Posted by: zhiv | January 25, 2016

The Masters, C.P. Snow

(This book was read and post written in August 2014.)

I did a quick run-through of my posts on Academic Novels before trying to write/blog about this book, but I see that the category is a mess, like everything thing else on this site. A tiny bit of semi-research (wikipedia) helps to clarify the basic outlines of the topic, and I can see a path towards a modest amount of coherence. It would entail, however, reading two more books that have been sitting on shelf for the last five years, alongside this one. I don’t want to jinx my extremely fragile start here with any large ambitions and I’ll leave them aside and try to begin with a few basic notes and thoughts about this novel.

Nobody needs to read this book, but somehow I managed it, and I’m trying to figure out how and why . The writing is solid enough, proper and clear and precise, and one waits for and enjoys the sporadic moments of keen insight into human motivation and decision-making. I should mention that I tried to read this book four or five times in the past and failed (just as I have failed with so many others, so I don’t really hold that against it). The subject matter and characters are especially esoteric, a small collection of British dons responding to the impending death of their Master and the intricate politics of choosing his successor. It’s very hard to grab hold, at least it was for me and I would imagine it would be for most people, but once I managed it and sorted out the characters there was enough conflict, intrigue and Cambridge local color to keep going. Perhaps reading Snow’s long series, Strangers and Brothers, in which this is Book 5, but the second one he wrote (1951), would make things easier, but that would be a lengthy, albeit easy-going, slog. The narrator Lewis Eliot is a blank slate of sorts, and one assumes that the preceding books effectively introduce him and make his perspective on events a bit more personal and interesting. The Masters is, however, known as one of the better books in the series, I think, which doesn’t bode well for its general appeal. Snow was an acclaimed popular novelist through the 50s and into the 60s, and a leading public intellectual, and nobody talks about him now I don’t think. As a successor to Arnold Bennett and John Galsworthy during a period when readers and scholars were just beginning to take the measure of Joyce and Woolf and Modernist innovation, Snow has faded into a similar corner of obscurity and neglect as his predecessors. Perhaps it’s largely a matter of riding the losing Realist horse during his own epoch rather than a failure to be especially interesting. But what do I know.

The Masters is intriguing because writing about the internal politics of an ancient Cambridge college at a critical pre-WW2 juncture was a significant innovation. It hits upon the idea that the Academy and higher education is a world unto itself and a rich, fat subject for storytelling and character. Part of what’s interesting about this book is that it’s serious and not a satire–it was a remarkably short interval before Kingsley Amis turned the brand new sub-genre on its head and wrote a classic outsider novel, Lucky Jim (1954), within its stately confines. The fact that the genre was so perfectly suited to satire, and continues to be so to this day, is compelling–the depths of our ambivalence about intellectualism and the Academy are boundless–, and at this late date it seems strange and almost impossible to approach the topic with the perfect and total seriousness we see here.

Another benefit is that this novel captures political posturing, calculation and machinations at an extreme level in a sophisticated, odd, detached and secluded setting during a time when global politics were at their most incendiary. That must be a big part of Snow’s point, and his book might even be deeply satirical at its core, while never cracking a smile or making a wink. Like Edwardian novels and stories that portray blithe ignorance of an era coming to an end, this story shows how intricate small, human scale politics were playing out even as revolutionary political events were in motion around the globe. Snow had his own larger literary saga project to serve, but he was also writing after the war about the late 30’s, and he was studying the way that politics and men as political animals function in a cloister that was something like a vacuum.

Snow is also working his personal public intellectual hobby horse here. As a literary-minded chemist he spent the late 50’s and early 60’s lamenting the ignorance about basic science of highly trained and intelligent academics and intellectuals. The dons in the Masters aren’t specifically divided into scientific/literary groups, but the reader gets a clear sense that the college is made up of distinct personalities that break down along those lines. Snow’s narrator/main character Lewis Eliot backs the anxious but humane, old-fashioned conservative from the beginning, preferring his individual sympathy as a trump (!) to his right-leaning politics, but the liberal scientist opponent, more in step with world events, battles him to the very end. Thus Snow seems to be writing out an elaborate metaphor for his own sympathies, along with the inexorable necessities of the future.

Posted by: zhiv | January 18, 2016

Trying to Start Up Again: Eight Years Goes By Fast

Sigh. Where to begin? And more to the point, how to begin? Keep it simple I guess. That seems to work sometimes. Not my specialty though.

I’m writing and reading. I had stopped writing for awhile, sort of, I guess. And I definitely stopped reading, books at least. I don’t know exactly why, but there are reasons. I was stumbling around and devising increasingly intricate strategies for drinking and getting dazed, watching more television (a golden age!) and movies (my job, more or less), shuffling up to bed and passing out. It’s some sort of long story, and the bad version is boring, and I don’t know how to do the good, shorter one.

But I’ll try to review, and maybe that will help, even though it’s a leap right into the long, bad, boring version I just rejected. This blog started at the beginning of 2008, just less than 3000 days ago, and my goal right now (mid-December 2015) is to have it up and running in January, just in time for its eighth birthday–8 is a lucky number, right? which we remember from the 8-8-8 Chinese Olympics, and that went pretty well, didn’t it?

In the Fall of 07 my daughter started up a high school senior thesis, researching South African literature and art. I had been reading Chekhov, and started reading Coetzee with her. At the same time I started reading Lit Blogs, and I found some that I really liked.

I’ll go back from there for just a second, for no good reason–but this is also background stuff I haven’t talked about here, I don’t think, so why not? I was already fairly deep (for a Luddite old guy) in the blog and internet world before I started reading lit blogs. The lion’s share of it was sports. I was an obsessed LA Clippers fan, and I still am. In 02 or 03 I found the ESPN message boards and eventually jumped in and started to comment there. At the same time the US political situation was rather dire, and I followed a number of political blogs, notably Talking Points Memo and Fire Dog Lake. I remember Marcy Wheeler (Emptywheel) liveblogging the Scooter Libby trial as something of a watershed moment. I even commented on the political blogs from time to time, which is a bit hard to believe at this point. Politics was a primary concern until the tide finally turned back to something that seemed like sanity in the 06 elections, and my political internet engagement slowed down and eventually ceased after Obama was elected. Sadly, it just started up again, for a variety of obvious reason I guess, and I just checked in on the old sites and writers, still going strong and fighting the good fight. But I would never presume to comment now, and it’s funny to me that I checked in on the political blogs just a week or two ago, before thinking about coming back here.

