Stephen Birmingham, author of The Late John Marquand, Our Crowd, and many other works, describes his relationship with John Marquand in his posthumous memoir A Writer Writes. Marquand took a young Birmingham under his wing and helped launch his literary career through the influence he wielded at Little, Brown.
Beyond Marquand, Birmingham also explores the vicissitudes of a young Stephen Sondheim, his fraternity brother at Williams, his New England childhood, his affair with Ava Gardner, his annoyance with Richard Burton, and some of the stories behind his books. Less interesting are frequent and often lengthy interludes of Carey Birmingham, his son and editor of A Writer Writes, though they do in their own way provide a portrait of the underbelly of a glamorous sixties writerly figure.
A Writer Writers is currently only sold as an e-book, but will be available in print next spring. Below is an excerpt of the section on Marquand, which some will note borrows many sections from the forward to The Late John Marquand.
Carl had told me that he liked to spend his weekends reading manuscripts, undisturbed, at home. So, when my manuscript was in what I considered a good first draft form, I dropped it off on a Friday morning with the doorman at the Brandt’s Fifth Avenue building. This was in the late spring of 1957. The next afternoon, I had a telephone call from Carl’s wife, Carol. “I’ve had an unpaid reader reading your manuscript,” she told me, “and he’d like to talk to you about it. Can you come by the apartment for drinks at six o’clock? His name is John P. Marquand.”
From the mid-1930s through the 1950s, the novels of John P. Marquand had appeared, almost without exception, on best-seller lists across the country. They were nearly always bought for serialization by magazines, and more often than not eventually became motion pictures. His first “serious” novel, The Late George Apley, published in 1936, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction that year. Prior to that, Marquand had made a more than comfortable living writing detective novels whose hero was a seemingly timid but cunning and intelligent Japanese sleuth named Mr. Moto. Mr. Moto’s characteristic response to the uncovering of an important clue was, “Ah, so!” The Mr. Moto tales had also been snapped up by the movies, and between 1937 and 1965 there were nine Mr. Moto movies, and they established the acting career of Peter Lorre, who played the title role in most of them.
The Late George Apley was considered a radical departure for Marquand, and someone at his publisher - - Little, Brown - - actually suggested that it might best be published under a pseudonym, so closely was Marquand’s name associated with Moto. But Apley was clearly the right departure for Marquand. After that book, his many novels - - Wickford Point, H. M. Pulham, Esquire, and others – enjoyed not only popular success but critical acclaim. By 1957, he also had the distinction of being one of the five judges at the Book of the Month Club. He was very much an Important Figure in American Letters, and a rich man. Unlike Heinrich Faust, however, who was a Californian, Marquand was a thrifty New Englander who managed his finances shrewdly and, proper Bostonian that he was, lived “on the income from his income.”
Given the size of John Marquand’s reputation at the time, it strikes me as both curious and sad that, if you asked the average college English major today who John Marquand was, he would probably look at you blankly and scratch his head. It is not that his books have not withstood the passage of time or seem old-fashioned. Though they deal with an earlier generation, they also portray a segment of New England society - - particularly Boston society - that has hardly changed at all over the years and is serenely proud of that fact. The novels of John Marquand are surely no more dated than those of Jane Austen, Henry James, or Edith Wharton, novels of manners that have lately been enjoying an enthusiastic renaissance, both in bookstores and on the screen. Why have John Marquand’s books been allowed to sink without a trace? Some mysterious law of public relations must be at work here.
Ironically, the works of John Marquand that have survived the longest are the ones of which he was least proud, the Mr. Moto stories. And these have maintained a life of their own in a curious milieu: the world of crossword-puzzle creators and solvers. Whenever a puzzler encounters the clue “Fictional sleuth,” the four- letter answer is almost certain to be “Moto.”
But perhaps the major books have not sunk entirely without a trace. Whenever I am in a public library, I check the Marquand section on the fiction shelves. From the cards in their little envelopes, I can see that his novels still circulate. Some people are still reading him. But no one seems to want to talk about him except in a few, somewhat arcane circles. At Baylor University in Texas, for instance, a group of English professors recently offered a series of Marquand symposiums. But, after all, Baylor University is not Yale, Princeton, Brown, or Marquand’s own beloved Harvard, which, in his novels, he was able to anatomize so deftly.
