Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Americans: B's (2 of 4)



I started off with 13 "B" authors last time, and I have 14 more to introduce today. Having done all the big and big-ish names in that previous post, there will be fewer immediately recognizable names in this post and the next two.


Sally Benson, 1941

Seven of these authors, however, were actually pretty widely known in their day, which leads me to think one or two of them, at least, could be ripe for rediscovery. I am particularly intrigued by SALLY BENSON, a screenwriter, novelist, and short story writer best known for the numerous stories she contributed to The New Yorker. Her two best-known books, Junior Miss (1941) and Meet Me in St Louis (1942), were collections of vignettes (though St Louis, at least, is often referred to as a novel) that first appeared in that magazine. Junior Miss follows the adventures and dilemmas of 13-year-old Judy Graves, and went on to become a play, a radio series, a film, and a musical. Meet Me in St Louis, whose New Yorker vignettes appeared under the title "5135 Kensington," was published during World War II and presented a nostalgic and semi-autobiographical look at St Louis in the year leading up to the 1904 World's Fair. A successful film version starring Judy Garland was released in 1944.


I'm interested in both of those books, but I've also got my eye on her three additional collections of stories—People Are Fascinating (1936), Emily (1938, published in the U.K. as Love Thy Neighbour), and Women and Children First (1943). If Benson was publishing her stories alongside the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Mollie Panter-Downes, also known for their New Yorker stories, I think I must see how she compares! By the way, a few of her stories appeared under her pseudonym, Esther Evarts. Benson's screenwriting credits include Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), for which she received an Oscar nomination, and The Singing Nun (1966).





I'm also intrigued by SARA WARE BASSETT, whose fiction was often set on Cape Cod, primarily in two fictional villages, Belleport and Wilton. Bassett was a talented artist and textile designer, but declined to accept a job as a designer because it would have meant leaving her home town. Instead, she worked for more than two decades as a kindergarten teacher. She began publishing short fiction, and her 1907 story "Mrs Christy's Bridge Party" was published in its own, 30-page volume and is therefore sometimes mistaken for her first novel, which is in fact The Taming of Zenas Henry (1915). 

Sara Ware Bassett





Of that book and her next two, The Wayfarers at the Angel's (1917) and The Harbor Road (1919), the Biographical Cyclopedia of American Women said that Bassett "shows a delicate humor, set off by a delightful irony that does not disguise her complete and friendly understanding of a cordial, generous, and humorous people." According to her IMDB entry, in later life she divided her time between Cape Cod and Princeton, Massachusetts, and in the latter she and her sister "ran a summer retreat … for unattached Boston area women who worked in the retail trade." Other fiction includes The Wall Between (1920), The Green Dolphin (1926), Twin Lights (1932), Hidden Shoals (1935), Shining Headlands (1937), An Ocean Heritage (1940), Anchorage (1943), Silver Moon Cottage (1945), The White Sail (1949), The Whispering Pine (1953), and The Girl in the Blue Pinafore (1957).



LORNA DOONE BEERS may not have been a household name even in her own time, but her three novels, Prairie Fires (1925), A Humble Lear (1929), and The Mad Stone (1932), all featuring Midwestern farm settings, were greeted with considerable acclaim and may be worth a look. These would be her only adult novels, however, and she published no further books for two decades—in part, according to her Wikipedia page, because she was caring for her husband who had mental health difficulties. 

Lorna Doone Beers

When Beers returned to writing fiction, she published two well-received children's titles, The Book of Hugh Flower (1952) and The Crystal Cornerstone (1955). She gained additional acclaim for her memoir, Wild Apples and North Wind (1966), about life on a farm in Vermont, to which she and her husband had retired. Thereafter she published only short works of fiction and poetry, though the manuscript of another novel was discovered among her papers.

