John P. Marquand Essay - Marquand, John P(hillips) (Vol. 2)

Marquand, John P(hillips) (Vol. 2)

Marquand, John P(hillips) 1893–1960

Marquand was an American novelist known for his portrayals of aristocratic New Englanders struggling with the forces of the twentieth century. His principal novel is The Late George Apley.

I admire Marquand very much, for in a society like our own, which is always in danger of being overinterpreted, the social novelist, the novelist of manners—Marquand, Cozzens, O'Hara, and Edith Wharton and Ellen Glasgow before them—nails life down by writing about a particular social class from a definite point of view, and Marquand has done this with steady ease and skill. America has been more of a society, even a class society, than the long tradition of solitude in our literature reveals to outsiders, and Marquand's kidding of the Transcendentalist tradition in Wickford Point and his outburst against Melville, "the great god of literature in America," in [Women and Thomas Harrow]….

What has happened to Marquand's novels is perhaps due to the fact that the local traditions which have always represented class in this country have increasingly disappeared under the pressures of a technological society. The novelist of manners, like Marquand (or Cozzens or O'Hara), who has always depended on a tradition stable enough to include the satirist himself, now finds himself angrily crying out against the absence of values themselves…. And in Women and Thomas Harrow we can see just how melancholy and nerveless Marquand can get when he is concerned with the … problem of a middle-aged American, now of the old school, who recognizes that he is fighting not for freedom from convention, as George Apley did, but for conventions—standards of belief and behavior—that will allow him to function as a human being again in a world where beliefs are shared….

The social novelist in America pays for his lack of ideas when he is left without the social traditions on which he has depended so long for his sustenance as a man and for his achievement as an artist.

Alfred Kazin, "John P. Marquand and the American Failure" (1958), in his Contemporaries (© 1958, 1959, 1962 by Alfred Kazin; reprinted by permission of Atlantic-Little, Brown & Co.), Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1962, pp. 122-30.

One cannot say John P. Marquand's insight into human nature was rudimentary; but it was scarcely piercing. He was a novelist of great technical facility whose achievement never quite matched his skill. Marquand is at once the satirist and the celebrant of Boston in its traditional aspects of plain living, high thinking, great wealth, conscious rectitude and the snobbery that goes with all these—the Boston to which the word 'Brahmin', with its indication of caste-exclusiveness, is automatically added. But the satirist and the celebrant in Marquand tend to cancel each other out. Or rather, the celebrant takes over from the satirist.

Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel: In Britain and the United States (copyright © 1964 by Walter Allen; published by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. in a paperback edition and used with their permission), Dutton, 1964, pp. 183-84.

Future historians searching through dusty libraries to see what life in America was like in the 20th century, may well pause at the name of John P. Marquand, New England novelist, social historian of extraordinary competence, and master of broad satire….

While Marquand varied the characters in his novels (his favorites were well-to-do businessmen, bankers, doctors, lawyers, and writers), he wrote pretty much the same story again and again. It is usually the tale of an affluent, half-disillusioned man searching his past trying to unravel his present, to extricate himself from the web in which accident and circumstance have entangled him. A Marquand hero is usually middle-aged, a conformer who, although he hates the rules, knows he must abide by them, for only by following accepted standards of belief and behavior can he function as the kind of human being he wants to be….

John P. Marquand was an author whose destiny compelled him to do only what he could do well. He was an acute and brilliant observer of upper-class manners. He had the sharp eye of the born reporter, the sensitive ear for speech, the gift of creating atmosphere and of projecting social types.

Bernard Dekle, "John P. Marquand: New England Novelist," in his Profiles of Modern American Authors, Charles E. Tuttle, 1969, pp. 57-62.