Helen Hooven Santmyer Criticism - Essay

Trudy Krishner (review date 27 January 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Krishner, Trudy. “The Goal of a Lifetime Won at Last.” Christian Science Monitor (27 January 1984): 19.

[In the following review, Krishner gives a preview of “… And Ladies of the Club,” noting its fortunate selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club and G. P. Putnam's Sons.]

For Helen Santmyer, success has come somewhat later than it does in most careers. Miss Santmyer, an 88-year-old retired librarian, is being hailed as the literary equivalent of Grandma Moses.

Her novel about small-town life, which she began in the 1920s and finally finished as a nursing home resident in the 1980s, has been published by a university press and is about to be republished in large, lucrative editions by the Book-of-the-Month Club and G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Suddenly Helen Hooven Santmyer is a literary celebrity. Reporters and photographers invade her nursing home accommodations in this quiet southwestern Ohio town. And, as the headlines indicate, the story is of triumph—the goal of a lifetime finally achieved.

Miss Santmyer's 1,344-page novel, “… And Ladies of the Club,” spans the years 1868-1932 in the small fictional Ohio town of Waynesboro. It follows a group of women across the generations.

Work on it absorbed Miss Santmyer's attention year after year, decade after decade. In the '20s she conceived of the book as a kind of answer to Sinclair Lewis, the tart-tongued novelist who, she felt, had gotten life in small-town America...

(The entire section is 645 words.)

Carolyn See (review date 10 June 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: See, Carolyn. “The Time When Women Belonged.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (10 June 1984): 1.

[In the following review, See paints “… And Ladies of the Club” as a ponderous yet valuable look at the realities of small-town life.]

What we will be looking at here in a shamefully short review is a true literary curiosity, an artifact much more than a novel, a monument of words, a tool for the student of American history, a private compilation, a channeling of tremendous, idiosyncratic effort.

Most people interested in publishing must know by now that “… And Ladies of the Club” is the life's work of an obscure woman...

(The entire section is 1343 words.)

Michael Malone (essay date 21-28 July 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Malone, Michael. “… And Ladies of the G.O.P.” Nation 129 (21-28 July 1984): 52-4.

[In the following essay, Malone takes a jaundiced view of “… And Ladies of the Club,” asserting that it is graceless and of dubious literary quality.]

Properly publicized, nothing succeeds like failure, particularly when its hucksters belong to the industry that inflicted the initial wound. Hollywood, for example, adores films excoriating its powerful heartlessness and takes sentimental satisfaction in rewarding its own victims: Ingrid Bergman wins an Oscar for having been ostracized by those who give Oscars. Publishing is no different: it fervently gloats over...

(The entire section is 3163 words.)

Anne Barry (essay date autumn 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Barry, Anne. “Helen Hooven Santmyer: ‘I Awoke One Morning and Found Myself Famous’ (Lord Byron).” Ohioana Quarterly 27 (autumn 1984): 88-9.

[In the following essay, Barry describes the successful saga of “… And Ladies of the Club,” emphasizing the Ohioana Award given to Santmyer in 1983.]

The first item on the New York Times News Quiz for Saturday 14 January was: “Posing for this photograph, the first anyone has been permitted to take of her, was a new experience for 88-year-old Helen Hooven Santmyer, but her other novel experience was even more noteworthy. What was it?”

Readers of Ohioana Quarterly know...

(The entire section is 706 words.)

Robert F. Fleissner (review date June 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fleissner, Robert. Review of “… And Ladies of the Club,” by Helen Hooven Santmyer. CLA Journal 29 (June 1986): 486-89.

[In the following review, Fleissner defends “… And Ladies of the Club” against charges of racism.]

Because Central State University hosted a most successful conference on Helen Hooven Santmyer's best-selling novel, “… And Ladies of the Club,” in January, 1985, it is particularly important to come to terms with the issue of race. A number of prominent reviewers (for example, in Newsweek and in the New York Times) have pinpointed racism as a defect in this work. But is it? Owing to the fact...

(The entire section is 1275 words.)

Sybil Steinberg (review date 9 October 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Steinberg, Sybil. Review of The Fierce Dispute, by Helen Hooven Santmyer. Publishers Weekly 232 (9 October 1987): 79.

[In the following brief review, Steinberg gives an unfavorable assessment of Santmyer's second novel The Fierce Dispute.]

The success of “… And Ladies of the Club” has prompted reissue of the author's earlier works. [The Fierce Dispute], her second, was originally published in 1929—and the years have not been kind. Dated in form and content, it is what was once called a “woman's book,” but a contemporary audience will find its simple sentimentality tame. In the Ohio town familiar to readers of Santmyer's other works, a genteel matriarchy lives in a once magnificent, now dilapidated family manse behind a locked iron gate. The trio, consisting of the disapproving grandmother, Mrs. Baird, her shamed daughter Hilary and granddaughter Lucy Anne, live cut off from the rest of the community. The tension between mother and daughter for the child's spirit and affection propels the plot, which hinges on the mystery surrounding the child's father, a musician, and the rosewood piano in the attic. For all its gothic posing, dark glances and histrionic dialogue, this is a colorless novel in which the few psychological insights are not sufficient to invest the narrative with vitality or credibility.

Rose Russell Stewart (review date 19 May 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stewart, Rose Russell. “A Midsummer Romance in 1905.” Blade (19 May 1988): F7.

[In the following review, Stewart notes a pleasant sense of nostalgia in Santmyer's posthumous novel Farewell, Summer.]

After a long, difficult day of meeting the demands of family, work, and community, how nice it is to settle down to a book that doesn't force my emotions to stretch from one end to another.

Farewell, Summer is a novella that relieves its reader of emotional upheavals by discussing current or historical turmoils. Rather, it amuses with fond childhood memories.

The author so expertly describes the scenery of country life...

(The entire section is 659 words.)

Sally A. Myers (review date summer/autumn 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Myers, Sally A. Review of Loris Troyer's Portage Pathways and Santmyer's Ohio Town. Northwest Ohio Quarterly (summer/autumn 1998): 167-70.

[In the following review of a reissue of Ohio Town, Myers says that this book of essays is superior to Santmyer's more famous “… And Ladies of the Club.”]

Loris C. Troyer's Portage Pathways and Helen Hooven Santmyer's Ohio Town reflect two very different approaches to local history, from counties at opposite ends of the state. Troyer, an editor emeritus of the Ravenna-Kent Record-Courier, chronicles important people and events in a portion of the old Western Reserve. Troyer's...

(The entire section is 738 words.)