Katharine Brush



On the other hand, KATHARINE BRUSH may or may not be of interest to me, but she was certainly quite well-known on the bestseller lists of her day. She is probably best known for Young Man of Manhattan (1930), about the "flappers and cads" of New York, which formed the basis for an early sound film featuring Ginger Rogers and Claudette Colbert, and for Red-Headed Woman (1931), about a homewrecking vamp, which became a career-defining role for Jean Harlow. Some of her novels were serialized in major magazines, and she also published a lot of short fiction, including "Him and Her," which won the 1929 O. Henry Award. 






Other novels include Glitter (1926), Little Sins (1927), Don't Ever Leave Me (1935), Free Woman (1936), You Go Your Way (1941, reprinted as When She Was Bad), and The Boy From Maine (1942, reprinted, oddly enough, as Bad Girl from Maine). Collections of short fiction include Night Club (1929, possibly published in the U.K. as Difficult Women?), Other Women (1933), and This Man and This Woman: 4 Short Novels (1944). This Is on Me (1940) was a well-received memoir which also included several short stories, and Out of My Mind (1943) was a collection of articles from her humorous syndicated newspaper column. Sadly, Brush died of cancer at a very early age.






TEMPLE BAILEY seems to have been right there on the bestseller lists beside Brush. She was the author of nearly 30 volumes of fiction which cumulatively sold more than 3 million copies. At one time, she was earning more than $100,000 per novel for serial rights. The Dictionary of American Biography says of her work that "superficial plots and shallow characters are held together by a neat formula of high ideals, wholesomeness, self-sacrifice, and the inevitable happy ending." Titles include Judy (1907), Contrary Mary (1914), Adventures in Girlhood (1917), Gay Cockade (1921), Blue Window (1926), Wild Wind (1930), Enchanted Ground (1933), I've Been to London (1937), and Pink Camellia (1942). In later years, she was very secretive about her age, and several sources still suggest she was born in the 1880s, but a quick glance at Ancestry makes clear the year was actually 1869.



MARGARET AYER BARNES, sister of Janet Ayer Fairbank who will appear further down on my list, was a playwright and author of five novels, most notably the Pulitzer Prize-winning Years of Grace (1930). She began writing only after a 1925 car accident which left her in casts and spinal braces for months. Within This Present (1933) and Wisdom's Gate (1938) continue the story begun in Years of Grace




Her other novels are Westward Passage (1931) and Edna His Wife (1935). She also published a story collection, Prevailing Winds (1928), co-wrote two plays with Edward Sheldon, Jenny (1929) and Dishonored Lady (1930), and had success on her own with an stage adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.


And LILIAN BELL was the author of more than a dozen novels, as well as two travel books, several works of non-fiction, and a children's book. Her novels—some of which achieved substantial success in her day—include The Love Affairs of an Old Maid (1893), A Little Sister to the Wilderness (1895), The Instinct of Step-Fatherhood (1898), Sir John and the American Girl (1901), The Dowager Countess and the American Girl (1903), At Home with the Jardines (1904), The Concentrations of Bee (1909), and About Miss Mattie Morningglory (1916). As Seen by Me (1900) and Abroad with the Jimmies (1902) are humorous books about her various travels. From a Girl's Point of View (1897) and Why Men Remain Bachelors and Other Luxuries (1906) are collections of essays, while The Story of the Christmas Ship (1915) appears to be an inspirational memoir. Her children's title is The Runaway Equator, and the Strange Adventures of a Little Boy in Pursuit of It (1911), and she later published a single play (presumably also for children) called The Land of Don't-Want-To (1928).








