Friday, July 20, 2018

The Americans: C's (1 of 4)



At long last, I've added the C's to my very slowly progressing American Women Writers list. 46 of them in all, which I'll mention (and share lots of cover images for) in four posts.

Willa Cather

I have to return to my previously discussed theme of early American immigration, pioneers, and westward settlement. That has to be first and foremost because it's a good way of bringing in the author who is indubitably the biggest name of the C's and possibly (??) even the biggest name on the entire American list. Of course, this is WILLA CATHER.



(Is Cather the "biggest" American woman writer of this time period? Or is it Edith Wharton? Carson McCullers? Flannery O'Connor? Shirley Jackson? Zora Neale Hurston? Eudora Welty? I might put in for Gertrude Stein, but perhaps not many would concur. It's funny that for the U.K., it's pretty easy to claim Virginia Woolf as the biggest name in this time period, but it's perhaps not so clear in the U.S. And it would also be interesting to think about who Brits think of as the big American women writers, as opposed to who Americans consider their greats. Not always the same names, perhaps?)



Though I am admittedly not as much of an addict of American fiction as of the Brits, I went through quite a Cather phase a few years back, and I am, as I think I've mentioned before, hopelessly devoted to the second of her best-known pioneer novels, the gorgeous My √Āntonia (1918). It's set amidst some of the earliest immigrant settlements in the Midwest—those settlements which (as it's all too easy for today's idiot xenophobes to forget) were composed of Russians, Poles, Czecks, Irish, French, Danes, and any number of other nationalities, sometimes barely able to communicate with each other because of cultural and linguistic barriers.



Cather's other famous pioneer novel was O Pioneers! (1913), also a wonderful book. These books aren't so cozy as Laura Ingalls Wilder's pioneer tales, and yet they are certainly lovely and uplifting despite the darkness that appears here and there. They also draw on Cather's own childhood living in Nebraska. Of Cather's other major novels, The Professor's House (1925) deals with a professor's depression after finishing the multi-volume history that is his life's work, and his recollections of a former student killed in World War I, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) is set in 19th century New Mexico, and Shadows on the Rock (1931) is set in 17th century Quebec. Others include One of Ours (1922), which won the Pulitzer Prize, A Lost Lady (1923), My Mortal Enemy (1926), and Lucy Gayheart (1935). Cather is often identified as a lesbian author, though she was fiercely private and details of her personal life are sparse. She did, however, live for most of her adult life with Edith Lewis, an editor at McClure's Magazine, who is buried next to her in New Hampshire.






None of the other authors in this subset are nearly as widely read as Cather, but perhaps that makes them all the more interesting. MARIAN B. COCKRELL was a screenwriter, children's author, and novelist, best known for her children's fantasy Shadow Castle (1945), about a young girl visiting a kingdom inhabited only by shadows. Her other fiction was all for adults. Her early novels—Yesterday's Madness (1943), Lillian Harley (1943), Dark Waters (1944, co-written with husband Francis Marion Cockrell), and Something Between (1946)—seem to have had romantic themes. She is more famous, however, for three later historical novels which fit the pioneer and westward expansion theme. The Revolt of Sarah Perkins (1965) is about a schoolteacher in a Colorado mining town, Mixed Blessings (1978, aka Mixed Company) about a young woman supporting herself and her brother in a small Southern town at the turn of the century, and The Misadventures of Bethany Price (1979) about a young girl just after the Civil War, who runs away from an unhappy marriage to a small town in the West. Thanks to Constance Martin, who recommended Cockrell for this list!





Illustration from The Cat Who Went to Heaven

In contrast to Cather and Cockrell, ELIZABETH COATSWORTH focused primarily on New England settings, but these were often set in the earliest days of the American colonies (or, in at least one case, well before that). She was a poet and the author of more than 80 volumes of fiction, including several novels for adults and numerous works for both young children and older readers, and I particularly like some of the cover art for her books. She was born in New York, lived for a time in California, Massachusetts, and England, and travelled extensively before marrying naturalist and author Henry Beston and settling in Maine, which formed the backdrop for much of her fiction.





