January 12, 2013
Edgar Rice Burroughs And The Revolt Against Civilization
A Review Of
Lothrop Stoddard’s 1922 Eponymous Title
Stoddard, Lothrop: The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace Of The Underman, 1922, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, First Edition.
In the name of our To-morrow we will burn Rafael
Destroy museums, crush the flowers of art,
Maidens in the radiant kingdom of the Future
Will be more beautiful than Venus de Milo.
Quoted by Stoddard p. 202
A perennial problem in Burroughs’ studies is what did he believe? Was he a racist? Was he an anti-Semite? Was he an irredeemable bigot? Shall we just say he was not of a contemporary Liberal frame of mind. If you listen to Richard Slotkin author of Gunfighter Nation and a professor at Case Western Reserve at the time he wrote his book a couple decades ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs was an evil man responsible for all the evil in the US from 1912 to the present. Slotkin even sees him responsible for the My Lai massacre of Viet Nam.
Himself a Communist Slotkin can overlook all the crimes of the Soviet Union in which tens of millions were exterminated to find the ultimate evil in the killing of a few dozen people in Viet Nam.
Slotkin, who rampages through his history disparaging any non-Liberal writers as atavistic bigots firmly attaches Burroughs’ name to two scholars, Madison Grant and his Passing Of The Great Race of 1916 and Lothrop Stoddard and his historical studies of the twenties. He considers the two hardly less evil than Burroughs. To someone less excitable, perhaps, or lessLiberal, the two writers have written responsible and astute studies. I certainly think they have.
When I first read Slotkin I rejected the notion that Burroughs had been influenced by either. Ten years on I have to retract that opinion. It is now clear that Burroughs read both while being heavily influenced by Lothrop Stoddard, especially his 1922 volume, The Revolt Against Civilization. While the studies of both Grant and Stoddard would at best supplement Burroughs already developed opinions The Revolt can easily be seen as a template for Burroughs’ writing after he read it. While the study complemented his own developed social and political opinions I am sure that Stoddard’s explication of the history provided Burroughs with many new facts. Based on its opinions that appeared in ERB’s novels I would place the reading somewhere about 1926 or 1927.
Contrary to what some admirers want to make him ERB was what today would be considered a very conservative man, today’s Liberals would be anathema to him. He was decidedly anti-Communist, a Eugenicist, while not bigoted he was not a Negrophile or Semitophile. He was essentially a man with a social and historical outlook that was formed before 1900, a pre-immigration outlook formed while the Indian wars were still in progress. In short he was a man of his times.
Thomas Dixon Jr. to whom he is often compared was one of the most successful writers of the period who carefully examined both the Civil War and Reconstruction as well as the growing Socialist/Communist movement. He was not a bigot as he is always construed but a man of his own people. Burroughs was influenced by his work and thought well of him. He did not abhor him. ERB read many of Dixon’s novels and admired the movie based on his books, The Birth Of A Nation. He sympathized with Henry Ford in his struggle for the welfare of America and read the Dearborn Independent, Ford’s newspaper. In short, Burroughs was a stand up guy.
Now, what evidence is there he read The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace Of The Underman? Let’s begin with this quote, p. 34 et seq.
Down to that time the exact nature of the life process remained a mystery. The mystery has now been cleared up. The researches of [August] Weisman and other modern biologists have revealed the fact that all living beings are due to a continuous stream of germ plasm which has existed ever since life first appeared on earth and which will continue to exist as long as any life remains. This germ-plasm consists of minute germ cells which have the power of developing into human living beings. All human beings spring from the union of a male sperm-cell and a female egg-cell. Right here, however, occurs the basic feature of the life process. The new individual consists, from the start, of two sorts of plasm. Almost the whole of him is body plasm – the ever multiplying cells which differentiate into the organs of the body. But he also contains germ- plasm. At his very conception a tiny bit of the life stuff from which he springs is set aside or carefully isolated from the body-plasm, and forms a course of development entirely its own. In fact, the germ-plasm is not really part of the individual; he is merely its bearer, destined to pass it on to other bearers of the life chain.
Now all this was not only unknown but even unsuspected down to a short time ago. Its discovery was in fact dependent upon modern scientific methods. Certainly, it was not likely to suggest itself to even the most philosophic mind. Thus, down to a generation ago, the life stuff was supposed to be a product of the body, not differing essentially in character from other body products. This assumption had two important consequences. In the first place, it tended to obscure the very concept of heredity, and led men to think of environment as virtually all important; in the second place, even where the importance of heredity was dimly perceived the role of the individual was misunderstood, and he was conceived as a creator rather than a mere transmitter. This was the reason for the false theory of “the inheritance of acquired characteristics,” formulated by Lamarck and upheld by most scientists until almost the end of the nineteenth century. Of course, Lamarckianism was merely a modification of the traditional ‘environmentalist’ attitude: it admitted that heredity possessed some importance, but it maintained environment as the basic feature.
Now there you have the argument of God in Tarzan And The Lion Man of 1933 nearly word for word. I hink it unlikely that ERB actually read Weisman who published following 1900 and who ERB may never have heard of, so his source was in all probability Stoddard.
Stoddard’s presentation nicely straddles the change of consciousness from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. It sounds a trifle naïve to our ears but was cutting edge at the time. Weisman’s theories were a big step in the direction of the discovery of DNA a short 26 years after Stoddard’s study.
It is important though to remember that more than fifty percent of the US population today rejects the concept of evolution while being more Lamarckian in outlook than might be supposed. We are as a whole not quite as advanced as we think we are.
As a quick affirmation of the influence of Stoddard on ERB on pages 95-96 he gives an account of the famous Jukes family of degenerates that appeared in ERB’s 1932 novelette, Pirate Blood.
Stoddard was well aware of what was happening historically and presently and one can see that he passed that understanding on to ERB. Almost as though writing today, on page 237 Stoddard writes:
Stressful transition is the key-note of our times. Unless all signs be faulty, we stand at one of those momentous crises in history when mankind moves from one well-marked epoch to another of widely different character.
Extremely prescient observation in 1922 while his study has been borne out in detail. The chapter titles give a clear outline of the contents:
1. The Burden Of Civilization
2. The Iron Law Of Equality
3. The Nemesis Of The Inferior
4. The Lure Of The Primitive
5. The Ground Swell Of Revolt
6. The Rebellion Of The Underman
7. The War Against Chaos
As can be easily seen novelists such as Rider Haggard, ERB, Edgar Wallace as well as many others from 1890 to the 20s were grappling with the problems indicated by the chapter titles.
The natural tendency in humans is to be rather lax in mental activity. Precision calls for an active mentality and concentration. Not everyone is capable of this, yet, beginning in the nineteenth century such mental qualities were increasingly necessary. Such disciplines as Chemistry and Physics didn’t allow for personal vagaries or individual style. One couldn’t bend the disciplines to one’s own desires, precise measurements were necessary requiring mental concentration. A little bit off and who knows what might happen. In a way then the Overman and Underman were created. Either you could or you couldn’t and if you couldn’t you slipped beneath- an Underman. Higher civilization was impossible for you.
Burroughs addressed this problem continually. In his character Tarzan he resolved the problem giving his creation a split personality, in a loin cloth he was one man, in a tuxedo he was another. Two separate gorillas in one and always a beast. In real life society split into two possibilities- the Over and Underman.
Worse still scientific methods were able to measure the ineffable, the unseen. In chemistry sub-tiny atoms were able to be detected and their sub-miniscule weights actually measured. Measurement is the bane of the Underman. A Mole contains 6,022 x 10 to the 23rd power of atoms, an incredible incomprehensible number that still might weigh 12 grams or less. Astonishing. Beyond the comprehension hence belief of the Underman. As the process can’t be seen it can’t be believed.
In human intelligence the Englishman Francis Galton began to devise measuring devices of intelligence in 1865 shortly after Darwin announced Evolution in 1959. Thus uncertainty about mental capacity was eliminated. As Stoddard calls it, The Iron Law Of Inferiority. Biology and measuring excluded something like eighty-five percent of the population from the ranks of the most intelligent. Without that high measurement of intelligence 85% of the population was automatically excluded from the possibility of higher attainment while at the same time being prejudged.
Big strapping fellows, all man, were relegated to manual labor while wimps like perhaps, John D. Rockefeller, became billionaires. Not right, the big strapping fellows said, but not measuring up in intelligence, which they couldn’t see, they were condemned to the shovel for life.
Intelligence measuring tests were improved between 1865 and 1920 although not as accurate as could be desired. Men entering the armed forces in WWI were an excellent testing group. Of 1,700,000 tested intelligence levels were fairly accurately determined. It was then discovered that only four and a half percent were very bright with another seven or eight percent bright, while the huge bulk were C+ to C- descending from there.
One imagines Burroughs read this with extreme thoughtfulness.
