Taylor Caldwell's " Never Victorious, Never Defeated"
Michael D. Fried, PhD
Our times are riven by outsized fortunes, and hidden methods of those who can afford expensive, ruthless lawyers to obfuscate how their personal world actually works. Taylor Caldwell explains it like a detective story showing key events baffling even her principle characters. She here, as also in Dynasty of Death,assembles a several generational family's plausible route to power. Melding all that requires much research, for the result appears as if she had stitched together actual records, family history, and personal predilections. Taylor Caldwell's collaboration with her 2nd husband, Marcus Reback, provided her tools – enhanced by her own brains and immense work ethic – to put that together. The result is one of her trademarks: a saga relevant to what we are reading today. I concentrate primarily on the complications of economics. Yet, I won't leave out Caldwell's feeling for what drives interpersonal relations. For that, I make one segue to a bestselling author today, one of whose masterpieces featured a relation with a fabulist element that Caldwell deftly anticipated.
Even very smart people can blanch if expected to explain how modern economics joins legalities to explicate the corruption we read in today's media. How did they get enough power and confidence to play such long, complicated, games? And absolutely: How did they get away with it? It takes a Taylor Caldwell, with her own driving ambition, to capture what plays out between people. One person cannot strive successfully for the heights of modern capitalistic power on their own.
Only in the '60s did Economists win Nobel Prizes. We have neighbors who can declaim reasonably on market and money policy. Not so many on Quantum Mechanics or General Relativity, though we all know the latters' products, lasers and gps guidance.
Yet, understanding how people acquire serious money still requires a road map. TC shows us a path the deWitt family pursued, with many intergenerational machinations, to take command of the railroad industry. In her telling, they blended small town access to a web of power; coalitions that inhabit the world of finance and corporate board rooms; and European and American predilections. No Ayn Rand, TC draws precise personalities whose emotional yearnings drive them as hard as their desire for power, achievement, and at times saintliness. Does it actually work as she describes it in this specific telling of the railroad industry from its beginnings in the early 1860s?
In Jane Mayer's "Dark Money" we see the families at the heart of the conservative agenda to destroy the fabric of everyday citizen support. Yet, a dominant family, the Kochs, run that agenda. The Koch patriarch, Fred, rode an oil formula to great wealth, helped found the John Birch Society, and spawned sons who affect (just about) every election at the state and Federal legislative level today. "Dark Money" is a tough read showing exactly how the powerful played that long game. In going from Part I to Part II of her 3-part novel, Caldwell uses a beauty-and-the-beast interplay successfully. She thereby resolves a middle-novel plot, reconfigures the characters, and launches a second generation. Long after, Joyce Carol Oate's masterpiece "The Falls" did something of the same.
Would you find this interesting? Here Oates concludes her story, while Caldwell, as does Mayer in "Dark Money," goes on. Oates and Caldwell, two of America's most recognized and prolific writers (in their respective days) lived less than five miles apart in adjoining towns outside Buffalo. On, however, the political spectrum, they fall poles apart.
As in many of her other books, TC's measured philosophical bent belies her reputation. It is no wonder that conservatives like her. She makes them look smart and confident and far from viciously partisan. At least in her novels.
My copy of the novel is an original edition from 1954. I have copies of her novels signed by her, given to my mother, Peggy. This, though, is not one. My present wife found it many years ago. The Cornish Public Library had stamped it "Discarded." On a pasted blurb sketching her life on the last page TC alludes to her literary partnership with Marcus Reback from 1931 through 16 novels This refers to her two children by her first marriage. Two children, yes. Still, my mother, Peggy was from that first marriage, while her second daughter, Judy, was from TC's marriage to Mr. Reback. Eventually she was estranged from both her children. This despite her having spent years accompanied by one or the other on high seas trips. There's a story in that error, one that attends to chapters of Peggy's autobiography, which easily serves as the only authentic telling of the complication of my grandmother, Taylor Caldwell.
Michael D. Fried, PhD - Descendant of Taylor Caldwell, 03/04/19