Booth Tarkington wrote like a gentle Balzac: in other words, like a writer totally aware of the venality and hypocrisy of the “human comedy,” but somehow disinclined to form harshly realistic or cynical judgments. This may be simply another way of saying that he was a commercial novelist, a writer trained to provide the kind of fiction suitable for serialization in women’s magazines; as a matter of fact, a portion of KATE FENNIGATE was printed in THE LADIES HOME JOURNAL under the title “The Hardest Wife to Be.”
Nevertheless, Tarkington was more than merely a commercial hack. His fiction ranges from such a memorable children’s book as PENROD to the Realism of the novel in question. He had the talent and intelligence to see American manners and the American mind very objectively (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS provided the basis for one of Orson Welles’s greatest films), but he lacked the anger of a Sinclair Lewis or the tragic vision of a William Faulkner. He was, finally, an entertainer, and anyone reading his fiction seriously is always slightly amazed and disappointed by Tarkington’s reluctance to deal with the social and philosophical problems which his Realism raises. For example, in KATE FENNIGATE the closing pages present Kate and Ames in a sobering moment of confrontation. They are about to express the “truth” concerning their feelings, to probe the actuality of their relationship. The...
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