Last night I went to bed with John P. Marquand and boy, were some of his sentences stiff

CAAF darting through, in her orange muumuu and some superhero underoos. Lately I’ve been reading and relishing The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand. It seems appropriate to post that here as I picked up the book after reading Ed’s (and Terry’s) many effusions on the topic of all things Marquand.

In a short but interesting May 2004 Atlantic Monthly appreciation, Martha Spaulding reports that Upton Sinclair (Jungle Love) received the proofs for Apley in 1936. (It went on to win the Pulitzer in 1938.) Sinclair wrote the publisher:

I started to read it and it appeared to me to be an exact and very detailed picture of a Boston aristocrat, and as I am not especially interested in this type, I began to wonder why you had sent it to me. But finally I began to catch what I thought was a twinkle in the author’s eye … One can never be sure about Boston, and I hope I am not mistaken in my idea that the author is kidding the Boston idea. It is very subtle and clever, and I am not sure that Boston will get it.

Not everyone saw the twinkle in the eye (though I can tell you it’s winking away by page 7). Spaulding quotes editor Edward Weeks as saying that there were people in the Back Bay who “appeared at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday afternoons asking to be shown the ‘Apley Bronzes.’”

Here’s our handsome host’s, Mr. Champion’s, take on Marquand, pulled from a recent email:

Likewise, there’s the sullied status of John P. Marquand, whom I discovered completely by accident (spurned on by Yardley a few years ago). The man made the covers of both Time and Newsweek and was, to my knowledge, one of the most astute observers of manners between the two wars. Also (and this is the part that floors me), he was able to convey his satire in a way that attracted readers — not an easy thing to do in a nation ripe with great satirists often misunderstood by a highly literal public. Now the man’s getting something of a modest revival (much as John O’Hara did a few years ago). I’d recommend starting with The Late George Apley, which was just recently reissued by Back Bay Books. Also in print are H.M. Pulham, Esq., Wickford Point and Point of No Return. But my favorite Marquands would have to be Apley, Sincerely Willis Wayde and So Little Time. I managed to obtain every Marquand novel printed by making a run of every used book store in San Francisco and Berkeley (converting a few helpful bookstore clerks along the way), and supplementing these efforts with the easy and decidedly non-Arthurian search through Alibris. (Yes, I’m pathological that way.)

Having started Apley, I expect to be trolling Asheville’s used bookstores soon.

One Comment

  1. And for those who need further proof, here’s one of the masterful letters from “Apley” that demonstrates the titular charcter’s cluelessness (though without COMPLETELY mocking him):

    “My Dear Mr. Salter: — I have heard you speak more than once of the incredible laxness, to use a mild expression, which has been appearing without our fully recognizing it, in our city affairs. I am afraid I have been guilty of not paying much attention to this, since I have been engaged in many other activities, until I found myself upon the advisory committee for the planting of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Then, for the first time I realized that Boston has indeed become a melting pot. As I listened to the discussions of this committee I was amazed to find myself in the company of a number of ill-bred men, mostly Irish, who seemed to take no real interest in improving the city. Such ideas as they had were illiterate and without any merit. What seemed to concern them was not that the work should go to one of two contractors for whom they appeared to have a deep personal friendship, although I ould readily see that the bids these contractors had made for the proposed work were vastly higher than the bids of others. The matter of economy did not seem to concern my fellow commitee members in the least. Their argument ran something like this: ‘Martin Casey will do a good job. He always does the work.’ What surprised me was that no one paid much attention to what I said.”

    This letter is written with Apley in mid-life crisis. And the way Marquand juxtaposes Apley’s do-gooder complex with his inability to perceive beneath his class is masterful.

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