The biography gives an overview of the author of “The Yearling”
At the time of her death from a stroke on December 14, 1953, at the age of 57, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was one of America’s most famous and famous writers and the author of eight books. . She has published several novels, a cookbook and a memoir, but two of her books, bestsellers, appear to be classics.
Both are set in Florida – “The Yearling” (1938) and her memoir, “Cross Creek” (1942) – but Marjorie herself didn’t start out as a Floridian or even Southerner.
She was born in 1896 and raised in a suburb of Washington, DC. She was the daughter of a schoolteacher turned government employee who sometimes worked in the patent office.
His parents, children from the Midwest, owned land, grew vegetables and raised cows. Arthur, her father, whom she adored, loved it. Ida, her mother, whom she did not adore, did not love her. Ida was a social climber and in Marjorie’s childhood a kind of stage mother, not in song or dance but in writing. Marjorie was successful as a child, participating and winning contests. Encouraged, Ann McCutchan tells us in “The life she wanted to live: a biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings”, Marjorie’s tendencies towards the “romantic, sentimental and unoriginal”.
After her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she wrote and performed plays, and her marriage to Charles Rawlings, Marjorie lived in New York, Rochester, New York and Louisville, Kentucky, writing for newspapers and publishing freelance articles all the time, but didn’t feel she was developing as a writer.
In 1927 they visited Florida and when Marjorie’s mother died in 1928, along with her inheritance, she purchased “an invisible farm and orange grove in the tiny hamlet of Cross Creek,” 85 miles southwest of Jacksonville, in Alachua County.
The house was in ruins with no bathroom. Innocent, she thought that the grove was getting by one way or another and that she could devote herself to writing, developing her profession. Of course, there was a lot of work, managing the aid, keeping the trees healthy.
She dug and fell in love with the beauty of the place. New York critic Lewis Gannett put it this way: “They say the most convinced Southerners were born in the North. They love the South as the Southerners do, but they see it with the freshness of unusual eyes.
The marriage broke down, in part because of Marjorie’s great success. She remained alone and anchored herself in the life of the place – water moccasins, alligators, hurricanes, winter frosts, etc. And she wrote.
After selling a story to Scribner magazine, she joined America’s most famous writers’ club: Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe – those edited by Maxwell Perkins. She and Perkins moved closer. They exchanged hundreds of letters and his editorial advice was pure gold. Marjorie also became friends with Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow and many more.
Over time, Marjorie, like many of her peers, also developed a serious drinking problem. Sometimes quarrelsome, often depressed, she has had several car accidents while driving recklessly and / or drunk.
Marjorie published the novel “South Moon Under” in 1933 and “The Yearling”, based on a true story told to her in 1938. It was a sensation, winning the Pulitzer Prize. The story is quite simple: Jody’s pet deer eats the family’s corn and needs to be slaughtered, but the readers’ emotions have been and still are touched. The film, starring seven Oscar nominees, Gregory Peck, boosted sales even further. Rawlings had also become one of America’s highest paid authors.
She traded film production stories with her friend Margaret Mitchell.
Although she considered herself a liberal, Rawlings was not free from an inherent racism. McCutchan explains well how her friendship with the wise and generous Zora Neale Hurston has helped her. Hurston, ever patient, confident, dignified, was ready to speak up and help Rawlings see the way forward.
Rawlings’ physical health was a constant concern. Among other problems, Marjorie suffered from painful diverticulitis. Surgery for this condition, in the 1930s, had a 40% death rate. No thanks. Marjorie dieted, suffered, improved and relapsed for the rest of her life.
Marjorie also had to endure a painful, but important legal battle. The memoir “Cross Creek” is about life in the “scrub” and there are portraits of his aide and his friends and neighbors. One of them filed a complaint for invasion of privacy and defamation. The lawsuit seemed frivolous, but it took years to settle and cost Rawlings over $ 60,000 in 2020 dollars. Memorials would still do well to take great care to portray their friends and neighbors, especially by name.
Marjorie’s marriage to her second husband Norton Baskin of Union Springs, Alabama was a success.
Baskins was a loving and patient man whose job was in St. Augustine. Being apart a lot of the time seemed to be the answer.
The couple bought a cottage on the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine and as WWII began they could see American ships torpedoed by German submarines, explode in flames, just offshore and had the realistic fear that German raids could land on any beach any night.
Rawlings’ work is read less these days. It is not certain whether “The Yearling” is a young adult book or not, and there are editions in which the word has not been deleted.
Death is not a career change for writers. Reputations are quickly fading. In any case, I think there is a fascination in reading the complicated, productive, obsessive life of an author whom the world has almost forgotten.
Don Noble’s latest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson and eleven other authors from Alabama.
“The Life She Wished To Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings”
Author: Ann McCutchan
Publisher: WW Norton & Co.
Price: $ 35 (Hardcover)