EB Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

November 1997

Gone Before the Wind

Reviewing the massive historical novel Anthony Adverse in 1933, K. D. B., the critic for the Boston Transcript, wrote, "Many characters loom out clear and vivid and convincing," then added the caveat, " . . . Anthony himself never quite takes flesh." And the same might be said for his creator, William Hervey Allen, Jr., better known as Hervey Allen. Somehow the mantle of legend (or even anecdote) that settled over contemporaries like Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, never fell on Allen's shoulders.

There's another similarity between author and character - they were all over the map. Born December 8, 1889, Hervey Allen spent his boyhood in the shadow of the steel mills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was the inventor of an automatic blast furnace stoker; the family must have been fairly well off. The sources I consulted don't say. We next come across Allen in 1910, when he entered the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Injured while participating in track, he was given an honorable discharge and went on to study at the University of Pittsburgh, earning his bachelor's degree in 1915. After working for Bell Telephone for a few months he quit to join the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Fred G. Miller had founded company G, second regiment United Boys Brigade of America, in Pittsburgh, in 1901. In 1903 it became a Signal Company and on September 12, 1908 it became Company A, Signal Corps, Pennsylvania National Guard. Miller was named its first company commander. Allen joined the Guard in 1916 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. At this time the bandit Poncho Villa began a series of raids across the U. S.-Mexican border and on June 29th Miller's command was posted to the boundary area near El Paso, Texas, where it served until January 18 th of the following year. Allen and his fellow guardsmen found themselves rather bored during this period (that would soon change). It was during this tedium that Allen began to emerge as something of a poet. He began recounting his military experiences in a series of poems, written in a Kiplingesque style, which he sold, in pamphlet form, to fellow soldiers in National Guard camps along the border, under the portmanteau title Ballads of the Border. It's hard to imagine many of today's soldiers turning to poetry for relaxation and entertainment; things must have been boring down Mexico way.

Suddenly the attention of Allen's unit was rudely yanked away from Mexican bandits. Their commander, Black Jack Pershing, was given new orders, a new objective and a new command - the American Expeditionary Forces of the U. S. Army. Allen was sent to Camp Handcock in Georgia for training and promoted to first lieutenant of Infantry. His old unit had become the 103rd Field Signal Battalion, which sailed for Europe aboard the British mail ship HMS Metgama , arrived in England May 31, 1918, then sailed on to Calais, France, where they disembarked and became part of the 111th Infantry, 28th Division. Allen was sent to the Army schools at Langres for further training. Afterwards, deployed to the Western Front, the unit fought from the Marne to Vesle. Allen's captain was killed and he was given command of Company B. Wounded during the fight for the bridgehead at Fismes, he was back in action in time to take part in fighting at Mountfaucon, in the Meuse-Argonne. As the war began winding down Allen was attached to the French army at Favernay and taught English in the French Military Mission there. Armistice Day found him in Paris.

By 1919 he had been demobilized and was back stateside. No longer a soldier, he turned fulltime to poetry. And began bouncing up and down the eastern seaboard, a pattern that he would follow most of his life. His first move was to Charleston, South Carolina, where he met poet, playwright and novelist DuBose Heyward, four years his senior. Heyward - whose play Porgy would serve as the inspiration for Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess - and Allen would collaborate professionally. 1920 found Allen doing grad work as a special student at Harvard, then teaching English at Charleston's Porter Military Academy. That same year he helped found the Poetry Society of South Carolina. The Yale Series of Younger Poets published his first book, Wampum and Old Gold , in 1921. One poem, The Blindman , gave its name to the Blindman Prize, awarded by the Poetry Society for five years. 1922 found him settled in Charleston, where he taught at Charleston High School for two years. At the same time he published Carolina Chansons, Legends of the Low County , a joint-effort with Heyward. Other collections of his poetry followed: The Brides of Huitzel (1922); The Blindman (1923); Earth Moods and Other Poems (1925). Between 1924 and 1926 Allen taught English at Columbia. It was there he met Ann Hyde Andrews, daughter of a Syracuse lawyer. Somehow she managed to keep track of the ever-moving, ever-writing, six-foot-four poet-veteran. He went from Columbia to Vassar - where he lectured in American Literature and English Poetry - and taught at Vermont's Bread Loaf writers' conference.

He was branching out from poetry. 1926 saw the publication of his biography, Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (as well as an account of Poe's Brother , with Poe expert Thomas O. Mabbott) and Toward the Flame, an autobiographical novel about his wartime experiences. Somehow, Ann kept up. They were married at Cazenovia, New York, on June 30, 1927. They would have three children. In 1928 Bread Loaf editor John Farrar resigned to co-found the publishing house of Farrar and Rinehart. The following year saw the publication of three new volumes of poetry, Songs for Annete , Sarah Simon , and New Legends . In 1930 and 1931 Allen gave more poetry lectures at Bread Loaf, but his focus was elsewhere. Spending much of the time between 1928 and 1933 in Bermuda, where he'd bought a plantation with his royalties from the Poe book, Allen was researching and writing a historical romance. Somewhere along the way he contracted with Farrar and Rinehart to deliver a manuscript in time for a St. Patrick's Day, 1933, publication date. John Farrar liked what he'd heard about the work in progress and began making modest plans for the book.