So, now as the bulk of the good things were going to those who could do, what were those who couldn’t do about it? The great issue since 1789 has been equality; the Underman demanded equality as a first condition. He could organize. He could sabotage. He could rage. And that is what the Underman has done.
The Communist Party was formed. And what was their chief demand? Equality. Absolute equality. As they couldn’t rise to a natural equality then the only other feasible solution was to bring the Superior intelligences down to their level. Thus they raged against that great equalizer, education. Screw science, screw physics, screw chemistry, screw biology. Who needed what you couldn’t see and that especially included intelligence measuring?
One of ERB’s bete noires was the I.W.W.- The Industrial Workers Of The World, syndicalists. Imagine his reaction when he read this:
Viewed in the abstract, technical sense, Syndicalism does not seem to present any specially startling innovations. It is when we examine the Syndicalists’ animating spirit, their general philosophy of life, and the manner which they propose to obtain their ends, that we realize we are in the presence of an ominous novelty,- the mature philosophy of the Under Man. This philosophy of the Under-Man is today called Bolshevism. Before the Russian Revolution it was known as Syndicalism. But Bolshevism and Syndicalism are basically one and the same thing. Soviet Russia has really invented nothing. It is merely practicing what others had been preaching for years- with such adaptation as normally attend the putting of theory into practice.
Syndicalism, as an organized movement, is primarily the work of two Frenchmen, Fernand Pelloutier and Georges Sorel. Of course, just as there were Socialist before Marx, so there were Syndicalists before Sorel. Syndicalism’s intellectual progenitor was Proudhon, who in his writings had closely sketched out the Syndicalist theory. As for Syndicalism’s savage, violent, uncompromising spirit, it is clearly Anarchist in origin., drawing its inspiration not only from Proudhon but also from Bakunin, [Johann] Most, and all the rest of that furious company of revolt.
“Revolt!” This is the essence of Syndicalism: a revolt, not merely against modern society but against Marxian Socialism as well. And the revolt was well timed. When, at the very end of the nineteenth century, Georges Sorel lifted the red banner of Syndicalism, the hour awaited the man. The proletarian world was full of discordant and disillusionment at the long dormant Marxian philosophy. Half a century had passed since Marx first preached his gospel, and the revolutionary millennium was nowhere in sight. Society had not become a world of billionaires and beggars. The great capitalists had not swallowed all. The middle classes still survived and prospered. Worst of all, from the revolutionary viewpoint, the upper grades of the working classes had prospered, too. The skilled workers were, in fact, becoming an aristocracy of labor. They were acquiring property and thus growing capitalistic; they were raising their living standards and thus growing bourgeois. Society seemed endowed with a strange vitality! It was even reforming many of the abuses which Marx had pronounced incurable. When, then, was the proletariat to inherit the earth?
The Proletariat! That was the key word. The van, and even the main body of society, might be fairly on the march, but behind lagged a rear guard. Here, were, first of all, the lower working class strata- the “manual” laborers in the narrower sense, relatively ill paid and often grievously exploited. Behind these again came a motley crew, the rejects and misfits of society. “Casuals” and “unemployables”, “down-and-outs” and declasses, victims of social evils, victims of bad heredity and their own vices, paupers, defectives, degenerates, and criminals- they were all there. They were there for many reasons, but they were all miserable, and they were all bound together by a certain solidarity- a sullen hatred of the civilization from which they had little to hope. To these people evolutionary, “reformist” socialism was cold comfort. Then came the Syndicalists promising, not evolution but revolution; not in the dim future but the here and now; not a bloodless “taking over” by “the workers” hypothetically stretched to include virtually the whole community, but the bloody “dictatorship” of The Proletariat in its narrow revolutionary sense.
Here, at last, was living hope- hope, and the prospect of revenge! Is it then strange that a few short years should have seen revolutionary Socialists, Anarchists, all the anti-social forces of the whole world grouped under the banner of Georges Sorel? For a time they went under different names syndicalists in France, Bolshevists in Russia, I.W.W.s in America but in reality they formed one army, enlisted in a single war.
Now, what was this war? It was, first of all, a war for the conquest of Socialism as a preliminary to the conquest of society. Everywhere the orthodox Socialist parties were fiercely assailed. And these Socialist assaults were formidable, because the orthodox Socialists possessed no moral line of defense. Their arms were palsied by the virus of their revolutionary tradition. For however evolutionary and non-militant the Socialists might have been in practice, in theory they had remained revolutionary their ethics continuing to be those of the “class war”, the destruction of the “possessing classes” and the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The American economist, Carver, will describe the ethics of socialism in the following lines: “Marxian Socialism has nothing in common with idealistic Socialism. It rests not on persuasion, but on force. It does not profess to believe, as did the old idealists, that if socialism be lifted up it will draw all men to it. In fact, it has no ideals; it is materialistic and militant. Being materialistic and atheistic, it makes no use of such terms as right and justice, unless it be to quiet the consciences of those who still harbor such superstitions. It insists that these terms are mere conventionalities; the concepts mere bugaboos invented by the ruling caste to keep the masses under control. Except in a conventional sense, from this crude materialistic view there is neither a right or wrong, justice nor injustice, good or bad. Until people who still believe in such silly notions divest their minds of them they will never understand the first principles of Marxian socialism.
“Who creates our ideas of right and wrong?” asks the Socialist. “The ruling class. Why? To insure their domination over the masses by depriving them of the power to think for themselves. We, the proletarians, when we get into power, will dominate the situation; we shall be the ruling class; we shall determine who is right and wrong. Do you ask us if what we propose is just? What do you mean by justice? Do you ask if it is right? What do you mean by right? It will be good for us. That is all that right and justice ever did or ever can mean!
People ask what Burroughs believed? Was he a racist? Was he an anti-Semite? Well, Burroughs’ beliefs can be extrapolated from the above quote as well as Stoddard’s whole book. If Burroughs could have expressed himself concisely he would have written The Revolt Against Civilization. You don’t have to look any further.
There could be no more ardent anti-Communist, anti-Socialist, anti-IWW than ERB. The book was published five years after the Russian Revolution, a mere three years after the narrow quelling of the Communist disturbances of 1919 while in 1922 the Harding administration was putting the finishing touches on the suppression of that Communist revolution in the US. Make no mistake the crimes of 1919 were part of an American Bolshevik revolution. Things would not return to what Harding called normalcy but it would be a reasonable facsimile that would endure until the engineered great crash of 1929 opening the way for the Communist revolution of FDR in the US.
These were perilous times ERB was living in no less than those of today. One can’t be sure when Burroughs read Revolt but many of the same themes almost in quotation were employed in his 1926 novel The Moon Maiden. And from the Moon Maiden he went to the more sophisticated approaches of his great political novels from Tarzan At The Earth’s Core to Tarzan And The Lion Man.
As Stoddard thinks the Underman breeds at a very fast rate while the Overman limits his family the obvious consequence is that people of intelligence decrease rapidly in relation to the Underman. Of course Stoddard has all kinds of tables and charts to prove his point. As this was published in 1922 the results are heavily skewed to prove the English are the top of the heap; a result not uncongenial to Burroughs’ sensibilities.
One imagines that as of induction time in 1917-18 a great many of the recent immigrants at least had underdeveloped English language skills that affected the results but at this point it no longer matters; the general idea has been proved sound.
As we have a war between the Underman and the Overman and make no mistake, as far as Sorel and the Syndicalist/Bolshevik ideology goes it is a war to the knife, it may be asked what Stoddard’s formula for the Overman’s success might be.
This returns us to the Underman’s great fear that science, that is objective analysis supported by an array of facts will condemn him to the virtual condition of servitude. It might be surmised that this is an intolerable but inescapable conclusion unless education and science are destroyed reducing the more intelligent to the masses.
Stoddard then relying on Darwinian and Weismanian evolution and the notion of Eugenics introduced by Francis Galston resolves the problem by ending the reproduction of the ‘defective’ classes, that is, forced sterilization. Forced sterilization was actually employed. It is interesting that he never brings in the issue of race thus on the surface his book is neither racist for anti-Semitic. However as the book assumes that the superior intelligences are English or Nordic the text qualifies as anti-Semitic in Jewish eyes and hence has been placed on the Jewish Index Of Forbidden Literature.
One may be horrified at the Eugenic solution to the intelligence problem but one must be equally horrified at the Underman solution to their Overman problem. Liquidation is more horrifying than sterilization and Liquidation was employed by the Underman in Russia and will be employed again if they can consolidate their gains in the US and Europe today.
The problem is that while being founded in reality it is impossible in execution. The human mind is too subjective to be trusted with such a great responsibility. Many statues were placed on the books commanding forced sterilization and many such were executed.
Schools classes were organized based on supposed mental aptitudes. How objectively I will demonstrate by my own example. Until Jr. High in my home town schools did not systematically differentiate based on mental capacity, however at the end of the ninth grade just before I.Q. testing in the tenth there were three options, Trade School for those deemed not of academic ability, in other words destined for the labor force, and once in high school a division between business, that is white collar, and college prep. This was still a process of self-selection thus I signed up for high school however someone changed my papers to trade school.
