The Shadow Riders, by Isabel Paterson

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Editor’s Comments


Cover of first edition of 'The Shadow Riders'
When H. L. Mencken reviewed Isabel Paterson’s first novel, The Shadow Riders, he concluded that despite “a certain readableness”, it would soon be “dead and forgotten.” And so it has remained, along with all the rest of Paterson’s novels, even with her rediscovery as a Libertarian icon. Frankly, in comparison to her masterpiece, Never Ask the End or even The Golden Vanity, The Shadow Riders is easy for anyone but a completist to neglect.

Yet despite its limitations–wooden characters and sometimes even stiffer prose–The Shadow Riders has a few rewards for the reader who pulls it off the shelf every decade or so.

Paterson’s wit, for one. The book’s epigraph deserves a place alongside any of Dorothy Parker’s best quips:

There is an old proverb which says that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It is doubtless a true saying; I only wonder what one does with the flies after having caught them.

Lesley Johns, who wins the prize of protagonist after a neck-and-neck race with several characters through much of the book, is clearly Paterson’s avatar. Raised on farm by a long-suffering mother and ne’er-do-well father, Lesley works her way up from clerk to journalist at one of the local papers in the fictional version of Calgary, Alberta, where the novel takes place. Like Paterson, Lesley is clear-eyed about social hypocrites and always keeps a pin handy for bursting bubbles:

“Mrs. McConach this afternoon was almost in tears of ecstasy because the Duke of Inverarie is buying an estate somewhere hereabouts. Her grandfather was a crofter, turned out to make more room for deer on the Duke’s grandfather’s Scotch estate…. [B]ut then the Duke’s great-grandfather’s grandfather was simply the most successful cattle thief on the border.”

“Society,” Paterson writes, “is run on the Berkeleian theory that everything exists only in the imagination. What could be more comfortable?”

“Everything,” she adds, “in this sense includes everything but money. There is something so grossly material about money as to resist the strongest doses of philosophy.” Paterson’s hard-nosed view of money and its importance in a capitalist world comes from her many years of living from payday to payday, earning every step of her own way. This economic realism makes it hard not to notice how artificial Paterson’s attempts to at romanticism are. For over 350 pages, she leads her audience along through the on-again, off-again relationship between Lesley and Chan Herrick, the millionaire’s nephew who gradually evolves from lounge lizard to stalwart entrepreneur. They wind up, of course, in each other’s arms. We don’t buy it and I doubt Paterson did, either. “I want freedom, not power,” Lesley remarks at one point. Why, then, would this woman saddle herself with this future Rotary Club officer?

After all, early on in the book, she reads Chan’s true nature:

“I shouldn’t have guessed,” she said, “that you are a shadow rider.”

“A what?” he asked. When she fell into her own vernacular he was always interested. “What is a shadow rider? Sounds rather poetic.”

“It isn’t,” she retorted cruelly. “You watched your own shadow for a long time back there. If you did that on the rodeo, and the range-boss saw you–you’d be looking for a new job. It’s the lazy ones, the indifferent ones, do that.”

When Chan and Lesley unite at the book’s end, she is about to head to Chicago, for a job with a big newspaper there–which is pretty close to what Paterson did in real life herself. It’s a shame she didn’t let the best character in The Shadow Riders escape, too.


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The Shadow Riders, by Isabel Paterson
Toronto: S. B. Gundy, 1916
New York: John Lane Company,1916

Catching Up: The Dogs by Ivan Nazhivin; Mary’s Country, by Harold Mead; My Hey-Day, by Virginia Faulkner

Life does get in the way of one’s hobbies at times. NeglectedBooks.com has had to suffer the fate of its subjects since mid-December, and even now I fear this post will have to be more telegraphic than usual–if I can manage that. I have to side with Pascal in believing that it takes longer to write less.

Here, at least, is a recap of recent rediscoveries:

Cover of first U.K. edition of 'Mary's Country'

Mary’s Country, by Harold Mead
London: Michael Joseph, 1957

I learned of Mary’s Country when browsing through the archive of Ken Slater’s “Something to Read” columns from Nebula Science Fiction. Slater gave the novel a big thumbs-up, writing, “All in all, whilst this may not be the happiest book of the moment, it is by far the most interesting and the most powerful. Highly recommended for a one-sitting reading. Don’t start it until you have the time to finish it . . . it is dangerous!”

Had 1984 and Lord of the Flies not been published within the decade prior to Mary’s Country, Slater might have been justified by adding that it was the most original novel of the moment. Unfortunately, anyone familiar with them would find it hard not to view Mead’s work as a mash-up of the two books. The novel opens in a state not unlike that in 1984, in which a ruling class keeps a prole-like population in check through drink, prostitution, and cheap entertainment while waging war against the hated “Dems”. As part of its master plan, the state is practicing a form of eugenics, separating out the finest physical specimens at birth and raising them to be future rulers.

Mary’s Country follows a group of such children as they watch the state collapse around them through the effects of biological warfare. After all their masters and many of their classmates have died, they band together and trek to an unknown paradise that Mary, one of the older children, has described to them. Unfortunately, as disease and chaos has destroyed their civilization, they are forced to arm themselves and fight off other bands of survivors. As they trek into the countryside, their means and moraes grow more primitive, and they adopt a totem they dub “the Watchman”. Here shades of Lord of the Flies can be seen as a new, more violent, tribal culture emerges.

Mary’s Country is certainly a powerfully-written book, and I found myself drawn by its strong narrative. But I would be hard-pressed to recommend the book for republication when ignorance of Golding and Orwell would have to be a pre-requisite for any reader hoping to experience its full effect.

The Dogs, by Ivan Nazhivin
Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1931

Nazhivin’s novel is a panorama of Russia from before World War One to the height of the Russian revolution as seen through the eyes and minds of dogs. The dogs mirror society, ranging from a pair of noble Borzois and the pampered lapdog of the Grand Duke Nicholas’ mistress to Siedoi, a mutt. Despite his questionable pedigree, Siedoi is the novel’s protagonist, and manages to travel from Moscow to the country estate of a family of Russian gentry to the trenches on the Eastern Front and a prisoner-of-war camp in Austria and then back again to the estate as the human society around him progressively collapses.

Time magazine’s review of The Dogs called it, “one of the most articulate books of Russia, of human and other natures, yet written in the Tolstoi vein,” and like Tolstoi, Nazhivin displays a remarkable ability to portray his characters–both dog and human–in all their faults without passing judgment. With one exception: Peter, whom we first see as a lax and cruel kennel keeper, then as a thief, liar, coward, cheat, rapist, and, finally, Bolshevik rabble-rouser. Though Nazhivin doesn’t gloss over the problems and corruptions of Tsarist Russia, it’s clear that Peter symbolizes all the evils brought by the Communists, and the only thing lacking in the caricature are horns and a tail.