Coatsworth's most famous book for young children was The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1930), a story about an artist and his cat based on a Japanese folktale. For older children, she published the Sally series of five books set in early New England, including Away Goes Sally (1934), Five Bushel Farm (1939), The Fair American (1940), The White Horse (1942), and The Wonderful Day (1946). Others include A Toast to the King (1940), about Loyalist girls after the American Revolution, Plum Duffy Adventures (1947), about three children in a Cape Cod cottage for the summer, The House of the Swan (1948), set in France in a house carved out of cliffs, Door to the North (1950), about Viking visits to the North American in the 14th century, Dollar for Luck (1951, aka The Sailing Hatrack), about a 19th century family's life on a sailing ship, and Pure Magic (1973, aka The Werefox, aka The Fox Boy), about a boy whose friend turns into a fox at night and must be rescued from a hunt. 







Coatsworth's adult novels include Here I Stay (1938), about a girl living alone in her Maine home after her neighbors all move west, The Trunk (1941), about a young wife adjusting to life in San Juan with her painter husband, Country Neighborhood (1944), set in rural Maine and making use of local folklore, and a series of three interlinked "incredible tales"—The Enchanted (1951), Silky (1953), and Mountain Bride (1954)—about faeries and other supernatural creatures in the New England countryside. Coatsworth published a short memoir, A Personal Geography, in 1976.






GLADYS HASTY CARROLL was also a New Englander, and rural Maine provided the setting for many of her more than two dozen books, including children's fiction, novels, and memoirs. She began her career with two children's titles, before publishing her first adult novel and greatest success, As the Earth Turns (1933), a Book-of-the-Month Club selection about a family farm in southern Maine, which was made into a film in 1935. Her ambitious wartime novel Dunnybrook (1943) traced ten generations of Maine farmers. Other titles include Neighbor to the Sky (1937), While the Angels Sing (1947), One White Star (1954), Sing Out the Glory (1957), The Road Grows Strange (1965), and Unless You Die Young (1977). In the 1960s and 1970s, Carroll published several memoirs—Only Fifty Years Ago (1962), about her childhood, To Remember Forever: The Journal of a College Girl 1922-1923 (1963), drawn from her own journals, Years Away from Home (1972), which revisits her childhood and continues into her writing career, and The Book That Came Alive (1979), about her experiences developing a folk play from As the Earth Turns, which was performed for more than a decade in her home town.




Returning further west, there's GRACE STONE COATES, a poet and author of two novels. Although she didn't write a lot, her books have received a bit of new attention in recent years. Her selected poems appeared as Food of Gods and Starvelings in 2007. Her first novel, Black Cherries (1931), is comprised of a series of interlinked stories, in which a young girl on a Kansas farm tries to comprehend the hostilities and bitterness of her family members. It received positive reviews, and was reprinted in the early 2000s, but a second novel, Clear Title, was rejected by Knopf, her publisher, and didn't finally appear until 2014. Bios refer to at least 20 short stories which appeared in periodicals, but it's unclear if these have ever been collected.






PEGGY SIMSON CURRY was born a Scot, but she was raised from the age of 3 in rural Colorado, where her father was a rancher, and therefore qualifies for this list. Curry published three novels, one children's book, and two collections of poetry. Fire in the Water (1951) is about Scottish herring fisherman. So Far From Spring (1956) is semi-autobiographical, about the daughter of a Scottish rancher in Wyoming. And The Oil Patch (1959) is about a married couple working in an oil camp in Wyoming during the Depression. Her final work of fiction was A Shield of Clover (1970), about a 17-year-old runaway who makes his way to a ranch in Wyoming. In 1981, Curry became Wyoming's first Poet Laureate.