Thus when I showed for classes at high school, I was told I was enrolled at trade school. Now, this was the fight of my life, and for it. I was told I was in trade school and to get out. I said I wasn’t leaving and sat down where I waited for four days for the situation to resolve itself. My argument was that the law required that I be given an education and it wouldn’t be at trade school. Whatever the behind the scenes machinations were I was reluctantly allowed to enter but they then insisted it would be business level while I demanded college prep. With an unexplained prescience I was told that I would never go to college so I should be in business. Nevertheless I won that struggle too.
I am sure that if enforced sterilization had been possible at the time I would have been compelled to undergo it.
Now, here’s the kicker. Came time for I.Q. tests and I placed in the upper four percent. I have no idea what the reaction to that was although my critics had to tone down their act. So human passions invalidated the whole Eugenic idea.
In other words there is no equable solution to this terrible human dilemma.
In that sense the solution offered by Aldus Huxley in his famous comic novel Brave New World is of some interest. In Huxley’s story he enlists science, chemistry, to produce different levels of mental competence. The zygote is nurtured in test tubes while at certain levels of development certain chemicals are introduced limiting the development of the fetus. Thus the labor problem is solved by creating classes only capable of menial tasks. The upper classes are bred like race horses to various degrees of excellence. Huxley was tongue in cheek to be sure but, actually the only solution to this otherwise insoluble problem.
Stoddard didn’t introduce any ideas to which Burroughs wasn’t already familiar and in agreement. At best Stoddard’s superb research and explication clarified ERB’s understanding for him. I don’t know how familiar he was with Georges Sorel. Today Sorel is unknown except to specialists although I am beginning to see his name pop up so with the Communist regime of Barack Obama perhaps the way is being prepared for Sorel’s extreme measures of exterminating the Overman.
At any rate I have come to the opinion that Richard Slotkin is correct in thinking the Burroughs had read and was in accord with both Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. However Slotkin evaluates their work through the distortion of his own Communistic lens which is only valid to those of his point of view.
His view does not make Burroughs a racist or anti-Semite. It makes him an objective and accurate observer and analyst of the situation of his time. As indicated above Burroughs absorbed Stoddard’s information, that point of view and used it to create his wonderful works of the late twenties and first half of the thirties. If one bears Stoddard’s book in mind while reading those novels it will make them make great sense while presenting his view of the political and social situation
Of course the novels are not confined solely to dealing with these issues; Burroughs had a much more far ranging mind, both subjectively and objectively.
Stoddard’s The Revolt Against Civilization is a major study as relevant today as the day it was written. The last ninety years have only borne out his theses. The Revolt Against Civilization is well worth a read, perhaps two. At any rate you will have an accurate idea of Burroughs’ social and political beliefs.
April 21, 2011
Tarzan Meets The Wizard
I opened the door…(this was way back in nineteen-fifty when I was twelve years old and bought my first Tarzan book)…and stepped inside the Argonaut Bookstore. This America was in a parallel universe compared to what you see today. What I’m telling you here seemingly happened millions of years ago on another planet in a different universe. Believe me, you couldn’t function in the world I’m talking about.
The Argonaut was downtown. That won’t mean anything to you now, but in those days there were no shopping malls. Things weren’t big and strung out. Downtown was not only the center of activity, there was no other activity. You had to shop downtown. Thus if your store wasn’t located on the four main blocks of Genessee, and two didn’t really count, your store was, as they say, marginalized. The Argonaut was half a block off Genesee but in the center street off the two good blocks on the right side, the left side was a lot weaker than the right. There was a chance someone might turn the corner and see your store. Not too likely though.
The scale would amaze you. This was small. Imagine yourself as you playing with your Lionel electric train. Yeah, it was that small in comparison. Barnes & Noble mega bookstores weren’t even a gleam in a booksellers’ eyes. The thought would have been incredible. It would have taken up one of the two good blocks on the right side. The Argonaut was maybe twelve feet wide and fifty feet deep. Mahogany shelving down one side beginning waist high with storage underneath, nothing there, a couple display tables down the middle, check out to the right. The prop. would have been lucky to take home two hundred fifty dollars a day. So out of a hundred dollars markup he not only met all expenses but lived as a respected business man. As I say, a different world.
The owner dealt only with White people. The only minority was the Black folk and they were confined to the First Ward. The Italians were emerging from their ghettoes in the post-war world so pizza shops were showing as a novelty. The owner only had to stock his shelves for one buying public. Half of his inventory would have been ‘the classics.’ There were virtually no novels published after WWI on sale except for current literature and that was generally considered inferior to the classics.
Great immigration changes were in the air while the last vestiges of the previously dominant English club style were slowly disappearing. Thus the Argonaut was designed to look like it might have been Lord Greystoke’s personal library, mahogany, dark woods and all.
I was only two years out of the Orphanage and feeling my way to some sort of identity. I would never find it in my old home town, it wasn’t there.
I hadn’t ever bought a book at the Argonaut before, as an Orphan I would have been shooed out in the most unkindly manner. As it was the classiest and only real book store in town I was anxious with anticipation. The library at the Orphanage had been my refuge, a very nice library too, as big or bigger than the Argonaut and all kid’s books. The other orphans viewed it as The Black Hole Of Calcutta so I had always had the place to myself. Donations to the Orphanage were terrific so I was familiar with the whole range of children’s books from Raggedy Ann And Andy to my favorites, the Oz series. In those days I was mystified by the change of authorship after the first dozen books but I was quick to note the inferior style of his successors.
I don’t remember any Tarzans or other Burroughs.
I was a free rover back in the Orphanage days so I knew about the Argonaut as it was across the street from the magazine store where I bought my Blackhawks, Daredevil and Plastic Man comics. They were only a dime so all I had to do was pick up five bottles with a redemption value of 2 cents each and I was in business; but now I was going to spend a dollar. Don’t know where I got it.
I had scouted the place and knew where everything was so when I entered and looked down the long row of shelves stocked with what would now be a miniscule library I knew to turn left just inside the door to the space alotted to Juvenile Literature. Tom Swift and the Rover Boys among others were still available but nobody bought them. Stiff stuff. Swift was too stiff for words. I never could enjoy the stuff although the oldtimers swore by him. And there next to the Oz books was Tarzan. There were only about eight of them available at the time along with five of the Martian series.
The Burroughs stuff was all put out by Grossett and Dunlap, my favorite publishers. Something about the paper and the binding. There were several other publishers who put out classy kid books, Cupples And Leon. They had the look and feel that made you feel like a man on the way. Now the Barnes and Noble Juvenile section, bigger than the whole Argonaut, is a pile of indoctrination in generally offensive looking and feeling volumes. Lot of ‘em made in China. Chinese don’t know a thing about paper and books. I’m glad I spent my youth in that other universe.
Back then you could buy Whitman Co., Racine, Wisconsin, abridgments for fifty-nine cents if you didn’t have a dollar. I could never get over why Whitman’s were published in Racine when everything else was published in New York City. I’m sure there was some weird reason. I had my dollar in my hand. I focused my concentration in a steady beam and was intensely glancing from title to title comparing the dust jacket illustrations when, as though from afar, faintly a voice partially intruded into my conscious to say: ‘I’m Jason, can I help you?’
It was so faint I didn’t really hear it, the voice merely brushed past my concentration; then I felt what I thought was a very hard tap on my shoulder. Wincing, I looked up.
‘I’m Jason, can I help you?’ he said more imperiously, left hand on hip with his left leg resting on the tip of his shoe.
‘Help me do what?’ I asked uncomprehendingly.
‘Find the book you’re looking for?’ He replied with a condescending, well, not a sneer, but you know what I mean.
At the same time I realized that although I wanted a Tarzan book I didn’t have any idea which one was the best to start with.
This guy Jason as I surveyed him in my pre-teen way was a pretty impressive guy He was an easy six feet. I was about four feet ten, imperially slim (a phrase I’ve always wanted to work in) dressed to the nines in a collegiate cut suit, blue button down oxford cloth shirt (still the only kind of shirt material), and rep stripe tie. (Never liked rep stripes, prefer paisleys and foulards). He was good looking, he could have stepped out of an Arrow shirt ad or modeled for one of those German postage stamps of the late thirties. God, those Leyendecker ads were just awesome.
Jason would have been a killer with the girls too, if he had just come unstuck from himself. But, heck, if I looked like that I might have been satisfied with myself too.
He stood there leaning on the counter with his right arm, his left arm cocked on his hip and his right leg across his left leg. God, I’ve never seen a pair of pants with a crease like that and I never will again. I’ve never been able to get it and I’ve bought more suits than Huey Long who couldn’t get that crease either.
I can say that I was overawed by Jason.
‘I wanted to buy a Tarzan book.’ I began timidly. ‘Do you know anything about them?’
