Careless People -- Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell, Penguin '14, $29.95, 399 pages, ASIN #1594204748. Index, bibliography, illustration credits, notes, note on sources, b&w images sprinkled through text.
Readers drawn to the subject of America in the 1920s are treated to plenty of food for thought in Sarah Churchwell's new work, centered on Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the year 1922, "a hinge point for the carefree America born out of the devastation of the First World War...and the year in which he (Scott) chose to set his masterwork, The Great Gatsby.
"Fitzgerald began drafting The Great Gatsby during the summer of 1923, while he and Zelda were living in Great Neck, Long Island," the author writes in her Preface. "He was also revising a play and writing magazine fiction, and he and Zelda were enthusiastically partying, all of which made work on his third novel sporadic. In the spring of 1924, the Fitzgeralds sailed for France, where he began writing in earnest his novel about modern America. He published The Great Gatsby a year later, in April 1925. After some hesitation about dates, he had eventually decided to set his story across the summer and into the autumn of 1922."
Thickening the stew of Roaring Twenties drinking, partying and quarreling "against the backdrop of financial crises, literary milestones, car crashes, and media scandals" is a horrific crime, which commanded the nation's attention but is almost wholly forgotten today: "a brutal double murder in nearby New Jersey, compounded by a preposterous police investigation and an array of celebrity-hungry suspects. Proclaimed the 'crime of the decade,' the Hall-Mills murder case was never definitively resolved..."
Author Sarah Churchwell is a professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia. An American currently living in London, she is a regular broadcaster and contributor to the BBC and is author of a biography of Marilyn Monroe.
Slavery's Exiles -- The Story of the American Maroons by Sylviane A. Diouf, New York University '14, 393 pages, ASIN #081472437X. Index, select bibliography, notes, grouping of b&w images.
If you've not heard of the American Maroons, take heart -- you have plenty of company. As author Sylviane A. Diouf writes, these fugitive men, women, and children escaped from slavery and made the Southern wilderness their home, hiding in the mountains of Virginia and the low swamps of South Carolina.
From the dust jacket:
"Although well-known, feared, celebrated, or demonized at the time, the American Maroons....have been forgotten, overlooked by academic research, which has focused on the Caribbean and Latin America. Who the Maroons were, what led them to choose this way of life over alternatives, what forms of marronage they created, what their individual and collective lives were like, how they organized themselves to survive, and how their particular story fits into the larger narrative of slave resistance are questions that this book seeks to answer."
Author Sylviane A. Diouf is a historian specializing in the history of the African Diaspora, African Muslims, the slave trade, and slavery. She has written or edited several other books. She is also a curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library.
William Wells Brown -- Clotel and Other Writings, Edited by Ezra Greenspan '14, $40, 1041 pages, ASIN #159853291X. Index, notes, note on the text, chronology, b&w images sprinkled sparsely through text.
In the latest of Library of America offerings, William Wells Brown takes center stage. From the dust jacket:
"Born a slave and kept functionally illiterate until he escaped at age 19, William Wells Brown (1814--1884) refashioned himself first as an agent of the Underground Railroad and then as an antislavery activist and self-taught orator and author, eventually becoming a foundational figure of African American literature.
"A gripping account of his childhood, life in slavery, and eventual escape, Brown's first published book, Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave (1847) was an immediate bestseller, with four editions in its first year. Like Frederick Douglass's Narrative, the only slave autobiography to sell more copies before the Civil War, it unmasks the hypocrisy of Christian slaveholders and exposes with startling intensity the violence of slave life."
Included in this collection of several of Brown's works is "Clotel; or, the President's Daughter (1853), the first novel written by an African American and Brown's most ambitious work, (which) purports to be the history of Thomas Jefferson's black daughters and granddaughters."
Editor Ezra Greenspan holds the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahl Chair in Humanities and is professor of English at Southern Methodist University.