Lloyd Cassel Douglas, one of the most popular novelists of his period, presented aspects of Christian teachings in a narrative form that many of his readers found inspirational. He spent many years in religious work, unconsciously preparing for the writing that filled out his career.
The son of a clergyman, Douglas was born in Columbia City, Indiana, on August 27, 1877. His education included attendance at Wittenberg College and Hamma Divinity School, from which he received his B.D. degree in 1903. For the next twenty-five years he held six pastorates in the United States and Canada. In a move left unexplained, Douglas changed religious denominations, switching from a Lutheran to a Congregational pulpit. He served also as chaplain of the First Infantry, District of Columbia (1908-1911), and as director of religious work at the University of Illinois (1911-1915).
At fifty-two Douglas left the pulpit to devote his time exclusively to writing. In his first two novels, Magnificent Obsession and Forgive Us Our Trespasses, he had found what he had “advertised” for in the title of his first book of essays, Wanted—a Congregation, and he kept his large “congregation” of readers through many novels and two volumes of inspirational essays. The Robe, for example, based on speculation about the fate of the garment worn by Jesus at the Crucifixion, sold over two million copies. The idea for this novel came in a letter from a fan in Ohio who wrote asking Douglas what he thought happened to the robe of Jesus, for which the soldiers had cast lots. The Robe and some other of his novels were made into films, making Douglas even more well known to the general public—and less appreciated by literary critics. This, like all of Douglas’s fiction, is a story concerned with the self-enrichment that results from serving others.
Critics deplored his clichés, complained that his characters were puppets, and found the conduct of action in the novels melodramatic; Douglas at least agreed that his characters were “tiresomely decent . . . and everything turns out happily in the end.” He added that he came to writing too late “to take on any airs about it.” Letters thanking Douglas for the comfort to be found in his novels were more important to the clergyman-turned-novelist than the objections of literary critics. He died, at the height of his popularity, in 1951.