‘Do I know anything about them?’ He said with a knowing chuckle as he brought his bent fingers up for a minute examination of his nails. ‘I should think so. I’ve read them all.’
‘OK. Which one. I’ve got my dollar.’
‘Which one?’ He asked irritatingly. He had this annoying habit of repeating your question as well as his now constant steady admiration of his finger nails. He did have a good manicure. A manicure of any kind was a rarity in our town. Hair cuts were pretty common. First he would do one hand and then the other. Sometimes both at once. He was something to watch. Enjoyed preening for me too.
‘Hmm. For you?’ He said musingly as though I were a special case. ‘Well, you know, there’s only eight available out of twenty so you can only choose from those eight. I’ve got them all, every one. Had to go to second hand stores which I’m loath to do but this case called for an exception. Those eight are new though. I’ve thought about the Tarzan novels a great deal. I divide them into three categories for convenience. The first four I call the Russian Quartet, the next eight I call the Jungle Rhapsodies and the eight after them, Political Undertones.
These eight are all from Grosset and Dunlap and they’re all that’s available new. The titles Burroughs self-published are all out of print…
‘What do you mean Russian Quartet?’ This was the beginning of the McCarthy Reaction and I was a pretty keen anti-Communist, or about to become one.
‘Well, it seems to me that Burroughs concieved the first four volumes as a unit without plans to go further. Of course, the first volume introduces Tarzan but then he used the literary devices of the two Russian nihilists who are after Tarzan to continue the story through volumes two and to four. He kills off the last Russian in Son Of Tarzan and then leaves no room for a continuation of the series.
The Quartet is probably written in too literary a style for you. Burroughs was trying hard to follow the rules of fine literature in the Quartet.’
‘What happened then?’
‘What happened then?’ There he went again bringing up both sets of nails for scrutiny and adopting that wide apart stance of that famous picture of Burroughs flexing his muscles.
‘I think he was at a loss what to do next. I think he had written out his original conception of Tarzan. I mean, Tarzan was virtually a moribund old man at the end of Son of Tarzan.’
‘Yeah, but you said there’s a whole bunch of other books.’
‘His original conception, I said. About this time he went way out West in Hollywood, where I’m going soon, I’m going to be a big movie star with my looks, where he met L. Frank Baum. Baum wrote a number of the Oz stories, have heard of him?’
‘Of course I have.’ I snuffed, deeply offended that anyone would think I didn’t know who L. Frank Baum was. Ozma of Oz was the first book I ever read on my own.
‘Uh huh.” He said, condescendingly looking down his nose, but impressed. ‘I think that he and Baum had some long walks and summer talks and Baum gave him some pointers. Baum was older than Burroughs. He was born in eighteen fifty-fix and died in nineteen-nineteen just after he passed the torch to Burroughs, so to speak.’
‘How do you know when L. Frank Baum lived and died, I wonder?’
‘It’s my job to know these things.’ He smiled condescendingly. ‘Just like Burroughs was born in eighteen seventy-five and died the day before yesterday.’
‘You’re kidding me, now?’ I said, unwilling to be taken in.
‘I kid you not, kid. Day before yesterday he breathed his last breath. Expired, just like that. As I was saying, Baum probably told him to make Tarzan and Africa over on the model of Dorothy, the Wizard and Oz. That way he could move Tarzan North, South, East and West just as Baum did with his characters in the Oz series. Oz has its metropolis of the Emerald City and then the outlying areas where all these odd creatures live.
Burroughs listened. So in the fifth Tarzan book, Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar, the story changes from a more or less realistic vision of Africa to one of hidden cities, lost empires and strange mythical locations like the giant boma of the Ant Men or Pal-ul-don. Tarzan, as the Wizard, works out of his estate in East Africa as a substitute for the Emerald City.
By adopting Baum’s formula Burroughs was able to keep his series going until he died, the day before yesterday. His writing style changes too, from formal to Baum’s loose…’
‘Gridley,’ Came the voice of the proprietor, ‘You’ve got a customer over here if you can spare the time.’
‘What am I, a grilled cheese sandwich?’ I thought resentfully looking over to the cash register where I saw a man holding a copy of James Jones’ From Here To Eternity. ‘Oh, that’s different,’ I rationalized. That was worth two-fifty in this man’s Democracy so I could see why he was going for the big money first.
Jason grabbed a copy of The Jewels Of Opar, thrust it in my hands and said: ‘Here, kid, start with this one.’
I was leery of the Russian Quartet for obvious political reasons while Jason had said that Jewels Of Opar was like Oz so taking his expert advice it was my first Tarzan.
This guy having purchased his James Jones walked over me like I wasn’t there, didn’t even look down, he was only about five-six too. I put my Tarzan and dollar on the counter, received my bagged book in return.
‘Come again, kid.’ Jason said flippantly as I opened he door.
‘I guess you’ll be off to Hollywood starring in movies before then.’ I waved. ‘I’ll be back.’ Then it was down Genesee and back to home, the proud possessor of my first Tarzan book that I still have.
Last I time I checked they were selling the same book for forty-five dollars without a dust jacket. Mine still has an excellent jacket.
April 29, 2009
George Du Maurier
Review by R.E. Prindle
Du Maurier is interesting as a possible influence on Burroughs. Du Maurier not only borrows from authors he admires but tells the reader he’s borrowing. Burroughs borrows without creditation. The great literature of the nineteenth century was written during Du Maurier’s lifetime. Thus Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers of 1845 was a new book. It was also a book that overwhelmed Du Maurier’s imagination while having a later profound effect on Burroughs. Thus Du Maurier tells the reader his plot is based on The Three Musketeers. Like Burroughs Du Maurier incorporates several sources in an obvious manner. He was apparently fascinated by Henry Murger’s Scenes De La Vie Boheme of 1851. I haven’t read the book as yet but other reviewers say the influence is there. I pick up an influence from La Dame Aux Camellias by Dumas fils also. Du Maurier refers to many poets and writers whose writing left him helpless but as I am not that well grounded in many aspects of early nineteenth century literature I can’t identify the influences myself but they are as plentiful and obvious as with Burroughs himself.
In his own life Du Maurier had aspirations to be an opera singer but lacked the powerful voice. He then aspired to be an artist but lacked that talent becoming one of the premier illustrators of the century instead. And then as he felt death approaching he turned to writing. Thus a failure as a singer, a failure as an artist but success as an illustrator he became a huge success as a novelist. The careers of his protagonists generally follow the same course.
He is also a nostalgic writer as he lovingly recreates the scenes of his youth and life. He always retained the impress of La Boheme living his life in a genteel bohemian style. I suppose today he would be like an old hippy walking around in a gray pony tail, sandals and the garb of the sixties while making a fortune as a stock broker.
Thus Trilby opens in an artist’s atelier on the Left Bank of Paris in the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter of his time may be compared to New York’s Greenwich Village or San Francisco’s North Beach of the fifties and sixties. Du Maurier himself lived such an existence for a couple years at the end of the eighteen fifties.
We are thus introduced to his three musketeers- Taffy, the Laird and Little Billee. They are fine comrades living the Bohemian life style much as some upper middle class hippies took to a bohemian life style with torn jeans and the pose of the impoverished in the nineteen-sixties.
The whole ensemble is gathered thogether in the atelier for the opening section. Taffy, The Laird and Billy are letting the studio. As Du Maurier says on the title page this is a love story. Trilby O’ Farrell the love interest turns up immediately. She and Billy love each other but Trilby is classed as a grisette which was apparently the equivalent of a hippy chick who was somewhat free living. Trilby declassed herself completely by posing as an artist’s model in the altogether or, in another word, nude. This was no small thing to all concerned although the bohos tended to be a little tolerant.
After Trilby arrives come Svengali and his sidekick Gecko. They are musicians. Svengali is billed as an incomparable musician which is to say performer. He was a great pianist. He taught Gecko his violinist everything he knew.
We are discussing the nineteenth century and nineteenth century views in context. The story can’t be told any other way. If the attitudes and opinions of other times and other people offend y0u be forewarned and proceed at you own risk. I will bowlderize history to suit no one’s whims. As Walter Duranty facetiously said: I write as I please. Du Maurier, the gentlest of men, nevertheless had well formed opinions. Svengali is a Jew and pretty much a stereotype of the Jew at the time. He appears to be a beteljew from the Pale actually although he is said to be German but the accent Du Maurier gives him could just as well be Yiddish as German. It is important to bear all this in mind because in the contest for the possession of Trilby between Billy and Svengali the latter is going to obtain her.
There’s an interesting contrast here the meaning of which isn’t exactly clear to me. Trilby has a beautiful foot, the kind that drives fetichists wild. After this first encounter Billy, the consummate artist, sketches the foot on the wall to perfection. All the others are amazed at the likeness. This sketch occupies as central place in the story as does Svengali’s hypnotism of Trilby. Svengali on the other hand demands that Trilby open her mouth wide so he can look in. Raises your eyebrows when you read this. Not only does Trilby have a beautiful foot but she has a cavernous mouth that made for an amazing sound chamber, the kind that comes along apparently once in ever.
