Sinclair Lewis

Writing about Zane Grey the other week, I asked if other writers had dealt with the situation of German-Americans during the Great War. Sally Perry kindly pointed me towards the 1916 story ‘He Loved His Country’ by Sinclair Lewis. I therefore got hold of The Minnesota Stories of Sinclair Lewis (edited, as it happens, by Sally Perry) and investigated. I had previously been thoroughly ignorant about Sinclair Lewis. (The older I get and the more I read, the more I become aware of how much more there is…), I was very pleased to find that his story turns out to be excellent – much more intelligently crafted than the Zane Grey.

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Which Allatini to read?

Since publishing Rose Allatini:A Woman Writer, I’ve been asked by a few people – which Rose Allatini should they read first?

The obvious answer is Despised and Rejected (1918), since it’s both in print and a novel of historical significance. Certainly, that’s the right answer for anyone researching the Great War.

Yet Despised and Rejected, for all its brave choice of theme and its pioneering exploration of sexuality, is not actually her best novel. So what other possibilities are there?

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Zane Grey’s The Desert of Wheat (1919)

Last week I posted rather sceptically about the splurge of moralistic emotion that is Zane Grey’s The Day of the Beast. I said I wouldn’t be reading any more Grey for a while, but then I took a look at his The Desert of Wheat, and I was hooked right away. It’s a much better book (though still a bit hard to take in some of its attitudes).

One important way in which this is better is that it is located specifically in Washington state, up in the top left-hand corner of America. The Day of the Beast was set in the deliberately unspecific Middleville, but in this novel Grey shows a real feeling for the vast wheatfields of the North-West, and for the people who live there.

The book’s hero is Kurt Dorn, second-generation American. His father was born in Germany and still has strong German sympathies. I think this is the first novel I’ve read about the dilemmas of someone from the sizeable German-American community whose loyalties were tested by the decision of America to enter the war on the side of the Allies.

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Zane Grey’s ‘The Day of the Beast’ (1922)

Zane Grey is, of course, very well known as an author of Westerns, but in The Day of the Beast (1922) he deserts the romance of Old West for a topical theme and a deliberately unromantic and stereotypically modern setting:

Middleville […] a prosperous and thriving inland town of twenty thousand inhabitants, identical with many towns of about the same size in the middle and eastern United States.

The book is a fierce and stormy (and indeed steamy) melodrama, and an indignant denunciation of American postwar society. Three wounded privates return from the war, too late for a hero’s welcome:

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Playing with FaceApp

What kind of poet would Wilfred Owen have become had he survived the war? It’s one of the unanswerable questions that it’s fun to occasionally consider. It happened to be in the back of my mind when I was playing with the silly but clever little computer program, FaceApp, which takes any photo portrait and offers to age it by twenty years.

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Rose Allatini – A Woman Writer

Read a sample of the book by clicking here.

My monograph on Rose Allatini is now properly published and on sale.

It is the first book to examine the full career of the author of the 1918 novel Despised and Rejected. It considers her whole output, over seven decades (and under several pseudonyms) and questions several myths.

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Firestep to Fokker Fodder

Not many comprehensive schools possess chapels, but Magdalen College School Brackley, where I taught English for over thirty years, inherited one from the grammar school from which it took over in 1973.

During chilly assemblies in the chapel, my attention often wandered to some wooden crosses on the wall. These are ex-students’ crosses from First World War battlefields, sent home when they were replaced by the uniform Portland stone grave markers.

I never did find out the stories behind the crosses, but am delighted to learn that Andrew White (whom I taught over forty years ago) has taken up the challenge. He has investigated the journal of William ‘Jack’ Lidsey, who enlisted in the Ox and Bucks in August 1914, fought on the Salient and the Somme, and joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916.

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Rose Allatini in Hampstead

This is a supplement to a post from last year, in which I described my wanderings round West London, looking at houses where Rose Allatini lived.

Recently, I happened to be in Hampstead, so took the opportunity to look at 142 Fellows Road, the house where Rose Allatini was living at the time when her novel Despised and Rejected was on trial under the Defence of the Realm Act as prejudicial to recruiting. (In the British Library there is a letter from Rose Allatini to Sidney Schiff, with this as the address.) It was presumably a multiple-occupancy house where she had a room (or rooms).

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Writing about Rose

For the past year I’ve been writing about Rose Allatini, and the book is nearly ready for publication. It should be available to buy by the start of June.

I’ve called it Rose Allatini: A Woman Writer. Why? Because Olive, the novelist heroine of …Happy Ever After, her first book, declared: ‘I want to be a woman writer, not a lady novelist.’ Her novel is called Hilary, and it is definitely not conventional romantic fiction. She explains:

I’ll never go into the sevenpenny editions, because Hilary, bless his heart, wasn’t written with an eye to please the British Public. The young person who enters the library and vaguely demands ‘something to read’ won’t like my book, because the heroine neither dies in the snow on Christmas Eve nor marries the eldest son of a peer [….] and to cap it all, my hero ends badly – no, they don’t marry – so you see that in the eyes of the young person I am wholly and completely damned.

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What Helen Zenna Smith did next

It’s good to read someone enthusiastic for Not So Quiet… by ‘Helen Zenna Smith’ (alias Evadne Price). On the Paris Review website, Lucy Scholes makes a strong case for the book (admiring it with fewer reservations than I did in my 2014 paper on Evadne Price and her rather wonderful life of untruths.)

The cover of the first edition of ‘Not So Quiet…’, presented by its publisher, Albert Marriott (alias Netley Lucas), as a factual account of the War.

Lucy Scholes is worth reading, but I’m going to register a disagreement with what she says about the later books that Price published under the Helen Zenna Smith pen-name:

By popular demand, Price—again as Helen Zenna Smith—went on to pen four consecutive sequels: Women of the Aftermath (1931); Shadow Women (1932); Luxury Ladies (1933); and They Lived with Me (1934). A victim of its own success, Not So Quiet is tarnished by its association with these unworthy, increasingly romp-like successors, none of which were able to match the powerful ingenuity of the original.

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