And around that time (05-06) a guy started a blog about the Clippers, two guys actually. One of them was brilliant, Kevin Arnovitz, and his site was a little less democratic for some reason, and he climbed the sports digital media ladder and became an accomplished writer and pundit at ESPN. The other guy, Steve Perrin, was pretty brillliant too and solid and smart and he worked really hard, and his website, ClipsNation, became a place with a lot of interesting commentary and people. I hung out there all the time, for hours on end. So the point here, then, is that I was a fairly serious internet junkie by 07. I stayed strong over at ClipsNation, where I was writing as citizen zhiv (Perrin was originally Clipper Steve). I suppose I switched out politics for literature, with the NBA and the Clippers staying constant. I found some interesting Lit Blogs and did some commenting.

My daughter was doing a thesis at the time, as I mentioned. And almost exactly eight years ago I was bugging her to start a blog as a way to organize her research and reading. She was resistant, for all sorts of good reasons, and it must have been over the holidays that I realized that what I really wanted was a blog for myself. And so I started up here in January 2008.

That was eight years ago today–January 18. I’ve been doing a little typing and writing and I have some posts stored up and some good books to read. So why not try to get things going again?

Posted by: zhiv | October 3, 2013

The Disenchanted: Christmas 1950 #1 Bestseller!

I thought that I saw somewhere that The Disenchanted was a #1 bestseller, but I wanted to take a quick look and confirm the fact. The search led to a lengthy perusal of the bestseller lists from 1950 and 1951, and it was a fascinating exercise, in the broader sense well worthy of any student’s or classroom’s time. There are plenty of forgotten or vaguely mentioned, unread books, not just towards the bottom but also at the top of the list. There’s a certain thrill when a well-known book appears and makes its rise, and it’s almost as if you can feel it rippling through American culture. These lists are a good window through which to watch post-war American culture defining itself.

My notes for the first part of this jaunt are a bit sketchy, but it appears that the big popular books in the fall of 1950 by known authors were The Wall by John Hersey, World Enough and Time by Robert Penn Warren, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams (made into a 1961 film, but a novel, not a play–who knew?) and Son of a Hundred Kings by the lesser-known Thomas B. Costain. But the biggest book, with the most staying power on the list, was Henry Morton Robinson’s The Cardinal, which became an Academy Award-nominated Otto Preminger film in 1963. Can’t say I ever heard of it before.

On September 24 Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees debuts on the list, and it goes to #1 on October 15. This is one of Hemingway’s lesser works, certainly (and that’s being kind), but its popularity shows the reach of his fame at the time. His prior book was For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and it set the stage for The Old Man and the Sea (1952). Hemingway’s position atop the bestseller list towards the end of 1950 marks a sharp contrast to the standing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, eight years dead and the subject of Budd Shulberg’s new novel. The Disenchanted appears on the list three weeks later on November 5, at #16. Hemingway hangs on to the top spot through November, as Schulberg climbs to #4 for the last two weeks (Thanksgiving). On December 3 The Disenchanted goes to #1, supplanting Hemingway, and it stays at the top through Christmas and into January. Schulberg gets some strong competition from Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel Joy Street, and they trade the top spot a couple of times in January and February. The Disenchanted’s last week at #1 is March 11–the same week that the next major book, James Jones’ From Here to Eternity, debuts at #12. The Disenchanted was still at #6 on May 27, after 30 weeks on the chart, and it dropped off after going to #16 on June 17. Reading a veiled version of Schulberg and Fitzgerald boozing their way through the Dartmouth Winter Carnival would have been great fun during the holidays and through the winter, but it’s wasn’t a summery beach book.

The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk, comes on the list on April 22 at #12, and it would rise to do battle with From Here to Eternity throughout the year. The other book competing with these two, which are much better known, was The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Montserrat, which started at #14 on August 19. Norman Mailer’s Barbary Shore appears on June 17 at #11, but doesn’t stick. The Catcher in the Rye shows up at #14 on July 29, and it sells well, moving into the top 5 briefly and staying on the list for a good while. William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness arrives on September 30 at #9. Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp appears on November 11, followed a week later by Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. John P. Marquand’s Melville Goodwin USA arrives on October 21, and it stays high on the list through the end of the year.

The Pulitzer for 1952 was given to The Caine Mutiny. A look at the Pulitzer list provides some background to the above 1950-51 bestsellers. John Hersey’s The Wall was a follow-up to A Bell for Adano, which won the Pulitzer in 1945, and his better-known and lasting Hiroshima was published in 1946, after appearing in The New Yorker. All the King’s Men won in 1947, setting up Robert Penn Warren’s World Enough and Time as a 1950 bestseller. James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific won the 1948 prize, and his book Return to Paradise appeared briefly on the list in 1950. The 1949 winner was James Gould Cozzens’ Guard of Honor, preceding the Eternity/Caine Mutiny/Cruel Sea group. It gets a bit strange from there, as A.B. Guthrie wins in 1950 for The Way West–it would be interesting to look at the books that were snubbed by this western saga. And Conrad Richter beat out Schulberg and the others in 1951 to win with The Town, the last book in his trilogy about an Ohio Valley settlement.

I want to know more about the Hollywood Novel. I had an interest and read a few at one point, getting a sense of the main titles and developing a TBR list. And I remember breaking off in the middle of Day of the Locust and moving on to another topic, something else. I’m sure that What Makes Sammy Run (1941) was on the list of titles, but I don’t think that I put it on the TBR, and I don’t recall having any interest in looking at it, feeling like I knew enough about it. Some of my friends read it decades ago, and it was known as a half-primer, half-cautionary tale about going to work in the film business and the supposed ethical vacuum of the industry. It was a Fountainhead of blind Hollywood ambition and a dangerous book, especially for WLA Jewboys like myself and my group, a dark prophecy at least one of us was destined to fulfill, maybe more. The book itself was never something I cared to know about first hand.

But Budd Schulberg was a name and writing talent that loomed over the industry at midcentury (not unlike Henry Adams did over 19th century history, another current interest). On The Waterfront, even with its murky politics, is part of the basic vocabulary of American Cinema, but the film that stunned me just as I was leaning towards the film business was A Face in the Crowd (1957), a phenomenal companion piece to Schulberg’s earlier works about media, creativity and ambition. So I was in awe, and I knew that Schulberg, to use his beloved boxing as a metaphor–has anyone seen a copy of The Harder They Fall(1947–it doesn’t even have its own wiki entry)–, was a hard-punching heavyweight and yes, a contender, but I didn’t know his record very well.