Still, The Dogs is moving account of the destruction experienced at all levels of Russian society enhanced by the novelty and humor of being told from animal perspectives. And in the much-travelled Siedoi, a flea-ridden survivor with a romantic soul, Nazhivin creates one of most memorable characters I’ve come across recently.

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'My Hey-Day'

My Hey-Day, or The Crack-up of the International Set, by Princess Tulip Murphy, as told to Virginia Faulkner
New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1940

This book is pure froth–but it’s premium-quality froth. These are the purported memoirs of Princess Tulip Murphy, whose nobility is not the only thing about her of questionable provenance. After leaving her husband, “Brick-a-minute” Murphy, she manages through a combination of theft, seduction, and blackmail–though none of these offenses is so crudely named by their culprit–to elbow her way into “the International Set.” She then circulates among this amorphous band of royalty, heirs, heiresses, and hangers-on from Bajden-Baden to Cucamonga.

Each chapter recounts her adventures in a new place–Stockholm, where she meets Xerxes IX, Crown Prince of Jugo-ourway and his mother, Queen Carmen-Veranda; England, where she spents a dreary week at Sneers, the Spiltshire seat of the Earls of Quinsy; Pompei, where she takes her turn watching the famous painter, Pablo Paolo Pali at work on his prize-winning composition, “There Are More Ways of Choking a Cat than by Swallowing It With Butter, Horatio”; Mazatlan, where her friends Peter Frenzy Fripp and Olga Ostrogoth are tossed in jail for photographing an execution (“Nobody we knew,” the Princess hastens to add). Each spot offers her a chance to air yet more of her remarkable wardrobe:

I was wearing an original DeClassé of spaghetti-colored cambric, handsomely trimmed in gum-drop green duvetyn with shoulder-knots of solid tinsel. My hat was a saucy beret no bigger than an aspirin tablet, which was held to my head by a specially trained family of matching chameleons. My only jewelry, square-cut cultured emerald cuff-links, matched the duvetyn, and I carried a fish-net parasol which could also be used for water-divining.

As the world edges closer to the outbreak of World War Two, her trek eventually leads her to a yurt in forbidden Tibet, where despite the company of Lulu Alabaster, Lady Crystal Scum, and Count Udo von und zu Vonundzu, and heated political debates (“You know as well as I that Germany is dictated–but not red,” observes the Count), she finds herself bored: “But to the teeth!” Even though “there are so many armies wandering around that trains and ships are said to be unpleasantly crowded,” she resolves to head off in search of the “European belligerents”: after all, she notes, “Everyone’s going.”

As Time magazine wrote of Faulkner’s first novel, Friends and Romans, My Hey-Day “… breaks nobody’s bones or butterflies, lets no threatening skeletons loose on a frightened world, hurls no manifesto, literary or political.” What it does is offer a steady stream of wise-cracks, puns, and other comic material that holds up remarkably well considering the many decades passed since it last saw the light of day.

Found in an ex-Library: “The Pomp of Power” by Anonymous

I am attending a management course at a former country house (now conference center) in the U.K. this week. The breakfast room was formerly the home’s library, a typical grand library room with stately built-in wood shelves running from wainscotting to twenty-foot ceiling. Most of the books are gone, but there were several hundred still left–left or brought in bulk by some decorator. Dining alone on the first day, I went over, browsed through a few, and pulled down one titled, The Pomp of Power.

Leafing through it, I saw that it was some kind of memoir of politics, diplomacy, and intrigues during the First World War and the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. It was written in clear, graceful first-person prose — quite readable, in fact — that led me to check the title page for the author. There was none. There was none on the spine, either.

My reaction was to go back to reading, but this time with a considerable skepticism. When somebody close to the inner circles of power writes an anonymous memoir, it’s hard not to think there is at least a 50-50 chance that anonymity is a reflection of cowardice more than discretion. Still, it was an interesting enough read, assuming you’re vaguely familiar with at least a few of the personalities involved (Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Douglas Haig).

I didn’t have the interest to smuggle it back to the room, though. But I have located a long review of the book from the New York Times in 1922. (I notice that the Times appears recently to have put a good chunk of its archives, going back to the turn of the 20th century online. Bravo!). The review ends with the following comment:

Let us hope that The Pomp of Power will be the last of the anonymous books. It would have added greatly to the force of this one if the writer were courageous enough to sign it; but, after all, most of us who believe in reconstruction will not regret this lack of force in a book which, with all its power of style and keen insight, tends toward the fostering of distrust and hopelessness.

Unfortunately for the reviewer, distrust and hopelessness did win out over belief in reconstruction.

I am Jonathan Scrivener, by Claude Houghton

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Excerpt


Cover of first UK Penguin paperback edition of 'I Am Jonathan Scrivener'His first act after inheriting his uncle’s fortune was a definite indication that he had renounced social glory. He sold the great house in the country which contained so many treasures, and ignored all the social responsibilities of his position. Doubtless this offended a number of people very much. A man is expected to do exactly what the herd does of which he is a member. If you belong to a family whose supreme pleasure is hunting, you are expected to hunt — and to evince a delirious passion for that activity. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. And not only that. Your refusal is regarded by the members of your family as a criticism of them. It’s no good saying you don’t hunt because you don’t like it, for the interpretation given to that statement is that you mean that they ought not to like it. If you persist in your refusal, it is either assumed that you have a secret vice, or that you are a Bolshevik in close touch with Moscow. Argument is useless. Either you must adhere to your refusal and accept ignominy, or you must leap on t a horse and pursue a tiny and terrified animal in company with other sportsmen.

In precisely the same way a number of assumptions were made about Scrivener. He was well-born and wealthy. Very well then. He would immediately adopt the type of life lived by those so circumstanced. He would entertain and be entertained. He would adopt with enthusiasm that mode of life which consists of doing the same things, with the same people, at the same places, at the same periods, year in, year out, world without end, till gout or death do them part. That is, he would become a member of the fashionable world.


Editor’s Comments


Paul Auster has taken some critical bashing lately, but I’ve always enjoyed the way he takes his characters on wild detours, getting them to abandon one life for another simply through an irresistable narrative pull. Becoming a prisoner of an eccentric couple of millionaires (as in The Music of Chance) or cataloging phone books in an abandoned bunker (as in Oracle Night) is hardly what either protagonist sets out to do, but somehow they end up in these implausible situations, and the reader follows along just to find out what happens next.

