Monday, February 27, 2023

Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom by Patti Bender

Title: Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom
Author: Patti Bender
Publication: City Point Press, hardcover, 2023
Genre: Biography/Literary Criticism
Setting: Massachusetts and Maine
Patti Bender has created a biography of Boston-born writer Emilie Loring that is part labor of love and part interpretive narrative, describing a life story that was rich in friendship, idealism, and dedication to family – all of which were revealed in her books. Bender is an educator who, like me, started reading Emilie Loring’s book at a young age. After her sister Judy handed her a copy of How Can the Heart Forget, she became a fan, read and reread the books and, twenty years ago, started researching Loring’s life. Her work culminated in this new book.

Loring was born in Boston in 1866, the daughter of a playwright and publishing executive at Lee & Shepard, which published the first American edition of Alice in Wonderland. Soon after the Civil War, the family moved to Chardon Street (no New in the address then), living yards from my pre-pandemic office building in Boston. Emilie and her two siblings grew up in an affectionate family that enjoyed and participated in the performing arts but she did not start writing until years after she married a Boston lawyer, Victor Loring. She became a bestselling author. Her 30 novels are light-hearted fiction, many with elements of romantic suspense. All feature gallant and independent young heroines, many of whom find themselves in jeopardy, taking on family problems or simply trying to make a living.

Loring died in 1951 and her sons, Robert and Selden, in 1983 and 1970, respectively. However, when Bender began her search for the real Emilie Loring, she was connected to Loring’s grandchildren who shared memories and documents with her. Bender’s research and the results are impressive. Physically, the book is attractive and enticing at 595 pages. In addition to many photographs, the text is enriched by dozens of sidebar quotes from Loring’s 30 books. These fit thematically and chronologically with the text, and are delightful. For those who remember the books well, they are charming and for those who do not, they provide an introduction to Emilie’s beliefs and style.

I found the book fascinating as a social history of 20th century Boston, full of familiar names and details about my city. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Emilie’s friendships with two other writers, Clara Endicott Sears and Sara Ware Bassett. Clara was from a prestigious Boston family and was descended from John Endicott and John Winthrop, early Massachusetts Bay Colony governors (I assume she was related to John Sears, a very decent Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Governor). Her fiction never took off like Emilie’s so she eventually focused on nonfiction and turning the farmhouse that was part of Bronson Alcott’s Transcendentalist community, Fruitlands, into a museum. I was unfamiliar with Sara until very recently although she had studied at Radcliffe and taught in my own school system before her novels about Cape Cod became successful. I read South Cove Summer in 2020 but did not like it as much as Emilie’s books. However, I was amused to read that fans of her books would visit Cape Cod and look for her fictional town of “Belleport” featured in her books.
Clara Endicott Sears
Other thoughts:

• Emilie’s father had an office on Milk Street in Boston, just like my father.

• Although Emilie’s formal education ended with a year at Dean Academy in Franklin, MA when she was a teen, her husband attended BU and both sons attended Harvard. Her elder son was on the baseball team and had to sacrifice his junior and senior seasons to enlist in WWI (I was reminded that my grandfather was similarly graduated early from his Hungarian boarding school to fight on the wrong side).   Dean Academy began as a small residential school after the Civil War, became a junior college in the 1930s, and became a four-year college offering bachelor's degrees in 1994.

• All roads lead to Betsy-Tacy. Notably, Tacy Kelly from the Betsy-Tacy books is not as boy crazy as her friends Betsy and Tib. 
 “Why doesn't Tacy like boys?” asked Alice.
“But I do like them,” protested Tacy. “I just don't think they are little tin gods.”
Well, it turns out that one of Emilie’s colleagues in the Boston Authors’ Club was Judge Robert Grant, known for a play, The Little Tin Gods-on-Wheels (1880), which satirized fashionable young men of high social position for their vanity and lack of occupation.

• Emily’s brother’s Robert became a playwright and his dramatization of Beverly of Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon’s novel earned him thousands of dollars. Some will recall that Joe Willard tells Betsy Ray he tried to read every book in the Deep Valley library. He says he bogged down when he got to George Barr McCutcheon. Later, the Beverly of Graustark opera comes to the Deep Valley opera house and Joe takes Betsy to see it.  I have a copy of the book but have never read it although I like Ruritanian fiction.  