The problem is that Trilby can’t put two notes together nor can she even find the note while finding the key is bothersome. Much is made of her inability to sing as she screeches ludicrously through Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt. (Ben Bolt was one of the most popular songs of the century on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the wonders of the internet if you’ve never heard Ben Bolt you can get a good performance on the net. I’d heard of the song but never heard it until I checked it out on the net. Just amazing.)
Her rendition was a cause of great merriment. So you have the European sketching the foundation of the girl while the Jew is inspecting the intellectual possibilities. The Jew will win because he’s at the right end. As I say the mystery of these images float over my head. I’m merely making a stab at the meaning. I know there’s a contest and what it’s about but the symbolism is shaky to me.
And so the introduction ends with everyone agreeing that Svengali is a cad after he left and all three musketeers falling in love with Trilby.
There is much description of the fine times the musketeers have. One gets the impression that Du Maurier was living the life in the sixties in Paris but such was not the case. He signed on at Punch in 1860 and thus was working as an illustrtor for them from that date until his death. He seems to have been familiar with the Pre-Raphaelite painters of London of whom he speaks highly most especially of Millais. He seems to have been friends with a Fred Walker who he thought was a great artist but who seems to have been lost in the mists of time. I’d never heard of him anyway but one can find his pictures on the internet. Du Maurier loved the artist’s life.
Much of this book as well as the other is a loving recreation of the times and his memory of the times is one of wonderful things. Very refreshing against the unremitting negativity of modern literature. The book is set mainly in the sixties but the ‘horrible’ year of 1871 and the French Commune obtrudes. Du Maurier while recognizing its ugliness nevertheless passes over it quickly with a shrug and back to the good times. He introduces some additional charming characters but then come the crisis.
Billy had asked the declassed Trilby to marry him nineteen times and she had always refused because she knew she wasn’t in his class. After an amazingly wonderful Christmas feast in the atelier Billy asks again. Trilby, as she says, in a moment of weakness accepts. When the news reaches Billy’s mother, Mrs. Bagot, she scurries over to Paris from London to check Trilby out. When she learns that Trilby had posed in the altogether she persuades Trilby to give up her son.
Trilby leaves town without a goodbye. When Billy finds out he has his brain fever or a nervous breakdown that prostrates him for weeks. There was a chance he wouldn’t make it. He does but with psychological consequences. He can no longer love while he lives in a deep melancholia. There are some who know where that’s at. After he recovers he returns to England. the wonderful Bohemian rhapsody is over.
Trilby had left Paris to go to the provinces. She had a little brother who she was supporting and bringing up who she took with her and who then dies of a fever. This devastates Trilby who cuts her hair, dresses as a man and walks back to Paris. Her old haunts have disappeared in the interim so she shows up on the doorstep of Svengali who is but too happy to take her in. The hypnotized Trilby is a small part of the book. The next hundred pages or so describe Billy’s wonderful success as a painter and the loss of camaraderie as the young idealists of the Latin Quarter age and lose their affinity for each other. Charmingly told with just the right touch of heartache.
In the meantime and off stage, as it were, Svengali accompanied by Gecko keeps Trilby in a hypnotic trance as he
teaches her to use her tremendous oral cavity to sing. While she has the exact equipment to be a great singer she lacks the musical sense and can’t learn it sober. Svengali instills the musical sense through hypnosis but as Gecko later explains Trilby is merely providing the instrument while Svengali is actually singing through her. For three years they labor in the salt mines, as they say, performing on street corners or wherever. Then Trilby is properly trained becoming the rage of Europe as La Svengali becoming bigger and better than such stars as Adelina Patti or Jenny Lind, two real life divas.
Thus while Billy has lost Trilby’s foot or body, Svengali has captured her soul or oral cavity. That’s about the only way I can make sense of foot and cavity.
Now, in real terms the Jews had been emancipated beginning in 1789 by the French Revolution although occuring at different localities in Europe at different times. With the emanicipation a contest began for the soil and soul of Europe. Europeans owned the soil but the Jews while originating nothing became the cultural virtuosi of Europe. Not only in the performing arts but in finance, science and as entrepreneurs. The soil temporarily remained European but the culture was becoming Judaized. It was then that Freud made his assault on European concepts of morality. So Du Maurier has portrayed the situation poetically in a magnificent manner.
Thus the Jews while offering no Beethovens, Bachs or Mozarts became virtuoso interpreters of the music as performers. As Svengali says: Piff, what is the composition compared to my ability to render it. There you have the exploiter’s motto. The Allen Kleins and Albert Grossmans of the world suck the talent, as it were, out of their performers or, boys, as they call them, as agents taking nearly everything leaving the actual talent a pittance.
Nothing changes, this is what Svengali was doing with Trilby or, in another word, Europe. He was making a fortune while Trilby in her hypnotized state was wasting away. Oh, Svengali dressed her well but for the sake of his appearance not hers. When she died, of the fortune that she had made for Svengali none was left to her. Except for presents she had received in appreaciation of her singing she had nothing. They were supposed to be man and wife but, in fact, Svengali never married her. Here I think we have the real import of the story; the competition for Europe between the Jew and the European. Having given up the soul of Europe Europeans were losing their very substanc, the soil, or Trilby’s foot.
Du Maurier is also describing the rise of the artist from a despised menial to the central position in society that they have attained today, especially movie, TV and musical stars. One only has to look at the position Bob Dylan has attained to see the result today. Here is a man with no qualities revered as if he was the savior while poised to begin a tour of stadiums at 67.50 a head that will sell out earning him a fortune within a couple months. Thus as with Svengali he has conquered the soul and wealth of virtually the world. This is truly astonishing.
So Svengali is on top of the world. Despised as a beteljew in the atelier a short five years ago he now has Trilby/Europe and the fortune that goes with her. Alas, he is sucking the life’s blood from her to do this and she is within weeks of death when the Three Musketeers hearing of La Svengali’s fame travel back to Paris to see her perform.
Of course they are so astonished at seeing someone who looks like Trilby singing that they can’t believe it is indeed her. Svengali harbors ill will toward Billy because Billy is always in her heart while her relationship with Svengali is strictly professional.
The Musketeers and the Svengalis are staying at the same hotel where Svengali meeting Billy can’t resist spitting in his face. Billy, who is actually known in the story as Little Billee is much smaller than the six foot Svengali but he nevertheless goes after him getting the worst of the fight until Taffy, a giant body builder type, shows up grabbing Svengali’s ‘huge Hebrew nose’ between his first two fingers leading him around by the nose. Oh, those unintended consequences. The humiliation is too much for Svengali, he becomes vicious toward Trilby in revenge. Readying for their London debut he bullies Trilby in front of Gecko, now his first violinist, who stabs Svengali in the neck with a small knife.
Svengali while wounded is not hurt that bad but his physicians advise him not to conduct the opening performance. This creates a problem because Svengali must make eye contact to sing through Trilby.
He takes a box directly in front of Trilby. But he spots Billy and the other two musketeers in the pit in front of him. The malice and venom he has toward Billy makes his heart fail. His face freezes into a risus sardonicus as he sits lifelessly leering at the Three Musketeers, triumphant in death. Of course Trilby can’t sing a note on her own so that ends a fine career. Now begins the denouement. While seemingly superfluous this is a very important part of the story giving it its secondary meaning.
The Musketeers take Trilby in charge. No one is aware she had been hypnotized while she has no memory of performing and little of the lost five years. The situation between she and Mrs. Bagot, Billy’s mother, are now reversed. Trilby is the great lady while Mrs. Bagot is merely a middle class hausfrau. One might say Svengali has created the real Trilby. Mrs. Bagot still hadn’t posed in the altogether however. Where was Hugh Heffner when you needed him.
On the surface it looks as though Mrs. Bagot has gotten her comeuppance but as Trilby is the creation of Svengali she would have remained the simple little grisette that Billy loved without him. She would have remained the foot without realizing the potential of her oral cavity. Nevertheless this Trilby was Trilby as she should have been.
The woman was fading fast. Svengali had drawn the vital energy from her in his exploitation of her. Mysteriously, just before she dies, a life sized portrait of Svengali is delivered. The contest between he and Billy is still in effect. Gazing in the painted eyes of the hypnotist Trilby breaks into song as a final effort in her best manner.
Billy is grasping desperately for Trilby’s love. On her death bed he leans close to hear her breath out- Svengali, Svengali, Svengali. Thus he believes she loved Svengali more than he. His brain fever is reactivated, he dies. In grand operatic style the love story ends. All because Mrs. Bagot was a snob. But, I think a correct one. Although, what the heck, Billy was just a boho painter.
