Dale Carnegie – Discusses Booth Tarkington – February 14, 1945 – Mutual – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Booth Tarkington – a name that most likely rings no bells of recognition, outside of those studying 19th century/early 20th century American authors, discussed in a radio program narrated by the man who practically invented the Self-help book.
Tarkington came to prominence during the last year of the 19th century and into the first three decades of the 20th. At the time he was considered one of the greatest living American authors. He won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction twice, in 1919 and 1922, for his novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams. In 1921 booksellers rated him “the most significant contemporary American author” in a poll conducted by Publishers’ Weekly. He won the O. Henry Memorial Award in 1931 for his short story “Cider of Normandy”. His works appeared frequently on best sellers lists throughout his life. In addition to his honorary doctorate from Purdue, and his honorary masters and doctorate from Princeton, Tarkington was awarded an honorary doctorate from Columbia University, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prize, and several other universities.
Tarkington’s style was very much rooted in the literary conventions of the 19th century. Plot was not nearly as important as description. As was the custom, descriptions were often elaborate and minute, sometimes taking pages to convey a single piece of action, fairly brimming with over-indulgence. It was a style most popular with fiction for magazines, which at the time was an essential avenue of exposure for writers. It was often thought that the dependence on description coincided with the fact that publishers paid by the word, which makes perfect sense. Art versus commerce – it happens.
But Booth Tarkington captured a spirit of America, particularly that of the midwest, and his love for the region was prevalent in his novels as well as plays. He was considered one of the authors most representative of the literary Golden Age of the period.
But it was a period not destined to last. The emotional fallout from the First World War brought about the Lost Generation and signaled a turn in writing styles which formed the foundation for literature during the remainder of the century and into the 21st. Literature was plot driven – descriptions were sparse, almost to the extreme. Issues were provocative, even to the point of being considered obscene (Henry Miller is a prime example) and books were being banned.
So Tarkington’s writing was relegated to quaint status – relics of a bygone age. As years went by and literature continued going through changes of style and voice, Tarkington’s work became largely forgotten. Aside from a few examples, much of his work has been considered cringeworthy in tone and in attitude.
Dale Carnegie, who narrates this loving portrait of Booth Tarkington, is the writer who gave the world How To Win Friends And Influence People and a whole host of self-improvement books which have morphed into a cottage industry for personal growth and improvement. It continues to this day despite Carnegie having been gone since 1955.
Together, this makes for an interesting glimpse into the historic nature of Popular Culture – two figures who achieved mass popularity for entirely different reasons but who had a prominent affect on society during specific periods in our culture.
Technical caveat about this recording: The original transcription discs, recorded in 1945 are glass based, and subsequently very fragile. The disc this broadcast was on had broken in several places and was carefully patched back together, but not without pronounced clicks and skips during playback. Many hours went into reconstruction – so if it sounds strange to you, this is what playing a broken record sounds like and trying to rescue it from oblivion. It’s listenable and without skips but it was hit rather hard with noise reduction in an attempt to preserve the voice. So bear with me.
History is an adventure sometimes.