John P. Marquand

John P. Marquand

John P. Marquand

John P. Marquand

Excerpt

Whatever may be the final critical judgment of later generations upon the work of John Phillips Marquand, there is no question today that he was the most widely read, successful novelist of his time. He was the professional of professionals. He was, further, by almost unanimous consent and agreement, the only seriously regarded social novelist of his era. Not that there were no unfavorable critical judgments upon his work. He wrote well, most critics agreed; indeed, he wrote almost too well; and, while admired for his ironic treatment of his materials, he could be termed by a critic like Maxwell Geismar as a writer who substituted this quality of irony for such qualities as "the intellectual boldness of the major writers, the moral hardness, and the depth insights."

In the novels of contemporary American life, from the publication of The Late George Apley (1937) through his last novel, Women and Thomas Harrow (1958), Marquand spoke as truly of the changing social patterns of the twentieth century as was possible for a writer of keen sensibility and acute powers of observation. He became, in truth, a mine of information about social attitudes--a mine worked increasingly by the sociologists of this generation.

While Marquand has been widely read, there has not been a close critical examination or appreciation of his major work before this one. I have therefore gone into considerably more detail in relating the action of the novels than would perhaps be necessary for a later critic of Marquand. The pages which follow trace the career of John P. Marquand from the publication of The Late George Apley through the serious novels written during the last twenty-five years of his life. I have not chosen to review the work of the first fifteen of his productive years when he wrote as best he knew how for the popular, mass-circulation magazines. Written during an apprenticeship for which serious critics have forgiven him, none of these novels before his Pulitzer Prize-winning Apley has anything significant to say about the kind of novelist Marquand became. Although the reader might well explore his popular magazine fiction in the collection of . . .

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