As an anti-climax in a final chapter titled Twenty Year After as tribute to Dumas whose sequel to The Three Musketeers was title Twenty Years After, Taffy takes a trip to Paris where he finds Gecko playing fiddle in a music hall. He sends a note that Gecko accepts requesting a meeting at his hotel. There Gecko resolves the mystery filling Taffy in on Trilby’s missing five years. He reveals that Trilby had always loved Little Billee and never Svengali.
The reading public then and now has concentrated on the Svengali-Trilby hypnotism aspect of the novel ignoring the rest. That aspect is actually a very small part of the novel but without it I suppose the story woud have fallen flat. Even today a manager like Colonel Tom Parker is thought of as a Svengali to Elvis Presley, so the name has come into common usage for someone’s inexplicable control of someone else.
Edgar Rice Burroughs who had a fascination with hypnotism was probably charmed by that aspect of the story. In his most detailed reference to hypnotism in Thuvia, Maid Of Mars he seems most influenced by stage hypnotism in which the audience is induced to see what is not there rather than the Svengali type. Still, Thuvia-Trilby and the relationship between Jav and Thuvia and Thuvia and Tario has some resonances. I dout that ERB would have been conscious of his borrowing imagining rather that he was creating the story from whole cloth.
End of Part Two, Go to Part Three the Review of The Martian.
The Low Brow And The High Brow
An In Depth Study Of Edgar Rice Burroughs’
The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doortstep
Background Of The Second Decade- Personal
Erwin Porges’ ground breaking biography Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Invented Tarzan is the basic source for the course of ERB’s life. John Taliaferro’s Tarzan Forever is heavily indebted to Porges adding little new. Robert Fenton’s excellent The Big Swinger is a brilliant extrapolation of Burroughs’ life taken from the evidence of the Tarzan series.
Porges, the first to pore though the unorganized Tarzana archives, is limited by the inadequacies of his method and his deference for his subject. His is an ideal Burroughs rather than a flesh and blood one. Matt Cohen’s Brother Men: The Correspondene Of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston has provided much fresh material concerning ERB’s character.
Bearing in mind always that Weston’s evaluation of Burroughs in his August 1934 letter in reply to Charles Rosenberg, whoever he was, about ERB’s divorce is one man’s opinion nevertheless his statements can be corroborated by ERB’s behavior over this decade as well as throughout his life. My intent is not to diminish ERB in any way. Nothing can take away the fact that Burroughs created Tarezan, but like anyone else he was subjected to glacial pressures that distorted and metamorphosed his character.
During the Second Decade as he experienced a realization of who he was, or who he had always thought he should be, or in other words as he evolved back from a pauper to a prince, he was subjected to excruciatingly difficult changes.
A key to his character in this period is his relationship to his marriage. It seems clear that he probably would never have married, stringing Emma along until she entered spinsterhood while never marrying her. He seemingly married her to keep her away from Frank Martin. As he later said of Tarzan, the ape man should never have married.
Rosenberg in his letter to Weston (p.234, Brother Men) said that ‘…Ed says he has always wanted to get rid of Emma….’ The evidence seems to indicate this. After ERB lost Emma’s confidence in Idaho, gambling away the couple’s only financial resources, his marriage must have become extremely abhorrent to him. I’m sure that after the humiliations of Salt Lake City this marriage had ended for him in his mind. That it was his own fault changes nothing. He may simply have transferred his self-loathing to Emma.
That Emma loved and stood by Burroughs is evident. that he was unable to regain her confidence is clear from his writing. The final Tarzan novels of the decade in one of which, Tarzan The Untamed, Burroughs burns Jane into a charred mess identifiable only by her jewelry show a developing breach. Probably the jewelry was that which ERB hocked as the first decade of the century turned. Now, this is a fairly violent reaction.
ERB states that he walked out on Emma several times over the years. In Fenton’s extrapolation of Burroughs’ life from his Tarzan novels this period was undoubtedly one of those times. There seems to have been a reconciliation attempt between Tarzan and Jane between Tarzan The Untamed and Tarzan The Terrible. Then between Tarzan And The Golden Lion and Tarzan And The Ant Men ERB’s attempt to regain Emma’s confidence seems to have failed as Jane chooses the clown Tarzan- Esteban Miranda-, one of my favorite characters- over the heroic Tarzan -ERB – in Tarzan And The Ant Men.
This undoubtedly began ERB’s search for a Flapper wife which took form in the person of Florence Gilbert beginning in 1927.
Weston says of ERB in his disappointment and rage over ERB’s divorce of Emma that ‘…the fact that Ed always has been unusual, erratic and perhaps queer, has been his great charm and attraction for me…’ (p.223, Brother Men) There’s a remote possibility that ‘queer’ may mean homosexual but I suppose he means ‘odd’ or imcomprehensible in his actions. The evidence for this aspect of ERB’s character is overwhelming while being well evidenced by his strange, spectacular and wonderful antics during the second decade. When Weston says of him that ‘…there is no woman on earth that would have lived with him, and put up with him, except Emma…’ there is plenty of reason to accept Weston’s opinion.
Part of ERB’s glacial overburden came from his father, George T. who died on February 13, 1913. Burroughs always professed great love for his father, celebrating his birthday every year of his life, although one wonders why.
Apparently George T. broadcast to the world that he thought ERB was ‘no good.’ His opinion could have been no secret to Burroughs. Weston who says that he always maintained cordial relations with George T., still thought him a difficult man, always dropping in to visit him on trips through Chicago said that George T. complained to him, ERB’s best friend, that his son was no good. While without disagreeing with George T. up to that point, Weston said that he thought there was plenty of good in ERB but that he just hadn’t shown it yet. Kind of a back handed compliment, reminds me of Clarence Darrow’s defense of Big Bill Haywood: Yeah, he did it, but who wouldn’t?’
Such an opinion held by one’s father is sure to have a scarring effect on one’s character. How exactly the effect of this scarring worked itself out during this decade isn’t clear to me. Perhaps Burroughs’ mid year flight to California shortly after his father’s death was ERB’s attempt to escape his father’s influence. Perhaps his 1916 flight was the same while his move to California in 1919 was the culmination of his distancing himself from his father. That is mere conjecture at this point.
Now, what appears erratic from outside follows an inner logic in the subject’s mind unifying his actions. What’s important to the subject is not what obsevers think should be important.
The scholars of the Burroughs Bulletin, ERBzine and ERBList have also added much with additional niggardly releases of material by Danton Burroughs at the Tarzana archives. One of the more valuable additions to our knowledge has been Bill Hillman’s monumental compilation of the books in ERB’s library.
Let’s take a look at the library. It was important to ERB; a key to his identity. Books do furnish a mind, as has been said, so in that light in examining his library we examine the furnishing of his mind. The shelves formed an important backdrop to his office with his desk squarely in front of the shelves. ERB is seated proudly at the desk with his books behind him.
How much of the library survived and how much was lost isn’t known at this time. Hillman lists over a thousand titles. Not that many, really. The library seems to be a working library. There are no the long rows of matching sets by standard authors. The evidence is that Burroughs actually read each and every one of these books. They found their way into the pages of his books in one fictionalized form or another. Oddly authors who we know influenced him greatly like London, Wells, Haggard and Doyle are not represented.
Most of the works of these authors were released before 1911 when Burroughs was short of the ready. Unless those books were lost he never filled in his favorites of those years. That strikes me as a little odd.
It is generally assumed that he picked up his Martian information from Lowell, yet in Skelton Men Of Jupiter he says: ‘…I believed with Flammarion that Mars was habitable and inhabited; then a newer and more reputable school of scientists convinced me it was neither….’ The statement shows that Camille Flammarion’s nineteenth century book was the basis for Burroughs’ vision of Mars while Lowell was not. Further having committed himself to Flammarion’s vision he was compelled to stick to it after he had been convinced otherwise. When that understanding was obtained by him we don’t know but at sometime he realized that the early Martian stories were based on a false premiss.
Thus, his Mars became a true fiction when his restless, searching mind was compelled by judicious reasoning of new material to alter his opinion. That he could change his mind so late in life is an important fact. It means that behind his fantasy was a knowledge of solid current fact. The results of his pen came from a superior mind. It was not the maundering of an illiterate but amusing boob.
Organizing the books of his library into a coherent pattern is difficult. I haven’t and I Imagine few if any have read all his list. Based on my preliminary examination certain patterns can be found. He appeared to follow the Chicago novel by whomever, Edna Ferber’s So Big is a case in point. Seemingly unrelated titles can be grouped aorund certain Burroughs’ titles as infuences.
In 1924 when Marcia Of The Doorstep was written ERB had already formed his intention of leaving, or getting rid, of Emma. He began a fascination with Flappers that would result in his liaison with Florence.
After the move to Hollywood in 1919 a number of sex and Flapper potboilers find their way into his library. The tenor of literature changed greatly after the War showing a sexual explicitness that was not there prior to the Big Event. To be sure the graphic descriptions of the sex act current in contemporary literature was not permissible but the yearning to do so was certainly there. Language was retrained but ‘damn’ began to replace ‘d–n’ and a daring goddamn became less a rarity.
