Below are a few essays celebrating the novels of John Marquand.
Be Careful What You Ask For by Terry Teachout (2009)
In National Review.
The latter-day eclipse of Marquand’s reputation is explicable, if not quite understandable. He was a Trollope-like chronicler of New England manners who lacked Trollope’s charm, and his smoothly flowing prose was more workmanlike than stylish. Solid competence, not arresting individuality, was his literary line. Yet several of his books had the root of the matter in them, and one in particular strikes me as little short of masterly. Point of No Return, published in 1949, is the story of an ambitious boy from a small town in Massachusetts who makes his way to Manhattan, there to become the vice president of a small private bank — and to find that the promotion he has sought since returning from the war is mysteriously unfulfilling.
“Martini-Age Victorian” by Martha Spaulding (2004)
Published in The Atlantic.
I first read Marquand’s novels twenty-odd years ago. Back then they swept me up in nostalgia for a time I’d never actually known—my parents’ youth, hinted at in anecdotes and glimpsed in old photographs. The outdated, elusive glamour of movies from the 1930s and 1940s surrounded his characters, who religiously dress for dinner, keep eccentric retainers, and wait a prescribed amount of time before using one another’s first names. Re-reading these books today, I find that the nostalgia and the glamour are undiminished—and that the dialogue occasionally has a cinematic brittleness. But more striking to me now (perhaps for obvious reasons) is the way in which he regularly tapped into the rue and longing of middle age. …
To some, Marquand’s books may seem period pieces, his sentences old-fashioned and formal, his stories’ frameworks too similar. Nevertheless, he reaches out from recent history with an intensity of feeling, a beguiling humor, and a magical facility with the sounds and rhythms of language that can lift readers up and carry them away.
John Marquand, Zinging WASPs With a Smooth Sting by Jonathan Yardley (2003)
In the Washington Post.
It is just about impossible for me to imagine beginning this series of essays about books of yesterday – books I remember with affection and admiration but have not read in many years, books I would like to encourage others to discover – with anything except a novel by John Phillips Marquand. His are not the best books I’ve ever read, but they are among the books I love most, and the neglect into which they have fallen is a literary outrage.
Justice to John P. Marquand by Terry Teachout (1987)
To some extent, revaluation is unnecessary. Marquand’s early potboilers are hardly worth saving, while most of his later novels, despite their glossy finish and good intentions, are precisely what Diana Trilling said they were in her 1946 review of Marquand’s B.F.’s Daughter: well-made literary commodities for the busy housewife. (“Without transcending the high-grade commodity level, he has done a great deal to raise our standards of what a literary commodity can be.”) But The Late George Apley, Wickford Point, and H. M. Pulham, Esquire are certainly more than mere commodities, and Marquand’s 1949 novel, Point of No Return, easily ranks with the best work of James Gould Cozzens, the American novelist whom he most resembles. Yet this book, the most completely realized product of Marquand’s maturity, was widely dismissed, even by some of the reviewers who had previously been his staunchest supporters, as an overlong bore.
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