June 14, 2004


Booth Tarkington and Penrod (Robert S. Sargent, Jr., June 14, 2004, Enter Stage Right)

One of the inspirations for this column comes from the Washington Post book critic, Jonathan Yardley's "Occasional Series" called "Second Reading," which "…reconsiders notable and/or neglected books from the past." The other came from an article in The Atlantic, May '04 issue, titled, Hoosiers, (The Lost World of Booth Tarkington) written by the novelist, Thomas Mallon. I was raised on Penrod, by Booth Tarkington, and now is a good time to reconsider this largely forgotten author.

Most people probably know the film, "The Magnificent Ambersons," as an excellent 1942 movie directed by Orson Wells. How many know it was written by Tarkington, and was one of two Tarkington books to win the Pulitzer Prize? The other was Alice Adams.

Thomas Mallon rightly points out that the great body of Tarkington's work is mediocre. He gives credit to only the two books that won the Pulitzer. I agree that these books deserve some reconsideration, especially Alice Adams. It is a painful story full of realistic bitterness, anger, and humiliation. It does, however, have a happy ending, not in the sense that Alice Adams finally gets what she longed for throughout the book, but the fact that she realizes she can't get what she always wanted. The maturation of Alice Adams before our eyes sets up a truly beautiful ending (Mr. Tarkington, as we shall see, was good at endings).

I do not agree, however, that these two are the only good books Tarkington wrote. I would nominate two more: Penrod, and the practically unknown Rumbin Galleries.

Ambersons is on-line at Bartleby, if you'd like to check out one of the few good surprises on the Modern Library Top 100.

    -ETEXT: Magnificent Ambersons

    -ETEXT: Penrod

    -Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) (American Literature on the Web)

    -Booth Tarkington (Wikipedia)

    -Tarkington, Booth (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001)

    -Booth Tarkington

    Hoosiers, (The Lost World of Booth Tarkington) (Thomas Mallon, May 2004, Atlantic Monthly)

    -ESSAY: Booth Tarkington and Penrod (Robert S. Sargent, Jr., June 14, 2004, Enter Stage Right)

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2004 11:20 AM

Tarkington collaborated, twice, with an even better and even more forgotten writer, Harry Leon Wilson.

"The Man from Home," a play, would warm Orrin's heart, if he could find a copy.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 14, 2004 5:40 PM

Found a tattered copy of Ruggles of Red Gap the other day!

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2004 6:09 PM

I read "Penrod" several times in my younger days. One of Doris Day's films, "On Moonlight Bay", was more or less based on the book.

Posted by: Joe at June 14, 2004 7:23 PM

Try to find "The Spenders" and "Lions of the Lord."

You'll admire the first very much, but not the second.

Also, any of the Ma Pettengill stories.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 15, 2004 2:37 AM