Perhaps the vanguard of the change came in 1919 when an event of great literary and cultural import took place. Bernarr Macfadden whose health and fitness regimes had very likely influenced Burroughs during the first couple decades decided to publish a magazine called “True Story.” The magazine was the forerunner of the Romance pulp genre while certainly being in the van of what would become the Romance genre of current literature.
The advance was definitely low brow, not to say vulgar, indicating the direction of subsequent societal development including the lifting of pornographic censorship. Pornography followed from “True Store” as night follows day.
The magazine coincided with the emergence of the Flapper as the feminine ideal of the twenties. In literature this was abetted by the emergence in literary fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His Beautiful And Damned is a key volume in Burroughs’ library forming an essential part of Marcia. To my taste Fitzgerald is little more than a high quality pulp writer like Burroughs. I can’t see the fuss about him. He riminds me of Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend and vice versa. In fact, I think Jackson mined the Beautiful And Damned. Plagiarize would be too strong a word.
“True Story” caught on like a flash. By 1923 the magazine was selling 300,000 copies an issue; by 1926, 2,000,000. Low brow was on the way in. Vulgarity wouldn’t be too strong a word. Macfadden had added titles such as “True Romances” and “Dream World” to his stable. His magazine sales pushed him far ahead of the previous leader, Hearst Publications, and other publishers. Pulpdom had arrived in a big way.
Where Macfadden rushed in others were sure to follow. The sex thriller, the stories of willful and wayward women, which weren’t possible before, became a staple of the twenties in both books and movies.
ERB’s own The Girl From Hollywood published in magazine form in 1922, book form in 1923, might be considered his attempt at entering the genre. Perhaps if he had thrown in a few Flapper references and changed the appearance and character of his female leads he mgiht have created a seamless transition from the nineteenth century to the twenties. A few Flapper terms might have boomed his ales much as when Carl Perkins subsititued ‘Go, cat, go’ for go, man, go’ in his Blue Suede Shoes and made sonversts of all us fifties types.
Certainly ERB’s library shows a decided interest in the genre from 1920 to 1930. Whether the interest was purely professional, an attempt to keep up with times, or personal in the sense of his unhappiness in his marriage may be open to question. I would have to reread his production of these years with the New Woman in mind to seek a balance.
Still, during the period that led up to his affair with Forence ERB seems to have been an avid reader of Flapper and New Woman novels.
He had a number of novels by Elinor Glyn who was the model of the early sex romance. He had a copy of E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, that shortly became the movie starring Rudolph Valentine with its passionate sex scenes. A ‘Sheik’ became the male synonym for Elinor Glyn’s ‘It’ girl.
Of course, the influence of Warner Fabian’s Flaming youth of 1923, both book and movie, on ERB is quite obvious.
Just prior to this relationship with Florence he read a number of novels by Beatrice Burton with such sexy titles as The Flapper wife-The Story Of A Jazz Bride, Footloose, Her Man, Love Bound and Easy published from 1925 to 1930.
I would like to concentrate on Burton’s novels for a couple reasons; not least because of the number of her novels in ERB’s library but that when Burroughs sought publication for his low brow Tarzan in 1913-14 he was coldly rebuffed even after the success of his newspaper serializations. The disdain of the entire publishing industry was undoubtedly because Burroughs was the pioneer of a new form of literature. In its way the publication of Tarzan was the prototype on which Macfadden could base “True Story.” Not that he might not have done it anyway but the trail was already trampled down for him. In 1914 Burroughs violated all the canons of ‘polite’ or high brow literature.
A.L. Burt accepted Tarzan Of The Apes for mass market publication reluctantly and only after guarantees for indemnification against loss. Now at the time of Beatrice Burton’s low brow Romance genre novels, which were previously serialized in newspapers, Grosset and Dunlap sought out Burton’s stories publishing them in cheap editions without having been first published as full priced books much like Gold Seal in the fifties would publish paperback ‘originals’ which had never been in hard cover. Writers like Burton benefited from the pioneering efforts of Burroughs. G& D wasn’t going to be left behind again. Apparently by the mid-twenties profits were more important than cultural correctness.
As ERB had several Burton volumes in his library it might not hurt to give a thumbnail of who she was. needless to say I had never read or even heard of her before getting interested in Burroughs and his Flapper fixation. One must also believe that Elinor Glyn volumes in ERB’s library dating as early as 1902 were purchased in the twenites as I can’t believe ERB was reading this soft sort of thing as a young man. Turns out that our Man’s acumen was as usual sharp. Not that Burton’s novels are literary masterpieces but she has a following amongst those interested in the Romance genre. The novels have a crude literary vigor which are extremely focused and to the point. This is no frills story telling. The woman could pop them out at the rate or two or three a year too.
Her books are apparently sought after; fine firsts with dust jackets go for a hundred dollars or more. While that isn’t particularly high it is more than the casual reader wants to pay. Might be a good investment though. The copies I bought ran from fifteen to twenty dollars, which is high for what is usually filed in the nostalgia section. Love Bound was forty dollars. I bought the last but it was more than I wanted to pay just for research purposes.
There is little biographical information about Burton available. I have been able to piece together that she was born in 1894. No death date has been recorded as of postings to the internet so she must have been alive at the last posting which woud have made her a hundred at least.
She is also known as Beatrice Burton Morgan. She was an actress who signed a contract with David Belasco in 1909 which would have made her fifteen or sixteen. Her stage name may have been Beatrice Morgan. The New York Public Library has several contracts c. 1919 in her papers.
One conjectures that her stage and film career was going nowhere. In The Flapper Wife she disparages Ziegfeld as Ginfeld the producer of the famous follies.
Casting about for alternatives in the arts she very likely noticed the opening in sex novels created by Macfadden and the Roaring Twenties. The Flapper Wife seems to have been her first novel in 1925. The book may possibly have been in response to Warner Fabian/Samuel Hopkins Adams’ Flaming Youth.
As the motto for his book he had “those who know, don’t tell, those who tell, don’t know.’ The motto refers to the true state of mind of women. Burton seems to have taken up the challenge- knows all and tells all. Flapper Wife was an immediate popular success when taken from the newspapers by G&D. Critics don’t sign checks so while their opinion is noted it is irrelevant.
Burton apparently hit it big as the movies came afer her, Flapper Wife was made into a movie in 1925 entitled His Jazz Bride. Burton now had a place in Hollywood. Burroughs undoubtedly also saw the movie. What success Burton’s later life held awaits further research. As there is no record of her death on the internet it is safe to assume that when her copyrights were renewed in the fifties it was by herself.
There are a number of titles in the library having to do with the Flapper. The library, then gives a sense of direction to ERB’s mental changes. There are, of course, the Indian and Western volumes that prepared his way for novels in those genres. As always his off the top of his head style is backed by sound scholarship.
The uses of the various travel volumes, African and Southeast Asian titles are self-evident. I have already reviewed certain titles as they applied to Burroughs’ work; this essay involves more titles and I hope to relate other titles in the future. So the library can be a guide to Burroughs’ inner changes as he develops and matures over the years.
The amont of material available to interpret ERB’s life has expanded greatly since Porges’ groundbreaking biography. Much more work remains to be done.
The second decade is especially important for ERB’s mental changes as his first couple dozen stories were written beginnng in 1911. Moreso than most writers, and perhaps more obviously Burroughs work was autobiographical in method. As he put it in 1931′s Tarzan, The Invincible, he ‘highly fictionalized’ his details. For instance, the Great War exercised him greatly. From 1914 to the end of the War five published novels incorporate war details into the narrative: Mad King II, Beyond Thirty, Land That Time Forgot, Tarzan The Untamed, and Tarzan The Terrible as well as unpublished works like The Little Door. Yet I don’t think the extent that the War troubled him is recognized. The man was a serious political writer.
Thus between the known facts and his stories a fairly coherent life of Burroughs can be written. My essays here on the ERBzine can be arranged in chronological order to give a rough idea of what my finished biography will be like.
Burroughs was a complex man with a couple fixed ideas. One was his desire to be a successful businessman. This fixed obsession almost ruined him. He was essentially a self-obsessed artist and as such had no business skills although he squandered untold amounts of time and energy which might better have been applied to his art than in attempts to be a business success.
In many ways he was trying to justify his failure to be a business success by the time he was thirty rather than making the change to his new status as an artist.
As a successful artist he was presented with challenges that had nothing to do with his former life. These were all new challenges for which he had no experience to guide him while he was too impetuous to nsit down and thnk them out properly. Not all that many in his situation do. Between magazine sales, book publishing and the movies he really should have had a business manager as an intermdiary. Perhaps Emma might have been able to function in that capacity much as H.G. Well’s wife jane did for him. At any rate book and movie negotiations diverted time and energy from his true purpose of writing.
