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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Booth Tarkington (1869–1946)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Franklin Thomas Baker (1864–1949)
 
IN what has come to be known as the “Indiana Group” of contemporary authors, Booth Tarkington has a prominent place. His reputation is probably second only to that of his friend, James Whitcomb Riley. His stories include pure romance, as in ‘Monsieur Beaucaire’; the localized novel, describing life in Indiana, as in ‘The Conquest of Canaan’; the American abroad, as in ‘His Own People’; and studies of boy life, as in ‘Penrod.’  1
  ‘Monsieur Beaucaire’ is a conventional romance of the type that has descended from Dumas, with less swashbuckling and more gentleness. Its swift movement, fine spirit of chivalry, and cleverness of phrase suggest the stage; and, indeed, when dramatized it made a pleasing and successful play.  2
  In ‘The Gentleman from Indiana’ and ‘The Conquest of Canaan’ Mr. Tarkington has made skillful use of local color. Like others of the Indiana group he has seen the literary possibilities of the small town, with its sharply marked characters, its limited outlook, and stubbornly maintained conventions. The æsthetic barrenness, the religious and moral Pharisaism of our American middle classes, are a familiar accusation. But Mr. Tarkington finds here aspiration also, and spirit and courage. After reading these descriptions of western life one has a feeling of something forcefully positive about these people. He gives also the physical atmosphere of the town: the level mediocrity of its streets, the wilting heat of its long summer days, the piercing winter storms, and the flat expanse of monotonous country beyond.  3
  ‘The Turmoil’ is his most ambitious attempt thus far. In breadth of conception and strength of treatment the book is distinctly impressive. The scene is a growing, pushing, forceful, ugly industrial city, proud of its bigness and its wealth, and quite unconscious of its ugliness. It is making money and is self-complacent. The spirit of the town is typified in Mr. Sheridan, its richest and most energetic citizen. His ideals are militantly materialistic. Naturally he is puzzled by his poet son, Bibbs, who is neither vigorous nor interested in money. The father, the mother, the son, and the heroine are all clearly drawn, and are all of different types. In the contest between father and son and in their final understanding the author displays both psychological insight and skill of invention. The story is not a denunciation of material interest. In the end one feels satisfied with the author’s adjustment of values.  4
  Quite the most distinctive thing Mr. Tarkington has yet done is ‘Penrod.’ These sketches of the doings of a twelve-year-old boy in a small town seem new by reason of their very vividness and truth to life. They are, in a sense, a culmination of a long series of books about children. But no one has caught so well that real world of the boy, so vivid to him and so apart from his elders. Penrod’s pranks are seldom intended to make trouble; trouble comes of them because the boy’s purposes and interests do not run parallel with those of adults. His standards, his values, are different; hence the apparent capriciousness of praise or punishment. Penrod and his friends typify the perpetual boy, quite as well as do Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. They are of one family. Transfer Tom and Huck to a small Indiana town, put them under the dominion of conventional middle-class parents with social standards to maintain, confine them in school five days a week, and they would react just as Penrod and Sam do.  5
  In ‘Seventeen,’ we have the boy, adolescent and in love, ineffably silly and defiantly conceited. The book is excellent comedy. Like Meredith’s ‘Egoist,’ it provokes the male reader’s denial. Perhaps this is one evidence of its truth.  6
  Other well known novels of Mr. Tarkington are ‘The Two Van Revels,’ ‘Cherry,’ ‘The Guest of Quesnay,’ and ‘The Flirt.’  7
 
 
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