In 1968, a review signed Kirkus, on Taylor Caldwell's "Testimony of Two Men" starts by quoting the author acclaiming herself lovable. That is surely not how the author perceived herself, even if she was fending off a critic's barb. Kirkus applies a hefty dose of adjectives selected from "Testimony ..." that leads him to exclaim -using his own adjective "effulgent" - that "Testimony ..." was "probably the most popular book Taylor Caldwell has written in some time." "Testimony ..." entwines one small town with turn-of-the-century political aspirations. When Caldwell wrote "Testimony," soon after JFK's assassination, America's loudest voices were dismissing small towns and their hierarchies. In my lifetime no era would be simultaneously more exalted and castigated.
For one, it was the end of the worst excesses of McCarthyism: Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn, and what they had wrought. Many hoped they would now be banished forever. Taylor Caldwell, a smart woman, had fathomed how politics, money and ambition, wend their way to power behind the scenes. She explored these themes in her novel "Testimony ... " and the series initiated by "Dynasty of Death."
Caldwell could never have admired Kennedy. Yes, she was proud that to have met him personally. Yet, as a by then 20 year darling of the John Birch Society, she had to be aghast at the 60's excesses. Especially that era's youthful demands for progress in the human condition. Still, her novels displayed more nuance than her cringingly conservative newspaper quotes. While Kirkus touches bases with the "Testimony ..." story elements, my review of Dynasty of Death: Part 1 alludes to a several volume and many generational saga of the intertwined Barbour and Bouchard families. Here Caldwell entertains characters that are deep, heroic, crass or vicious. Most transcend any simple label. Their choices hinge on their character and that of whom they love or despise. Indeed, she convincingly understands both men and women in love.
No one of Caldwell's haughty demeanor would have desired being typecast by a label like "feminist." Yet, her novels consistently produce a wide range of females with nerve and insight about the world around them. TC is assuredly relevant today, when the nature of her conservatism, not akin to that, say, of Ayn Rand, can lead us to revisit our predilections about progress.