Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Distinguished Company

It may seem difficult, some 70 or 80 years after its publication, to categorize the fiction of Katharine Brush. I’ve seen her books described as "romance novels," which absolutely makes me cringe: the term is just plain wrong. But, more importantly, it conveys a thoroughly inaccurate impression of the quality of the work.

Faith Baldwin (a contemporary of Brush’s) wrote romance novels. A LOT of them. In her obituary (she died in 1978) The New York Times said Baldwin wrote with never a pretense at literary significance. Time magazine accused her of shaky grammar and poor punctuation, and said she “fizzed fiction like an inexhaustible literary pop bottle.”

Little Girl Pal: Kay sporting
an uncharacter
istically slick hairdo
By contrast, one New York Times reviewer opined (in 1944 with what would be all of Brush’s full-length novels behind her) that “the interesting thing about Katharine Brush's work has always been not so much what she says as how she says it.” In 1931, when Time reported on the relatively young publishing house of Farrar & Rinehart, Brush’s name appeared first in a list of F&R authors that included Upton Sinclair and DuBose Heyward, among other luminaries. Seventeen years later, in a list of "post-World War I stars" that had written for The New York PostTime placed Brush in the company of the greatest of these, F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Even more telling is Brush’s inclusion in what is probably the first comprehensive scholarly analysis of the work of women writers, Margaret Lawrence’s The School of Femininity, published in Canada in 1936 and reprinted as recently as 1977. 

Dust jacket of the first
American edition, 1936
Grouping Brush with Anita Loos, Dorothy Parker, and Daphne du Maurier in a section called "Little Girl Pals," Lawrence describes Brush as "extraordinarily able," her artistry "striking."

[Brush] ranks high, Lawrence declares from the start, not only among the younger women writers, but also among all the women writers. The high ranking is justified by the technical control and the depth of her fidelity to her subjects.

All the women writers. The table of contents 
of School is a Who’s Who of women writers: 
Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot, 
Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Katherine Mansfield, Pearl Buck...  

Romance novels, my foot!

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