The funny part is that I’m also in Hemingway mode these days, the shortest of hops away from F. Scott Fitzgerald. I knew enough about Fitzgerald’s story to have a vague sense of his screenwriting stumbles, and I even remember something about some sort of Ice Follies project. Maybe I skimmed over the story of Fitzgerald and Schulberg before, in an earlier life, and it didn’t make an impression. It might have even been when my interest in Hollywood was just starting, in its first flicker, around the time I read the Pat Hobby stories and The Last Tycoon. Not too long ago I was reading about his relationship with Sheilah Graham, and I watched some of Beloved Infidel. I never had much of an interest in Zelda, but I knew about the long, troubled gestation and background of Tender is the Night, and I thought I had the basics of the Scott and Zelda story, her death in the fire, etc. A book I never read, though I’ve wanted to, is The Crack-Up, Edmund Wilson’s posthumous compilation of Fitzgerald’s writing about his own decay and crash. That might have helped my cause. And I guess I never read through a Fitzgerald biography, although I carried around a soiled paperback Mizener for years without opening it, and I had the Bruccoli book too that I never read–where did that go?

There’s a big question, at the moment at least in my mind, which is more interesting or pertinent: Schulberg’s 1950 novel The Disenchanted, which tells the story of his trip to Dartmouth with Fitzgerald, ostensibly to work on a Winter Carnival project; or the historical material of the actual trip itself. Schulberg transformed the events into a really good, even a great novel. It’s extremely well-written, and the story and its structure and fabricated denouement all work perfectly, we might say more than a half-century later; the quibbles are minor, and the novel is a solid, serious, and completely successful work of fiction. It was a #1 bestseller, it’s a critically important text in the genre of the Hollywood Novel, and it’s a powerful advance and antidote of sorts to the searing, striking, and even sickening What Makes Sammy Run (I assume–hope to get back to you on that). But there’s a predominant consideration as one reads this novel: it’s about F. Scott Fitzgerald. This shit happened. And it’s about Schulberg too, in his youth, at the beginning of his career, and the story is about Schulberg’s literary hero-worship and ambition as much as anything else. The novel itself is fascinating, while the circumstances surrounding it, including its writing and reception, are perhaps even more so.

Where to begin, because there’s so much going on? I’m tempted to look at Sammy and Disenchanted as conscious antecedents of This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby, Schulberg taking the models of his hero and mentor and converting them to his own world and generation. It’s important to note that Fitzgerald himself cued this sequence, because Schulberg had read The Last Tycoon before he wrote Sammy, and Fitzgerald’s manuscript (or that of his alter ego, Manley Halliday) and its significance plays a crucial role in the conclusion of The Disenchanted. The genre itself was pioneered and validated by the Master. Lots of work to be done there.

But instead I’ll focus on the circumstances and setting of the writing and publication of this book, in broad strokes because I don’t know the details as yet (which means I’m going to make all of my usual mistakes, that I may or may not clean up afterwards). The main thing is that in 1950, when this novel climbed the charts, Fitzgerald wasn’t Fitzgerald, or he wasn’t just yet, not in the sense that we know. I say “we” meaning my own dazed and confused 70s generation, getting well on now, along with the early baby-boomers perceding “us,” who came of age and changed the world in the 60s–anybody born around the time the book appeared, the years just before or afterwards. We all grew up with the sense that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were touchstone American authors, indispensable giants even with their many flaws and limitations, and simple entry level literature, especially for males. I find the development of literary reputation and canonization as interesting as anything, and my guess here is that The Disenchanted played a major role in the rehabilitation and presentation of Fitzgerald as an important literary figure. And that’s what this novel is about! It’s amazing. The subject of the novel is Halliday/Fitzgerald’s accomplishment and talent, in its ruins and advanced decay, mere vestiges of grandeur, but epic nonetheless (Broccoli’s biography is titled “Some Sort of Epic Grandeur”.) Yes, it’s Fear and Loathing, but it’s also the Boswell and Johnson version–or maybe just Johnson and Savage. It’s a great text for students of biography, written just after John Hersey had expanded creative non-fiction and New Journalism in 1946, much like Johnson did in 1744.

The job, then, is to line up the dates and do some research, on Fitzgerald’s biography, on Schulberg, and on the specifics of the revival of Fitzgerald’s reputation. One very profitable way to read The Disenchanted it would seem, however (and leaving Sammy/Paradise aside), is as a rewriting of The Great Gatsby, with Nick/Gatsby transmuted into Shep/Halliday. Nick Carraway is considered Fitzgerald’s crucial creation (by FSF himself? I’m not sure; I don’t remember), the dispassionate observer who enabled Fitzgerald to capture his own romanticism and disllusionment in mythic terms. Schulberg, as Shep, was the observer, and he used a ruined icon, the man himself, to write out the same story–of disenchantment. Good stuff. I had a great time learning about and working through Richard Yates’ obsession with Fitzgerald, but Schulberg lived it, and wrote about it even more directly. It’s gonna be fun.

Posted by: zhiv | September 16, 2013

Esther, Henry Adams

This is a rather obscure, “underread” novel by one of the 19th century’s great American literary maestros, and one wishes it was just a slightly better and more powerful book. But there are all sorts of interesting elements and backgrounds to it, well worthy of consideration and analysis. And just maybe there’s something extraordinary here, slightly out of reach for me, but a better and deeper consideration by a qualified professional might make it more of a necessary text.

Henry Adams had a thing about authorship and publication and the reading public. I have a long way to go in my studies–and I’m still just getting started–but my vague impression is that he originally wanted attention to be focused on his history, and he wanted that attention to be serious. And whatever his intentions might have been about the shape of his career, they were broken in half by his wife Clover’s suicide in December 1885. This event was followed by years of silence (although the nine volumes of the History appeared from 1891 to 1896), marked by the well-known 20-year gap in The Education, and the polished, best-known works of his later years were privately printed and distributed. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres was published in 1913, and The Education was published after Adams’ death and won the Pulitzer in 1921.

I’m still trying to figure out why Adams and Clover lived in Washington D.C., rather than New York, although the move is probably explained in The Education–I can understand leaving Boston, similar to W.D. Howells departure in 1891, but Howells went to New York. Henry James was in England, of course, and as far as fiction goes it seems as if James, Howells and Adams might have made a tidy late-19th century triumvirate, with Adams as a sort of silent partner. At least that might have been the plan in 1883. In Esther Adams is trying to paint something like the same character posed by James in Portrait of a Lady, and elsewhere by Howells too, I assume. On a textual level, this is easy enough to see. But Adams made it, in practice, much more complicated.

