Part 4c Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 10, 2007

Springtime For Edgar Rice Burroughs

by

R.E. Prindle

4c

How Waldo Became A Man

 

     In the complex of meanings of Waldo the question is how much Burroughs bases the character on himself.  In the question of health there is no question that Burroughs had issues after his bashing in Toronto in 1899.

     Judging from the Girl From Farris’s his health was a serious problem for him at least until early 1914 when he finished Farris’s.  During those years he suffered from debilitating excruciatingly painful headaches for at least half the day.  He either awakened with them or they developed mid-day.  There is evidence that he became interested in Bernarr Macfadden’s  body building and health techniques when Macfadden opened his Chicago facilities in 1908.  If he were involved then perhaps the benefits of such a regimen were becoming apparent in1913-14.  In 1916 in the photograph in puttees taken at Coldwater he looks like a healthy specimen and proud of it.

     ERB gives Waldo the wasting disease Tuberculosis putting him on a regimen of exercise in the healthy dry air of his island thus curing him within a few months.  This process is reminiscent of Grey’s hero John Hare of Heritage Of The Desert or the development of the Virginian in Owen Wister’s novel.

     Burroughs claimed that his writing was heavily influenced by his dreamworld.  If so then in this story as well as his others each character must represent a real person who figures in his life; the story must represent a real situation in symbolical form.

     As authors so often claim their characters are composites it is likely that Burroughs also combines memories of other people with his own dreams.  As Burroughs consciously manipulates his dream material he tweaks it into shape to make an entertaining novel then overlaying his conscious desires on his subconscious hopes and fears.

page 1.

     In addition Burroughs retains his literary influences using them to give form to his dreamscapes.  Indeed, his influences fill his mind so full they become part of his dreamscapes.  The island he creates is similar to but not identical with Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island.  This becomes very apparent in the sequel, The Cave Man, when Waldo sets about to improve his little society.  He isn’t as obsessive-compulsive as Verne but along those lines.

     Verne’s island figures prominently in many of Burroughs narratives.  Oddly the book isn’t in his library.

     ERB began telling his life’s story the moment he took up his pen.  While John Carter seems to be dissociated from his own personality Tarzan is a true alter ego, a psychic doppelganger.  Tarzan Of The Apes is a symbolical telling of his life’s story from birth to 1896 while the Return of Tarzan covers the four years from 1896 to 1900 and his marriage.  (See my Four Crucial Years In The Life Of Edgar Rice Burroughs here on ERBzine.)

     The Girl From Farris’s deals with the troubled years from 1899 to, it appears, March of 1914.  Thus Cave Girl addresses his difficulties in making the transition to writer and then full time writer with the attendant marital or sexual problems.  These marital or sexual problems occupy him through many novels in this first burst of creativity from 1913 to 1915.

     Porges in working from Burroughs’ own papers in his biography has very little input from outside sources but some.  The first material we have to work with from an outsider’s point of view is Matt Cohen’s  fine edition of Brother Men, the collection of the Burroughs-Weston correspondence.  Weston being ERB’s friend from MMA days.  At the time of the divorce they had been in touch for forty years.

     However I think that figure may be a little misleading as the two men had very little contact during that period.  ERB met Weston in 1895 at the MMA at the beginning of the school year.  He was one year younger than ERB.  As Burroughs left the MMA in May of ’96 the two must have become fast friends in just eight or nine months.  It isn’t probable that they met again before 1905 when Weston was passing through Chicago with his wife Margaret.  At that time both Westons would have met Emma.  From that time to the end of ERB’s Chicago period except for the occasional brief layover in Chicago the relationship was carried on by correspondence although as Burroughs seems to have some knowledge of Weston’s home town, Beatrice, Nebraska as evidenced in the second half of The Mad King it is possible he and Emma visited Weston but that would have had to have been between March ’14 and August ’14.  Narrow window.

     Thus when Weston talks so knowingly of Burroughs’ character in the letter of 1934 I will refer to I would have to question the depth of his knowledge.  At any rate he claims to have knowledge of the difficulties of the marriage.

     Weston was completely devastated by the announcement of the divorce.  He immediatly sided with Emma breaking off relations with ERB for several years.

