John Phillips Marquand was born in 1893, a relative of such respected New Englanders as Margaret Fuller and Edward Everett Hale. When his father lost his money in the panic of 1907 and had to resume his work as an engineer, however, Marquand became a poor relation. Although Marquand eventually worked his way to the top of New England society by dint of sheet effort, there was always a taint on his achievement. He attended Harvard University, majored in chemistry, and was graduated in 1915, but he was not selected for any of the important clubs and worked only on The Harvard Lampoon. After graduation, he married Christine Sedgwick of the family that edited The Atlantic Monthly, began to work as a magazine writer, and spent more than a decade perfecting his craft. Ultimately, he was one of the most skillful and highly paid fiction writers in the United States, but he was looked down on by his associates, who wanted him to write “serious” fiction.
The tension between what Marquand had worked to become and what society expected him to be was reflected in his personal life, which was unsettled. He divorced Christine Sedgwick after the birth of a son, John P. Marquand, Jr., and a daughter, Christine; he married Adelaide Hooker in 1937, had three children with her—Blanch Ferry Marquand, Timothy Fuller Marquand, and Elon Huntington Hooker Marquand—and divorced her in 1958. Marquand’s frequently unpleasant relations with women were mirrored in his last, valedictory novel, Women and Thomas Harrow (1958). Marquand died at home in his sleep in 1960.
The financial success of Marquand’s magazine stories and the Mr. Moto novels freed him to do the kind of writing he had always wanted to try—novels about a successful man who is nevertheless unhappy because he has had to make too many compromises or because he lives in a new world that he does not understand and that does not appreciate his accomplishments and values. In this vein, Marquand wrote The Late George Apley (1937), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and followed it with other successful social novels—Wickford Point (1939), H. M. Pulham, Esquire (1941), B. F.’s Daughter (1946), Point of No Return (1949), Melville Goodwin, USA (1951), and Sincerely, Willis Wayde (1955)—several of which were made into plays and films.