(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell

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Louise Maunsell Field

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

For the background of her new novel, "The Strong City," Taylor Caldwell has chosen the town of "Nazareth," Pa., and the steel industry as it was during the latter years of the past century. That was the time when men worked twelve hours a day six days a week, when unions were struggling for existence and many employers regarded the "Knights of Labor" with considerable disfavor and even more suspicion. Immigrants were then swarming into the United States, and it is from among these immigrants and their immediate descendants that the author has chosen most of her characters. First in importance is Franz Stoessel, a foreman in the Schmidt Mills when the novel begins….

The first part of the book is by all odds the most interesting. The account of the great steel mills and of the men who worked there, men from all countries with "sullen and desperate faces," whom Franz drove mercilessly, hating them "with a purity of hatred undisturbed by considerations of family or fear of hunger," has real vitality. This first part is largely dominated by the young Englishman, Tom Harrow, who was "ignorant and clever, philosophical and vulgar," trying to organize a union, "boiling with an infuriated sense of outrage and injustice" done, not to him, but to all his fellow-workers, something Franz was utterly unable to understand. Tom's speech to the workers at the labor meeting, Jan's denunciation of Franz at Tom's funeral are the most dramatic moments in the book. Next to Tom in interest come Emmi, the disappointed idealist, and Hans Schmidt, the gross peasant who by some unexplained means had succeeded in marrying Frances Bradhurst, an "American aristocrat" he loathed because she was timid and weak and sickly, and had borne him a crippled son, but whimpered and sobbed over after she was dead. The novel is extremely wordy and could have been much improved by drastic cutting and editing. It is over-written, the author analyzing and reanalyzing her characters interminably, while the tacit duel between Franz and Baldur has become tedious long before it ends. Yet the book has power; the opening part is very interesting, and the picture of the steel industry as it once was is worth careful consideration, especially at the present time.

Louise Maunsell Field, in her review of "The Steel Makers," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1942 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 12, 1942, p. 16.

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