Comments on a long history of reading the Novels of Taylor Caldwell
Patricia Nolan Stein
Here is Patricia Nolan Stein:
The various reviews are interesting and thought-provoking. I especially agree with “The Devil’s Advocate” review.
Ms. Caldwell was definitely no Orwell. I only read this novel once and I detested it. The dystopian Communist/Socialist takeover of America was ridiculous and way over the top. When the Commies/ Socialists showed their “reverence” for FDR by naming a boulevard after him. It was completely preposterous!
Taylor Caldwell hated Franklin Roosevelt because he created Social Security. In retrospect, she had a very narrow-minded and cruel attitude.
She also writes of her hatred for Social Security and all government programs in “The Listener” and its sequel, “No One Hears But Him”…both written in the 1960’s.
I read her memoir, “On Growing Up Tough,” several times in the 1980’s.
Ms. Caldwell clearly had a very abusive mother and a weak father. Her brief years in Appalachia must have been miserable, especially right after World War 1.
[Her daughter Peggy's autobiography, and other materials from TC's family, shed more light on how she handled being in Appalachia, and her approach to William Combs, our, Peggy's children's, grandfather and his second family.]
Being a single mother was extremely difficult then. Although she herself was a divorced working mother for a number of years, Caldwell believed women should only be waitresses, librarians, nurses and teachers while men pursued “serious" careers in fields like science, medicine and business.
[Consistency was never TC's strong suit.]
In her opinion, truly worthwhile women always stayed at home, catered to their men and were independently (and conveniently) wealthy. Caldwell molded her “good" female characters very rigidly and gave them a limited lifestyle that satisfied her own fantasies regarding women and their role in society.
I read Jess Stern’s 1981 book, “In Search of Taylor Caldwell.”
When I mentioned that book to William Prestie, Ms. Caldwell's 4th and last husband, during the one phone conversation I had with him, he became furious and trashed Stern’s reputation.
I told Drina, Caldwell’s granddaughter, that I wrote a fan letter to her grandmother in December of 1984. Prestie subsequently sent me a telegram with his phone number, telling me to call “them.”
When I called, Prestie began flattering me and said they were impressed by “the intelligence” of my letter. He said Taylor was unavailable and couldn’t come to the phone.
Of course, at the time I didn’t realize she was totally incapacitated, with Prestie running a con game and committing elder abuse against her.
[The last third of Peggy's autobiography consists of intense detail on Prestie's captivity of TC, right down to the last year in which she was incapacitated.]
I didn’t like Prestie at all, as I sensed he had evil motives. It turned out I was correct.
I appreciate Caldwell's final book, “Answer as a Man”.....even though she dedicated it to Prestie. Published in 1980, it was beautifully written and she revealed a new level of compassion and empathy.
“Tender Victory,” published in 1956, is also a favorite of mine, with its environmental theme. I especially like the character of Lorry. The novel includes Caldwell’s political stereotypes and tropes, but I’ve never gotten tired of reading it.
The “Dynasty of Death” trilogy is enjoyable, although I prefer the third book in that series—“The Final Hour,” published in 1944. Even then, Caldwell's extreme political views and John Birch Society conspiracy theories were included.
I often wondered—-did she actually believe in all those wacky conspiracies, or did she use them simply to spice up her novels?
She once claimed she knew Joseph Kennedy – father of President John Kennedy – and I doubted whether that was true.
[It does seem that TC had met Joseph Kennedy, but then she was a very prominent individual in the '50s, and a voluminous correspondent. Still, “Captains and the Kings,” the possible excuse for corresponding with Mr. Kennedy, was published in 1972, long after the assassination of J.F.K.]
I initially liked her “Kennedy novel,” "Captain & the Kings," but I found it too depressing in subsequent readings. I felt the same with 1978’s “Bright Flows the River.” That novel was entertaining but it was extremely preachy. In this book, women are either all good or all bad, depending on their political views and their relationships with men.
When Caldwell wrote “Bright Flows the River,” it was obvious she hated the cultural changes occurring in society. She didn't approve of women in the workplace. Even in 1978, her views were outdated and antiquated.
I enjoyed 1968’s “Testimony of Two Men.” It was brilliant, amazing and sometimes depressing. With the character of Mavis, she accurately depicted narcissism as a mental illness. But I liked Dr. Ferrier, his mother and even his difficult brother.
["Testimony of Two Men" was published in 1968. One thing that seems worth keeping in mind was that between 1968 and 1972, TC's home had a horrific home invasion which contributed to the death of Marcus Reback. Peggy's autobiography has details, though those are clouded with Peggy's negative feelings about Mr. Reback. Later on Peggy changed her mind about him, and especially about his contributions to the research that informed TC's plots. ]
I liked 1963’s “Grandmother & and the Priests” and read it numerous times in the 1980’s.
But it’s now painful to read a novel about priests, knowing the horrific power, abuse, manipulation and control they exerted over devout Catholics throughout those years.
It’s interesting that Marcus Reback didn’t share her conservative views. I recall reading an early novel she wrote using the name Reback.
[I have a record of 39 novels. Some websites say Ms.Caldwell also wrote under pen names such as Marcus Holland and Max Reiner as well as her married name of J. Miriam Reback. Those, however, appear to be editions of books from the lists I have.]
I’ve read every novel Caldwell wrote. Some are far too disturbing and painful to read a second time. Yet, I’ve re-read my favorites countless times.
Her books got weird when she ventured into dark, dystopian themes of the future, or Twilight Zone plots in which an entire world was punished for their “sins.”
I honestly wonder, would Caldwell actually approve of Trump, with his narcissistic personality? Would she consider him a “real man,” like all her conservative heroes?
Would she approve of his alliance with Vladimir Putin, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB? She undoubtedly would have hated President Obama simply for being a Democrat.
And her unwavering praise of priests is very outdated now, given the ugly sexual crimes of priests all over the world. In all her novels, whenever a priest was featured, he was always the "good guy" and never a villain.
I’m currently rediscovering the books of James Michener. He was a political liberal and crusader of Democratic causes. Like Ms. Caldwell, he often wove his political views into his very large novels. He cherished ancient history and our ancestral origins. Unlike Caldwell, his novels are usually very anti-religious. They often focus on the oppression that organized religion inflicted on our ancestors throughout the centuries.