I was strongly reminded of Auster’s work in the first few chapters of Claude Houghton’s I am Jonathan Scrivener. I will quote from Time magazine’s review to summarize the plot:

One James Wrexham, impoverished but well-educated Englishman past his first youth, is distastefully employed in a real-estate office. One day he answers an advertisement in the London Times, is accepted, becomes secretary to mysterious, invisible Jonathan Scrivener.

Secretary Wrexham never sees his employer, who goes abroad after hiring his secretary solely on the strength of his letter of application. Wrexham’s only duties are to live in Scrivener’s London flat, catalog his library, receive his friends, write occasional reports to the absent employer. One by one Scrivener’s friends turn up in search of him, get acquainted with Wrexham, tell him what they think of Scrivener. Each description is different. None of the friends have met, but through Wrexham they become intimate. Complications ensue. Soon Wrexham is convinced that the whole business is an experiment of Scrivener’s, a carefully laid plot to bring these varied types of men and women together, to see how they will react on each other.

In other words, Wrexham, in a very Auster-ian move, abandons one life and steps into another, highly implausible one, and we follow along just to find out what happens next. Why does Scrivener want him to be a secretary in absentia? And who is Scrivener, anyway?

Over the next few chapters, four characters come to Scrivener’s flat: Pauline, the beautiful and very independent-minded daughter of an Army general; Francesca Bellamy, the stylish widow of a millionaire suicide; Middleton, a hard-drinking sportsman going through an early mid-life crisis; and Rivers, a bon vivant and social climber. From each, Wrexham obtains a starkly different account of Scrivener. He struggles to fit these versions together, as each of the visitors seems to be struggling to come to their own understanding of Scrivener. Finally, after countless conversations, Wrexham answers the door one evening to greet a man who introduces himself: “I am Jonathan Scrivener.”

And there the story ends. Unfortunately, the novel long before loses its similarity with one of Paul Auster’s novels. Aside from the conversations with the various characters about Scrivener, nothing much happens. An efficient but aloof housekeeper named Matthews feeds and looks after Wrexham, but she remains another enigma. Wrexham occasionally drops something equivalent to “Note to self: find out more about Matthews” into his interior monologues, but he never follows through. Although by the end, Wrexham’s inclined to think that Scrivener threw him and the other four together as part of an ulterior scheme, he can’t figure out just what the point of the scheme was. We close the book not really knowing much more about the principle characters than when we started.

One could say the same thing about some of Auster’s novels, but at least they have the merit of a strong narrative. Somewhere around page 200 of I am Jonathan Scrivener, I stopped wondering what would happen next: it was all too clear that nothing would, except another few conversations about Scrivener. I kept with the book on the slim hope that I might be proved wrong.

Not everyone had the same opinion of I am Jonathan Scrivener, though. Henry Miller wrote in The Books in My Life that “it would have made a wonderful movie,” and Orson Welles may have drawn upon it as one of his inspirations for “Citizen Kane”. Who knows, it may even have sown a seed for another masterpiece about an absent figure, Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. Michael Dirda discussed it in his book, Readings, concluding that it “may not be a lost masterpiece, but it is a highly diverting, philosophical novel of considerable merit.”

Dirda does note one of the most attractive features of the novel, which is the wealth of great quotes Houghton scatters throughout the text:

  • “Most of us commit suicide, but the fact is only recognized if we blow our brains out.”
  • “I’ve met a number of people who had endured agonies in their determination not to suffer.”
  • “To solve a problem, you must have all the data or none.”

  • “It is the custom of slaves to praise independence, but on the rare occasions when they encounter it they become extremely angry.”

These, and passages such as the excerpt above, go a long way to redeeming the book. And Houghton does manage to raise some intriguing questions, even if he doesn’t always put them to the effective service of a plot. Even if I don’t think the book is as successful as it could be, I’m certainly intrigued enough by Houghton’s writing to try another of his books — maybe Julian Grant Loses His Way, about a man who discovers that he’s dead (an inspiration for The Third Policeman perhaps?).


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I am Jonathan Scrivener, by Claude Houghton
London: Thornton Butterworth, 1930
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930
London: Penguin, 1937

The Peabody Sisters of Salem, by Louise Hall Tharp

The stories of Elizabeth Peabody, Mary Peabody Mann, and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne — the Peabody Sisters of Boston — whose lives interwined with most of the great names of 19th century American literature and culture, have retold in such recent books as Megan Marshall’s The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury, and the essay collection Reinventing the Peabody Sisters. As a subject, the sisters seem too good to pass up: Elizabeth’s 13 West Street bookshop in Boston was, if you will, the Shakespeare and Co. of the Transcendentalists; Mary was married to the pioneering educator Horace Mann, after whom one in six middle schools in the U.S. is named; and Sophia to the great novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'The Peabody Sisters of Salem'Louise Tharp Hall first celebrated the remarkable sisters in her 1950 collective biography, The Peabody Sisters of Salem, now out of print, which at the time was received with great acclaim. Here is a small sample of its many enthusiastic reviews:

• Jane Volles, San Francisco Chronicle

Generously Mrs. Tharp has filled in the background of that golden age in which the sisters lived. At one time or another, you meet all of the ‘Olympians’. She gives an interesting treatment to the young crowd of Transcendentalists parading the Boston streets in smocks and tasseled caps…. Mrs. Tharp evokes rather than probes in her presentation of the Peabodys. Her portraits have that quality we call inspired which defies the wreckage of time and catches certain aspects that remain in the mind of the reader: Elizabeth at her happiest when she was giving more than she could afford; Mary, always stimulating to the mind; Sophia, filled with irrepressible buoyancy. Mrs. Tharp’s manner of presentation is summed up perfectly in certain words of Mary Peabody’s: “It is not enough to cultivate the memory or even to enlighten the understanding. Out of the heart are the issues of life.”

• Henry Steele Commager, New York Herald Tribune, 8 January 1950

Mrs. Tharp has re-created the Peabody girls and the circle in which they moved with consumate skill. It would be easy to make the Peabodys objects of fun, but Mrs. Tharp writes of them with sympathy and affection and understanding…. [The criticisms of the book] are minor matters. What is important is that one of the exciting families of our middle period should be rescued from oblivion and made to live again.

• Clorinda Clarke, Catholic World, March 1950

Wit and pathos, respect and scholarship are the ingredients of this book. In it we meet afresh, Alcott and Emerson, Margaret Fuller and Mrs. Browning. It achieves that blend of history and humanity that makes a first-rate biography.