St. Patrick's Day came and went. No book appeared. Farrar stuck his neck out and announced an April pub date. If publishers can be driven insane, Hervey Allen had found a good way to go about it. His abilities as a novelist were unknown. The book promised to run to over twelve hundred pages. The advertised price was three dollars (this during the Depression.) Readers began to wonder where the book was. The manuscript had arrived meanwhile and the presses were turning out advance copies. The Book of the Month Club passed over it for their June selection, but named it as their featured selection for the next month. Booksellers received prepublication copies of Anthony Adverse , and ordered 15,000 copies. Anthony was ready to meet his public. (The whopping sum of $5,000 had been spent on advertising to smooth the introductions, mostly inexpensive small ads in a large number of publications across the country). Having done nothing else while he was writing the novel, Allen had $30 left in his bank account.

He would live in relative poverty only a brief time. A handful of readers across the U. S. tore through the 2 3/4-pound book's twelve hundred pages and told their friends. Inside a week the book was selling 2,000 copies a day. Spurred on by new, larger ads, readers had snapped up 275,000 copies by December. Sales continued to be strong on through 1939, in spite of new competition from an Atlanta novelist named Margaret Mitchell Marsh in 1936. (A Warner Brothers blockbuster film version of Anthony Adverse that year helped keep the momentum soaring.) If you think TV Guide was pioneering new territory with multiple cover designs for the same issue, you're sadly out of date. Farrar and Rinehart artists designed a dozen different covers for the book, each illustrating a different scene. (Makes it rather a challenge for collectors.) The novel was largely responsible for carrying book stores through the Depression. The Literary History of the United States calls it, ". . .a sort of St. Christopher for the booksellers."

Reviews were generally laudatory (not that it really mattered.) The reviewer for Books said, "Here is romance written with a light heart and the boyish generosity of youth - a book, if ever there was one, for the ages." Mary Ross, writing in Booklist , reported, "Only a scholar could have assembled the enormous knowledge that has gone into the book and only a poet and a critic could have caught so acutely the implications of that knowledge as idea and emotion in human beings. The triumph . . . is that this wealth of fact and feeling is fused by the gusto of the true story-teller." There were a few negative voices. Novelist Howard Fast, also a lecturer at Bread Loaf during the period, called the novel a "mountain of trash." Readers disagreed, or didn't care. Between 1933 and 1945 the book sold over a million copies and was translated into 19 languages.

Who was this extremely popular young adventurer? Masterplots takes two pages of small type to summarize the plot; the following paragraph is that summary greatly summarized.

Born in Napoleonic France as the illegitimate son of a married noblewoman and a young Irish soldier, the infant Anthony is left an orphan after his mother dies in childbirth and his father is murdered. Left at a convent he is given, at the age of ten, to Mr. Bonnyfeather, a kindly Dickensian merchant of Leghorn (today's Livorno), where he grows to adulthood. Bonnyfeather turns out to be his grandfather (surprise, surprise) but gives the boy the name of Adverse, keeping their relationship from the boy. While in his teens Anthony is seduced by the housekeeper Faith Paleologus - the scene was quite risque for its time. Sent to America on business, he ends up in Cuba and soon finds himself in the slave trade, eventually ending up in management. After this degradation, his self-esteem almost completely eroded - a priest friend had been martyred because of him - Anthony returns to Europe, where he soon becomes involved in a scheme to broker a deal between Napoleon and the Spanish for Mexican gold. An assassination attempt, made high in the Alps by his mother's husband, now Faith's "protector," fails. He finds that an old childhood sweetheart is now mistress to Napoleon, and has borne him (Anthony) a son. He returns to New Orleans, where he had recently married and become the father of a daughter. Mother and child perish in a fire and the bereaved husband/father heads west.

The film version had ended before this point with a satisfying Hollywood ending. The novel was not about to end so pleasantly. Anthony is captured by Indians, escapes and is then captured by Spanish soldiers. He is found several years later in a Mexican prison by the daughter of a wealthy landowner, who marries him. Fate overtakes him years later and an epilogue ties up loose ends.

There are hundreds of characters and the plot is as convoluted as the most diligent of soap operas. Coincidences abound, enough to gladden the heart of the previously mentioned Dickens or those of Gilbert and Sullivan. The book is probably summed up best by the Monty Python phrase "a ripping yarn."

Allen would tell an interviewer that his method of working was to steep himself in period research, write only a few hours a day, and "recall" the plot - a process he summed up as, "imaginative reporting."

He would never repeat his major success, but he did go on to have a respectable career. His next book, Action at Aquila , a Civil War novel, was eclipsed by Mrs. Mitchell Marsh's novel with the same setting. In 1939 he published Is It Like This? , a set of two World War I stories. During the war years he was co-editor, along with Carl Carmer, of the Rivers of America series, worked as part of the original staff at the Saturday Review of Literature and served with the War Manpower Commission.

