Archive for March, 2008

A Shoutout for Tark

Peter Conrad gives Tarkington a huge nod for his literary insight. Right in the second sentence of the review, Conrad notes: “In Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons, the affluent splendour of Renaissance Florence is seen as a prototype for the grandiosity of mercantile New York, with the Medici prince known as Il Magnifico deferring to the magnificence of the Rockefellers and Fricks. A century later, the analogy between epochs still holds good.”

Vocab from Ambersons

Official “liberry checker-outer” ZiaSun is reading through The Magnificent Ambersons and notes that she’s discovered a new vocabularial understanding of the expression “hand-me-down.” She notes that “it refers to clothing handed down from a shelf… that is, ‘ready made’ and not made by a tailor. In the time when that story takes place, creased pants were considered quite unacceptable for the same reason.”

Clarence Gets Public Performance

Tampa’s Plant High School drama club has mounted a production of Tarkinton’s Clarence, a comedy in four acts, and will be performing it live next weekend. The play was also performed by the school’s first senior class in 1928. “Drama teacher Teryle Traver is inviting original cast members or their descendants to watch the play from front-row seats and be recognized.”

The Literary Legacy

But as Tarkington’s sight dimmed and even went out all together, and as America, along with the rest of the world, found itself in the throes of the Great Depression, Tarkington’s attention turned away from the more external symptoms of industrialization and the Automotive Age (such natural topics for an Indianapolis native) and toward the more internal struggles of average Americans (and women in particular) as the pressures of social fragmentation and suburbanization mounted.

Tarkington Timeline

Born in 1869 and deceased in 1946, Newton Booth Tarkington was for many years one of America’s most celebrated authors. He was a child of both poverty and privelege, a scholar and rogue, a lover of children yet ultimately childless. His legacy has sadly been squandered by the literary establishment.

Canaan Location Unearthed

Rob Neufeld at the Asheville, N.C. Citizen-Times went digging through news archives: “The north part of the town, from Carolina Wood Products Co. to Baird’s Bottom had had a reputation as a rough district. The 1922 film, ‘The Conquest of Canaan,’ shot in Asheville and based on Booth Tarkington’s novel of that name, depicted raunchy characters living in an area called Beaver Beach.”

New Play Mentions Tarkington

Tarkington enters into the story because of his connection to NYC during that period and a editorial on the controversy that he penned for Collier’s. “The storyline uses specifics of Mae West’s life to explore issues that still resonate today such as censorship, gay rights, celebrity, and the news media,” according to LindaAnn Loschiavo, the play’s author.

Tarkington’s New York

Every time I meet someone from Indianapolis, in fact, I excitedly ask, “Are you familiar with Booth Tarkington?” I keep hoping to find a Hoosier who’s seen Tarkington’s house or visited his grave. Instead, all I get is blank stares… even from English Lit majors. So it’s kind of fun to run across indicators that, at one time, Tarkington was just about a household name.


It’s almost a forgone conclusion, given that Harkless starts the story off as a hero, that things will come to a violent pass. The tension arises from these questions: How will Harkless come to harm? What will he do to survive? Who is Helen Sherwood? What past does she share with Harkless? Who will get elected to Congress?

Genre and Mode

This “Heartland Realist Romance” creates and fleshes out not only the fictional Carlow County’s Plattville and Six-Cross-Roads but also incorporates Rouen, the setting for The Two Van Revels (1902). It’s intriguing to wonder what might have come of this conception had Tarkington not gone abroad; and one wonders about the extent to which Tarkington influenced both Anderson and Faulkner.

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