SARAH COMSTOCK also seems to have focused on the middle part of west. She was a journalist and author of five novels, as well as a non-fiction guide to motherhood and a travel book about historical New York City. Her debut novel, The Soddy (1912), deals with the hardships of pioneers in Kansas. The Valley of Vision (1919) seems, from a publisher blurb, to be a romance, while The Daughter of Helen Kent (1921) deals with a young mother abandoned by her husband. Speak to the Earth (1927) is about a struggling sheepherder and a former shop girl from the East trying to make a go of it in the Bad Lands. Her final novel, The Moon Is Made of Green Cheese (1929), deals with astronomy and has some science-fiction interest. Detailed information about Comstock is sparse, but another publisher blurb says, "Miss Comstock lived the life of a sod house dweller for a year and worked with the farmers' wives, just as if she was a daughter of the plain instead of a successful journalist, novelist, and suffragette."

And last of the authors of pioneer and western-themed fiction, although we were able to identify JANE CHAMBERS, I wasn't able to find many details about her one Western-themed novel, Gunsmoke from the Sagebrush (1936), and sadly could locate no cover art for the book.




Next, we have two authors who each had massive bestsellers in their day. ERNESTINE GILBRETH CAREY is best known for her two collaborations with her brother Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.—the massively successful humorous memoir Cheaper by the Dozen (1949) and its sequel Belles on Their Toes (1950). Both were based on their unusual childhoods with ten other siblings, an engineer mother, and a motion study expert father, who was always using the children to test his theories of the most efficient ways to complete day-to-day tasks. 

Book-of-the-Month Club insert for
Bells on Their Toes, page 1

Book-of-the-Month Club insert for
Bells on Their Toes, pages 2 & 3

Book-of-the-Month Club insert for
Bells on Their Toes, page 4



Both books were Book-of-the-Month Club selections, and both were made into films, in 1950 and 1952 respectively. Carey went on to publish three additional books on her own—Jumping Jupiter (1952), Rings around Us (1956), and Giddy Moment (1958). According to Contemporary Authors, "Jumping Jupiter, for instance, charts the follies of life behind the scenes in a large department store. Rings around Us describes Mrs. Carey's domestic life as a wife and mother of two, and Giddy Moment is a farce about an especially alluring kind of magical lipstick."




Carey is probably more widely known today that LUCY HERNDON CROCKETT, but that wouldn't necessarily have been the case in the mid-1950s. Crockett was a travel writer, children's author, and novelist. She was the daughter of a senior military officer for Theodore Roosevelt, and spent much of her childhood on military bases, including in the Philippines, which provides the setting of her first three children's titles—Lucio and His Nuong (1939), That Mario (1940), and Capitán: The Story of an Army Mule (1940). Teru: A Tale of Yokohama (1950) is about a young Japanese girl and her family just after the end of World War II, and Pong Choolie, You Rascal! (1951) deals with a North Korean boy during the Korean War. Crockett is most famous, however, for her first novel, The Magnificent Bastards (1954, aka The Magnificent Devils), about women working (as Crockett herself did) with the Red Cross during World War II. It was made into the film The Proud and Profane (1956) starring William Holden and Deborah Kerr. The Year Something Almost Happened in Pinoso (1960) appears to also be a novel, but I haven't found any details about it. Her travel books are Popcorn on the Ginza (1949), about postwar Japan, and Kings Without Castles (1957), about her time in Spain.



Eleanor Clark


And last but certainly not least in this post is another author many of you may have heard of (though perhaps not for her fiction). ELEANOR CLARK, who happens to have been the wife of Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Robert Penn Warren, was best known for two eloquent, widely-acclaimed travel books, Rome and a Villa (1952) and The Oysters of Locmariaquer (1964), the latter focused on a fishing community in Brittany. She also published four novels, beginning with The Bitter Box (1946), which Diana Trilling called "a serious, funny, and truthful picture of Communist doings in this country, and therefore a work of courage." 