The remaining seven authors in this post all published at least some historical fiction, and a couple of them will belong on my inevitable future list of pioneer and Westward expansion titles. BERTHA MUZZY BOWER, who usually published as B. M. BOWER, was a screenwriter and a prolific author of more than 70 volumes of fiction, most of it set in the American west in pioneer days and often featuring well-developed female characters in a genre usually dominated by men. A blog post here says of Bower's work, "She wrote of strong women characters (something I like) with a humorous touch. She did not idealize the pioneering western life, which she described as 'ninety percent monotonous isolation to ten percent thrill.'" Her first novel published in book form, Chip, of the Flying U (1906), about a cowboy named Chip Bennett and the ranchhands of a ranch in Montana, was a success and inspired several more volumes about the same ranch. It was also filmed four times, and Bower worked on the screenplays for at least the first three. She also adapted some of her other novels for the screen, as well as writing some original screenplays. Some of these, as well as nearly a dozen of her novels, were written under her pseudonym, Bertrand W. Sinclair. There's a fascinating article about Bower's early life and family history as pioneers in Montana, written by her granddaughter Kate Baird Anderson, here (from which, among other things, we learn that family members called the author "Bert" for short). Anderson also published two collections of Bower's short fiction, The Terror: Western Stories (2003) and The Law on the Flying U: Western Stories (2005).






If my genealogical research has been correct, one of my 8x or 9x great-grandfathers was a minister in Massachusetts who used his influence to preach against the fanatacism of the famous witch trials. (I'd like to think that that partly makes up for some of the less worthy things my ancestors also did.) So I am particularly interested in SHIRLEY BARKER's debut novel, Peace, My Daughters (1949), which takes on the events of those times. For those of you in Canada, where copyrights expire faster than in the U.S. and U.K., some of Barker's books, including Peace, are available as free e-books from Faded Page. Most of Barker's other works are also set in New England, and include Rivers Parting (1950), Fire and Hammer (1953), Liza Bowe (1956), Swear by Apollo (1958), Corner of the Moon (1961), The Road to Bunker Hill (1962), and Strange Wives (1963).


CLARA NICKERSON BODEN wrote only a single book, alternatively reviewed as an adult novel or as young adult fiction, but it sounds intriguing. The Cut of Her Jib (1953) is based on the journals of Boden's own grandmother, and tells the story of a young schoolteacher in mid-19th century Cape Cod, who falls in love with a sea captain. Barbara Clark reviewed the book here, and summed up: "With remarkable brevity and clarity, Boden describes the proud women who welcomed their sailors home; men who brought their wives jade, exotic seashells or intricately woven shawls from their long journeys, which often lasted two or more years." For U.S. residents, this one is available for free from Hathi Trust.






ELIZABETH BYRD wrote nearly a dozen novels, most of them historical in subject. Her most famous work was her debut, Immortal Queen (1956), about Mary, Queen of Scots. I'm a bit intrigued by two later novels, though. I'll Get By (1975) is subtitled "An Autobiographical Novel" and is set in 1928 in New York City, where a teenage girl deals with first love, and It Had To Be You (1982) is set in New York in 1931 and perhaps also makes use of real life details. Other historical novels include The Famished Land: A Novel of the Irish Potato Famine (1972), The Long Echantment: A Novel of Queen Victoria and John Brown (1973), and Maid of Honour: A Novel Set in the Court of Mary Queen of Scots (1978). 



Byrd was also a "psychic researcher" and describes some of her experiences with the supernatural in her memoirs The Ghosts in My Life (1968) and A Strange and Seeing Time (1971).





I think the Gold Rush would fall under the heading of westward settlement, in which case some of GERALDINE BONNER's fiction should also be included on my pioneer/migration list. Several of her works were set in and around mining camps. Her first, Hard-Pan: A Story of Bonanza Fortunes (1900), appeared under the pseudonym Hard Pan. The others include Tomorrow's Tangle (1903), The Castlecourt Diamond Case (1905), Pioneer: A Tale of Two States (1907), Emigrant Trail (1910), The Girl at Central (1915), Mitt Maitland, Private Secretary (1919), and Taken at the Flood (1927).


MARIE BYRNE wrote only a single novel, as well as some periodical fiction. Softly, Softly (1958) appears to deal with French novelist George Sand. She spent most of her adult life in England, after marrying an English doctor.