• Edward Weeks, The Atlantic, February 1950

In style and technique the book is a blend, and a very good one, or letters and diaries and Mrs. Tharp’s reanimation of the past. In its scenes, in its conversation, in its detailed knowledge of the background, it is an invigorating, honestly recaptured chronicle. These people mattered largely in their day, and we enjoy that day and feel their vitality in this leisurely and attractive book.

• Cleveland Amory, New York Times, 8 January 1950

Mrs. Tharp has a narrative ability and an affection for her subject which is contagious. Her scholarship is extensive and, while one wishes she had included a list of her sources as well as a complete list of the writings of the Peabodys themselves, it is convincing.

• Edward Wagenknecht, Chicago Sunday Tribune, 8 January 1950

Judged by any standard you like, this is absorbing biography. The year 1950 is not likely to offer any more exciting reading experience.

Copies of The Peabody Sisters of Salem can be picked up on Amazon for as little as 15 cents. A bargain like that is hard to pass up.

Most of Tharp’s other books were biographies written for young readers, but her 1965 biography of the Boston heiress and art patron, Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose museum is one of the finest art collections from the “Robber Baron” era, Mrs. Jack was a best-seller and received reviews equal to that of The Peabody Sisters of Salem. It was reissued in 2003 by the museum.

In the Mill, by John Masefield

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Excerpt


Cover of first U.S. edition of 'In the Mill'
In a few days I mastered mistake-finding sufficiently to enjoy it very much and do it competently. I was at it all day long, working at speed; well, that was no hardship to me. From childhood, I had been trained to jump to the order; and speed has always seemed to me to be a vital part of efficiency. The continual movement put an end to my day-dreams about the Merchant Service college. I now was moving about all day long, going from floor to floor, stopping a loom, getting another under way, solving some odd error, or causing something to be set right, and having brief words with weavers now and then about the working of their machines. Most of my joy in the work came from its independence. I was the mistake-finder, running the job pretty much as I liked, trusted t do it well, and knowing that I was trusted. The flattery of this was a continual great delight to me; it was my first command, and full of the liveliest interest. No man can be unmoved by the great concerted energy of many men and women. The roaring thundering clang of the energy of the weaving-rooms was a big and exciting thing. Sometimes I felt that it was an enormous dragon and that my mind was going against it with one little purpose, to get at its secret springs and master it.


Editor’s Comments


In 1895, John Masefield, a young seaman apprentice on an English windjammer, became convinced he had some latent gift for writing and jumped ship in Manhattan. After a few hungry weeks, he walked into the office of a carpet factory in Yonkers and applied for a job. In the Mill is his memoir of the next two years, during which he worked as one of hundreds in a great Industrial Age factory full of looms, presses, pulley, conveyors, steam engines, and other complex machinery.

Masefield’s poetry has a strong lyrical streak, and it infuses In the Mill with a poetry that few would suspect of a world usually portrayed as grim, relentless, and inhumane. Partly this is because work in the mill was for Masefield, an improvement on his previous situations — working all hours in extreme weather on the ship, and before that, rising at four A.M. and carrying out back-breaking chores on a farm. Within a few weeks of being hired, Masefield realizes the regular hours — and days off — have their advantages:

When I returned from one of these excursions I felt that indeed my lot had fallen on a fair ground and that I had a goodly heritage; beauty all round me, leisure, such as I had not thought possible, books, so cheap that I could have a library of them, and a great, vivid romantic capital City only half an hour away.

As much of In the Mill is about Masefield’s time away from the factory as in it. Yonkers then sat on the far fringe of New York City; within fifteen minutes’ walk, he could find himself in the middle of a wild forest with no trace of man’s touch. And he could afford to buy books that he consumed with a ravenous hunger. Even though he saw writing as his calling, he had no real sense of what or how he would pursue it until he stumbles upon cheap red Buxton Forman editions of the works of Keats and Shelley:

I began with the Keats, wondering what a classic would be like, and a little fearful lest it should prove to be in couplets like Pope’s Odyssey. I read one short poem with amazement, then a second, which brought me under his spell for ever, then four lines of a third, and for that night I could read no more. I was in a new world where incredible beauty was daily bread and breath of life. Everything that I had read until then seemed like paving-stones on the path leading to this Paradise; now I seemed to be in the garden, and the ecstasy was so great that the joy seemed almost to burn…. I knew then that Medicine was not the law of my being, but the shadow of it; and that my law was to follow poetry, even if I died of it.

Masefield proves a diligent worker and obtains several promotions, moving up to the job described above, one we’d now call quality control. His supervisor holds out fine hopes for him — one day, he tells young “Macey”, you can have a factory floor of your own to run. To Masefield, however, this prospect rises up like a great life-consuming threat. He quits, collects his pay, sells off most of his books, and gets a berth on a merchant ship headed for England.

In hindsight, he thinks he may have seen the factory system in its best light, “in a land which held very strongly the concepts of equality and of dignity.” And he admits that his memories of the mill are not always glowing:

Often, I hated the mill; sometimes in a dream, I have thought that I had to be there again, or was there again, unable to leave, and have wakened glad to find it not so. When I revisited it a few winters ago, my heart sank at the sight of it, and I knew again my old winter horror.

In the Mill is written in a simple, self-effacing style that often belies its beauty and insights. One might argue that this style stems from a tendency in Masefield to avoid stepping above his place in the world, an innate acceptance of the Victorian class system that was fading fast or gone completely by the time he wrote this book. Certainly In the Mill seems subdued compared to what one might expect of a memoir of grunt work in a great dark factory. But it also seems something of a relief from the over-written and strident accounts more usually cataloged as proletarian literature. Indeed, subtlety and self-effacement are part of In the Mill’s great charm.


Other Comments

• The New Yorker, 23 August 1941

The British Poet Laureate recalls his experiences as a carpet-mill worker in Yonkers some forty-five years ago, at a time that marked the beginnings of his apprenticeship to literature. A simple and poignant autobiographical sketch.

• Time, 11 August 1941

By stiff literary standards, England’s Poet Laureate is an easy man to underestimate. But the very qualities that make his work minor (and made him Laureate) — simplicity, traditionalism and sentimentality — are also his great charm. Hardly less than Rudyard Kipling, he is a workingman’s poet. The same qualities make In the Mill, the story of the days when he was an intelligent young workingman, one of the most engaging of his books.


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In the Mill, by John Masefield
London: Heinemann, 1941
New York: Macmillian, 1941

And Gladly Teach, by Bliss Perry

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'And Gladly Teach'

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Editor’s Comments


Bliss Perry was a minor figure in American literary history. A professor of English literature and language, he taught at Williams and Princeton for roughly ten years each at the end of the nineteenth century, edited the Atlantic Monthly for ten years, then taught at Harvard for twenty years. He wrote dozens of books, mostly collections, essays, and biographies of American writers such as Emerson and Whitman.