Adams had already published an extremely popular and successful novel, Democracy–only no one really knew it. I haven’t read Democracy (though I want to now), but it was the Primary Colors of its day. Adams presumably moved to D.C. to have access to primary sources for his history and to continue his topical journalism (to begin to answer my earlier question), and in 1880 he published anonymously his novel about Washington society and political life, with thinly veiled portraits of well-known figures. It was a big hit and a bestseller, and the authorship was routinely ascribed to some one in Adams’ circle, but it never seemed to land on the historian himself. One more note: Adams had begun his writing career as an anonymous Washington correspondent while working as his father’s secretary, when C.F. Adams was a congressman. After C.F. Adams was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to be Ambassador to the UK, Henry Adams continued to post anonymous dispatches from London, now for the New York Times. He was mortified when his authorship was discovered and outed. “I am laughed at by all England,” he wrote (MacFarlane, xiii). This is all a little strange, and a weird sort of zhiv. It has been studied by Joanne Jacobson (1992) and elsewhere. Adams has received substantial amounts of scholarly attention, a combination of history, literary, and biographical. He’s a poster boy for American Studies.

As he worked away at his history, Adams followed up the success of Democracy–which no one knew that he had written–by writing Esther in the summer of 1883. Henry James had published The Portrait of a Lady in 1881, and Adams seems to be tackling “the woman question” (if that’s the correct term) from a different angle, perhaps using other shapes and shadows from James’ extensive gallery of female characters as well–Esther probably resembles Washington Square more than it does Portrait. Esther Dudley is a sophisticated free-thinker, whose world view has been shaped by the generous and urbane spirit of her father, along with her science-minded professor cousin George Strong, a paleontologist roughly modeled on Clarence King.

The novel’s story and conflict is developed through the romance of Esther with Stephen Hazard, the charismatic and high-minded new reverend at St. John’s Church, a close college friend of George Strong. Hazard is a modern day believer, gathering a substantial Fifth Avenue flock–he’s modeled on Adams’ cousin Phillips Brooks, who shaped the construction of Trinity Church in Boston, which was performed by Adams’ close friends Henry Hobson Richardson and John LaFarge (Richardson built the Adams-Hay mansions on Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, and Adams later traveled extensively in Asia with LaFarge.) In Esther Adams transposes Fifth Avenue for Copley Square, and he explores how a modern rationalist woman might respond to the romantic pressures of a charming, handsome and commanding celebrity preacher (it’s a good companion text to Theron Ware, too). LaFarge is also present in the artist character Wharton, a moody representative of American ambition in the fine arts during the period. Esther herself is an artist, and art and architecture and medievalism and its revival are all pervasive elements of the novel.

The main figure in this rich tapestry, Esther herself, is based on Adams’ wife Clover, and he is attempting to capture her vivacity, talent and intellect, as well as her wide-ranging emotions. The central thrust of the story is based on Clover’s attachment to her father, as Adams prophetically explores the damage that would be caused by the illness and death of his father-in-law Robert Hooper, which occurred in 1885, the year after the novel was published. Esther is the story of a dutiful, enlightened daughter cast adrift by bereavement, and in her profound grief she falls in love with the fascinated and consoling Hazard. Once engaged, she tries to come to terms with being the companion and helpmate of a spiritual leader, and she reads theology and questions Strong and others, searching for reconciliation of her doubts. This crisis is all well-told, and it raises the dilemma of the sophisticated and modern female consciousness of the era in a profound way. Adams’ solution is especially interesting, given the desperate straits and frequent demises of so many 19th and 20th century heroines. Esther flees with a whole group of supportive family to Niagara, the classic 19th century locale of the Sublime. She communes with the power of Nature and the Falls, and manages to resist Hazard’s last desperate plea and she sends him away. All the while the tension that she will jump is excruciating–Clarence King apparently suggested as much (MacFarlane, xx)–, but Adams steered away from the fate that would absorb Clover herself such a short time later.

A big part of what’s fascinating here is that as deeply felt and imagined as Esther was by Henry Adams, absolutely no one read it. Adams continued the game of masking his authorship, just as he had with Democracy and his early journalism. He went further and

…refused to allow Holt to promote the book, published as the third selection in Holt’s American Novel Series. Holt was simply to place the books on the market, where, Adams conjectured, they might find their way to discriminating readers by word of mouth and the power of what he hoped would be the novel’s intrinsic appeal. There were to be no complimentary copies to influential reviewers, no puff pieces in popular magazines, no bright advertisements with enticing graphics. Instead, Adams wanted “authorship without advertisement” (Letters, 2:568); he deplored the “mutual admiration business…there is always an air of fatuous self-satisfaction (Letters, 2:527). Adams would underwrite the experiment, guaranteeing Holt that he would not lose money. In arranging this arcane scenario, Adams wanted to sound the depths of the American reading public (MacFarlane, viii-ix).

There was a certain hubris in this approach, after the wild success and continuing anonyminity of Democracy. But there was reticence and diffidence as well, because of the personal nature of the novel, which not only contained a detailed portrait of his wife–in a book that deeply concerns itself with portraiture–, but also close characterization of friends and family. Adams needed absolute deniability, and it’s interesting to ponder how success and popularity for the novel might have changed the dynamic that played out. Presumably Adams didn’t count on tepid reviews at best. Without any sort of promotion, the novel disappeared with the slightest of whimpers, selling just a few hundred books; Adams later bought up the unsold stock (copies must be rare and quite expensive). Adams was prepared for his experiment to fail, and it’s even possible to guess that might have been a preferred outcome.

There’s one more extremely significant wrinkle in this study of absent authorship. Democracy was truly anonymous, with no name on its title page. But Henry Adams published Esther under a pseudonuym–a female pseudonym, Frances Compton Snow. We’re quite used to female authors in the 19th century adopting male pseudonyms, and the examples are part of the richest vein of the history of the novel. But do any examples of males adopting a female pseudonym come to mind? They must exist, but I believe they must be obscure, perhaps extremely so. This odd element of its publishing history makes Esther truly a rara avis, and it was certainly obscure enough in its time–and it was written by Henry Adams!

