Friday, August 10, 2018

The Americans: C's (4 of 4)

A rather random selection of authors this time, who just didn't fit well into my other thematic groupings.

Probably the biggest name this time around ("big" being a highly relative term) is ELIZABETH CORBETT, the author of more than 50 novels often referred to as "family fiction" or "nice novels about nice people," many of them historical in setting and some featuring recurring characters. Corbett's name has come up on the D. E. Stevenson discussion list, as being potentially of interest to DES fans, particularly her seven novels focused on Mrs Meigs—The Young Mrs Meigs (1931), A Nice Long Evening (1933), Mrs Meigs and Mr Cunningham (1936), She Was Carrie Eaton (1938), Mr and Mrs Meigs (1940), Excuse Me, Mrs Meigs (1949), and Our Mrs Meigs (1954). Another series, beginning with Mount Royal (1936), focuses on inhabitants of a small town. Other titles include Cecily and the Wide World (1916), The Graper Girls (1931), The Graper Girls Go to College (1932), The House Across the River (1934), Early Summer (1942), Portrait of Isabelle (1951), Family Portrait (1955), Hamilton Terrace (1960), The Continuing City (1965), Hotel Belvedere (1970), and Sunday at Six (1971).

Corbett had a particular connection to the time period during and after the American Civil War, perhaps because she was raised at Milwaukee's National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, where her father was an administrator. Some of you might be interested in her memoir, Out at the Soldiers' Home (1941), deals with her childhood and her experiences with the veterans living there. Corbett also published two biographical works, Walt: The Good Gray Poet Speaks for Himself (1928), purportedly told by Walt Whitman himself, and "If It Takes All Summer": The Life Story of Ulysses S. Grant (1930).

Also more or less forgotten today is HARRIET COMSTOCK, who published more than 40 volumes of fiction, including several children's titles. Some of her earlier titles are historical in subject, while later novels appear to be romances. 

Comstock's titles include Molly, the Drummer Boy: A Story of the Revolution (1900), Tower or Throne: A Romance of the Girlhood of Elizabeth (1902), Joyce of the Northern Woods (1911), Camp Brave Pine: A Camp Fire Girl Story (1913), Mam'selle Jo (1918), The Tenth Woman (1923), made into a silent film the same year, Penelope's Web (1928), Strange Understanding (1933), Doctor Hargreave's Assistant (1940), and Windy Corners (1942). Some online sources give other death dates, but I believe she's the Harriet Comstock who died in 1949 in Brooklyn, where we know the author lived for many years.

MARGARET CAMERON was a playwright, children's author, and novelist. She published numerous one-act plays and monologues before graduating to two short stories published in individual volumes—The Bachelor and the Baby (1908) and The Cat and the Canary (1908). She seems to have published five novels—The Involuntary Chaperon (1909), The Pretender Person (1911), The Golden Rule Dollivers (1913), Johndover… (1924), and A Sporting Chance (1926)—as well as a story collection, Tangles: Tales of Some Droll Predicaments (1912). The Seven Purposes: An Experience in Psychic Phenomena (1918) is non-fiction about her own experiences of the paranormal, and was reprinted in 2004. She also published several non-fiction titles for children, mostly on nature themes.

Emily Holmes Coleman

Somewhat well known on the more literary side of things, EMILY HOLMES COLEMAN was a journalist, poet, and author of a single novel. The Shutter of Snow (1930) is a somewhat experimental work based on her own time in a mental hospital with post-partum depression following the birth of her son. Holmes had moved with her psychologist husband to Paris during the late 1920s, among the expatriate community and the vibrant and experimental literary scene, which no doubt impacted the form and style of her novel. Shutter was reprinted by Virago in the 1980s and by the esteemed Dalkey Archive Press in the 1990s. Among her other achievements, Coleman worked with famed anarchist Emma Goldman to edit Goldman's memoir Living My Life (1931). A few years later, Coleman was instrumental in arranging for the publication of Djuna BARNES's major novel, Nightwood. According to the University of Delaware Special Collections Department, which holds Coleman's papers, she completed a second novel, Tygon, which was never published, as well as numerous unpublished plays, stories, diaries, and poems. See their informative page about the papers here. The first volume of her edited diaries, Rough Draft: The Modernist Diaries of Emily Holmes Coleman, 1929-1937, appeared in 2012.