Meanwhile, I knew that Carl and Carol Brandt’s relationship with Marquand was a complicated one, to say the least. For several years before I met either of them, the Brandt’s had had what I guess is best called an “open marriage.” The Brandt’s were clearly devoted to one another, both as husband and wife and as business partners. And yet, as far as their sex lives were concerned, both had come to an amicable agreement that each partner in the union was at liberty to go his and her own way. This always struck me as a very sophisticated, and yet sensible, notion. It provided a certain glue that held the marriage together. It was like the European custom known as “Cinq-a-sept.” In a cinq-a-sept arrangement, the husband is allowed to leave the hours between five o’clock, when he leaves his office, and seven, unaccounted for. How he spends these two hours is no one’s business but his own, and he may spend them at his club, or with any sexual partner of his choice. The only stipulation - - and this rule are strictly adhered to - - is that he be home by seven o’clock, for dinner with his family. His wife, if she so chooses, is offered the same privilege. The cinq-a-sept tradition is said to help account for the fact that divorce rates are much lower in Europe than in Puritan- minded America.
In the Brandt’s’ case, there was a slight difference. John Marquand was probably Carl Brandt’s closest friend, and certainly one of his most profitable clients. Carl Brandt thought highly of Marquand’s work, and Marquand valued Brandt’s opinion of it - - more so, in fact, than he did that of his editors at Little, Brown. At the same time, when Carol Brandt told me that Marquand had read my manuscript and invited me to meet him for drinks at her apartment, I knew that Carol and Marquand had been lovers for the better part of fourteen years. It was an arrangement that suited everybody - - or, rather, everybody except Mrs. Marquand and Marquand’s five children, none of whom had been able to quite grasp the elegance of this design for living.
There are a great many wonderful Carol Brandt stories, but, in terms of her love life, I have a few favorites. She once said to me, “Englishmen make the best lovers. It’s those all-male public schools that do it. By the time they’re sixteen, they’ve learned how to do absolutely everything. I adore being taken over a man’s knee and being spanked, for instance. Nobody gives a better spanking than an Englishman!” On another occasion she remarked, “The only trouble with being a woman agent and taking lovers is that sooner or later the lovers come back with a manuscript for me to read.” My old friend Margaret Thalken, who worked as an editor for various fashion magazines - Glamour, and Vogue - - was between jobs at one point and, since no one knew the magazine world better than Carol, I suggested that Margaret and Carol should have lunch. During the course of this, Carol asked Margaret, “My dear, can you write?” Margaret replied that she could, though her experience consisted mostly of writing captions for fashion photos. “Why don’t you write a novel about the fashion magazine business?” Carol suggested. Margaret said, “Well, Mrs. Brandt, if I were to tell the truth I’d have to point out that most of the top women editors are married to homosexuals.” “Oh, but they make marvelous lovers, dear,” Carol said. “I disagree, Mrs. Brandt,” Margaret said. “Most of the men I know are very cruel to their wives.” Carol gave Margaret a long look through her jeweled lorgnette. “My dear, I didn’t say husbands! “she said.
All this was part of Carol’s pose, of course, her outrageous persona. I grew to see another side of her, as a woman of great honesty, integrity, intelligence, and courage. Her life had not been without its vicissitudes. She had suffered through Carl Brandt’s alcoholism (though by the time I met him he had been sober for many years.) By the time she died, she had been widowed three times. Her only daughter, Vicky, was killed in a plane crash with her young husband. One of her young grandchildren died in another tragic accident. Through all of these exigencies, her upper lip remained extraordinarily stiff, the facade in place.
Not long before Vicky’s death, Carol had asked me to serve as Vicki’s legal guardian, since I was close to Vicki’s age. “If anything happens to me,” Carol said, “I just want you to see to it that Vicki’s money doesn’t go to a lot of Hollywood divorce lawyers.” And so, Vicki was my official ward. When I read of the plane crash, and phoned Carol to express my shock and sympathy, her first words to me were, “Well, darling, you’re off the hook!”
John Marquand had used Carol Brandt as the model for the character of Marvin Myles in H. M. Pulham, Esquire, Harry Fulham’ s first and only great love - - a bright, free-spirited young New York career woman, somewhat incongruously played by Hedy Lamarr[*] in the film version. Marquand was always sparing in his physical descriptions of his fictional characters, preferring to let their words and actions create pictures of them in the minds of his readers. His description of Marvin Myles is typically lean and terse, and he says of her only that “Her eyes and mouth were both straight and defiant.” That is an apt summation of Carol Brandt.
