Keeping Fires Night and Day

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The contributions of Dorothy Canfield Fisher to literature, education, and social reform have gone largely unheralded in recent decades; this collection should do much to remedy the oversight. From Fisher’s own words and from between-the-lines evidence, the reader gains insight into the intelligent, compassionate woman whose ideas on race relations and women’s roles were far ahead of their time, and whose position on the Book-of-the-Month Club Committee of Selection helped change the landscape of modern literature.

Fisher’s works, addressing such subjects as Southern oppression of African Americans (THE BRIMMING CUP), male/female role reversal (THE HOME-MAKER), and the Montessori method of education (UNDERSTOOD BETSY), often sparked controversy. In addition, she lived in France during part of World War I; her son died in World War II. Consequently, this collection contains not only business correspondence from Fisher to her publisher and her agent, but also thoughtful, humorous, and sometimes tragic personal letters revealing Fisher’s caring, compassionate side. An added bonus is the wealth of details, from the momentous to the mundane, of everyday life in the first half of the twentieth century.

Fisher’s list of correspondents reads like a Who’s Who of literature. Willa Cather was a friend from college; Robert Frost was a neighbor. Fisher’s role on the BOMC Committee of Selection added Pearl Buck, Isak Dinesen, and Richard Wright to the list. Fisher wrote some of her most poignant personal letters to fellow committee member Christopher Morley. A Notable Recipients section places Fisher’s correspondents in historical and literary context.

Madigan uses a clear, easily followed format; a section on editorial practices explains his methods. In this volume, students of literature, of modern history, and of human nature will find much of value.