Press photo of Georgette Carneal "in her New York penthouse"

To counteract the numerous authors on this list who focused on rural, pioneer, or Western life, there are two "C" authors who focused particularly on urban life. GEORGETTE CARNEAL only published a single novel, but the jacket blurb makes it sound like a humdinger—The Great Day (1932) is a "brew of modern life. Those who lived the half life in this story operated behind the scenes of a sensational newspaper. Steve, the managing editor, kept telling himself: I'm young. I can squeeze this dirty thing dry and make my getaway. So did the bigger executives and the smaller stenographers; so did the ones on the outside, the kept women, the little love girls. In the dim half life, they made their money, they made their killings, but when they tried to find their way back, there was no place to go." Wow. Carneal's personal life must have been a tangle, as we seem to have found records of four different marriages, one to early film director Ira Genet (real name Rosenwasser).

Far better known is HORTENSE CALISHER, whose 16 novels, several story collections, and novellas often focused on Jewish life in New York City. Her earliest short stories appeared in The New Yorker in the 1940s, with her first collection, In the Absence of Angels, published in 1951. She won four O. Henry awards for her short fiction. Among her most famous novels are The New Yorkers (1969), an epic of a wealthy, intellectual Jewish family, In the Palace of the Movie King (1993), about a filmmaker in exile in the U.S., and Sunday Jews (2002), about an eccentric mixed-religion family facing the decline of their father. Others include False Entry (1961), Queenie (1971), Eagle Eye (1973), The Bobby-Soxer (1986), and Age (1987). Under the pseudonym Jack Fenno, Calisher published a single novel, The Small Bang (1992). Her memoirs include Herself: An Autobiographical Work (1972) and Kissing Cousins (1988).

And four of the "C" authors seem to have been particularly socially conscious. ANN CHIDESTER published six novels which received qualified praise from critics. Her listing in American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present says that her "novels show a concern for women and for the lower classes, but are frequently flawed by unnecessary dramatic and thematic complications, creating a lack of focus." Young Pandora (1942) is autobiographical in theme, about a young woman falling in love and becoming an author. Mama Maria's (1947) is set at a truck stop in the Midwest, dealing with a widow whose son has died in WWII and the veteran she hires and becomes close to. Her final novel, The Lost and the Found (1963), deals with the rape and murder of a migrant worker's child. The other titles are No Longer Fugitive (1943), The Long Year (1946), and Moon Gap (1950). Chidester died at the U.S. Consul in Dublin, suggesting her husband may have been Irish and she may have moved there with him.

Eleanor Chilton

The three novels by poet and novelist ELEANOR CHILTON also wrestle with serious themes. Shadows Waiting (1926) deals with an author's retreat from reality. The Burning Fountain (1929) is about about a couple determined to raise their children in a rational and orderly way, but find their third child beyond their comprehension. And Follow the Furies (1935), which was adapted as a play in 1940, is about a young woman who has killed her terminally ill mother and is then tormented by the implications. Chilton also published the non-fiction The Garment of Praise: The Necessity for Poetry (1929) and contributed to the poetry collection Fire and Sleet and Candlelight (1928). She was married for a time to Pulitzer Prize winning historian Herbert Agar.

Fannie Cook

FANNIE COOK hailed from St Louis, Missouri and was a teacher, journalist, activist, and author of five novels, which reflect her concern with social equality, particularly in regard to African-American rights and anti-Semitism. The Hill Grows Steeper (1938) is a presumably autobiographical portrait of a woman balancing marriage, motherhood, job, and political concerns. Boot-Heel Doctor (1941) is set among sharecroppers in the southeast "boot-heel" of Missouri during the Depression. Mrs Palmer's Honey (1946), according to Kirkus, focuses "on the transformation of 'Mrs. Palmer's Honey',—nameless, efficient, unobtrusive maid in a St. Louis household—into Honey Hoop, socially conscious war worker." Storm Against the Wall (1948) focuses more on anti-Semitism, dealing with a family of long-settled German-Jewish immigrants in St Louis and their entended family back in Germany facing the crisis of Nazism. And The Long Bridge (1949) focuses on the St Louis art scene, with which Cook was also involved. That work was published posthumously following Cook's sudden death of heart attack at age 56.