Perry’s memoir, And Gladly Teach, is a book of muted tones and little drama. As he admits in the book,

… I suppose that even at home I have had, more than most men, what would be considered a sheltered life. There has been no feverish anxiety about money, for there has always been a modest salary and no fear of losing the job; always a roof over our heads; always food and fire and libraries and friends, to say nothing of a household happiness so perfect that I cannot attempt to describe it here.

This is an excursion back to another world, to the orderly and reasoned life of an academic and scholar at a time when the entire faculty of a college could sit around one not very large conference table and when reading and thinking were considered priorities to which a professor was expected to devote much of his working day:

I choose for illustration four English authors on whom I happened to be lecturing at Williams in the eighteen-eighties, at Princeton in the eighteen-nineties, and at Harvard in the nineteen-twenties. It is clear that the lecturer, at the outset, should have read the entire work of each author. Then comes the task of thinking, for, as W. C. Brownell used to say: “To produce vital and useful criticism it is necessary to think, think, think and then, when tired of thinking, to think more.” The third stage is the selection and arrangement of such significant facts, conclusions, queries, as can be presented to a class in fifty minutes….

“All this,” Perry writes, “is preparatory to the actual delivery of the lecture.” The son of a Williams College professor, Perry grew up in Williamstown, Massachussetts, graduated from Williams, then stayed on to teach introductory classes in English. As a boy, he and his father often wandered in the hills and forests around the town, and when not studying, teaching, or writing, Perry was usually out somewhere in the New England countryside, walking or fishing. And Gladly Teach is, therefore, a quiet and pastoral book, and comes to a modern reader as an escape from the world of 24-hour interactivity.

It is also very much a book from the time when power and social status in America lay in the hands of a small number of white men, mostly from the Northeast. “My day’s work, for more than half a century, has been with gentlemen,” Perry writes, and by “gentlemen”, it is quite clear that he means men much like him. He is not, however, quite so narrow in his definition as his Harvard neighbor, who offers the following classic assessment of the world as seen from Cambridge in 1900:

The men, while taking their coffee, mentioned a then newly published book, Who’s Who in America I remarked that I was finding it useful in the Atlantic office, inasmuch as it gave biographical information about most of the men who had achieved national prominence. Whereupon our host asked, with entire seriousness, “Wouldn’t the Harvard Quinquennial Catalogue answer every purpose?”

The relative inertia of the social class structure of Perry’s world extended to the relations between faculty and students as well. Perry writes unashamedly that,

Likewise I was too ignorant of the personal history of the men whom I was trying to teach. One could place the graduate students roughly, for one knew the colleges from which they came and something about their records and plans. But I never knew even the names of the majority of students in the big undergraduate courses, nor their preparatory schools nor their Harvard groupings and social affiliations. I had to leave all that to my assistants who read the blue-books and conferred personally with the men.

On this point, though, I suspect that the only thing that’s changed between Perry and many of today’s university faculty members is the willingness to admit this.

And Gladly Teach is not a major work of autobiography. “I am aware that I have not portrayed a whole life, but only such aspects of a teacher’s career as may conceivably prove interesting,” Perry writes near the end. It is, though, a sterling example of a life devoted to, and illuminated by, a deep love of the humanities, and a thoroughly pleasant place in which to spend a few hours.


Other Comments

• Percy Hutchison, New York Times, 13 October 1935

A rare book, rare in the sense that it has individuality of flavor. One the whole, Bliss Perry lived a quiet, even uneventful life. But he lived a life of the mind, of the spirit, and the will, which three together, plus friendliness toward one’s fellow-men, make personality. For this writer, who was one of Mr. Perry’s first assistants at Harvard, he lives anew in these pages, so unconsciously does Bliss Perry reproduce himself.

• G. M. Janes, Churchman, 1 November 1935

In reading the various chapters of this interesting volume of reminiscences, one has the same feeling as in biting into a juicy apple and finding it neither too tart nor too sweet, but altogether enjoyable.

• C. M. Fuess, Atlantic, November 1935

One notable feature of this book is the author’s skill in characterization, shown in little sketches…. No one can spend an hour with this book without respecting Bliss Perry’s balanced, tolerant spirit, his astonishing fund of literary knowledge, his keen intelligence, his urbanity, his blessed common sense.

• Christian Science Monitor, 30 September 1935

When the subject is worthy and workmanship good, only in the reader’s own taste lie any impediments to enjoyment of a book. The subject of Bliss Perry’s reminiscences is worthy because it is a record of life as it affect and was affected by a cultivated, idealistic, and modest man; the workmanship is as good as that of one who spent his working hours with the masterpieces of literature ought to be.


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And Gladly Teach, by Bliss Perry
Boston and New York: Hoghton Mifflin Company, 1935

Inside, Looking Out, by Harding Lemay

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Excerpt


Cover of first U.S. edition of 'Inside, Looking Out'
After Marianne left with her husband and baby, I prepared a light lunch which Vincent and I ate around Mother’s bed. Then he escaped, first to wash the dishes and then to so unrevealed diversion, and I sat by my mother’s bed, along with her for the first time since I had run away from home thirteen years earlier. Propped up against her pillows in a bedjacket one of her children had sent her, she seemed unusually lucid and oddly girlish. She whispered that she knew I would take care of her; I was the favorite of all her children and I wouldn’t let Marianne go on mistreating her. Her customary lethargy gave way to flirtatiousness and quick, energetic gestures. Grasping her hot hands in mine, I looked into eyes I had evaded for many years and told her than I would not, and could not, rescue her from Marianne. She stared at me in utter disbelief, nodding her head at everything I said, hearing nothing. I told her I was getting divorced (she had never seen my wife), and she nodded her head in approval. I told her I was going to marry again (she had never met Dorothy), and again she nodded approvingly. She forgot, I think, the promise she had tried to extract from me, and rested quietly for most of the afternoon. Once, turning to me, she asked with a childlike clarity of speech, “How old are you, Harding?” “Thirty,” I replied, and she fumbled for my hand. “You’re in the prime of life,” she comforted me, patting my hand as she had often done when I was a boy.

Lying back, she muttered something I couldn’t understand until her urgent movements made me realize she required the bedpan. I raised her flaccid body to perform that function, which embarrassed me far more than it did her. When I came back from emptying the pan in the bathroom, she was asleep, her face peaceful against the pillow, her breath coming in sharp little grunts. I watched her as I was to watch, in later years, our young children asleep in their cribs, merriment and tantrums wiped from their faces, leaving only blank slates upon which a father (a son?) can write what he pleases. She was still sleeping quietly when Marianne and Lou returned, and I made my way back to Manhattan.


