John P. Marquand

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John P. Marquand
Born John Phillips Marquand
(1893-11-10)November 10, 1893
Wilmington, Delaware
Died July 16, 1960(1960-07-16) (aged 66)
Newburyport, Massachusetts
Pen name J.P. Marquand
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Christina Davenport Sedgwick (September 1922–1935)
Adelaide Hooker (1937–1968?)

John Phillips Marquand (November 10, 1893 – July 16, 1960) was an American writer. Originally best known for his Mr. Moto spy stories, he achieved popular success and critical respect for his satirical novels, winning a Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley in 1938. One of his abiding themes was the confining nature of life in America's upper class and among those who aspired to join it. Marquand treated those whose lives were bound by these unwritten codes with a characteristic mix of respect and satire.

Youth and early adulthood[edit]

Marquand was a scion of an old Newburyport, Massachusetts, family. He was a great-nephew of 19th-century writer Margaret Fuller and a cousin of Buckminster Fuller, who gained fame in the 20th century as the inventor of the geodesic dome. Marquand was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in the New York suburbs. When financial reverses broke up the family's comfortable household, he was sent to Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he was raised by his eccentric aunts, who lived in a crumbling Federal Period mansion surrounded by remnants of the family's vanished glory. (Marquand's ancestors had been successful merchants in the Revolutionary period; Margaret Fuller and other aunts had been actively involved with the Transcendentalist and abolitionist movements.)

Marquand attended Newburyport High School, where he won a scholarship that enabled him to attend Harvard College. As an impecunious public school graduate in the heyday of Harvard's "Gold Coast," he was an unclubbable outsider. Though turned down by the college newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, Marquand succeeded in being elected to the editorial board of the humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon. After graduating in 1915, Marquand was hired by The Boston Evening Transcript, working initially as a reporter and later on the Transcript's bi-weekly magazine section.[1]

Like many of his classmates, he served in the First World War. While he was a student at Harvard, Marquand joined Battery A of the Massachusetts National Guard, which, in 1916, was activated. In July 1916, Marquand was sent to the Mexican border.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Marquand's life and work reflected his ambivalence about American society—and, in particular, the power of its old line elites. Being rebuffed by fashionable Harvard did not discourage his social aspirations. In 1922, he married Christina Sedgwick, niece of The Atlantic Monthly editor Ellery Sedgwick. In 1925, Marquand published his first important book, Lord Timothy Dexter, an exploration of the life and legend of eighteenth century Newburyport eccentric Timothy Dexter (1763–1806).

By the mid-1930s he was a prolific and successful writer of fiction for slick magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. Some of these short stories were of an historical nature as had been Marquand's first two novels (The Unspeakable Gentleman and The Black Cargo). These would later be characterized by Marquand as “costume fiction”, of which he stated that an author “can only approximate (his characters) provided he has been steeped in the (relevant) tradition”.[2] Marquand had abandoned “costume fiction” by the mid-1930s.

In the late-1930s, Marquand began producing a series of novels on the dilemmas of class, most centered on New England. The first of these, The Late George Apley (1937), a satire of Boston's upper class, won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1938. Other Marquand novels exploring New England and class themes include Wickford Point (1939), H.M. Pulham, Esquire (1941), and Point of No Return (1949). The last is especially notable for its satirical portrayal of Harvard anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner, whose Yankee City study attempted (and in Marquand's view, dismally failed) to describe and analyze the manners and mores of Marquand's Newburyport.

For all of his ambivalence about America's elite, Marquand ultimately succeeded not only in joining it, but in embodying its characteristics. He forgave the upper crust classmates who had snubbed him in college (relationships he satirized in H.M. Pulham, Esq and The Late George Apley). He was invited to join all the right social clubs in Boston (Tavern, Somerset) and New York (Century Association, University). Through his second marriage to Adelaide Ferry Hooker, he became linked to the Rockefeller family (her sister, Blanchette, was married to John D. Rockefeller III). He maintained luxury homes in Newburyport and in the Caribbean.

Although currently in eclipse, Marquand's reputation may be poised for a revival. Jonathan Yardley, in a 2003 Washington Post column,[3] says "(t)hat Marquand has almost vanished from the literary landscape is to me an unfathomable mystery. From ... 1937 ... until 1960, Marquand was one of the most popular novelists in the country. The literati turned up their noses at him (as they do to this day) because he had done a fair amount of hackwork in his early career and continued to write, unashamedly, for popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post."

Critic Martha Spaulding, writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 2004, noted that "in his day Marquand was compared to Sinclair Lewis and John O'Hara, and his social portrait of twentieth-century America was likened to Balzac's Comédie Humaine, [but] critics rarely took him very seriously. Throughout his career he believed, resentfully, that their lack of regard stemmed from his early success in the "slicks". Praising his "seductive, sonorous prose", she states that he "deserves to be rediscovered."

Popular fiction[edit]

Before gaining acclaim for his serious novels, Marquand achieved great popular and commercial success with a series of formulaic spy novels about the fictional Mr. Moto. The first, Your Turn, Mr. Moto appeared in 1935; the last, Right You Are, Mr. Moto, in 1957. The series inspired eight films in the 1930s starring Peter Lorre, but these movies are only very loosely based on the novels.