     It appears from the letter of 1934 reproduced on page 233 of Brother Men that he contacted Burroughs’ LA friend Charles Rosenberger for information on the divorce.  We have only Weston’s reply but not Rosenberger’s letter.

     In reply to Rosenberger Weston says:

     Quote:

     I have known Ed since the fall of ’95.  He has always been unusual and erratic.  I have told Margaret many times, when Ed has done or said anything which seemed sort of queer that as long as I had known him he had always done or said such things. 

 (One of the most significant odd things would have been Burroughs leaving the MMA in mid-term in May to join the Army.  One imagines that when he didn’t show up for classes next day the faculty asked: Where’s Burroughs.  Perhaps Weston was the only one who knew and had to say:  Uh, he joined the Army.)

      I suppose looking back, that the fact that Ed has always been unusual, erratic and perhaps queer, has been his great charm and attraction for me.

     Unquote.

     I don’t know about you but if my best friend talked about me like that I would be less than flattered.  There is another back handed compliment that Weston made to Burroughs’ father in his defense.

     Burroughs’ father had made the comment to Weston that his son was no damn good.  Good to have your dad on your side too.  Weston defended ERB vigorously saying that he thought there was plenty of good in ERB, he just hadn’t shown it yet.  Thank you, Herb Weston.

     If one judges from the actions of Ogden Secor in Girl From Farris’s after he was hit on the head and if his actions approximated those of Burroughs from 1899 on then there was probably a very good reason for ERB’s unusual, erratic perhaps queer behavior apart from the fact that ERB had developed the typical character of his difficult childhood.

     In reading the correspondence Weston comes across as a very conventional and highly respectable person; in other words, stodgy.  It must have been that settled bourgeois quality in him that ERB appreciated.  Weston did many of the things that Burroughs would have liked to have done.  Weston did go on to Yale from the MMA which is what Burroughs would have liked to have done.  Weston did become an officer in the Army.

     On page 157 of Brother Men is a discussion of the Spanish American War.  If I read it correctly Weston actually served in Cuba with a Tennessee regiment.  So Burroughs had reason to be envious of him as he failed in his own attempts to get into Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

      Nevertheless Weston’s evaluation of Burroughs uses some strong language who after all didn’t have that intimate a relationship with him:  unusual, erratic perhaps queer.  Honestly, I don’t think I would have a friend very long who thought of me that way.

     Weston is bitterly disappointed but later in the letter he refers to Burroughs as a crazy old man so, at the least, we can assume that to the average mentality Burroughs appeared eccentric.  As one in the same boat I can’t help but root for the author of Tarzan.  What but an unconventional mind could have conceived such a story.

     Burroughs antecedents had created his persona by 1895 so the crack on the head in Toronto merely added to his unusual persona.

     Apart from any inferences about Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists the sickly character of Waldo may represent Burroughs’ own health problems from 1899 to the time of The Cave Girl.

     I feel certain that Burroughs followed some sort of health or body building regimen from perhaps 1908-09 when the American body building king Bernarr Macfadden opened his Chicago facilities to 1913.  Although Ogden Secor of Girl From Farris’s was still sickly in 1914 perhaps Burroughs health was improving as Waldo evolves from a skinny sickly person to a ‘blond giant’ before our eyes.  ‘Blond Giant’ also brings to mind Nietzsche’s ‘Great Blond Beast.’  I think it would be pushing it to say Burroughs read Nietzsche, nevertheless Burroughs always seems to be well informed when you look closely. He might easily have picked up references to the ‘Blond Beast’ from newspapers, magazines and conversation.

     Weston is especially incensed at Burroughs leaving Emma who both he and his wife Margaret seem to have preferred.  They did travel to California to visit Emma while ignoring ERB.

     Weston quotes Rosenberger to the effect that ERB told Rosenberger that he had always wanted to rid himself of Emma.  To which Weston replies:

     Quote:

     Charming, unusual, erratic personality that Ed is, there is no woman on earth that would have lived with him, and put up with him except Emma, and do not be fooled!  Emma suited Ed plenty, until this insane streak hit him.

     Unquote.