What does it all mean, and what was Adams about? The novel takes on a new meaning, one that deserves more careful consideration, if it is assumed that it was written by a woman. This was the intent. Esther Dudley and her free-thinking, her rejection of Reverend Hazard and religion and romance, her failure to jump into Niagara Falls, and her last sentence rejection of the suitable but detached George Strong are all highly progressive maneuvers and choices for a female novelist in 1884. Esther, seen as such, is a valuable companion text to The Story of an African Farm, Country of the Pointed Firs, and The Awakening, the story of an independent woman, written by one–except that it wasn’t.

1999 Penguin Edition, introduction by Lisa MacFarlane.

Posted by: zhiv | September 12, 2013

The Five of Hearts, Patricia O’Toole

The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends 1880-1918

Group Biography is an interesting, odd, out-of-the-way genre, but it makes a lot of sense. It leans towards History, and Biography and History are already close kin. It can become sketchy, perhaps a feathered fish, but if you let go of trying to gain the highest standard, reading about a group of loosely connected, notable figures, rather than focusing on a particular individual or a single topic or entity, can be quite enjoyable.

I had good luck with a well-done group biography Partisans, back when I started this blog. It was a really good introduction to the New York Intellectuals of the 30s and 40s, gave a strong sense of the goals, accomplishments, mileau and players of the Partisan Review, and served as a great introduction to Mary McCarthy, who was obscure to me prior to reading it. I went on to delve rather deeply into McCarthy, reading a fair amount of her fiction and memoirs, and a really good biography of her by Frances Kiernan, Seeing Mary Plain, highly recommended. McCarthy is a wonderful feminist nexus for mid-century literature, linked not only to the Review characters but then Edmund Wilson and later as the author of The Group and a public intellectual. It was all a good run for me, and it started with the group biography Partisans.

There are other group biographies, and I might gather them up and note them elsewhere, but I mention Partisans and McCarthy because I would be happy to go on a similar run prompted by this book, The Five of Hearts, introducing Henry Adams as a primary subject, but telling the story of his wife Clover and his closest friends, John Hay and Clarence King. Hay and King are very interesting characters themselves, and highlighting them here, showing how their lives and pursuits reflect on Adams, makes for a good story. The structure of the book and its narrative is such that we see the group come together and become an intimate circle for a relatively brief time, as it turns out. The next section tells the story of Adams writing Democracy and then Esther and his wife Clover’s suicide, which broke his life in two. Adams’ slow, partial reentry into the world is set against the later careers of Hay and King. One would say that King is the “Fifth Heart” in the group, the bachelor who led a double life posing as a Pullman porter with an African-American wife and family. With Adams and Clover as one and two, and Hay the third, the fourth “heart” would be Hay’s wife, Clara, a Cleveland heiress who was engaging in her early years and grew stout and conservative in her maturity, fading deeply into the background through most of the narrative’s second half.

Adams’ broken life and diffidence about society and literature is thus set against Hay’s intriguing, somewhat reluctant rise as a statesman. Both Adams and Hay are very much late-19th century, late-Victorian gentlemen, stepping most gingerly into the 20th century and the modern world. They’re easily identified as part of the generation that came of age and was defined by the Civil War–the 60s generation, we might call it–, that was still tottering around as the modern world careened into global conflict in 1914.

O’Toole’s book served me well as an introduction to the broad strokes of Adams’ life and his relationships with his closest friends. I’m doing things backwards, per usual, making halting efforts to read The Education, which is the traditional Adams entry point, and I don’t have Mont Saint Michel and Chartres around either. Instead O’Toole’s book prompted me to read the copy of Adams’ relatively unread novel Esther, which I’ll write about in a separate post. One creditable thing about O’Toole’s book is that it fills in the story of Clover and her suicide, and Adams’ response to it, all of which is a gaping blank in The Education.

I was drawn to the book after discovering the story of Clarence King, and Five of Hearts is the precursor and prompt for Martha Sandweiss’s book Passing Strange. O’Toole does a good job of sketching out King’s biography and his relationship to Adams and Hay, but it’s easy to see, especially in hindsight, that his bizarre double life deserved its own book. When he wrote Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada and was ranging the West as a geologist he was a hero to Adams and Hay, who were both convinced his accomplishments would eclipse their own meager efforts.

If the material on Adams and Clover and King is a given, both welcome and expected, then the big blank and pleasant surprise here is John Hay. Hay is a great example of a person you would never encounter as an English major, even as a specialist in American Lit, but he makes a big mark in History and perhaps even more so in American Studies. In the first place, at age 22, after coming out of Ohio and attending Brown (class poet) and working in his father’s law office, he became Abraham Lincoln’s secretary. He shared the northeast corner bedroom on the second floor of the White House with his slightly senior colleague John G. Nicolay–Joseph Cross plays Hay in the Spielberg movie. He was a somewhat reluctant diplomat, editor and statesman in the last quarter of the century, while spending a lot of time helping the mercurial King and grief-stricken Adams as well, but a big part of his work was on an exhaustive Lincoln biography, which he wrote with Nicolay and published in 1890. It’s something of a companion piece to Adams’ History, relatively unsuccessful. It would be interesting as a tangent to Adams studies, to explore where Hay stands in the sequence of Lincoln biographers. The fact that Hay wrote a significant biography, material of interest to this blog and its concerns, was overshadowed by his appointment as Secretary of State by William McKinley and later Teddy Roosevelt. Thus Hay, evolving from the Lincoln White House to pre-WWI international diplomacy, had an important role in late-19th century American History, with Adams at his side the entire time. Hay was secretary to Lincoln at the same time that Adams was secretary to his father Charles Francis, Ambassador to the UK (a job that Hay himself would have in 1897, at the beginning of McKinley’s presidency). Who else would be the best friend of Henry Adams? H.H. Richardson built matching mansions for them in Lafayette Square, now the site of the Hay-Adams Hotel (fancy!) Even more intriguing as a destination, however, is Camp John Hay in the Philippines–the Forest Lodge looks really nice. That’s where I want to go. Eventually we’ll get to Adams’ trip to the South Pacific with John LaFarge. He might have had a better time going now, but you never know with Henry Adams.

