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michaeldavidfried
Feb 10, 2018
In Caldwell's Many Sides
Peter Gemma, in his Summer 2012 Quarterly Review masterfully places where Taylor Caldwell's support in the 1950s and 1960s would be assessed as belonging in the political record. She was closer to the Fox News of today than she was to the underpinnings of the Koch Brothers and Bradley Brothers. When offered a "microphone" (newspaper space, and she often was) she let forth in tirades against the left which she regarded as weak self-deceivers. In her novels, though, she as often ranted against the right as liars (and much worse) whom she regarded as acutely aware of what would bring them power, money, glory, with – dependent on their moods – regular reorderings of those acquisitions. Today, the Koch Brothers and conservative foundations to which they funnel money from other unimaginably wealthy like-minded conservatives (like hedge funders Rebekkah and Robert Mercer, and the DeVos family), have made their piece with Fox News. Indeed, the Koch Brothers don't even sound like Fox News when, say, a Barbara Walters interviews them in person. They may feel their sophistication has separated them from the tawdrier aspects of Fox News. None of these, however, capture the two-sidedness of the public Caldwell versus the novelist Caldwell. That might come from a simple fact about writing a novel in the middle of the 20th century. To get it published, the author needed a certain decorum. I aver, though, that reason doesn't explain it. Her novelistic pronouncements against both the right and the left were intelligent, prescient, and often subtle, contrary to her newspaper diatribes. Not the subtlety of Henry James or George Elliott, yet still with a deft touch drawn through the threads of her characters' lives. I would suggest, further, that neither the novel or public side represented the whole Taylor Caldwell, whom Peter Gemma casts as of melancholy temperament, possibly having manic-depressive elements. What this leave out is the 3rd and significant aspect of Caldwell. Her private self. The person closest to Taylor Caldwell, especially as the years went on, was her surviving child, Peggy, the mother of us descendants. Peggy has an autobiography, that is no more an autobiography of Peggy than was that of Alice B. Toklas. Peggy was not a writer. Unfortunately, the first chapters read more like anguished self-pitying than valued perspective. Yet, the long middle of Peggy's lengthy, poorly typed, manuscript, captures Caldwell herself, quotes and all, as nothing else does. It wasn't unexpurgated Taylor Caldwell, but a needy TC. There are two reasons Peggy went after this. First: Peggy was trying to understand her value in her mother's eyes versus her mother's momentary need for her on the long cruises they shared. Second: TC was the only person Peggy ever really loved. Eventually what Peggy recorded was a pitiless picture of how she was even secondary to her sister, Judy, who had committed suicide. Peter Gemma has a quote of TC on her thoughts on children that would cause most mothers to shudder. It takes a book to see from that what Peggy discovered.
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michaeldavidfried
Feb 05, 2018
In Responses to Reviews
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.
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michaeldavidfried
Feb 03, 2018
In General Discussion
One key for many conservatives and for TC in particular, is their approach to/dismissal of the notion of progress? Progress itself could mean several things. One conservative view of progress is that people are now, and always will be, the same. Clearly there are changes from generation to generation, but are they significant? Caldwell would say no, they aren't. Her novels are full of historical asides to justify this position. Yes, if we go from some species of primates to humans, the differences are significant. I don't know anyone who doesn't agree. Yet the subtler variations between generations as described by her in her novel "Dynasty of Death," don't seem to be changes in generations, but rather a change in the position of those of a different generation from that of their forebears. Can a whole generation change substantially and significantly, from a previous generation, and if so how, in what categories would we measure that and under what circumstances would we think it might last?
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michaeldavidfried

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