     So we have an outsider’s view of the situation.  He considers Burroughs over the line in his personality to be redeemed by his charm.  Weston had asked Rosenberger his opinion of the situation between ERB and Emma.  ERB had apparently told Rosenberger after the split that he had always wanted to rid himself of Emma.

     As far as Burroughs’ persdonality goes it would be in keeping with a person of his background who had been bounced from school to school.  Waldo may in part be a nasty caricature of the East Coasters Burroughs associated with at the Phillips Academy.  As is well known Easterners at the time and still today disdain those from the West.  One has the feeling that Burroughs valued his Idaho experiences highly thus the transformation from the wimpy Easterner of Waldo to the Blond Giant of the great outdoors may be Burroughs snub of his Eastern classmates.

     At any rate when Weston met Burroughs at the beginning of classes in ’95 ERB’s personality seems set.

     By ‘saying things’ one presumes that Weston means Burroughs had an outsider’s ‘eccentric’ sense of humor.  I have a feeling that a few of we Bibliophiles know where that’s at.  Certainly Burroughs’ stories reflect this trait.  So, between Burroughs and Weston we have a clash of two different backgrounds.

     As to Emma I believe that Burroughs was always dissatisfied with the fact that he had married when he did whoever he might have married.  He has been quoted as saying that Tarzan never should have married so that idea can probably be applied to him.

     If circumstances hadn’t forced his hand he very likely would have remained single.  According to his psychology the right time for him to find a woman and marry would have been after 1913 and his success when he was in effect born again and a new man.

     So when he says he never really wanted Emma as a wife I’m sure that is true.  However he did marry the woman.  So from 1913 to 1920 we have Burroughs struggling with his desire to honor his life long committment to Emma and his contrary desire to find his ideal ‘mate’ a la Dejah Thoris, La, Nadara and a number of others.  Not so easily done in real life and after great success but still possible.

     Added to his problem was his embarrassing behavior in Idaho when he gambled away the couple’s last forty dollars.  Emma reacted badly to the Western interlude in their marriage.  Burroughs’ rather feckless attitude toward earning a living between the return from Idaho and his early success in 1913 undoubtedly caused emotional problems for Emma but as Weston says she stuck by him during those lean years and as he says, there were a lot of them.

     Even in 1913 when the couple earned the first real money they had ever seen Burroughs was recklessly spending it before he got it based only on his confidence that he would always be a successful writer something which by no means necessarily follows.

     Emma was very proud of Burroughs as the photo ERBzine published of the couple in San Diego shows however her pride obviusly conflicted with her fears so that she may have nagged ERB in what he considered an unjustified way.

     On one level Cave Girl can be construed to be a record of their relationship up to the moment with Burroughs trying to reconcile the relationship according to his confident understanding of the situation.

     Writing in February-March in Chicago we have this view.  In September of 1913 the family left for San Diego.  Writing in San Diego during October-November in the Mad King things seem to be deteriorating as Burroughs seems to be pleading with Emma to be reasonable.  Thus the Mad King concerns Prince and Pauper doppelgangers who are appealing to the same woman.

     This situation may have been caused by a situation that would be very reminiscent to Emma of her situation in Idaho of ten years earlier.  On this trip in which ERB and Emma were as alone and isolated as in Idaho ERB was taking another very large gamble with Emma’s and her three little children’s wellbeing at stake.   As ERB proudly tells it the family, no longer just a wife, but a family of five were within an ace of being flat broke if any one of the stories Burroughs wrote in 1913 failed to sell.  Unlike Idaho this was a gamble the Roving Gambler won.  Now, perhaps Burroughs thought this redeemed his earlier faux pas, probably to himself it did.  But what about Emma?  What terrific anxieties  assailed her as she wondered whether they would have a roof over their heads from day to day.

     We need more facts.  Perhaps the move from Coronado to San Diego was forced by necessity to reduce costs.  Perhaps selling the Vellie was necessary to raise cash.  Thus Emma in the midst of this actual plenty of a $10,000 income was a virtual pauper in silks and diamonds.  Would there be any wonder if she were cross and nagging?  As Weston said there were difficulties in living with Burroughs.

     Burroughs then rather than attempting to make reasonable adjustments in his behavior yearned for the perfect mate who would ‘understand’ him.