Editor’s Comments

Harding Lemay’s memoir, Inside, Looking Out, struck critics and readers alike as an exceptional novelty when it was first published in 1971. At the time, this soul-baring account of Lemay’s painful escape from the poverty, alcoholism, violence, and ignorance of his upbringing and his fitful attempts to establish himself in a career and as a family man stood out from the mass of autobiographies. Disreputable relations, bad habits, and errors of judgment were considered best left unmentioned. Now, after the success of Angela’s Ashes, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Running with Scissors, and other such tales of adolescents emerging from troubled situations, Inside, Looking Out probably seems a bit old hat.

Lemay is best known for his work in the 1970s on the soap opera, “Another World”. When he wrote Inside, Looking Out, however, he had little in the way of conventional accomplishments on which to base an autobiography. He had written a few plays, none of which had got past an off-off-Broadway weekend run. He had spent nearly ten years working for Alfred and Blanche Knopf in their publishing firm, rising to a fairly senior level, but he’d quit that to devote himself full-time to writing. Before the Knopfs, Lemay had worked as a largely unsuccessful actor. His only starring roles were with touring company that performed abridged versions of the classics for high school audiences. His first marriage had ended in divorce; in the Army, he’d deliberately flunked out of officer training; and before getting drafted, he’d lived in a home for wayward boys and shelved books at the New York Public Library. A memoir was hardly what anyone would have expected him to write.

It’s not the facts of Lemay’s life that make Inside, Looking Out worth reading. Instead, Lemay introduced a new dimension to American autobiography. This is a story of mistakes, embarrassments, bad judgments, problems ignored, and hard choices avoided. What makes this something of a novelity for its time is that Lemay portrays his own failures and foibles as honestly as he does of others.

But what makes is most remarkable about Inside, Looking Out is that Lemay does — gradually, haltingly — come to find the character within himself to make those hard choices. He comes to admit that his first marriage is a failure. As he leaves, he throws into a garbage bin all the bits of theatre memorabilia he has made his hobby and his escape. He later leaves a solid position and an excellent salary at Knopf when he comes to recognize its toll on himself and his family. And, as in the excerpt above, he comes to terms with his parents. Lemay never takes his own growth as an excuse for judging others:

For memory may be nothing more than another form of fantasy, in which we ceaselessly arrange and rearrange the incidents of our lives into a pattern we can accept. The honesty with which we present our motives to ourselves may be merely rationalizations for actions we not longer dare to confront, and those we’ve loved and hated, blur together into one haunting image.

Inside, Looking Out was nominated for the 1972 National Book Award for Biography. It lost to Joseph Lash’s Eleanor and Franklin. Dorchester Publishing reissued the book as a paperback in 1982, but it’s been out of print since then. For anyone who appreciated the like of Angela’s Ashes, it’s certainly worth looking for.


Other Comments

Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek, 3 May 1971

Harding Lemay’s story is an American classic. … Not a man to attract a biographer’s attentions, but that is the joy of a personal memoir. It does not matter who the author is or what success he has achieved — what matters is the book he fashions from the rough materials of his life. I think that Lemay’s recollections of his family and his service in the court of the Knopfs are themselves worth the book, but the whole is better than that. It is a very tough, unsparing self-evaluation, an honest book that shows how a man not used to honesty can work toward it. It shows how difficult it can be to learn to accept what one is and to build on that. It is, very simply, an account of how a man forced himself to become as full a man as he could be.

Haskel Frankel, Saturday Review, 5 June 1971

[This is] a literary event, and — much as I suspect this will embarrass Mr. Lemay — a true inspirational work. He cannot help but be meaningful to the majority of us who just gasp for air in the stranglehold of status and possessions and titles that never produce the happiness we thought came as part of the whole package. In short, I think Inside, Looking Out is as important for what it says as it is beautiful for the simple, controlled way it says it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


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Inside, Looking Out: a Personal Memoir, by Harding Lemay
New York: Harper, 1971

Six of Them, by Alfred Neumann

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Excerpt


Cover of the first U.S. edition of 'Six of Them'The barber at Stadelheim prison is called Adam, and most people don’t know if it his given name or his surname. He is not an independent businessman, but a state employee with the title of Surgical Assistant and a certificate attesting to his competence. He lives in the prison. Until 1935 he lived in the same capacity in the surgical clinic, and shaved the hairy parts of bodies before they were submitted to the surgeon’s knife. He is a master of his trade, but his trade has nothing in common with the gay, loquacious beautification work of a Figaro. For he does not shave faces. Adam is grave and taciturn and emaciated like a fakir. His office, his appearance and the late hour of the night at which he usually goes into action, spread terror, deadly terror. He is used to it and pays no attention to it. Sometimes it happens that his clients must be tied to their cots face down and cut hair in any position and has never yet nicked anyone. That is his pride.

“Adam, work!” the prison’s executive secretary speaks over the house wire.

“Cell number,” Adam requests.

“There are six.”

“Six,” says Adam. It is not an exclamation of astonishment, but only a repetition of the number. He hangs up, and dons his work coat. Every barber in the world wears a white jacket, Adam wears a black one. He is no worldly barber.


Editor’s Comments

Six of Them is a remarkable feat of imagination. An exile from Germany, writer Alfred Neumann wrote the book, a fictionalized account of the 1943 White Rose protest against Hitler and Nazism, and the subsequent arrest, trial, and execution of the six organizers, with little more than hearsay accounts published in Time magazine and circulated among the emigre community. Yet he managed to convey with considerable accuracy both the particulars and the atmosphere of the event.

The book opens with the six in jail, awaiting their questioning by a Nazi Peoples’ Court. Although the narrative thread runs a short course from here to their conviction and execution, Neumann provides for each of the accused a flashback that shows how he or she came to the decision to publically oppose Hitler, with all the obvious risks that involved. Hans and Sophie Moeller (brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl in the real protest), university professor Karl von Hennings and his wife Dora (Karl Huber and his wife), and their comrades, Christopher Sauer and Alexander Welte, each arrived at his or her choice through different experiences and motivations. Sophie had watched as her best friend, a Jewish girl, was hounded out of school, then hemmed in by increasingly restrictive measures, and finally shipped off to a concentration camp. Karl von Hennings’ objection was an ethical one; Christopher Sauer’s a religious one. Dora went along out of love for Karl; Alexander out of loyalty to Hans, whom he befriended on the Eastern Front.