It was more than 20 years later that her second novel, Baldur's Gate (1970), appeared, focused on the frustrations of a wife and mother in a small New England town. Gloria Mundi (1979) deals with the destruction of an idyllic New England town by greedy land developers, and Camping Out (1986), set in the Vermont wilderness, deals with two women on a camping trip who encounter a violent criminal. Clark's shorter works were collected in Dr Heart: A Novella and Other Stories (1974), and she published one additional travel book, Tamrart: 13 Days in the Sahara (1984). In the 1970s, Clark was diagnosed with macular degeneration, and her memoir, Eyes, Etc. (1977) focuses on her efforts to come to terms with her vision loss.

So that's that for this time. Next time, an entire post dedicated to no less than 10 authors who published mystery or crime novels!

17 comments:

  1. I loved The Revolt of Sarah Perkins when I read it as a teenager. I read it over and over. I have been keeping my eye out for an affordable copy but they are all over $100 and I haven't yet given in to temptation. I own a copy of Mixed Blessings and it is a bit of a comfort read for me. I always enjoy your lists. It is fun to see how many authors I have read--or even heard of--and it is a great way to add to my ever-growing piles of books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I've had a couple of recommendations of Cockrell's later novels now, so I will have to keep my eye open for them as well!

      Delete
  2. Some wonderful authors, and also some wonderful dustjackets!!! A few of the novels mentioned, I thought I knew, but now am not sure.

    Going back to your American B's, I discovered that three books by Carol Ryine Brink that I had never read are available through the "Kindle Unlimited" program, and I signed up for a three month trial period for 99 cents. I have finished Family Grandstand and am half way through Family Sabbatical, and am enjoying them both. Neither quite measure up in my eyes to Caddie Woodlawn or Baby Island, but I am happy to have discovered them. I will be sure to read The Highly Trained Dogs of Professor Petit before my Kindle Unlimited trial is over. All three books are part of "Nancy Pearl's Book Crush Rediscoveries", a program that is reissuing in eBook format forgotten gems from childhood books of the past. Nancy Pearl apparently was a children's librarian and book seller, and is trying to keep worthwhile books from being forgotten. I will have to see what other gems by other authors she recommends/reissued.

    Jerri

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jerri. Good to know some of the less well-known Brink books are readily available again.

      Delete
  3. To be honest, I personllay think Edith Wharton is pretty clearly the most important American woman writer of that time period, with Cather or O'Connor in second position. (Though I think of O'Connor as, really, later.)

    But, really, you could quite plausibly switch them all around. (I would place all three above the others mentioned, though.)

    As for Cather, A LOST LADY is quite a lovely little book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, definitely the critical and scholarly writings about Cather and Wharton could fill a small library (with Stein not far behind, possibly). But then I started to think of the fact that Jackson, for example, and possibly Welty, though less written-about by scholars, might be among the most famous for casual readers. In a way, I don't like thinking about importance or greatness at all, since so often those canonical concepts have eliminated women from consideration altogether. But at the same time, the listmaker in me can't quite resist speculating!

      Delete
  4. You ask which American women authors people here would consider the best. Not every British reader is like the people who follow your blog and I regret to say that, insular lot that we are, older American authors are pretty well neglected. I once heard/read (can't remember) a journalist enquire, 'Eudora Welty? Really?'. He'd obviously never heard of her and thought it was a made-up name.

    The only book mentioned here which I've read is Death Comes for the Archbishop.

    callmemadam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely true, Barbara, and even beyond insularity there's just the fact that not a lot of people read older books. Lots of even very smart, well-educated people are bored by books written more than a decade or two ago. I tend to be the reverse (and perhaps that's not any better!).

      Delete
  5. Of course, haviong been a children's librarian for some years, I am familiar with Coatsworth - lovely books.
    But, Scott, can you really label Cather as "middlebrow?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, certainly not. My list is meant to include all women writers of the time period. I'm the middlebrow of the blog's title, not always the authors I write about! :-)

      Delete
  6. Well, the letter C certainly has some gems! Thanks for featuring Marian Cockrell. If you read the reviews online, you can see how many people loved Shadow Castle and several of her adult books are outstanding in their quirky way (her daughter Amanda is also a writer). Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel were loved by children as well as adult readers - the copies I read from my elementary school were in tatters.

