Not My Will (1946), by Francena H. Arnold – Book Review

My own lovely, worn copy from 1980

Eleanor Stewart’s parents knew early on that their lovely child had a strong will but they trusted God would help them raise her to use that strength for His service. Only their sudden death puts a stop to their plans and Eleanor is raised by her embittered aunt. She grows up learning how to please her aunt and still get her own way. But she is intelligent and begins studies in her college years in science. When her aunt dies, she leaves a will that stipulates Eleanor must remain single until her 25th birthday or forfeit her inheritance. At first she doesn’t mind and spends tireless days helping an aged and respected scientist with his textbook. But unfortunately, she meets a young man and falls in love. 

Eleanor marries Chad but keeps her fortune a secret from him and even convinces him to keep their marriage a secret for a while. Chad begins to realize Eleanor doesn’t share his love for God and begins in earnest to lead her toward her Savior. For Chad’s sake, Eleanor wants to believe in God and what Jesus did for her, but she soon sees that she has to make a choice between her secret and her faith. She decides to work things out for herself and think about faith later on. Disaster strikes and Eleanor’s world is upturned. Everything she trusted in is lost and she must come to new realization of what life means and whether her mistakes can be fixed. What she finds far exceeds her deepest wishes in a way she never could have guessed.

Reading – Good for Everything

Unlike my schedule as a child, my average count of “books read” at the end of the year is at best, two. There are just so many important things vying for my attention that, though I consider reading the best thing this side of heaven, I do very little of it.

Being a writer intent on furthering my skill, I reasoned my best bet for accomplishing this is to deliberately take the time to read more. Easier said than done, of course, but we all agree it takes small steps.

I truly love to read and what thrills me most is finding old treasures. One of such I discovered quite recently. Whilst browsing our bookcases for my next read a few months back I dug out a small, roughed up paperback. I had seen the book many times and, like many books published during its time, there was very little synopsis. I scanned the publishing date just out of curiosity and was delighted to find it written nearly 70 years ago. As I said, I like old books. I’d love to talk about the many reasons why but I think for today I’ll move on.

The book was titled Not My Will. I wasn’t sure what kind of story I would find but I impetuously began reading it and was soon too far in to turn back.

As I read the book, many things stood out to me. I was refreshed by a handful of aspects you don’t find very often in the works of today’s writers. Let me explain.

Writing Style

Francena H. Arnold, I’ve learned since, was an extraordinary woman. She didn’t write unless she had something worth writing. And this book of hers reflects that wisdom. She wrote it with careful deliberation; I never experienced a “slow part” in the book though there were intense moments.

She moves through the events in Eleanor’s life smoothly. From the start, she begins the book by establishing Eleanor’s past, bringing you through 20+ years, and she does this fluently in one chapter. Some might say it’s too much history to cover in just one chapter and an author would definitely be risking a choppy plot to try it. But not so with this book. There were no holes in the plot or characters, it is all real to the reader.

The Plot choice

The fact that the plot is so simple and yet so complex is also a testament to her writing abilities. The story of a rebellious girl living her own life, trying to make it work, finding she can’t, enduring hardship, and finally coming to Jesus, is definitely not a new one. And yet Eleanor’s story IS new and you are immediately swept into the way it plays. When you finish the book you recall the characters fondly as if they were good friends from your past that you will always remember.

Each character has their uniqueness. Eleanor, of course, Chad, each of his family in turn, and all the others you meet, even if only briefly, such as the two girls she mentions while at college, are memorable. No one blends into the background. I was particularly impressed by the way the specific characters developed.

Eleanor’s Spiritual Development

In many of the Christian novels today, there is a clear line of points the main character touches as they go from rebellious to searching to humble. It’s normally quite predictable and quite sudden, which stumbles the readers attention. At this point, I usually begin reading with less care and eventually only to finish the book.

In Not My Will, Eleanor does not realize her need for a Savior even after her carefully planned out life begins crumbling. When Chad exposes her to Christ she admits she is attracted to the idea but she carefully weighs what surrender to Him means. She would have to give up her hopes for the future including all the money her aunt left her. So far she only has seen a relationship with Jesus as pleasant, maybe helpful, but not any better than what she would lose were she to accept it. So she refuses. God brings her to a point where she has lost everything and there is nothing to come back to. She sees the irreparable mistakes she has left in her wake and in a final and yet thoughtful moment, surrenders to Christ. The healing process begins, though she has many questions. After reflection she sees what Jesus was trying to do and how, even when life was falling apart, He was in complete control. Trust me when I say you will be surprised at the ending: it’s beautiful. You never would have guessed it at the beginning but as it nears you see just how incredibly melded it is.

Little Things I Liked

Taking a step back from the critical view of the novel, I found a handful of things just delightful. Chad’s family was kind and I envied their ability to love others, especially his mother. She is a truly beautiful character, like Amy Carmichael and other spiritual heroines. She is in no way over-spiritualized.

I must add, before I finish, how much I adored the house. A country home with a fireplace, farm benefits like fresh dairy, sleigh rides in the winter and skiing. I’m sold. It can’t get much better in my opinion.

If you have never read this book, you know I advise it. It has sold as many as 500,000 copies since Francena H. Arnold wrote it in 1946; you ought to find out for yourself why people find it so good. For those of you who don’t care for old stories or one’s with deeper meaning, give this one a chance, it will pull you in, believe me. You will learn some things while being thoroughly entertained.

There is a sequel and I haven’t been able to read it yet. When I do, you’ll know.

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