Neumann contrasts these six with the judges on the Peoples’ Court. They, too, have reached their destination through different paths.One is an dilettante nobleman who disdains his Nazi colleagues but lacks the personal strength to find any faith of his own to follow. Another is a fat, smug butcher who gloats at the rise in his fortune and standing resulting from his decision to join the Nazi Party early in its existence. Where the six accused took risks to voice and defend their beliefs, Neumann shows the judges as compromised, corrupt, or opportunistic.The political power may be theirs, but the moral strength of the six protesters is greater.

The book suffers somewhat from Neumann’s awkward style and his tendency to rely too much on conveying his characters’ thoughts rather than their actions, but it remains a strong story. He often shows a cinematic flair for scene-setting: at the time he wrote Six of Them, he had just finished the screenplay for None Shall Escape, another tale of Nazism for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Neumann may not have intended to turn Six of Them into a screenplay, but it wouldn’t have taken much effort.

The real story has itself been filmed several times, most recently in the 2005 film, Sophie Scholl, and the facts have also been well-documented in numerous books. Neumann wrote his novel to show Americans that a simple stereotype would not suffice to understand tthe German people, but perhaps there is little remaining reason for anyone to pick up Six of Them and read it. That does not mean, however, that the genuine merits of this book deserve to be forgotten.


Other Comments

F. C. Weiskopf, Saturday Review of Literature, 28 July 1945

A craftsman of great experience and skill, Mr. Neumann masterfully combines economy in the use of his artistic means with richness of imagination and narrative power…. Many passages of this sincere and passionate novel will long be remembered by its readers, especially the weird picture of Christopher Sauer; the fine character sketch of the “destroyed destroyer of life,” member of the Peoples’ Court, Baron Freyberg; and the moving story of the married love of Karl von Hennings and Dora.

Virgilia Sapieha (Peterson), Weekly Book Review, 29 July 1945

The six lives are both credible and intensely moving. Bright shafts of reason in the Nazi night, they show up the grotesque crooks and cranks and fools around them. If this book, Six of Them, could be filmed for Germany it might help to melt the frozen youth and quicken the hearts that a century of militarism has stilled.


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Six of Them, by Alfred Neumann, translated by Anatol Murad
New York: Macmillan, 1945

The Long Walk of Samba Diouf, by Jerome and Jean Tharaud

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Cover of the first U.S. edition of 'The Long Walk of Samba Diouf'

Excerpt


But the old routine had to be followed again, almost as monotonously as in Saint Pierre Wood and in the camp of Arcachon — drudgery of all sorts, fetching water, carrying soup, wine, grenades, work with pick and shovel to extend the branching ways. The coupe-coupe and gun were useless here too and the only difference the Blacks could see in the trenches was that they could find death there at any moment, but they had no better chance of dealing it.

Certainly life in these holes in the ground did not seem like the war they had imagined. War as their parents had always spoken of it was war in the open, the stealthy surroundings of a village, the ambuscade behind the trees, then all at once warriors dashing forward with wild cries, palisades overthrown, streets taken, the combat around the huts, the gun that once fired cannot be reloaded, sabre strokes on naked flesh, screams of women who flee into the forest, necklaces and bracelets snatched, old men gutted like useless beasts, young men borne into slavery — these were the memories of ancient warfare. Then at night the return, driving before them droves of cattle and captives, women bending before the conquerors, dances, tambours, songs of the witch doctors, all celebrating the exploits of the glorious day….


Editor’s Comments

A couple of years ago, I came across a French compilation of novels about World War One. Most of the titles were familiar — Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel, Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire, and Arnold Zweig’s Education Before Verdun. But La randonne de Samba Diouf caught me short. Who’d ever heard of a World War One novel with a title about “Samba Diouf”?

Intrigued, I did a little searching and located an English translation: The Long Walk of Samba Diouf. It appears to have been out of print in English since its first printing back in 1924, but it didn’t cost too much to obtain a copy in good condition. It was written by Jerome and Jean Tharaud, French brothers and writers who collaborated on dozens of books, won the Goncourt Prize in 1906, and were separately inducted into l’Academie Française (in 1938 and 1946).

The Long Walk of Samba Diouf tells the story of a young Senegalese fisherman who sets out to claim some animals that were left to him by a relative. His journey takes him through lands belonging to other tribes, and along the way, he learns of the war that has broken out in the homeland of the Toubabs — the local term for the French colonials. Like most other natives, he ignores the news, concerned more with his fantasies of coming home a wealthy man, ready to marry the daughter of one of the strong men in his village.

Unfortunately for Samba, he wanders into an strange town just as the French authorities announce a draft of able-bodied young Africans. For every 100 villagers, one man has to be offered up for service in to the Toubab cause. A few local men befriend him, ply him with palm wine, and turn him in as their contribution. When Samba comes to, he’s on his way to a boat destined for France.

Although the Tharauds (at least as translated) adopt a rather stilted tone to convey it, the mix of tribes, languages, customs, and religions in Samba’s group of inductees is the most memorable aspect of his story. The Toubabs see the men as a faceless band of “les noirs”, but they are a wild hodgepodge — Muslims and animists; sophisticated traders and primitive bushmen. Each has some story to tell around the campfire or barracks stove each night, and each has his own interpretation of this odd endeavor of the French to turn them into a uniformed batch of able, if loosely disciplined, utility troops.

After months of training, the Africans are hauled up to the front. Expecting to put their skills as warriors to the test, they spend their days merely filling in shell craters and laying down new duckboard lanes through the mud. Finally, the NCO in charge of the group convinces his commander that the men deserve a chance in combat. In a brief, furious scene in which the sensations of an attack across No Man’s Land is mixed with learned impressions of war as told by their elders, the men attack a German line, and Samba is wounded.

From this point, the journey rolls back in a fast rewind. Samba recovers in a field hospital, wondering for a moment if the tenderness of a beautiful French nurse could lead to romance. It’s all in his head, of course, and soon enough he’s boarding another ship, headed back to Africa. He eventually gets back to his home. In true war story cliche, his girlfriend has married another, and he’s never managed to collect the livestock that was to make his fortune. He returns to fishing. What significance the whole experience has had for him is unclear as the book ends.

It would be hard for any book written almost eighty years ago by white men about the world as experienced by African men not to seem a bit dated now. To the credit of the Tharauds, who specialized in accounts of peoples very different from the advantaged, intellectual world they inhabited — Africans, Jews, Gypsies — they make considerable efforts to take the perspective of the Africans at face value. Although they adopt primitive dictions to convey the talk and thoughts of the men, there is relatively little implication that these conversations and perceptions are not sublte and sophisticated in their own way. The Tharauds’ Samba is a considerable development from James Fennimore Cooper’s American Indians, and The Long Walk of Samba Diouf probably ranks among the more balanced and sympathetic Western attempts to depict a Third World culture.