    I have never been able to get into Willa Cather but you make me want to try again. There is a family story that my grandmother read and loved Shadows on the Rock in her teens, right after she had been confirmed. Because it was too late for her to pick Cecile as her confirmation name but because she admired the character so much, she bullied her younger sister into selecting it although she hadn't even read the book. That book actually sounds more upbeat than My Antonia.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm very curious about Cockrell now, Constance, both Shadow Castle and some of the novels. Thanks for mentioning her.

      I have to admit, Constance, Shadows on the Rock is one of the few Cather novels I haven't read, but now your grandmother is making me want to read it! I wonder if you tried The Professor's House? It recall really liking it because it's more "domestic" than most of her books. And now I sort of want to re-read that one too...

      Delete
  7. A very interesting selection Scott. I think one of the values of these old books, apart from often being good stories, is that they unwittingly record domestic history that is often not recorded elsewhere. I particularly enjoyed My Antonia and Death Comes to the Archbishop, which highlighted bits of American pioneer history I didn't know. The novel on American Communism in the 1940s sounds like it might also belong in this category!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Comment posted on behalf of Jerri:

      Michelle, I must agree about the value of the way books from earlier times "unwittingly record domestic history". As I was reading some Brink, from the "B" segment of the list, an introduction mentioned how her most well
      known work, Caddie Woodlawn, was under fire due to treatment of Native Americans, which of course reminded me of the recent putting down of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who I assume will appear in the "W" segment of this list. If the authors were to pretend that settlers descended from Western Europeans had universally positive feelings about the Native Americans it would paint a very distorted picture of the attitudes of the times. Both authors had characters with a range of feelings about
      Native Americans, some positive some negative and most ignorant, since a deep understanding of those living such different lives would have been difficult to obtain.

      If one wants to read only works that portray events with 21st century attitudes, then probably one should only read 21st century authors, but then one looses the feel of history. (In addition to some very interesting and entertaining stories.)

      Thanks to Scott for undertaking this difficult work.

      Jerri

      Delete
    2. I agree, Michelle Ann, I just can't fathom readers who like fiction but aren't interested in old novels. I always feel a bit like I'm getting to time travel when I read old books (particularly those with lots of domestic and cultural detail). And yes, I agree, My Antonia is particularly wonderful for that.

      And Jerri, I have to confess that I can't recall Caddie Woodlawn well enough to know about her Native American references, and, even worse, I've never read Wilder. But I'm always kind of shocked that people are offended by Huckleberry Finn because of Jim and the inevitable n word used for him, since for me that book is such a beautiful portrayal of how racism gets passed down and absorbed by children, and how it can only be combatted by being (literally, in this case) in the same boat and sharing experiences.

      Delete
  8. Agree with you 100% about Huck Finn. Dan and I love the part near the end (I think) where Jim thinks something like "well, then I'll go to Hell", willing to risk eternity to keep faith with Jim.

    If you ever decide to give Wilder a try, for adults who haven't read her before I recommend The Long Winter. It comes nearish the end of the Little House books, so the characters and language is more mature. And it is very much based on a real event, a dreadful winter that left a small community isolated for months. I had my "real life" book club read it and everyone felt it was worth while. Although I did select a nasty cold February to make us recognize just how lucky we were!

    Jerri

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great selection of books and authors. I agree, Cather is pretty much tied with Wharton as the best-regarded of American female authors of the early 20th century -- I've read most of the works by both authors and I heartily agree.

    Lots of intriguing books on this list and I loved all the retro covers until I scrolled down to Nucio and His Luong -- the racism of that illustration is a real needle scratch. I realize it's of the time period but WOW.

    ReplyDelete

NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at furrowed.middlebrow@gmail.com. I do want to hear from you!