His next major project was a five-novel sequence to be published under the overall title The Disinherited , following the young Pennsylvanian Salathiel Albine, kidnapped by the Shawnee. The series was to cover the period between the British capture of Pittsburgh to the beginning of the American Revolution. The first two volumes, The Forest and the Fort and Bedford Village , were published during the war, with illustrations by Andrew Wyeth. Number 3, Toward the Morning , was published in 1948.

During these final years of the 1940s the now balding author was always active. Collecting honorary degrees at the University of Pittsburgh and at Washington and Jefferson College, serving on the Board of Governors of St. John's College and as a trustee of Cazenovia College, attending meetings in New York of P. E. N. and of The Players, he was still covering a lot of ground.

He owned three plantations (estates) during his lifetime, in Bermuda, Maryland (Bonfeld Manor) and Florida (The Glades). Believing a man should be self-sustaining, he farmed all three. It was at The Glades that Hervey Allen died of a heart attack on December 28, 1949, at the age of sixty. Because of his service in two world wars, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Book four of The Disinherited was published posthumously. Number five was never completed.

During his lifetime over three million copies of his books were sold. His literary heirs would include a mixed-bag of such authors as James Michener, Leon Uris, James Clavell, and John Jakes. Even Ayn Rand could be included with her massive Atlas Shrugged. A diverse crew certainly. Allen would have been flattered. He had once declared, "Every new generation is a fresh invasion of savages."


A search of Eagles Byte chronologies turns up the following literary events occuring
during two middle years of the Depression.


Mar 27
English author Arnold Bennett dies of typhoid after drinking water in a Paris hotel to prove it's safe.

Apr 29
Poet Constantine Cafavy dies, in Alexandria, Egypt.

Jul 15
Critic Irving Babbitt, 67, dies.

Sep 25
Writer Ring Lardner dies in East Hampton, New York.

Dec 6
Judge Woolsey lifts the ban on James Joyce's Ulysses.

Other Events
T. S. Stribling wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Store. ** Kenneth Roberts' American Revolution novel Rabble in Arms . ** Hollywood scriptwriter Ayn Rand moves to New York City. ** Poet Ogden Nash publishes Happy Days. He marries and moves to Baltimore. ** Muckraking author Upton Sinclair changes his party affiliation from Socialist to Democrat, enters the presidential race and sits down to write I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future . The book introduces EPIC: End Poverty in California. ** Future writer-director-producer Seymour Horowitz (Cy Howard) is junior tennis doubles champion at the University of Wisconsin. ** Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz makes his debut with the volume of short stories Memoir from Adolescence . ** The Collected Stories of Norwegian writer Hans Aandrup are published. ** German dramatist-novelist Arnold Zweig flees the Nazis, goes into exile in Haifa, Palestine. ** Sir Henry Dickens, last surviving child of the novelist, dies.


Mar 5
Parisian intellectuals sign a anti-fascist manifesto.

Apr 12
F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night is published.

May 3
H. G. Wells repeats an earlier prediction that there will be a world war by 1940.

Jun 5
Christopher Morley convenes the first meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, named for the Sherlock Holmes street urchins, in New York City.

Jun 19
Nathanael West's A Cool Million is published.

Upton Sinclair loses the California election by a narrow margin.

Other Events
Historians Stewart H. Holbrook becomes a free lance writer. ** Herbert Hoover publishes The Challenge to Liberty . ** James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice , James Branch Cabell's Smirt , William Saroyan's The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze , Samuel Hopkins Adams' The Gorgeous Hussy , Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Zora Neale Hurston's first novel Jonah's Gourd Vine . ** Caroline Miller wins the Pulitzer Prize for Lamb in His Bosom. ** Author Robert Bloch sells his first story, to the pulp magazine Weird Tales . ** Architect Claude Bragdon edits and writes the introduction for Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats. ** Maxim Gorky convenes the first Soviet Writers' Congress. ** Robert Graves' I, Claudius , and James Hilton's Good-Bye Mr. Chips . ** Dickens final surviving child having died last year, the novelist's book The Life of Our Lord , can be published, as per the terms of his will.


No one WWW site was all that much help in the preparation of the above article, so I'll point you toward another site that just came to my attention. It's the Making of America site sponsored by the University of Michigan, Cornell University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. At MOA you'll find the complete text of 1600 books and 50,000 journal articles, all published in the 19th Century. Most deal primarily with the creation of the U. S. infrastructure in the last century. What you actually see is facsimilies of the pages themselves, as published. However the texts have been run through OCR software and are fully searchable - a fine use of the technology to open treasure chest of original sources. Encourage them; have a look.


(more detailed versions available)

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I hope you've enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends.
If you'd like further information and/or fees, feel free to e-mail me.

David Minor


Copyright 1997 David Minor / Eagles Byte