Posted by: zhiv | July 15, 2013

Henry Adams Looming; Clarence King Passing

I was pretty happy with culling Boston books the other day. The bookshops in Boston aren’t especially exciting (advantage, Berkeley: Go Bears!), but they’re not absolutely terrible. I have a modest list of Boston and New England-related books that I was on the lookout for, and at the end of my last visit a few things turned up. Just to go through the list: I began, rather oddly, with Matthew Pearl’s The Technologists, which I haven’t gotten around to writing up. I started John P. Marquand’s H.M. Pulham Esq., but then left it at home when I came back. That’s why I read the O’Hara, which I happened to have on hand. I found two key books: The Last Hurrah, by Edwin O’Connor, cited as something like the companion volume to Marquand’s study of Brahmins in The Late George Apley, this one dissecting the later Irish Catholic political world in careful detail. It looks good, and an initial glance tells me that O’Connor won the Pulitzer 5 years later for The Edge of Sadness (1961–never heard of it), so there’s more to know about him and his work. Second was a wartime copy (degrading paper) of Jean Stafford’s first novel, Boston Adventure, which was a nice little find. The first chapters of The Last Hurrah were accessible and engaging, and I was happy to have a new book I want to read, to add to my list, but a couple of paragraphs of Stafford reminded me that The Mountain Lion was great but no picnic, not an easy-read, and good form and some mental energy on my part would be necessary just to get into it, things I didn’t possess at the moment.

I was also gravitating at the same time towards Henry Adams. His famous book The Education was on the list, and had been on my radar for some time. I had been looking for the right copy to present itself, at the right moment. Learning recently that it is #1 on the Modern Library non-fiction list moved me closer. It’s a book I have known about for years, although my initial sense of it was extremely sketchy, and even later I knew only its most basic elements: that it is written in the third person; that he was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents; that he was an historian. I think I first started seeing Adams in a different light a few years ago, after learning about the Adams Memorial in a show at the Guggenheim called The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1969. The show told the story of Adams’ trips to the East, and it made an impression.

And one afternoon I went on a wikipedia run through 19th century Boston luminaries that started with Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., wandering rather far afield. This type of thing is fun. Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy and Henry’s father, is the type of second or third tier figure who has a rich and full career that’s more than worthy of review, and it’s not hard to link to a dozen such eminent Victorians in a single leisurely afternoon, along with side trips to places like Mt. Auburn cemetery, which has its own historical appeal. Eventually, going through people like Charles F. Eliot, Holmes Jr., Edward Everett Hale, Charles Eliot Norton and Henry Cabot Lodge, I made my way to Adams, all of it an easy historical stroll. Along the way I was thinking on occasion about Lewis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, which I didn’t quite finish and never wrote about, but it was a great study of some of these characters–and I should review it and figure out a way to make it part of my Boston efforts.

But I found a rare nugget and got excited about it, just as I was winding things down. I was quite familiar with Clarence King’s name because of my interest in Alpinism, and his Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872) is a relatively familiar classic. It has never seemed especially readable, and I mainly think of it as a means to pitch Leslie Stephen and The Playground of Europe (1871), but it has long been a fairly important book and name for me. King’s name came up because he was a part of Adams’ and his wife Clover’s most intimate circle along with John Hay and his heiress wife, Clara Stone, a group that called themselves the Five of Hearts. A glance at King’s bio contains information that has been known for some time, but studied in detail recently in Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, by Martha A. Sandweiss. King was successful, daring, and charismatic. The fact that he was one of the earliest explorers and “conquerors” of the Sierras was somewhat incidental, as he went on from that adventure to found and organize the U.S. Geological Survey, which itself is a somewhat obscure, monumental 19th century accomplishment. Hay, who was Abraham Lincoln’s secretary at 22 and had a magnificent career, and Adams, who was Henry Adams, both looked up to King and thought he was the titan and cynosure and man of destiny in the group. But Clarence King never quite landed or achieved spectacular success, and instead the end of his bio reveals a shocking secret. He had a double life for 20 years, as he had an African-American common law wife in New York, with whom he had four children. The surprise is King’s alter ego, as his wife Ada Coleman knew him as James Todd, an African-American Pullman porter. Working on the railroad would explain the lengthy absences when he was out in the world being Clarence King, but it’s more strange that the fair, blue-eyed King passed as black.

Sandweiss foregrounds this story in her book. King revealed himself to Ada in a letter he sent to her from his deathbed in Arizona. She spent the next 30 years in a legal conundrum trying to get a part of his modest estate. Apparently Hay supported her with a small stipend. I saw a note somewhere that Sandweiss took the impetus for her study from The Five of Hearts, an earlier group biography of the Adams circle by Patricia O’Toole, which contained the information on King and Ada, but didn’t have it as its main focus. This was all quite intriguing, and then I found myself looking at the New England/Boston writers shelf at Brattle Book Shop, where I was having some luck, getting the O’Connor and the Stafford, and I went through a variety of editions of Adams’ Education before choosing one. O’Toole’s book was there and I bought that too, very happily. There was quite a bit of Henry Adams stuff, actually, but I knew that these two books would make a good start.

I started Last Hurrah and put aside Boston Adventure, as I mentioned. And I peeked into Five of Hearts, and found it quite compelling, and I began to race through it. But I didn’t let myself get too far, because I wanted to read Adams’ own original text, this masterwork. It was a bit ornate, however, something of a slow starter, and I was fatigued, as I mentioned, not sharp at all. But these are all good Boston books, and I’ll be working my way through them–and Henry Adams studies will be up towards the top of the list.

Posted by: zhiv | July 2, 2013

Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara

I had a bias, more against the writer than this book, even though I knew the book had to be pretty good. As I wrote about before, I managed to inhale a certain snobbery about O’Hara in my younger days, and it turns out that he was a major league grouch–right up there with his talent and accomplishment–, a classic lout, which didn’t win him any favors. But Samarra, as a text, won me over, and easily at that. It’s a stirring, satisfying read and something of a bellwether, and there are a number of things that one might say about it. There’s no doubt, really, that it belongs on a relatively short list of 20th century American classics. I’m not ready to become a big O’Hara fan, but it’s nice not to be ignorant about him finally, and it would be interesting for me to gauge my enthusiasm for his work next to that of the probably lesser and definitely more obscure John P. Marquand, but this was good stuff.

Its primary note, to a mature male reader 80 years later, is the frank sexuality in the story and the ennui that goes along with it. Somehow it seems right now like alienation is everywhere you look, in Jay Gatsby and Jake Barnes and here, Julian English. It was there in the 19th century masters I suppose, starting with Flaubert and you could quit with Chekhov, but they weren’t like us, not exactly. We don’t really think, at least I never did, that American Literature is all about ennui and doing nothing and alienation and racing towards death. We think it’s about class and social conflict and conquering the wilderness without and within, lighting out for the territory, race and women awakening. Maybe I was confused by all the symbolism, along with the ellipses of modernism, easily hoodwinked then by postmodernism reflecting things I never understood in the first place. Maybe I’m just kinda sorta dense, and I still am.