• I remembered one of Emilie’s heroines was named Constance: in fact there were two: Constance Trent in High of Heart (1938) and Constance Wyndham in Spring Always Comes (1966). Spring Always Comes was written by Loring’s sons after her death. Emilie must have liked the name because when she began her writing career with columns for the Boston Herald in 1911, she wrote in the style of letters to a friend, Constance.

• During WWII, the gold dome of Boston’s majestic State House was painted gray to hide it from enemy aircraft.  It has been regilded several times, most recently at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

• I would like to know if Loring’s path ever crossed with another bestselling author from Boston, Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885-1970). Keyes spent her adult life in New Hampshire, DC, and New Orleans, as well as traveling for research but they had a lot in common. Both were Republicans, educated in Boston, married prominent members of society, and became bestselling authors.

Did you ever come across Emilie Loring's books?  If so, did you have a favorite?  I remember particularly enjoying Love Came Laughing By, which starts on a train and takes place in Washington, DC.  The novels are now available as ebooks and Bender's book can be ordered from her website or your favorite bookstore.

Source: I came across Bender's blog several years ago and followed her progress with this book.  Thank you to the author for an advanced reading copy.


Cath said...

I hadn't heard of this author at all, and it always surprises me that there are authors I've never come across. How silly am I? But there you go. Very interesting post and I've learnt something. A very small thing, I had never heard of the boy's name 'Selden'... is it common in the US? But there's a boy in the Robin Hobb book I'm reading with that name, and now here's another one, Emilie Loring's son. I love these odd little coincidences.

CLM said...

Selden is not even a common surname but Loring's family used many such family names for the next generations. Loring *was* published in the UK and elsewhere but given that she is forgotten here, I would not expect you to know her work. However, her jaunty American mindset is not that different from popular British romance authors like Catherine Cookson, who also emphasizes resilience, although mostly in historical fiction, as I recall.

Dewena said...

Constance, thank you so much for letting me know about today's post. I read so many of Loring's books when I was young. I must have gotten them at the library because I don't have any on my shelves now. I have pre-ordered this new book of her life and will look forward to reading it. How wonderful that she was friends with Bassett! I've read three more of her books since I posted about her but not the one you read. Yes, some are better than others but I keep reading them because I love vintage books set in Cape Cod.

And oh my, I would love to know if she knew Frances Parkinson Keyes. I have an overflowing shelf of her books and recently splurged on my Christmas gift from my husband buying the one copy I've ever seen of Capital Kaleidoscope, The Story of a Washington Hostess, her 1937 account of her years in Washington as a senator's wife. It is a fascinating account of Washington then.

Thank you so much for calling this new book to my attention as I seem to always love these New England authors.
Best to you,

Jeannike said...

I would love to know about your Hungarian grandfather. My Hungarian grandfather (and grandmother) wisely emigrated before WWI.

Lisa said...

One of my roommates in college introduced me to Emilie Loring's books. I think she has read all of them, and may still own most as well. I read a good few myself, particularly those set during World War II.

This might be a good birthday gift!

CLM said...

The book would definitely make a good gift, Lisa! Even after I finished reading it, I keep using it as a reference to decide which books I wanted to reread.

Dewena, I realize I never read Capital Kaleidoscope and just saw that the Harvard Library has a copy which I think I can borrow.

Jeannike, my grandfather came to the US in 1928, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and became a professor of musicology.

Deb said...

Our mutual friend Ethel introduced me to Emilie Loring and I read many if not all. I assume the Loring is related to the family that owned the Loring-Greenough House in Jamaica Plain where you-know-who once slept, and where I waited for the Dudley Square bus every school day for two years. Still hoping to visit there. Will put this on my list.

CLM said...

I love that house but I don't know if there is a connection. You will have to join me at one of Patti Bender's events in Boston and ask her.

TracyK said...

I am not familiar with Emilie Loring. That sort of surprises me, but even as a preteen or teenager I was reading mostly mysteries and I have very little memory of specific books I read when I was younger, only some authors like Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Rex Stout.

It does sound interesting to read about an author from your own home town. I wish there was an author with a biography like that from Birmingham, Alabama.

Nan said...

I absolutely loved this post. Every bit of it was fascinating! Thank you so much. There is a lot for me to pursue.