughtered in a slave uprising. One slave, Mam Zélie, had remained loyal and had spirited the child away, eventually to France. When Mark first saw her, moving down the stairs of the Jumel mansion "as if to the sound of bugles," shewas dressed according to the fashion of Napoleon's Court, in white, her dark hair swept high, her wallet and throat blazing with topazes which had been the girt of the Empress Eugenie Paris in April, St. Cloud in May, Versailles in June -- the court had always been gay. Nothing could have been more remote from the hard life of a Vermont farm which was the heritage of Mark Denny.
India, who had never had a land really her own, had thought that she would find America a great young country where every one would be kindly and she would be happy. Yet she found too cold, too stifling, "this little island, this little city, this little people." . . . Looking out with Mark at the stars on a wintry night, she felt sure that to join her fate with his would meem [sic] disaster for them both. A few days later she suddenly married the fearless and supercilious Captain Godfrey Tennant, who was on leave from the British Navy to command a ship then secretly building in a Boston shipyard to hunt down and destroy the vessel John Jacob Astor purpsed to send to the Columbia River to secure the Northwest corner of his fur empire.
Thus it happened the following summer that India and Captain Tennant set sail in the Saracen for the Pacific at about the time that Mark, endeavoring to turn his back on disappointment, sailed as ship's doctor aboard Astor's Tonquin. When the Tonquin, battered by nearly sex months at sea,anchored at Oahu for rest and water and fresh food, the Saracen was already hidden away in another stretch of the coastline. Captain Tennant had had to lay over until India's child was born. Maman Zélie came for him when India lay near death, beyond the reach of even her strongest magic. When word came to them both that Captain Tennant was dead of yellow fever, it was on the Tonquin that India and the child proceeded, for it might be years before the islands saw another American ship which might eventually carry her back to Boston. On the ill-fated call at the Northwest ilderness, when John Jacob purposedfounding his Astoria, the fate which India had sensed dimly overtook them. But not until they had known the brighter glory for which the book is named. In India's words: "We met here for the moment -- we love, we pass. There's no brighter glory than this. It is God's hand on one's shoulder."
Mr. Sperry, who began his prfessional career as an artist, has an unusual gift for conveying color and movement in the dramatic events of his story, especially in the scenes at sea when the Tonquin hurled her two hundred ninety tons against the weight of the waves, toward the end under the command of a mad skipper, and in the section of the story dealing with the Sandwich Islands. The persons and actions of King Kamehameha of Oahu and his three massive queens, as of the spare eerie Maman Zélie, an African queen in own right, are convincingly exotic. So, too, once one gives the romantic measure its due, is the lovely India, a woman without a country save that which she found briefly in her own heart. "No Brighter Glory" is not a tale for those who like their realities stern and grat and familiar. But if you wish a book which will carry you miles away to strange places and people, through dangers and feats of valor that are happily remote by more than a century, Mr. Sperry' swift and substantial story offers good sailing.