What’s funny–and I’m careening wildly off the track here, which might not be inappropriate in a post about a novel that’s all about drunkenness and the automobile–is that these days I’m working, or at least thinking about working, on A Moveable Feast, which is an intensely strong contrast to Gatsby in its own way. The topic should be its own post, but the short version is that Gatsby is a study of the clawback that occurs amidst the realization of the American Dream in all its excess. Sun Also Rises is a more direct statement of postwar trauma and alienation, the European charnel house transformed into bacchanalian ritualistic fiesta where nothing means anything. Those books are monstrous, overworked texts, now crawling through a century of academic trench warfare over their meanings. But my own perspective at the moment is the Hemingway memoir, which is about craft and romantic literary idealism, discipline and the search for truth, which may in fact be simply style. The betrayal of the self (and others) is there in the end, and the message might be that the authorial self must betray the integrated romantic self in order to create a masterwork, but the text is so deeply imbued with youth and romance and the simple good life, that you don’t focus on the ending. I guess that’s how I’ve always seen things, more or less, the naive version where Gatsby is about glamour and parties and Nick Carraway’s enchantment, his survival and manageable disillusionment (lighting out for the territory), never for a moment identifying with Gatsby’s violent end, because the heights of Gatsby’s dazzling social success and aplomb always seemed out of reach, just as they were for Nick. The alienation is a lot harder to miss in Sun Also Rises, but it’s muted there in its own ways. Less so, a bit later, in A Farewell to Arms, but I think I might work my way back to that book in just a minute.

What I like about Samarra in this context, and I like it a lot, is that it’s direct and spare and American, taking place on native ground. My guess, thinking this through, is that there’s a lot of Sinclair Lewis in this book, and that’s something I don’t know much about; yet another topic and sidetrack. But Samarra isn’t about success and the glamour of the American Dream: the poison–alcohol–is present from the very beginning. The world is dark and existential, with tough guys and all sorts of angles, and it’s a powerfully sustained exploration of the emptiness of affluence and the will towards self-destruction. Its world is real and perfectly recognizable, and the constant, gathering gloom keeps it from being quaint, which is impressive, 80 years later. It’s the world as it is, still.

Everything is direct. The sexual elements and the male-female relationships are remarkable. Like Sun Also Rises, what was originally sensational becomes, over time but quickly enough, good writing and good literature. O’Hara succeeds by writing what he knew was real, and the truth and power of it overwhelms the sensation. In his time, he gets it both ways, and lands on the map as popular, a bestseller, a young writer with a great career in front of him–except that the anger and loathing revealed in the book suggest his path won’t be easy or perfectly joyful.

While Sun Also Rises is a precursor in terms of sexual frankness, I’m reminded of Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps as a work that might have taken some courage or energy from what O’Hara accomplishes here. Maybe, again, my sense of the late 20s/30s mileau has always been naive and ignorant, and I’m only fleshing it out slowly. Some sort of postwar Eisenhower Leave It to Beaver puritanism was deeply instilled in me, which only partially played itself out in the 70s and 80s. Funny how prudery manifests itself as snobbery and shuffles aside a writer like O’Hara, but that’s the way it’s always been in the good old USA I guess, same as it ever was.

A final note on the brilliance of the ending of this book. All of the great American novels have their sturdy symbolism, it seems. An aimless and disaffected child of privilege, a good guy who is part of the town smart set but who can’t quite figure things out, the fact that Julian English is a Cadillac dealer grows on the reader quietly as the story progresses. It’s Christmastime, a series of silent cold and joyless nights unless we choose to pretend otherwise and celebrate human fellowship. Julien is mostly unwound by the time he makes it to the office and starts to think about his business and its challenges, trying to sell Cadillacs as the nation slides deeper into the Great Depression. In his death, O’Hara captures layer upon layer of the poisoned heart of the American Dream in the 20th century. We can think about the automobile and what it has done to our country and our society over the last 80 years, along with its massive death toll, and O’Hara nailed every bit of it. Julian’s suicide by Cadillac and its poison is perfect and powerful, magnificent. It’s death by technology too, speaking to us directly today.

I was thinking about Richard Yates and Revolutionary Road a lot while reading this book, and Yates clearly got as much from O’Hara as McCarthy did, probably more. Maybe more on Yates and O’Hara another time. But the suicides of Julian English and April Wheeler invite comparison, and April’s death is what prompted my mention of A Farewell to Arms earlier. Not sure how I got there, and it’s probably just my current revisitation of Hemingway, but I hadn’t thought of the death of Catherine Barkley in childbirth in a long time, and what it meant for the hero Frederic Henry and his journey. Yates, it seems, updated the trope with the complex self-abortion/suicide of his climax. O’Hara’s ending here is as good and powerful as any of those. It’s stunning.

Posted by: zhiv | June 19, 2013

Literary Boston: A Campaign on Three Fronts

Wrote this out a couple of weeks ago, before hitting the road…

I have a few Boston litblogging notes and goals I want to get into. Part of this is an attempt to clarify the elements and sequence of my intentions for myself, as this effort began with some typical vague notions last month, but by now I’ve had a lot of time to putter and ruminate and put things together. So here goes.

The first might come as a bit of a surprise: I plan to head over to the Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library. Not too long ago, I wouldn’t have known it was there. This is work-related in a great and exciting way, but I won’t get into the specifics just yet, and work itself is busy. The post I wrote about Hemingway and Woody Allen in the wake of Midnight in Paris, which I’m rereading now, is very close to the bone. I can throw out a hearty morsel about what I’m after in the short run: A Moveable Feast was conceived at the end of 1956, when Hemingway was reminded that he had stored two small trunks in the basement of the Ritz Hotel in 1928. The trunks contained notebooks that EH used in writing his memoir. A recent new edition of the text focuses on the manuscripts for the posthumously published book, but I’m more interested in those original notebooks at the moment. Lots of Hemingway stuff going on for me, and it turns out that Boston is probably the best place to get started. Who knew? The timing of the violent deaths of Kennedy and Hemingway is an odd coincidence that led to placing the primary Hemingway archive in the landmark library. I’ve never been to a presidential library before, even though a couple of them are fairly close by at home I guess, and visiting the JFK library would have trouble making my basic list of destinations. But now I’m excited about going, and I expect to do some posts and a fair amount of writing on Hemingway in the coming months.