As it happened, on the afternoon that Carol invited me to have drinks with her and John Marquand to discuss my manuscript, I had read none of Marquand’s novels. The only work of his I’d read was a very clever short story called The End Game, based on a game of chess. Obviously, caught short by this invitation, I had no chance to catch up on my reading of Marquand, and knew I was going to have to wing it when I met him later in the day.
When he stepped into the library of the Brandt’s apartment that evening, the first thing that struck me about him was that he didn’t look like a writer. I don’t know what I expected a famous novelist to look like, but Marquand looked more like a bank vice-president or a Wall Street lawyer. He was a handsome, compactly built man in his early sixties with carefully combed silver hair and a small, neatly trimmed moustache. He was dressed in a dark, three-piece suit, white shirt, and conservative necktie. His manner, as Carol introduced us and we shook hands, struck me at first as reserved and almost courtly. I’d rehearsed what I was going to say to him, and so, as we sat down, I said, lying, “Of course I’ve read and enjoyed many of your novels, Mr. Marquand. But I must say that one of my favorite pieces of yours is a short story called ‘The End Game.’”
All at once he was positively beaming. “Well!” he said, slapping his knee. “Is that so? You know, I’ve always been rather proud of that short story. If I do say so, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written!” Once again, I’d managed to be lucky. From that moment on, John Marquand and I were friends. Nathan, Carol Brandt’s elegant black butler, took our orders for drinks.
What had happened that weekend, I learned later, and the reason why Marquand had read my manuscript, was this: Marquand had been staying with the Brandt’s, as he usually did when he was in New York, and on Saturday morning Carl Brandt had suddenly felt ill and had been rushed to a hospital with what was feared to be a heart attack. (It turned out not to be.) As Carol Brandt and Marquand sat alone in the apartment, waiting for word from the doctors and the hospital, Carol said, “Look, there’s no point in the two of us just sitting here worrying about Carl. Let’s get to work. Here’s a manuscript that’s just come in - - a first novel by a young writer named Stephen Birmingham. Let’s read it and see what we think.” They sat there in the Brandt’s’ library, passing the pages of my manuscript back and forth between them.
After reading about thirty pages, I was later told, Marquand put down the script and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid this really isn’t very good.” “Give it a few more pages,” Carol said.
Marquand sighed, and read on. A few minutes later, he said, “Actually, it’s beginning to get better.” And he read on, to the end, at which point he said, “It’s really rather good. I’d like to meet the young man.”
And now he was saying to me, “I enjoyed your novel very much, though it gets off to a slow start. I’d do some heavy cutting in the first thirty or so pages if I were you. You’ve got to grab the reader right at the beginning of a book preferably on the first page, even better in the first sentence of the very first paragraph. If you haven’t grabbed the reader by the third or fourth page, he’s going to put your book down and never pick it up again. Also, your writing is overly adverbial. Remember - - nouns and verbs are the workhorses of the language. A string of heavy adjectives won’t help a weak noun, and adverbs are the weakest words of all. If I were you, I’d go through this script and delete every word ending in ‘ly.’ And you don’t need to tell the reader how a particular line of dialogue is spoken, you don’t need to say, ‘he implored,’ or ‘she demanded.’ If your dialogue is good enough the tone of voice is implicit. Just write, ‘he said,’ or ‘she said,’ and only when the reader could be confused as to who’s saying what.”
He then sprang to his feet and, his glass of whiskey swinging in circles in his hand as he spoke, began to give us a demonstration of what he meant, improvising a scene from an imaginary novel:
“’Have you fed the baby?’ she demanded mincingly.
‘Not yet,’ he riposted cagily.
‘Why not?’ she inquired coyly.
‘I thought you were going to do it,’ he countered uncomprehendingly.
‘But it’s your turn,’ she expostulated wearily.
‘Are you sure, dearest?’ he threw back at her fiercely. ‘Of course, I’m sure’ she retaliated winsomely.
‘You’re wrong,’ he ejaculated triumphantly.”
It went on for some minutes, and when he sat down at the conclusion of this little act, I decided that if John Marquand had not chosen to be a writer, he could have earned a tidy living as a stand-up comic in Las Vegas. He was an extremely funny man - - even funnier, somehow, in his bespoke, pin-stripe three-piece suit.