    Nevertheless he had to bear the burden assigned him.  Let us assume that as Weston said, at one time Emma suited Ed plenty.  That’s an outsider’s opinion but the evidence of this group of novels is that ERB was doing his best to rectify his past for Emma.  If Waldo is portrayed as clownish I’m sure that ERB had played the clown in real life for some time.  As Weston said ERB had always said and done unusual things.  He doesn’t say what they were but in all likelihood the things he said and did were meant to be jokes, to be funny.  After all he describes Tarzan as a jungle joker.  The jokes that Tarzan perpetrated originated in ERB’s mind so he had to think those jokes were funny.  They were usually practical jokes.  No one really like a practical joker.  The psychological needs that go into a practical joke are compensatory.

     Where he failed Emma in the past he seems to be trying to make up for it.  Perhaps his financial gamble in 1913 in some way compensates for his gambling failure in 1903 reversing the outcome of 1903 and making it alright.  His actions in 1913 are so zany one has to ask what he thinks he is doing.

e.

 

     Leaving their little Eden Waldo and Nadara set out for her village where Korth and Flatfoot await him with Nagoola in the background.

     Thus Waldo’s tasks as set for him by Nadara are to kill Korth and Flatfoot.  Waldo quite correctly realizes that these two tasks are beyond his present powers.  So, within sight of the village he makes excuses to Nadara then abandons her running away.  He heads out to the Wasteland.  He appears to be living in a near desert.

     Over the next several months he transforms himself from a tubercular wimp into a ‘Blond Giant.’  Tarzan has black hair so perhaps Waldo has to be blond.

     One can’t be sure but this period may represent the years from John The Bully to ERB’s proposal to Emma.  At any rate Waldo can’t forget Nadara having a longing for her.  During his period in the Wasteland he fashions weapons for himself that make him superior in prowess to the cave men.  He fashions a spear, a shield and what Burroughs jokingly, I hope, refers to as a sword, that is a sharp pointed short stick with a handle.  No bow and arrow.  So rather than a primitive Tarzan we have a primitive Lancelot.  Waldo is actually outfitted as a knight, a la Pyle, while when he acquires the pelt of Nagoola he will be, as it were, encased in armor.  So Pyle, or at least Arthur, is an influence.

     In a comedy of errors Nagoola manages to kill himself by falling on Waldo’s spear.  In one sense this means that Waldo has invested his sexual desires in Nadara while perhaps it is symbolic of Burroughs’ desire to do the same with Emma.  At the same time the panther skin makes Nadara the best dressed girl around.  It is perhaps significant that he kills Nagoola first before Korth and Flatfoot.

     If one looks again at that ERBzine photo of ERB and Emma in San Diego one will notice that Emma is wearing some spiffy new togs.  In her father’s house Emma was a clothes horse.  In another ERBzine photo showing ERB and Emma walking in the wilds of Idaho Emma is still dressed to the nines while ERB shambles along beside her in a cheap baggy suit.

     From that point in 1903 to the efflorescence  of wealth in 1913 Emma had to make do with whatever garb she could afford which must have been depressing for her.  As Weston says that was a sacrifice she was willing to make for her man.

     Not in 1913 in Cave Girl but in 1914 in Cave Man Waldo invests Nadara with Nagoola’s pelt.  Now, Waldo suffered grievously to acquire this skin.  That was a major battle out there in the Wasteland.  Let us assume that the skin represents Waldo’s sexual desires and that in clothing Nadara in the skin he is making her his queen or princess.

     Thus in 1913-14 for the first time in his life ERB is able to reestablish Emma as a clothes horse.  He has finally been able to do his duty as a man and husband.  She can now buy as many clothes of whatever quality she likes and ERB is happy to have her do it.  So, in a symbolic way ERB had a terrific struggle that scarred him psychologically as Waldo was physically scarred by the talons of Nagoola.  Now, Burroughs was proud to be able to dress Emma to her desires.  In the same way that the panther represents Waldo’s investing Nadara with his sexual desires so Emma’s clothes represent the same to ERB.

