The Lardners

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

Since 1960, with the death of his mother and his oldest brother, Ring Lardner, Jr., has been the only surviving member of the immediate family of Ring Lardner, whose sports reporting, newspaper column entitled “In the Wake of the News,” magazine stories, and musical comedies delighted and entertained tens of millions of Americans for more than two decades. Before writing this book-length history of his family, Ring Lardner, Jr., published two magazine articles, one on recollections of his famous father and the other about the six members of his immediate family. In the course of his preparation of the magazine articles the author discovered a wealth of material in the family papers, especially letters between his father and mother, and in his own memory. Urged to make use of that material, he produced the present volume, after some hesitation. He records that the hesitation was rooted many years before in his boyhood realization that his name, because of his father’s reputation, was a famous one. That early discovery made him all his life avoid enterprises which either invited comparison with his father or gave the appearance of trying to trade on the senior Lardner’s fame. He notes, for example, that he felt it was permissible for him to write his novel, but not for him to enter his father’s domain, the short story. He also comments that the burden of his father’s name is not gone, although Ring Lardner, Sr., died more than forty years ago. Now that he is in his sixties, Ring Lardner, Jr., is often mistaken for being the author of his father’s stories by people who read them in school or college.

The Lardners is divided into three sections. The first section, which contains four chapters, is about Ring Lardner, his wife, and their small children prior to 1920. These chapters are, then, about the family prior to Ring Lardner, Jr., having any ability to recall memories and are based upon the material he found available, including several hundred letters written by Ring and Ellis Lardner during their courtship, from their first meeting in 1907, and from their marriage four years later. The second section of the book, made up of six chapters, begins with the author’s earliest recollections and ends with his father’s death in 1933. The third section, which contains seven chapters, describes the careers and lives of the four Lardner sons during the twenty-seven years between their father’s death and the dissolution of the family by death in 1960, when Ring Lardner, Jr., became the only member of the immediate family left alive, following the deaths of his mother and his brother John.

In the first section of the book the author traces his ancestry on both his father’s and mother’s sides, to demonstrate the environment which shaped his own and his parents’ generation. He reveals to the reader that both families were well-to-do, upper-middle-class people in Midwestern small towns. The Lardner family was among the elite of Niles, Michigan, in the nineteenth century. On the mother’s side, the Abbott family enjoyed similar position and prestige in Goshen, Indiana. The mother, Ellis Abbott Lardner, was unusual in that she went East to attend Smith College, where she was graduated in 1911. The father, who was to become famous in fields unrelated to engineering, attended Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago briefly, and then, his family having fallen on hard times through bad investments, drifted into newspaper work as a reporter for the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune with the title of “sporting editor.”

When Ring Lardner decided in 1926 to end his highly successful career in journalism to devote himself to writing fiction and stage plays, he was already one of the most famous men in America, even to having been invited to the White House and to play golf with President Warren G. Harding. His fame had come first as an outstanding sportswriter with the Chicago Inter Ocean, the Chicago Tribune, and the Bell Syndicate. He was especially identified with baseball, and his early fame as a writer of fiction grew out of his work as a baseball writer. As early as 1914 the Saturday Evening Post began publishing his epistolary stories about Jack Keefe, a fictional ballplayer. Two years later a collection of the Keefe stories was published under the title You Know Me Al, perhaps Lardner’s most popular and widely read volume. In addition, Lardner was also famous as the author of the column entitled “In the...

(The entire section is 1839 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

Book World. July 25, 1976, p. Gl.

Booklist. LXXII, May 15, 1976, p. 1310.

Esquire. LXXXVI, July, 1976, p. 14.

New York Review of Books. XXIII, September 16, 1976, p. 19.

New Yorker. LII, July 12, 1976, p. 105.