He also had some ideas about titles. I’d titled my manuscript The Year of the Avocado, a title I found (and still do find, a little) poetic and evocative, since the hero of the tale, Jimmy Keefe, is a young man whose wife has left him, who is drifting into alcoholism as well as into an affair with his best friend’s wife, while haplessly and fruitlessly (my penchant for adverbs still pops up from time to time) trying to grow an avocado from a seed pierced with toothpicks over a glass of water in his lonely kitchen.
“Don’t call it that,” Marquand said. “You’d be amazed at the number of people who don’t know what an avocado is, much less how to pronounce the word. In bookstores, people get shy and reluctant to ask for a book if they’re not sure how to pronounce a word in the title. People like to read books that are about people, so I try to put peoples’ names in my titles - - The Late George Apley; H. M. Pulham, Esquire; Sincerely, Willis Wayde; Melville Goodwin; U.S.A.; B.F. ‘s Daughter. I still wish I’d given Apley a different name. Nobody knew how to pronounce it. People kept coming into stores and asking for The Late George Appleby. I’d have sold a lot more copies of that book if I’d given Apley a different name.”
He then returned to the subject of my title. “Don’t get fancy with titles,” he said. “Keep them simple. Your novel is about a young man named Keefe. Why not call it Young Mr. Keefe?”
“I will,” I said.
At the time, John Marquand was considered the master of the flashback technique. Many of his novels begin in the present, and then take leisurely detours backward in time, then move forward, and wind up in the present again at the end. Marquand found my flashbacks a little bumpy and awkward. “Take more time with your flashbacks,” he said. “Just add a few more sentences, with a bit more detail, to help your reader realize that you’re moving from one point in time to another. You have to ease the reader into the flashback. Don’t make the shift too abrupt, or the reader will be confused about where he is in the story, and what’s going on.”
Marquand and I got on famously that first meeting - - so famously, in fact, that I wasn’t keeping any track of time. Marquand liked the fact that I was working in advertising. His first job after Harvard, it turned out, had been as a copywriter for Young & Rubicam, and we swapped advertising horror stories. (He’d used his experiences, I discovered later, to hilarious effect in Pulham.) Now we were joined in the room by Carol’ s butler, who announced, “Dinner is served, ma’am.” I jumped to my feet to go.
“Please stay for dinner, darling,” Carol said.
I started to demur, but Carol insisted. “You’re both having so much fun,” she said. “All we need to do is set another place at table.”
“Add some water to the soup!” Marquand said.
And so, I stayed. It was nearly midnight when I finally took my leave. “I’d like you to do me a favor,” Marquand said as I was leaving. “I’d like you to let me take your book to my publisher, Little, Brown.”
A favor! I was overjoyed.
“Oh,” said Carol, pretending disappointment, “and I had my heart set on Scribner for Steve.”
“It’s not that there are any brilliant editors there,” he said. “In fact, the term ‘brilliant editor’ is an oxymoron. Most editors are idiots who don’t have any idea what they’re looking for. But Little, Brown needs some new young talent. They’ve got this one young man, J. D. Salinger. He’s good, but he’s also crazy as a loon. Very undependable. But the thing I like about Little, Brown is that they’re better than anyone I know of at the job of selling books.” I saw one reason why John Marquand looked like a banker. He treated the craft of writing as a business. (“I’d write jingles for greeting cards if they paid me enough money,” he once said to me with a wink.)
The next day, I attacked my manuscript, discarding the first thirty pages entirely, crossing out every adverb I could lay my hands on, making my flashbacks less abrupt, and giving the book its new title. Then I shipped the novel off to Marquand at his home in Newburyport.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Marquand wielded great power at Little, Brown. He was their best-selling author, and they would do anything to please him. If he said he liked a manuscript, that was it; Little, Brown published it, without a single editorial query or suggestion. They didn’t even correct my occasional grammatical lapses or misspellings. The minute I opened the finished book, I spotted one. I had meant to write “The wind blew.” Instead, I had written “the wind blue.” If Marquand had passed on the book’s content, the publisher must have felt, that was the way the sentence was supposed to read.
I don’t know who may have suggested that Marquand might provide a blurb for the book’s dust jacket. It may have been Carol Brandt. But whoever did must have approached the subject very gingerly because I knew that Marquand disapproved of this sort of literary logrolling and, to my knowledge, he’d never done this for another writer before. But he did one for me. It was, I must admit, a very guarded endorsement. It was:
“One of the best first novels I have read in several years.” - - John P. Marquand.