Jerome and Jean Tharaud are largely forgotten now, even in France. I suspect this is due mostly to the fact that the gap between the French and the people of their former colonies has shrunk considerably — physically, at least, if not in other ways. However, they deserve recognition for creating some of the earliest works in which these peoples were treated from an anthropological rather than imperialistic perspective.

Novelist Julian Barnes brought another novel of les freres Tharaud, Dingley , l’illustre écrivain (Dingley, the famous writer), to public attention in this 2005 article in the Guardian. Of this loose fictionalisation based on the life of Rudyard Kipling, he wrote,

The novel is thus both a critique of British imperialism – of its coarsening effects, its brutalities and self-deceptions – and a warning against literary populism. But it is also a proper novel about human failure, about the price paid (and the public benefits reaped) when part of the human heart is suppressed. It seems impossible that Kipling could not have heard of Dingley; also highly unlikely he would have read it (not least because of Archie’s death-scene). I can’t find Kipling making any written or reported comment on the novel; fictionalising him, I would imagine silent contempt as his reaction to this piece of Gallic impertinence.

Unfortunately, Dingley stands even less chance than The Long Walk of Samba Diouf of being rediscovered, at least by English readers — it’s never been translated.


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The Long Walk of Samba Diouf, by Jerome and Jean Tharaud
New York: Duffield and Company, 1924

Everybody Slept Here, by Elliott Arnold

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'Everybody Slept Here'Elliott Arnold’s Everybody Slept Here is a tragi-comic account of Washington, D.C. during World War Two. Arnold’s descriptions of how the sleepy Southern capitol coped with a huge influx of people brought in by a government engaged in a global Industrial Age war will remind some readers of David Brinkley’s best-selling Washington at War. The atmosphere in both books is much the same. Housing is beyond a premium. Privileges and perks are as much a part of the everyday economy as dollars and cents. Enthusiastic idealists, opportunistic fixers, and effete society dames all find themselves jostled together in the best restaurants and the lowest dives. And as could be expected of any place with a large temporary population with some idle hours and spending money, more than the usual amount of booze and sex can be had.

As both the hardback and paperback covers show, its publishers pushed Everybody Slept Here as a book about sex. Which it is, in the sense that it’s obvious that characters in the book have sex. But being a 1940s’ sex book, the tawdry details of the act itself are still left off-stage. So it seems pretty tame stuff today, and is by far the least interesting part of the book.

Everybody Slept Here centers on a few of the tenants of one of the better apartment houses in the city. It’s a hodge-podge of personalities: Willy, a simple but garrulous Rotarian from San Bernardino who’s turned out to be a pretty handy political operator on behalf of the Army; his wife, who’s found alcohol an effective way to calm her fears about taking the step from bridge clubs to Capitol society circles; Kitty, technically married to a soldier in the Pacific but “dating” heavily in his absence; a Robert MacNamara-like technocrat who discovers that efficiency has relatively little political value. There’s even the building’s concierge, a would-be antebellum princess with a relish for malicious gossip who’s stooped to dealing with the arrivistes brought by the war.

Cover of first US paperback edition of 'Everybody Slept Here'Many of the characters Arnold sketches are one-dimensional and forgettable, but he does a marvelous job with Willy and his wife. Willy wears a girdle to rein in his gut and relaxes by sewing women’s’ dresses, and serves his time in uniform finding the best Scotch, the finest steaks, and whatever other amenities the Congressmen and generals need. It would be easy to make him preposterous and contemptible. Instead, Arnold is able take us past first impressions and show that he is also an honorable man in his own way, and a tender husband to his fragile wife.

The real merit of Everybody Slept Here, though, is not in Arnold’s treatment of the characters but in his precision in depicting the environment of wartime Washington. Nothing in his portrayal of the military, of the working of the political machines of industrial warfare, or of way people worked, ate, drank, and partied rings false. Everybody Slept Here could easily substitute for Washington at War as an introduction to its subject, and it lacks the affectionate haze leant by the distance of forty years to some aspects Brinkley’s book.

This is certainly not a great novel, and I won’t start campaigning for its reissue, but it is a fairly entertaining one. And it’s a grown-up’s book, by which I mean that it’s one in which characters act and make choices in a way that adults usually have to in the real world: not abruptly, not dramatically, and not as cleanly and neatly as they might like.

There’s one big exception to this. Kitty eventually throws herself out the window after making love with a disabled soldier. It’s so abrupt, melodramatic, and clean and neat that it’s the one thing in the book that IS preposterous.


Other Comments

· Russell Mahoney, New York Times, 30 May 1948

Everybody Slept Here must be condemned by the conscientious reviewer as superfluous. Some parts only; by far the greater part of this lively tale of wartime Washington has a very genuine interest, ranging from the real human insight which is the novelist’s stock in trade down to the clever reporter’s tricks which the rank file of novelists use to piece out their insight.

· Joseph Holbrook Jackson, San Francisco Chronicle, 16 April 1948

Mr. Arnold is a novelist. And even when he’s purposely writing with sales figures in his eyes, he can’t help making his book a good deal better than (a) it sounds here, or (b) the bosomy jacket will suggest to you. For Mr. Arnold saw something of wartime Washington himself. He had a chance to see what went on behind some of the protective coloration that was called “brass.” He learned how things get done in certain kinds of groups, what roles the adroit politician might play when it was wartime and normal rules had to go out of the window…. And these things he impales sharply in his story. More, he saw also what the decent, reasonably forthright regular Army career officer was like, and came to understand what it was that really made the Army tick.

· Springfield Republican, 25 April 1948

While Mr. Arnold isn’t exactly reticent about sex, he has come the closest yet of all the writers who have tried to explain what the nation’s capitol was like during World War II…. It is a rough, lively and often very funny book, with an undercurrent of seriousness that shows Mr. Arnold to be a most competent critic of his fellow men.

· Winnipeg Free Press, 4 September 1948

In an era of uninhibited novels, Mr. Elliott’s [sic] study of a group of heels in wartime Washington deserves the prize for frankness. The author, who writes with brutal clarify and often poignant insight, leaves no stone unturned in his quest for the slimy aspect of the U.S. capital at a time when the world was battling Hitler and his cohorts.

Once, however, the initial shock of meeting such a collection of over-sexed, neurotic and generally frowsy characters is overcome, one can see in the purpose of the writer an honesty and a skill which will commend it to the attention of all those who like a hard-bitten, honest and frankly realistic book.


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Everybody Slept Here, by Elliott Arnold
New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1948