James S. Koga states that Moto is not a proper Japanese surname (an observation also made by some characters in the Moto novels, who suspect that the name is an alias). Koga notes that "[Mr. Moto] is never the main protagonist of the story — rather he appears at strategic points in the story, a catalyst for action." "The typical storyline", he says, "involves an American male, somewhat tarnished by past experiences in the U.S., who finds himself in the Orient ... overwhelmed by the foreignness of Asia. This protagonist gets involved in some international intrigue by happenstance, usually coinciding with meeting Mr. Moto ... falls deeper into the plot and then finds himself in deadly peril. Along the way, he meets an attractive American woman who also becomes entangled, and by resourcefulness (and not a little help from Mr. Moto) overcomes the peril and then gets the girl."

Numerous Marquand novels became Hollywood films, but several bore little resemblance to the books. Mr. Moto, an often ruthless spy in Marquand's novels, became a genial police agent in the Peter Lorre films of the 1930s. The final Mr. Moto novel, in the 1950s, was filmed as a spy story, but Moto's character was eliminated.

Marquand's 1951 novel, Melville Goodwin, USA, was unrecognizable in the 1957 motion picture A Top-Secret Affair. The book was a satire about publicists trying to cover up a general's adultery, but movie writers transformed the general into a bachelor. According to Marquand's biographers, he took these Hollywood liberties in stride. (Actor Humphrey Bogart was in pre-production for the film version of "Melville Goodwin, USA" in January 1956, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, forcing him into retirement. The 1957 film, with the replacement title noted above, starred Kirk Douglas.)

In his later years, Marquand contributed an occasional satiric short story to Sports Illustrated. A collection was later published as a book, with the title Life at Happy Knoll. The stories humorously dealt with the problems of an "old-line" country club as it tried to adjust to changing times and a competing "upstart" country club nearby.

Novels[edit]

Mr Moto novels

  • No Hero. Boston, Little Brown, 1935 ; as Mr. Moto Takes a Hand, London, Hale, 1940 ; as Your Turn, Mr. Moto, New York, Berkley, 1963.
  • Thank You, Mr. Moto. Boston, Little Brown, 1936 ; London, Jenkins, 1937.
  • Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Boston, Little Brown, 1937 ; London, Hale, 1938.
  • Mr. Moto Is So Sorry. Boston, Little Brown, 1938 ; London, Hale, 1939.
  • Last Laugh, Mr. Moto. Boston, Little Brown, 1942 ; London, Hale, 1943.
  • Stopover: Tokyo. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Collins, 1957 ; as The Last of Mr. Moto, New York, Berkley, 1963 ; as Right You Are, Mr. Moto, New York, Popular Library, 1977.

Other crime novels

  • Ming Yellow. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Lovat Dickson, 1935.
  • Don't Ask Questions. London, Hale, 1941 .
  • Repent in Haste. Boston, Little Brown, 1945 ; London, Hale, 1949.
  • It's Loaded, Mr. Bauer. London, Hale, 1949.

Literary novels

  • The Unspeakable Gentleman. New York, Scribner, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1922.
  • The Black Cargo. New York, Scribner, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1925.
  • Warning Hill. Boston, Little Brown, 1930.
  • The Late George Apley. Boston, Little Brown, 1937
  • Wickford Point. Boston, Little Brown, 1939
  • H.M. Pulham, Esquire. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Hale, 1942.
  • So Little Time. Boston, Little Brown, 1943 ; London, Hale, 1944.
  • B.F.'s Daughter. Boston, Little Brown, 1946 ; as Polly Fulton, London, Hale, 1947.
  • Point of No Return. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Hale, 1949.
  • Melville Goodwin, USA. Boston, Little Brown, 1951 ; London, Hale, 1952.
  • The Second Happiest Day. New York, Harper & Bros., 1953.
  • Sincerely, Willis Wayde. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Hale, 1955.
  • Women and Thomas Harrow. Boston, Little Brown, 1958 ; London, Collins, 1959.

Collections of short stories[4]

  • Four of a Kind, 1923.
  • Haven's End. Boston, Little Brown, 1933 ; London, Hale, 1938.
  • Thirty Years, 1954.
  • Life at Happy Knoll, 1957.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Holman, C. Hugh (1965), John P. Marquand, Minneapolis, Minnesota: U of Minnesota Press, p. 10, ISBN 0-8166-0350-2 
  2. ^ John P. Marquand (1954), Thirty Years, p. 281.
  3. ^ Yardley, Jonathan. "John Marquand, Zinging Wasps With a Smooth Sting", Washington Post, February 20, 2003.
  4. ^ Do Tell Me, Doctor Johnson was privately printed in small numbers, 1928 (one story, 47 pages). A search of the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature indicates that Marquand had 111 short stories published in various magazines (mostly in the Saturday Evening Post) from 1921 through 1947, of which 18 appear in Four of a Kind, Haven's End and Thirty Years (along with nil, three and five new stories, resp.).

References[edit]

  • Stephen Birmingham, The Late John Marquand: A Biography, J. B. Lippincott Company 1972.
  • Millicent Bell, Marquand, Little, Brown and Company, 1979.

External links[edit]