There are quite a few qualifiers in that statement. He did not say,” The best novel I have ever read.” But it was, I now see, a carefully thought out - - and thoroughly honest - - appraisal, and as good a one as the book deserved. And it looked very impressive splashed, in large type, across the book’ s cover. And it was that endorsement, I’m quite sure, that caused Young Mr. Keefe to appear, albeit briefly, toward the bottom of the New York Times Best Seller list. And it also caused reviewers - - including Orville Prescott of the Times to compare and liken my novel to those of Marquand, even though, when it was written, I had read only that one short story of his.
I saw John Marquand often after that first meeting. When he came to New York for Book of the Month Club meetings, we usually had lunch, and usually with Carol Brandt. I began to feel he regarded me as a sort of surrogate son, and he often confided to me his varying degrees of disappointment with his own children. One son spent most of his time in and out of mental hospitals. His oldest son, and namesake, was a particular source of frustration to him. Johnny Jr. was a couple of years older than I and had been dating a pretty brunette named Jacqueline Bouvier - - much to Jackie’s mother’s displeasure. (“Writers don’t make any real money,” Janet Auchincloss had cautioned her daughter.)
In 1953, Johnny Jr. had published what still seems to me a very creditable novel called The Second Happiest Day. Not wishing to appear to be hanging onto his famous father’s coattails, Johnny had published this under the name John Phillips (he was John Phillips Marquand, Jr.) But book reviewers had penetrated this disguise and had reviewed his book comparing him - - often unfavorably - - with his father. Bitter about this, Johnny had written nothing of substance since, and this state of affairs annoyed Marquand Sr. “Damn it,” Marquand said, “why shouldn’t his writing sound a lot like mine? I’m his father, aren’t I? Why shouldn’t I be his major literary influence? Why can’t he get on with it until he finds his own voice? Why has he just - - stopped?”
Marquand had even less use for book reviewers than he had for editors. “They’re all horses’ asses,” he said. “Most of them are frustrated novelists who couldn’t write a decent piece of fiction if they tried. Why does Johnny pay any attention to what those horse’s asses have to say? No book reviewer has ever helped a writer write a better book.”
Marquand was also in the process of divorcing his second wife. She was the former Adelaide Hooker, an heiress to two considerable fortunes. On her father’s side was the Hooker Chemical Company, the major polluter who gave us, in the 1970s, what became known as the Love Canal Disaster. Adelaide’s mother was a Ferry, of the Ferry Seed Company, though Marquand liked to say that the Ferry’s made their money “in shovels and manure.” Adelaide’ s sister, Blanchette, had married John D. Rockefeller II.
Marquand’s first wife Christina had been a beauty if a bit of a scatterbrain. She often walked her dog in the Boston Common holding only the leash, having forgotten to attach the dog. Adelaide, by contrast, was not at all pretty. She was a large woman, and, in the course of bearing Marquand three more children, she had grown ever larger - - some might say even fat. None of Marquand’s friends had ever been able to fathom what it was he saw in Adelaide unless - - and this was my guess it was because she was so much richer than his first wife’ s family, the Sedgwick’s.
For complicated tax reasons, during the Adelaide marriage several of Marquand’s novels had been copyrighted in both their names. It infuriated Marquand to discover that Adelaide was going around using the copyright line to claim that she and John had written the books in collaboration. At our lunches, John would often do hilarious - - and quite cruel - - imitations of Adelaide, mimicking her stilted, high-pitched speech, describing her fondness for dirndl skirts and peasant blouses and other costume get-ups, giving his impression - - exaggerated, of course - - of her portly waddle. He would usually end these Adelaide parodies by slamming the heel of his palm against his forehead, and saying, “But, by God, my brother- in- law is John D. Rockefeller!”
I began to see John Marquand as a character he had invented for himself the way he created the characters in his fiction. He was a poor boy from a fine old New England family who, thanks to a ne’er-do-well father, had been cheated out of the wealth and status he should rightfully have enjoyed as a young man. He had been forced to attend Harvard on a scholarship. He hadn’t had the money to join one of Harvard’s elite clubs, such as the Porcellian, which should have been part of his birthright. In his personal flashbacks, his tale was as bittersweet as Henry Pulham’s or George Apley’s.
