Friday, February 26, 2016

The Golden Honeymoon

Ring Lardner (1885–1933)
From Ring Lardner: Stories & Other Writings

“The crowd began to chafe Frank and pass remarks. Like one of them said: ‘Whoever told you you was a checker player.” One of several illustrations by American illustrator T. D. Skidmore for “The Golden Honeymoon” in the July 1922 issue of Cosmopolitan.
When George Horace Lorimer, editor of The Saturday Evening Post, read the latest submission from Ring Lardner, one of his most popular writers, he decided it was too unlike the author’s previous stories to satisfy the magazine’s readers, who were accustomed to farcical tales of semiliterate baseball players and slang-impaired demimonde characters. “The humor in it is so quiet,” Lorimer responded, that readers “would miss it.” And so he turned down the opportunity to publish “The Golden Honeymoon.” Ray Long, an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, concurred with Lorimer’s decision: “I see what the Post meant. That story isn’t the usual Ring Lardner story. All it is is a fine piece of sympathetic human interest writing. I should be glad to trade you a check for $1500 for it and I shall be very proud to publish it.” The story appeared in the July 1922 issue of Cosmopolitan. It would be ten years before Lardner sent another story to the Post.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lardner’s close friend, drinking buddy, and neighbor in Great Neck, New York, played a role in encouraging him to write stories more “literary” than what had been appearing in the Post. Clifford M. Caruthers, who published Lardner’s correspondence, writes:
Fitzgerald admired Lardner’s deflating humor, stoical cynicism, insistence on accuracy, and general knowledge of human nature, and he saw Lardner as potentially a great literature talent. . . . Whereas Lardner often imposed restraints on Fitzgerald’s enthusiasms, Fitzgerald apparently succeeded in convincing Lardner to take himself more seriously as a writer.
In 1923 Fitzgerald urged Maxwell Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s, to consider publishing a collection of Lardner’s stories and recommended that he read “The Golden Honeymoon.” Lardner had already published twelve books, most of them with Bobbs-Merrill, but Perkins read the story “with huge enjoyment” and sent off a respectful note: “I would hardly have ventured to do this if Scott had not spoken of the possibility, because your position in the literary world is such that you must be besieged by publishers.” Flattered, Lardner agreed to switch publishers and the collection, How to Write Short Stories (with Samples), appeared in 1924, with very brief introductions to the “sample” stories and a preface that parodied the advice found in writing manuals. The headnote to “The Golden Honeymoon” was a single line: “A story with ‘sex appeal.’”

During the last century “The Golden Honeymoon” has been one of the most frequently anthologized of Lardner’s stories—perhaps second only to “Haircut.” (John Updike included it in his Best American Short Stories of the Century.) It is deceptively simple: an elderly couple, Charles and Lucy (“Mother”), head off for a fiftieth-anniversary vacation in Florida, but their enjoyment is unexpectedly interrupted by an encounter with Mother’s former fianc√© and his wife. “When this story was first published,” the young editor and critic Clifton Fadiman wrote ten years after its publication, “most readers thought it very touching, even a trifle sentimental.” Instead, he argued, “it is one of the most smashing indictments of a ‘happy marriage’ ever written, composed with a fury so gelid as to hide completely the bitter passion seething beneath every line.” Fadiman certainly overstated the case. More recently Jonathan Yardley has suggested that the truth is somewhere in the middle, some distance away from the “venomous vision” conjured by Fadiman: “Ring understood . . . the unwritten rules that permitted these people to have their minor spats and running arguments while maintaining a foundation of affection and mutual understanding.”

Notes: On page 539 is a reference to Willie boys, late-nineteenth-century slang for tramps or hobos. “Hearts and Flowers” (p. 541) is an 1893 song composed by Theodore Moses-Tobani, with lyrics by Mary D. Brine, using a melody from the Winterm√§rchen Waltzes by Hungarian composer Alphons Czibulka. The song was ubiquitous in the 1910s and its title became synonymous with melodrama and sentimentality. Popular in the early twentieth century, roque was a form of croquet played on a hard court with banks along the sides. Usually affecting horses, glanders (p. 544) is an infectious disease, since eradicated in North America and Europe. “Home to Our Mountains” (p. 547) is an English-language adaptation of “Ai Nostri Monti” from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore (1853).

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