And last (and perhaps least), SALLY LEE BELL published more than 30 volumes of fiction which she described as "Christian novels." Many of her works were historical in theme, some set in Biblical times. Titles include Marcel Armand: A Romance of Old Louisiana (1935), Until the Day Break: A Novel of the Time of Christ (1950), Street Singer (1951), Queen's Jest: A Romance of the Time of Louis XVI (1952), Riven Fetters: A Romance of the Early Christian Era (1953), Torchbearer (1956), Snare (1959), At the Crossroads (1963), Light From the Hill (1965), Down a Dark Road (1968), and Overshadowed (1969).

I have to admit, Anglophile I may still very much be, but there are two or three here that I may have to make exceptions for. How about you?

18 comments:

  1. I appreciate all your work on these lists. Several authors here sound interesting. And my Cincinnati library has many of these novels available (in first editions) stowed away downtown! I'm asking for "The Cut of Her Jib" soon.

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    1. The Chicago public library system is also rich in obscure older novels, unless they have de-accessioned them (I hope not!).

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    2. Do let me know what you think of The Cut of Her Jib, Christina. I have my eye on that one too!

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  2. P.S. There is one typo in the list: Geraldine Bonner's book is called MiSS Maitland, Private Secretary (not MiTT).

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    1. How on earth did I manage that I wonder! I can't correct it at the moment but hopefully will remember soon.

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  3. Scott, thanks so much for sharing those covers. They are what I really enjoy. They're so different and can be seen to span time and trends!

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    1. Thanks Norman. I love the covers too, and for a few of these authors the covers might be the best part...

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  4. Lorna Doone Beers is discussed, along with other women novelists relevant to your project, in Roy W. Meyer's excellent 1965 study The Middle Western Farm Novel in the Twentieth Century.

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    1. Another good source for novelists of this period is John M. Bradbury's Renaissance in the South: A Critical History of the Literature, 1920-1960 (note the years!).

      I noticed tonight that the Open Library has a number of Sara Ware Bassett titles available to borrow. You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod!

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    2. Wow, Patrick, that last sentence - someone ought to do a song like that! Ha ha.
      Tom

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    3. Thanks Patrick. I'm adding both of those titles to my database!

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  5. Temple Bailey is credited in IMDB (one of my favorite databases!) as being the writer for three silent screenplays - including a "short," Auntie, from 1914.
    The two others, `925 and 1928, don't seem to be based on any of her novels, though.
    Sally Benson is the only author her I had heard of - I once started Meet Me in St. Louis, and saw both the movies, including Peggy Ann Garner in Junior MIss - my goodness, she went to win an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of Anna and the King of Siam, and a WGA nomination for Come to the Stable. She also wrote the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt for Hitchcock! (Her FIRST screenplay!) AND the wonderful noir thriller No Man of Her Own, with Barbara Stanwyck. A woman on many sides!
    WOW! Thanks, Scott!
    Tom

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    1. I was wrong! "Peacock Fathers" was the basis for a screenplay, which she also wrote.
      Tom

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    2. Thanks Tom. Yes an author who could write both Junior Miss and Hitchcock must have been quite versatile!

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  6. Wow, several authors I have never come across: great fun and as always the covers are awesome!

    Elizabeth Byrd - I own a copy of It Had to be You which is charming. I have not reread for a long time but I seem to recall it is a sequel to I'll Get By. I never came across her adult books but am sure they are worth hunting down.

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    1. I have to admit I'm a bit intrigued by her book about living in a haunted house too. Good to know you enjoyed It Had to be You as well. It sounds like you could have compiled this list, Constance!

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  7. Very overwhelming, Scott, and we're only partway through B.

    Looking at all those covers and titles, it strikes me that some of them look awfully Serious and Earnest and Uplifting.

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    1. And we haven't even got to the post including several very politically engaged authors, Susan!

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