Why The Final Word?
Booth Tarkington has become one of America’s most underappreciated authors. At one time considered “The Dean of American Letters,” and one of only three writers to win two Pulitzer Prizes in fiction, Tarkington came to be thought quaint and old-fashioned because of his reluctance to jump on board the modernist trend of “frank” and muckraking, politicized fiction. While his early works certainly could be classified as Romances, however, the greater body of his work nonetheless realistically captures the conflicts of Middle America as it moved through the Automobile Age and into the earliest throes of postmodern disillusionment with Progress. In this regard, he was in fact ahead of his time.
Tarkington was also so belligerently liberal in his thinking that he often came across as backwardly conservative; and his insistence on employing the vernacular of his time has, in later years, earned him the disdain of those devoted to purging politically incorrect language from the history of America’s literature.
Perhaps because of the specter of Orson Welles, whose film version of Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons has become near-legendary, much of Tarkington’s work can also be read as incipiently Communist, which may account for his abandonment by the conservative academy. Some of his early works (such as The Turmoil) certainly lend credence to this argument.
It is my view, however, that the sum total of Tarkington’s work presents nothing less than a masterfully preserved vision of Middle-America’s loss of innocence during the first half of the Twentieth Century. The author might indeed be thought of as The Dean of American Values: hard work, home, family, God, and the freeing influence of a classically liberal education.
This website is devoted to becoming both a repository for current news about Tarkington and the definitive Internet resource for those who want to know more about his novels, short stories, and plays… that is, the Final Word when it comes to Tarkington.
I have spent the last forty years reading, studying, and collecting Tarkington and am familiar with his entire body of work. Visit this site for regular news updates and monthly critical essays discussing, one at a time and in chronological order, each of Tarkington’s fifty-plus novels.
Greg Wright, with his wife Jenn, is Managing Editor of Hollywood Jesus and Past the Popcorn. He is an internationally-respected critic and lecturer, and is the author of numerous books, including Tolkien in Perspective and Peter Jackson in Perspective. For the 2005-2007 academic years, he was Writer in Residence at Puget Sound Christian College in Everett, Washington. He holds degrees in Computer Science, English Literature, and Theology.
It is dangerous for an individual to assume that any attempted work of art actually is what it appears to himself. I have known a child to assume that his grandfather, kneeling for prayers, was a horse to be mounted and ridden. —Booth Tarkington
The best audience is one that will be fair enough to suspend judgment until it has first found out what [the artist] is trying to do; then is competent enough to discover how well he does it; and finally is so all-wise as to know whether or not it’s worth doing. —Booth Tarkington
Egoistic instinct is subtle and glamorous. It can even mistake itself for authoritative judgment upon works of art; but if we avoid being carried away by its eloquence we needn’t share in its error. That is, by making ourselves a little hard-headed we can escape the confusion of mind that damns an ostrich for not being a giraffe. —Booth Tarkington