     It was now up to Emma to forgive ERB for his failings and treat him as her hero.  Perhaps ERB was a little premature.  I think that he would have had to woo her all over again.  While he had conficence he would be able to go on writing indefinitely the surety of such was problematic to others like Emma and actually ERB’s editor at Munsey, Bob Davis.  Davis told him point blank that guys like Burroughs start strong, shoot their wad and fall out after two or three years.  As far as others were concerned Burrroughs future remained to be seen.  The evidence is that Davis and other editors thought that Burroughs had Tarzan and that was it.  Apart from the Mars series how much of this other stuff was pubished to humor Burroughs to cajole more Tarzan novels  is a question.  Still, the fans seemed to receive it well.  Cave Girl was even serialized in the New York papers.

     Nadara has set Waldo three tasks all of them murderous.  He is to kill Nagoola, Korth and Flatfoot.  Having fulfilled the killing of Nagoola Waldo after several months sets out to return to Nadara to fulfill his last two committments. 

     Before he invests Nadara with Nagoola’s pelt he first kills Korth and Flatfoot.  These are monster battles where like the knights of old, Lancelot, Waldo is hurt near to death. 

     Now, what would Emma nag ERB about during those lean years?  The clothes have already been discussed so that leaves the monetary success to acquire them.  So the slaying of the pair of cave men may represent financial success.  Financial success came with the creation of John Carter and Tarzan.  So let’s assume that Korth represents John Carter and Flatfoot Tarzan.  The creation of the two or the slaying of those dragons opens the way for the hero Waldo/ERB to present Nadara/Emma with the first task, clothing.

     Having killed Korth and Flatfoot Waldo still has to make up with Nadara for abandoning her at the threshhold to her village.  Not an easy task.  Waldo pleads that he has done everything she asked but she remains obdurate.  This probably relflects ERB and Emma’s situation.  A situation that apparently was never satisfactorily resolved.

     But then it seems as though there is a change in the characterization and Nadara reverts back to Nadara of the beginning of the book while Waldo, believe it or not, becomes a god, if Nadara had known what gods were.  Waldo scrambles up some fruit trees to toss down some food that seems to bring them together.  In the last pages Burroughs gets schmaltzy writing close to purple passages.

     At this time Nadara spots a yacht out over the waves.  The yacht is a major theme during the teens and especially in this 1913-14 period.  The significance seems to be that Burroughs envisioned his early life as The Little Prince as life on a yacht.  Then the big storm comes changing his life as it sinks.  Then begins the struggle for existence capped by the eventual triumph.

     The yacht first appeared in Return Of Tarzan.  This is its second appearance.  Tarzan wasn’t on the yacht in Return and Waldo doesn’t get on the yacht in Cave Girl although he does in the sequel The Cave Man but that was a year later in 1914.  So things are evolving rapidly in ERB’s psychology.

     In this case he plans to join the yacht that he recognizes as his father’s.  Having abandoned Nadara once she imagines he is about to do so again so she runs off.

     Thoughts run through Waldo’s mind as he envisions a return to civilization with Nadara.

     Quote:

     For a time the man stood staring at the dainty yacht and far beyond it the civilization which it represented, and he saw there suave men and sneering women, and among them was a slender brown beauty who shrank from the cruel glances of the women- and Waldo writhed at this and at the greedy eyes of the suave men as they appraised the girl and he, too, was afraid.

—-

     “Come,” he said, taking Nadara by the hand, “let us hurry back into the hills before they discover us.”

     Unquote.

     And so Waldo decides to remain in the stone age.

     He and Nadara had left the little bag containing the relics of her mother behind.  The crew of the yacht discover the bag just on the inland side of the forest.

     Then we discover that Nadara is in fact the daughter of French nobles.  Burroughs seems to have some love affair going on with the French.  Many of his most attractive characters such as Paul D’Arnot, Nadara here, Miriam of Son of Tarzan are Gallic.  So Burroughs admires most the English, the French and the Virginians it would seem.

     Nadara is the daughter of Eugenie Marie Celeste de la Valois so she is a legitimate princess.

     Thus ends the Cave girl with seeming finality.  The way is open to the sequel but the closing seems final.

     I haven’t read a book that replicates the final scene but I suspect that ERB borrowed it.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of an earlier duplicate.

End Of Part 4c.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s