(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell Martin Levin - Essay

Martin Levin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When love comes to Caroline Ames Sheldon in Taylor Caldwell's "A Prologue to Love" …, it is page 553, and there are only sixty pages or so to tidy things up: change a few bequests, do a little benevolent blackmailing, engage a brain surgeon, and otherwise try to alter the course of a lifetime of bitchery.

Bitchery comes naturally to the wretched billionairess, since the father Miss Caldwell has devised for her is a marvelous nineteenth-century monster of a dad who has everything but fangs. Shut up in a rotting old country house for most of her childhood, schooled in niggardliness by her miserly parent, Caroline comes to womanly estate so terrified of poverty that she is incapable of conducting human relationships. In this block-buster of misery that blasts lives from the Franco-Prussian War to World War I, there are human relationships aplenty, most of them stemming from the fact that shifty old John fathered dual dynasties—one with his wife and another with his mistress, Cynthia, who happened to be the wife's twin sister. What a mess!…

A dependable performer, Miss Caldwell delivers what her readers have come to expect of her: a no-nonsense view of character, a convincing belief in moral absolutes, and a relish for detail that would have been appreciated by Hieronymus Bosch. If cavilers find "A Prologue to Love" a bit lacking in credibility—well, you can't have everything.

Martin Levin, in his review of "A Prologue to Love," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 19, 1961, p. 60.