The second front is the surprising and more obscure topic of my last post, about John P. Marquand and Newburyport. I don’t know that my interest and effort will be extensive, but I want to read more Marquand, and I’m going to go and check out his stomping grounds. I need to find or order my next Marquand novel, and I want to make stops at a couple of bookstores and the UCLA library, but I already had one successful bookstore run. I picked up a clean paperback of Appointment at Samarra, along with a tidy volume of O’Hara’s collected stories, edited by Frank MacShane. Ironically enough, I sent out a thick unopened volume of O’Hara’s Gibbsville stories in a book purge last year. Oh well. But my happiest find was a copy of Millicent Bell’s 1980 biography of Marquand, a book that looks vaguely familar from years of staring at used bookstore shelves. Bell’s biography, nominated and winner of prizes, might supersede Marquand’s own works aside from Apley, but I’ll know more about that as I go along. It says something that the bookstore, an excellent one, had a copy of it but no books by Marquand. Bell is a noteworthy scholar and Bostonian, who wrote on Nathaniel Hawthorne before working on Marquand. This biography might be comparable to Blake Bailey’s work on Richard Yates, published 20 years later (I haven’t read Bailey’s Cheever biography.) When I was first glancing at Marquand’s wiki bio, I passed over Bell it seems and noticed that Stephen Birmingham, chronicler of old money and privilege–Our Crowd was a big, popular, interesting book when I was young–had written a Marquand book. This Bell volume must be much better, I expect, and it’s pulling me in, even though I’d like to read at least another Marquand novel, and preferably two, before diving down to its depths, but we’ll see.

The third item is the oldest and the original, and maybe the best, but it could be hard to muster the effort with these other distractions. When this summer’s trip to Boston first began taking shape I was excited about the prospect of returning to the Massachusetts Historical Society and reading much more deeply in Annie Fields’ diary there. Now that I have other projects this enterprise feels a little vague and sprawling. Maybe I’ll start by trying to gather Fields’ later published works, which aren’t at the library. These were culled from her diary to a great extent, I believe. But I’m still curious about the diary itself, and it’s slightly odd that it was never published back in the heyday of monumental academic literary projects, when stately volumes of letters and diaries were marching out regularly from university presses in the last half of the 20th century. But Fields was too marginal, and a woman, and there hasn’t been much work done on her. The question is whether the good bits of the diary were used up by Fields herself as she composed literary biographical essays towards the end of her life, and large chunks are presumably found in Memories of a Hostess: A Chronicle of Eminent Friendships, drawn chiefly from the diaries of Mrs. James T. Fields, by Mrs. A. DeWolfe Howe–so, probably, the answer is yes. Still, the Annie Fields story, married young to the Maxwell Perkins of 19th Century American Literature (just reading Bell on Perkins and Marquand–fascinating!) and then spending the second half of her life “married” to a crucial and classic feminist author, Sarah Orne Jewett, is pretty great, and could be examined and told in some sort of engaging way. Plus, she was hot, as we like to say these days (and maybe looking for images is a place to start), so maybe there’s a movie/tv/documentary person with literary tastes who could figure out how to bring her tale to a broader audience.

Posted by: zhiv | June 18, 2013

Literary Boston: John P. Marquand and Newburyport

I should start by saying, about my last two posts, that I really have no idea what I’m talking about, and I know next to nothing about John P. Marquand and his work. I could beat myself up and unpack a few of the untruths I’ve already tossed out, but instead I’ll keep moving forward, and probably do more damage. At any rate, Marquand is a good, interesting, and fairly neglected topic these days, it seems. There’s a lot to consider and look at, and probably some very good books. The problem, such as it is, with his reputation is that there may not be any great books, but again, what do I know. Maybe we’ll see.

I mentioned that Marquand’s contemporary Walter Edmonds made literary hay after attending Harvard by writing regional novels about the Mohawk Valley. Part of the problem with my blundering approach at the moment is that I’m starting with Marquand’s breakthrough book (not counting Your Turn, Mr. Moto, 1935) The Late George Apley, which is as Bostonian as it gets. There are, of course, worlds within worlds in the topic of Literary Boston, or Literary New England, if you begin to break things down into smaller sections–it’s easy enough to start with Salem and Concord, for instance.

This is the point where I’ll pick up my personal narrative. I started reviving the Literary Boston category because I’m going to be spending a significant chunk of time there this summer, and I wanted to get in the mood and find some fresh curiosities. Apley and Marquand proved to be a good starting point, I think, and my first wayward glance at Marquand’s wiki bio was a quick one, giving me just enough vague info to do a fair amount of sloppy, minor damage. Soon enough I was looking at the actual places where I will be landing and hanging out in Boston–and this is where it gets more interesting. Our gang will be spending a lot of time at a big, nondescript warehouse in Haverhill, as it turns out. So I spent an hour last week on Google maps, zooming in and out of the near environs, looking at Andover and Lowell (both of which at least sound very familiar), before heading east. In my last Boston trip I hung out in Essex and did Cape Ann, getting up to Ipswich (Updikeville, and this was not long after his death). But I was discovering now that I had left a large gap between Ipswich (which I didn’t really explore, although I managed to develop a decent sense of the layout of the “Gold Coast”) and South Berwick 50 miles north in Maine, the home place of Sarah Orne Jewett. It all seemed pretty standard New England semi-coastal stuff, nothing I had previously paid any attention to. Newburyport began to stand out, slowly at first. The gears in my brain did start grinding, but it was still a long time, possibly days, before I finally said, wait a second–isn’t Newburyport the Marquand place?

Yes. Marquand’s “first important book” is Lord Timothy Dexter (1925), “an exploration of the life and legend of eighteenth century Newburyport eccentric Timothy Dexter (1763-1806).” Point of No Return (1949) apparently satirizes W. Lloyd Warner’s anthropological study of Newburyport–and Marquand lands a solid punch in Warner’s wiki bio. Getting ahead of myself and starting up Millicent Bell’s John P. Marquand: An American Life, but at least correcting things rather than continuing to fire potshots, shows how deeply embedded Marquand was in the town, both physically and psychologically. More on this topic and book at a later date, but on page 16 Bell mentions “an early series of connected stories which were published together as Haven’s End,” where Marquand “mingled romantic invention with true history.” “The spectacle of Newburyport history in Joseph Marquand’s time (b. 1748) absorbed the twentieth-century novelist, who wrote and spoke of it throughout his life.” As I said, more on Bell’s book as I go along, but for now my note is that Bell’s biography will clearly serve as an excellent literary guide to John P. Marquand and Newburyport.

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