(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell Harrison Smith - Essay

Harrison Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Taylor Caldwell] has pursued through sixteen novels almost every aspect of the rise of those multi-millionaire families in the United States Theodore Roosevelt called malefactors of great wealth. The fact that her great-uncle once owned all of the railroads in Scotland and that her grandmother was half Irish has had a great deal to do with the subject of her newest book, "Never Victorious, Never Defeated." This long and absorbing novel is by no means a pursuit of a wornout vein; the author has discovered a new gold mine in the intramural conflicts of four generations of a prolific family of Pennsylvania railroad builders fighting to extend their lines north and west. It is a complex story involving more than twenty principal characters, as well as striking theories on immigration, labor unions, socialism, and war….

In the background of this tumultuous railroad novel there is the history of eighty years of conflict, change, and war through which the author's beliefs constantly come to the surface. "All men are instinctively tyrannous and dangerous," she writes. "The impoverishment of men and the earth in the act of preparing for war will lead to the slow erosion of our liberties…. Idealists have a secret contempt for the self-made men while they prate of the majesty of labor and the nobility of toil…. Who ever trusted another man?"

For 550 pages Taylor Caldwell succeeds in the astonishing feat of maintaining the reader's interest in the creation of a great railroad, the changing history of America from the Civil War through the Roosevelt administration, the political and economic philosophy of the time, and an intense and colorful account of the fortunes and the emotional and financial crises of the relatives, descendants, and friends of the family of Aaron De Witt of Portersville, Pa. It is a feat which few writers could, or would attempt to accomplish today.

Harrison Smith, "Pittsburgh Epic," in The Saturday Review, New York (© 1954 Saturday Review Magazine Co.), Vol. XXXVII, No. 23, June 5, 1954, p. 32.