Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) is one of those popular authors from the past whose works have fallen into nearly complete obscurity. Beginning in 1902, he wrote more than sixty books, often taking up edgy topics. He moved to Los Angeles around 1920, where he wrote and directed movies and blazed the way for his nephew, Howard. As Hughes grew older, he became a champion of conservative causes. Politics shouldn't affect a writer's reputation. Nevertheless, naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee and fighting the unionization of screenwriters, both of which he did, were not the sort of actions likely to endear him to the literary establishment. Or maybe his novels, many of which were serialized in popular magazines, just lacked the weight of serious fiction. The Lovely Ducklings may illustrate this point. It's successful in its own terms, still enjoyable to read after nearly eighty years, but not close to profound.
The Lovely Ducklings by Rupert Hughes. Harper and Brothers (1928), 310 pp.
The Roaring Twenties have hit Los Angeles with full force, and Mrs. Todd worries that her five children will go astray. She has more to worry about than she knows. Gilman, her eldest, has set up housekeeping with the office switchboard operator; Helen, no longer living at home, is on the verge of an affair with her boss; Louise, still in high school, is exploring ways that sex can be empowering; Clifford, only sixteen, has a drinking problem; and Dodie, two years younger, can barely wait to get in on the fun. After adventures of various sorts, the children gain new perspectives on their lives--and so does their mother.
Hughes has produced a light satire with a good deal of sympathy for all the characters. Of that group Louise is his most vibrant creation. She looks upon "innocence as a sham and ignorance as crime" and permits "nobody to control her--neither her parents nor her male companions." Good flapper that she is, she's not only had many sexual experiences, but she's also an expert on automobiles and jujitsu. The book's title comes from its opening parable, in which ducklings raised by a hen head straight for the water while the hen cackles unheeded warning. It's in the nature of the younger generation to try out new things, Hughes tells his readers. He tempers the comic tone slightly toward the end of the book, in effect emphasizing that life goes on, no matter how much parents may fret about their children. All in all, this is a skillfully written novel and a fun read.