Booth Tarkington (1869–1946)
From Booth Tarkington: Novels & Stories
Booth Tarkington was born 150 years ago this Monday, on July 29, 1869.
In the May 2004 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, the novelist Thomas Mallon reminds us that Tarkington “was a Book-of-the-Month Club unto himself: five million copies sold in a pre-paperback era; three dozen volumes of fiction, a score of plays. After he won his second Pulitzer, in 1922, the Literary Digest pronounced him America’s greatest living writer, by means of a poll that now seems as accurate as the magazine’s prediction, fourteen years later, that Alf Landon would be President. Entirely absent from most current histories of American writing, Tarkington was generally scorned by those published just before or after his death.”
As Mallon notes, Tarkington’s prolific output and his numerous “mediocre” (and formulaic) novels have “suffocated the fine.” Many of his books pined for a long-gone, preindustrial era, and by the late 1930s readers and critics were no longer interested in Tarkington’s nostalgia. Today he is more remembered for the movies his two greatest novels spawned: Alice Adams, starring Katharine Hepburn in the title role, and The Magnificent Ambersons, directed by Orson Welles.
In a just-published Library of America volume, Mallon has gathered and edited Tarkington’s two best novels, as well as a collection of stories inspired by his single term as an Indiana state legislator. For our Story of the Week selection, we present one of those stories, “The Need of Money,” in which a naïve and humble first-year legislator is astonished by the corruption and graft among his colleagues.