But he had gone to work and worked hard. And now he was rich and famous. He had joined all the right clubs - - the exclusive Somerset Club in Boston, and the Myopia Hunt. He had homes in Newburyport, in Aspen, in Hobe Sound, and in horsey-golfy Pinehurst, North Carolina, where his neighbor was General George C. Marshall. He was in the Social Register. His brother-in-law was John D. Rockefeller. He had been appointed to Harvard’s prestigious Board of Overseers. He had marched in a Harvard alumni parade alongside John F. Kennedy. But it was all dust in the mouth to him.
He had not found love.Not the right love, anyway.
“Now I’m meeting and mingling with the sort of people I used to dream of meeting and mingling with,” he said to me. “And they’re all a bunch of Goddamned bores and horses’ asses!”
I suspect he enjoyed the fiction he had made of his life as much as he’d enjoyed any of the fictional characters he invented.
The last time I saw him was in the spring of 1960, and we lunched at the old Voisin restaurant, off Park Avenue. As usual, Carol joined us. By then, John and Adelaide were divorced, and Carol, now widowed, had taken over the presidency of Brandt & Brandt. John was in a jolly mood, and was feeling like having several drinks, and Carol and I cheerfully kept up with him. He had just come back from a safari in Africa and had mastered a hilarious imitation of a hippopotamus snuffling and wallowing in the mud. Even Voisin’s staid and proper waiters were laughing.
As we all ordered a third martini, he suddenly turned to Carol, and said, “Well, you and I won’t have any trouble on that score, will we?” John enjoyed his drinks, but drinking had become a problem for Adelaide.
Then all at once the conversation became serious, and I began to feel I’d become part of a scene in which I didn’t really belong. He was asking Carol to marry him.
“No, no,” she said firmly.
Please!” he begged.
“Then at least come back with me to Boston on the train tonight.We’ll have dinner together and spend a few days in Newburyport.”
“John, I have a business to run.I have to be back at the office this afternoon, and I have appointments all day tomorrow.”
“No, no …”
When the three of us said goodbye after lunch, he seemed visibly shaken. We stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, and John stood on his tiptoes to kiss her; I hadn’t realized that Carol, in heels at least, was a couple of inches taller than he was. At the sight of that kiss, I felt a definite tug at my heart. Like Marvin Myles in Pulham, Carol was John’s one true love.
I offered to drop Carol off at her office, and on our way downtown in the taxi asked her, “Why don’t you marry him?”
“Never,” she said. “I run a business in New York - - a business I happen to love. I’m very fond of John, but I don’t want to be dragged off to Newburyport and become Mrs. John P. Marquand, his wife and hostess. As lovers, it was quite different. He can be very demanding. I remember once in Versailles, I was still in bed and he phoned me from downstairs in the hotel lobby, complaining about not being able to find the right kind of stamp for a letter he wanted to mail. He was screaming and shouting. I just dropped the receiver and let it hang by the bed, while he wants on yelling. If I was his wife, I couldn’t have done that. I’d have had to climb out of bed, get dressed, and go downstairs to help him find his Goddamned stamp ….”
A few months later, in 1960, John Marquand died in his sleep at his house in Newburyport. Carol telephoned me with this news so I wouldn’t read it in the next day’s paper. He was 67. “He should not have done this without consulting us,” Carol said.
Marquand had served as my informal editor for my second novel, to which I had dutifully given the Marquandian title Barbara Greer. Once again, the book had gone from Marquand’s hands to the printer without a single comment or suggestion from anyone at Little, Brown. He was waiting to do the same thing for my third book as soon as it was ready.
But with Marquand’s death I suddenly discovered that there were such things as professional editors up there in Boston. The manuscript for my third novel, The Towers of Love, came back to me with dozens - - scores - - of little picky queries and comments. In that novel, I’d written an idyllic little scene, of which I was quite fond, in which a group of little children splash about merrily, naked, in a woodland brook on a summer afternoon. In the margin of that scene, the editor had written “But wouldn’t the children be bitten up by mosquitoes?”
With a heavy heart, but at the editor’s insistence, I slathered all the children with citronella. The scene now positively reeks of citronella. To my mind, the stench of citronella robbed my pretty scene of any charm or piquancy it might have had.
And somewhere, I’m sure, John Marquand was laughing.