His attempt to single handedly run a five hundred plus acre farm and ranch while writing after leaving Chicago ended in a dismal failure. Even his later investments in an airplane engine and airport ended in a complete disaster. Thank god he didn’t get caught up in stock speculations of the twenties. As a businessman he was doomed to failure; he never became successful. It if hadn’t been for the movie adaptations of Tarzan he would have died flat broke.
Still his need was such that he apparently thought of his writing as a business even going so far as to rent office space and, at least in 1918, according to a letter to Weston, keeping hours from 9:00 to 5:30. Strikes me as strange. Damned if I would.
At the end of the decade he informed Weston that he intended to move to Los Angeles, abandon writing and, if he was serious, go into the commercial raising of swine. The incredulousness of Weston’s reply as he answered ERB’s questions on hog feed comes through the correspondence.
Think about it. Can one take such flakiness on ERB’s part seriously? Did he really think his income as a novice pig raiser would equal his success as a writer with an intellectual property like Tarzan? Weston certainly took him seriously and I think we must also. There was the element of the airhead about him.
A second major problem was his attitude toward his marriage and his relationship with Emma.
He appears to have been dissatisfied with both at the beginning and decade and ready to leave both at the end. According to the key letter of Weston ERB was an extremely difficult husbnad with whom Emma had to be patient. As Weston put it, no other woman would have put up with his antics. Unfortunately he doesn’t give details of those antics but the indications are that Emma was a long suffering wife.
ERB’s resentment of her apparently became an abiding hatred. Danton Burroughs released information about ERB’s third great romance with a woman named Dorothy Dahlberg during the war years of WWII through Robert Barrett the BB staff writer in issue #64.
After having been estranged from her husband for about a decade Emma died on 11-05-44, probably of a broken heart. ERB returned to Los Angeles from Hawaii to dispose of her effects. Arriving on 11/19/44 after visiting his daughter he met with Ralph Rothmund in Tarzana where he proceeded to get soused, apparently in celebration of Emma’s death.
To quote Barrett, p. 25, Burroughs Bulletin #64.
After Ed met with Ralph Rothmund, he opened a case of Scotch and took out a bottle after which he drove to Emma’s home in Bel-Air- where he and Jack “sampled” the Scotch a couple times.” From Bel-Air Jack drove Ed to the Oldknows, some friends also in Bel-Air, where they continued to sample the Scotch. After this visit Ed and Jack returned to Emma’s home at 10452 Bellagio Road, where Jack brought out a nearly full bottle of bourbon. Jack asked the maids to postpone dinner for 30 minutes, while they waited for Joan and Joan II. This evidently irritated the two maids as they both quit and walked out on them! Ed reported in his diary that after the two maids walked out, ‘we had a lovely dinner and a grand time.”
That sort of strikes me as dancing on the grave of Emma which indicates a deep hatred for her on the part of ERB. We are all familiar with the storyof ERB’s pouring the liquor in the swimming pool humiliating Emma in front of guests which she stood so Weston must have known what he was talking about.
There is a certain hypocrisy in Burroughs now getting blotto in celebration of Emma’s death. Between the two of them in the space of a couple hours ERB and his son, John Coleman, finished a fifth of Scotch and went ripping through a bottle of bourbon. I don’t know how rough and tough you are but that would put me under the pool table.
In this inebriated and hostile state they apparently had words with what I assume to have been Emma’s long time maids. Maids don’t walk out because you ask them to hold dinner for a few minutes. Being a maid is a job; they don’t respond that way to reasonable requests. So in his drunken state ERB must have been offensive about Emma or the maids causing their reaction.
Thus sitting totally soused in the ‘alcoholic’ Emma’s home they ‘had a lovely dinner and a grand time.’ The woman was both good to him and good for him but it isn’t incumbent on any man to see his best interests. There was a crtain dignity lacking in ERB’s behavior at this good woman’s death, not to mention the hypocrisy of getting thoroughly jazzed.
The decade also witnesses the unfolding of ERB’s psyche from the repressed state of 1910 to an expanded and partially liberated state at the end of the decade when he fled Chicago. Pyschologically ERB was always a dependent personality. He let his editors both magazine and book bully him and take advantage of his good will. He also needed a strong role model which is one reason his literary role models are so obvious.
From 1911 to 1916 he seemed to lean on Jack London as his role model. The problem with London is that we can’t be sure which of his books ERB read as he had none of his books in his library. It seems certain that he read London’s early Gold Rush books. ERB’s hobo information is probably based on London’s The Road and then he may possibly have read The Abyssmal Brute which is concerned with the results of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight and a preliminary to The Valley Of The Moon.
It is difficult to understand how Burroughs could have read much during this decade what with his writing schedule and hectic life style. Yet we know for a fact that between 1913-15 he found time to read Edward Gibbon’s massive The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.
At the same time additions to his library from this decade are rather sparse, the bulk of the library seems to have been purchased from 1920 on. Still, if one assumes that he read all the books of London including 1913′s Valley Of The Moon, then it is possible that his cross=country drive of 1916 may have been partially inspired by Billy and Saxon Roberts’ walking tour of Northern California and Southern Oregon in that book as well as on ERB’s hobo fixation. Certainly London must have been his main influence along with H.H. Knibbs and Robert W. Service. He may have wished to emulate London by owning a large ranch.
I suspect he meant to call on London in Sonoma during his 1916 stay in California but London died in the fall of that year which prevented the possible meeting. With the loss of London Burroughs had to find another role model which he did in Booth Tarkington. He does have a large number of Tarkington’s novels in his library, most of which were purchased in this decade. Tarkington was also closely associated with Harry Leon Wilson who also influenced ERB with a couple two or three novels in his library, not least of which is Wison’s Hollywood novel, Merton Of The Movies. Just as a point of interest Harry Leon Wilson was also a friend of Jack London.
ERB’s writing in the last years of the decade seems to be heavily influenced by Tarkington as in Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid, The Efficiency Expert and The Girl From Hollywood.
Burroughs was an avid reader and exceptionally well informed with a penetrating mind so that his ‘highly fictionalized’ writing which seems so casual and off hand is actually accurate beneath his fantastic use of his material. While he used speculations of Camille Flammarion and possibly Lowell on the nature of Mars he was so mentally agile that when better information appeared which made his previous speculations untenable he had no difficulty in adjusting to the new reality. Not everyone can do that.
I have already mentioned his attention to the ongoing friction between the US and Japan that appeared in the Samurai of Byrne’s Pacific island. In this connection Abner Perry of the Pellucidar series is probably named after Commodore Matthew Perry who opened Japan in 1853. After all Abner Perry does build the fleet that opened the Lural Az. Admiral Peary who reached the North Pole about this time is another possible influence. The identical pronunciation of both names would have serendipitous for Burroughs.
As no man writes in a vacuum, the political and social developments of his time had a profound influence on both himself and his writing.
The effects of unlimited and unrestricted immigration which had been decried by a small but vocal minority for some time came to fruition in the Second Decade as the Great War showed how fragile the assumed Americanization and loyalty of the immigrants was. The restriction of immigration from 1920 to 1924 must have been gratifying to Burroughs.
I have already indicated the profound reaction that Burroughs, London and White America in general had to the success of the Black Jack Johnson in the pursuit of the heavyweight crown. The clouded restoration of the crown through Jess Willard did little to alleviate the gloom. Combined with the sinking of the Ttitanic and the course of the suicidal Great War White confidence was irrevocably shaken.
Burroughs shared with London the apprehension that the old stock was losiing its place of preeminence to the immigrants. This fear woud find its place in Burroughs writing where he could from time to time make a nasty comment. His characterization of the Irish is consistently negative while his dislike of the Germans first conceived when he saw them as a young man marching through the streets of Chicago under the Red flag was intense. Their participation in the Haymarket Riot combined with the horrendous reports of German atrocities during the War reinforced his dislike almost to the point of fanaticism. While the post-war German reaction in his writing was too belated he had been given cause for misinterpretation.
Always politically conservative he was a devoted admirer of Teddy Roosevelt while equally detesting Woodrow Wilson who was President eight of the ten years of the Second Decade. When the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1917 polarizing public opinion into the Right and Left ERB was definitely on the Right.
By the end of the decade the world he had known from 1875 to 1920 had completely disappeared buried by a world of scientific and technological advances as well and social and political changes that would have been unimaginable in his earlier life. The changes in sexual attitudes caused by among others Krafft-Ebbing, Havelock Ellis and Margaret Sanger would have been astounding.
The horse had been displaced by the auto. Planes were overhead. The movies already ruled over the stage, vaudeville and burlesque. Cities had displaced the country. The Jazz Age which was the antithesis of the manners and customs of 1875-1920 realized the new sexual mores so that the Flapper and Red Hot Mama displaced the demure Gibson Girl as the model of the New Woman.
When ERB moved from Chicago to LA in 1919 he, like Alice, virtually stepped through the looking glass into a world he never made and never imagined. A Stranger In A Strange Land not different in many ways from the Mars of his imagination.
Go to Part III- Background Of The Second Decade Social And Political