Florence Converse

And then there's FLORENCE CONVERSE, poet and author of at least six volumes of fiction, who has been described by a modern critic as a "Christian socialist" novelist and was on the staff of the Atlantic Monthly for many years. Diana Victrix (1897) is set in Converse's native New Orleans. Long Will (1903) is a historical novel based on the life of Piers Plowman author William Langland, of which Bookman said: "In spite of the fact that it is more than half a poem, a sort of prose epic full of a dignified and lofty symbolism, it is none the less saturated with genuine human nature." The House of Prayer (1908) seems to be a Christian-themed children's book. Into the Void (1926) is subtitled "A Bookshop Mystery," and was described by the Wisconsin Library Bulletin as: "A delightful story of the disappearance 'into the fourth dimension' of a book shop manager and a poet. The shop in question is supposedly the Hathaway Bookshop of Wellesley." Other fiction includes The Burden of Christopher (1900) and Sphinx (1931). Her Collected Poems appeared in 1937. She also published Wellesley College: A Chronicle of the Years 1875-1938 (1939), about her alma mater.

And finally, two random authors who haven't fit any of my other subdivisions. A longtime UCLA professor and scholar of Renaissance and Shakespeare studies, LILY BESS CAMPBELL was the author of a single novel, about which details are sparse. These Are My Jewels (1929) is described in one source as a satirical novel, and a bookseller says it's about "a mother of the 1890s who ruins her children." Her scholarly works include Scenes and Machines on the English Stage during the Renaissance (1923), Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion (1930), and Shakespeare's "Histories": Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy (1947).

And MARY ELIZABETH COUNSELMAN was the author of periodical fiction and poetry from the 1930s to 1980s, particularly ghost stories and tales of the supernatural or of science-fiction. Some of her stories were collected in Half in Shadow (1964, reprinted with additional stories, 1978) and African Yesterdays: A Collection of Native Folktales (1975, enlarged edition 1977). Several of her stories were also adapted for television.

And that's it for the C's. Some day I shall get around to moving on to the D's!


  1. Can I suggest Allene Corliss? Vermont writer (born Senath Allene Soule), 1899-1979, published at least 15 novels, beginning in 1930 or so with MARRY FOR LOVE. One novel, SUMMER LIGHTNING (1936) became a movie featuring Henry Fonda and Joan Bennett. (The movie was called I MET MY LOVE AGAIN.) She wrote essentially romance novels, but not quite category novels -- closer to Faith Baldwin territory, at least according to Kirkus. I've read one of her books, THAT GIRL FROM NEW YORK (1932), and it was not too bad (though far from great).

    1. Thanks, Rich! I've added her to my database and will get her into the list when I update it. Thanks for letting me know about her.

  2. Interesting group but these are all unknown to me. The closest I have come is shopping at the Hathaway Bookshop as a teen. I don’t recall when it closed permanently but it was a lovely bookstore, not far from the Wellesley College campus.

    1. Thanks, Constance. I trust you didn't enter a fourth dimension while in the bookshop? :-)

  3. The blogger function was having a day off, I guess, so let me try again, by saying, that while I love most of the cover art - AS USUAL! - the only name I know is Elizabeth Corbett. In the very early 70's I was a page at the San Marino Library and they had quite a collection of hers. I got intruigued (as usual) by the cover art so spent a few months reading through what they had. I remember enjoying the family-style novels, some others - eh, not so much. I was, perhaps, too young to understand the undertones of her Prohibition novel, or perhaps her metier was not the deeper psychological/sociological novels.
    Anyway - great work, as always!

    1. Thanks, Tom. Corbett is kind of an intriguing author. I might have to sample one of the Mrs Meigs books if I can track one down.

  4. Some stunning covers here, as always, Scott. I especially like "After Five O'Clock". Let's see....Devoted secretary by day, barfly by night. No, wait. Bestselling author by day, international spy by night.

    1. It's intriguing, isn't it Susan? I like your second possibility better, but alas I suppose the first is more likely the case.


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