John P. Marquand Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

John P. Marquand wrote five novels featuring Japanese secret agent Mr. Moto between 1935 and 1942, when World War II forced him to abandon the Japanese figure as a hero. During that time, these novels, first appearing as serials in The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s, attracted many readers because of their intriguing characters, exotic and mysterious settings, action-filled plots, and polished style. Moto became one of the most popular mystery characters of the 1930’s, and Twentieth Century Fox, the same studio that produced the Charlie Chan films based on the Earl Derr Biggers character, made eight films, with Peter Lorre expertly playing Moto between 1937 and 1939. Although the films sometimes had the same titles as the novels, their plots bore little relationship to the books. Another film was added to the series in 1965, with Henry Silva as the detective. Near the end of his life, Marquand produced one more Moto book. In it, Moto aids an American intelligence agency against Russian spies.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John P. Marquand (mahr-KWAHND) was a prolific writer of short stories, especially for such mass-circulation magazines as the Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, Sports Illustrated, and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as novels, many of which were serialized in these same magazines before book publication. Two of the serials, 3-3-8 (1937) for The Saturday Evening Post and Castle Sinister (1938) for Collier’s, never did appear between covers. Marquand reprinted some of his short stories in Four of a Kind (1923), Haven’s End (1933), and Life at Happy Knoll (1957). In addition, he published in 1954 a collection of sketches, travel pieces, lectures, and short stories, Thirty Years.

Several of Marquand’s novels were dramatized; the most successful dramatization of his work was The Late George Apley: A Play (pr. 1944), the result of a collaboration between Marquand and George S. Kaufman. Marquand’s one foray into biography, Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, Mass., was originally published in 1925 and reissued and much revised in 1960 as Timothy Dexter Revisited. Finally, there is Prince and Boatswain: Sea Tales from the Recollection of Rear-Admiral Charles E. Clark (1915), a volume of nonfiction Marquand compiled with James Morris Morgan while in the U.S. Navy.

Several of Marquand’s novels were scripted for Hollywood films, and the Moto books inspired an entire series, starring Peter Lorre, patterned on the popular Charlie Chan mysteries. Unlike other novelists who were lured to the West Coast, Marquand worked on only a few of the scripts. Marquand also occasionally wrote for magazines such as Harper’s, The Atlantic, and Saturday Review of Literature, contributing fiction and essays.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John P. Marquand is known primarily as a writer of slick magazine fiction and long popular novels dealing with upper-middle-class life. His reputation as a magazine writer, not only of short stories but also of longer, serialized fiction, rests on his association with middlebrow magazines that have come to represent the mainstream in American culture. It is all too often forgotten that Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner, to name only a select few, also wrote for such mass-circulation periodicals. Although Marquand’s prominence as a writer of serious fiction dates from the publication of The Late George Apley, the popularity of the Mr. Moto books, No Hero and Thank You, Mr. Moto, had already established him with a wide audience. In spite of a sizable output of additional serious fiction, he has been unable to shake his early reputation as a writer of merely popular novels and short stories.

In spite of his lack of critical standing, however, Marquand’s literary achievement was substantial. In 1949, near the beginning of the final phase of his career, he wrote that what he had been trying to do was to write a series of novels that would depict a “segment of America during the last fifty years.” Scholars are now realizing how successful Marquand was in capturing that fifty-year segment of American life, and his reputation as a novelist of manners has risen dramatically. He is now considered among the finest social critics of his time, one to compare with Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Anthony Trollope as an accurate recorder of manners and customs. The nine serious novels that he wrote between 1937 and 1960 have secured for Marquand an important place in contemporary American fiction.

Since his death, Marquand’s work has undergone a steady reappraisal. Scholarly monographs and biographies have appeared as well as a flow of articles dealing with his role in American letters. This reexamination has resulted in a growing appreciation of Marquand’s novels of manners. C. Hugh Holman and John J. Gross, in two major critical works, have called for a reassessment of Marquand’s standing in American literary history, and the final judgment of Marquand’s work has yet to be written.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Auchincloss, Louis. Writers and Personality. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Marquand is one of the writers to whom a chapter is devoted in this study of the psychology of authorship. Bibliographic references.

Bell, Millicent. J. P. Marquand: An American Life. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979. A comprehensive account of Marquand’s life, with a biographical rather than a critical emphasis. In the prologue Bell describes Marquand’s work as belonging to “the novel of manners” genre and compares him to William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, John Updike, and John O’Hara, among others.

Birmingham, Stephen. The Late John Marquand: A Biography. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1972. A sympathetic biography of Marquand, by a young writer who had frequent contact with him, which includes some review of Marquand’s writing. Helpful in providing personal background for the Marquand scholar.

Gross, John J. John P. Marquand. New York: Twayne, 1963. This full-length study examines Marquand’s success in his day and gives critical acknowledgment of his expertise as a social novelist. Discusses the action in his later novels, written in the last twenty-five years of his life. Deliberately omits review of Marquand’s work in popular magazines, gives some background information,...

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