(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell MARY McGRORY - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Will "There Was a Time" cause a rift between Taylor Caldwell and her everloving public? Will that public … mind that she has slapped their wrists in this semi-autobiographical novel about a young writer who forsakes thunderous chronicles of villainous financiers to write from his heart? The answer to these questions must be a resounding no….

Miss Caldwell's desertion of the titans who stomp through her previous output has in no wise affected her approach or her prose—which still throbs with passion, sags with adjectives and overflows into royal-purple rapture. As of old, her characters, wading ankle-deep in malevolence, are locked in unequal contest with compound, overpowering emotions. To be sure, sex has taken a holiday here: her Frank Clair, although shamefully cavalier with his muse, is faithful in his fashion to the girl who took his beauty-starved heart when he was a lad. But anyone who thinks that the literary life is without melodrama need only be referred to the scene in which Frank's stifled human compassion breathes again at the sight of a prostitute nursing her fatherless babe….

[The] book really began for this reader when Frank is finally established at his typewriter—battling nausea to produce the bon-bon romances editors wanted at the height of the depression, and working exultantly at his first real novel on the side. These passages are rich with scorn. Miss Caldwell divides her vitriol equally between a public which demands raw melodrama—and critics who are "annoyed and disconcerted by heroic and ruthless writing, by reality." She seems to be of two minds here, torn between renouncing her works and defending them. Even in books you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Being the novel she evidently yearned to write all the while she was turning out those other enormously popular opera, "There Was a Time" will doubtless rank as the author's favorite…. Unreconstructed reviewers may mulishly decide that Miss Caldwell has proved to be the exception to the rule about writing what one knows best. "There Was a Time" comes no closer than her other books to literature or to life. With her astonishing powers of invention she would perhaps do best to leave the soul-searching to others.

Mary McGrory, "The Pin-Up Girl of the Lending Libraries," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1947 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 11, 1947, p. 20.