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Stacton At Last


Longtime readers of this journal will remember a long discussion about the books of David Stacton, short-lived novelist and author of a number of historical fictions very unlike any others.  He was then out of print and largely forgotten, and he still is largely our if print, but now the estimable New York Review Books is reissuing his novel "The Judges of the Secret Court," about the assassination of Lincoln and the trial of the so-called conspirators in a military court,  (This is also the subject of a new film being produced by Robert Redford.)  I contributed an introduction.  It's announced but -- I think -- not quite yet available.


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 14th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC)
..and also in alternate historical fiction? This list may be interesting for you: http://www.uchronia.net/ Our cher Crowley is also listed ;)
Apr. 14th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Uchronia
Thanks. I see I'm listed for "Great Work of Time" but not for the much more relevant Aegypt Cycle. But any list that includes me and Harry Turtledove together is going to be a long one.
Apr. 7th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
Just in time for the 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter. Your post is almost on target for the 146th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, when lilacs last in the dooryards bloomed.
A former boss of mine, an Admiral now stationed in DC, told me casually that he had tickets for a play at Ford's Theater on April 9. I asked if he was feeling lucky.
Apr. 7th, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
I wonder what this means, from the Wiki on the author:

"His second "American" tripych is highly critical of the development of American history and of America's tendencies to both imperialism and isolationism (Gore Vidal's silence about Stacton may be significant)."

It isn't as if Vidal's in any way triumphalist about our national paradox of imperial dreaming vs. exceptional isolationism.

Love, c.

Rodger Cunningham
Apr. 8th, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
Maybe Wiki means he suspects Mr. Veedle considers Stacton a poacher.
Apr. 8th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
He may, being an emotional and easily offended but not particularly rational person (Vidal, I mean, not the Wiki writer) -- the fact being that all of Stacton was written and Stacton dead before Vidal published "Burr." Hard for the dead to poach on the living. That Vidal's silence means he was a poacher on Stacton is more possible, but unlikely in my view -- their theses may be similar but their books are very different. Stacton might have thought of his as polemics about "America," but -- well read JOTSC and see.
Rodger Cunningham
Apr. 8th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
Ah, I had them backwards. I still think the Wiki writer meant to make the suggestion you find unlikely.
Apr. 7th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
Myself, re the Redford flick, am not enthusiastic about yet another victimized confederate, particularly one who did play a role in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln.

Love, C.

Apr. 15th, 2011 11:10 am (UTC)
See the New Yorker review in the current iwssue to see your fears confirmed. What is it about liberals earneslty protesting the ill treatment and summary incarceration of people that so often ends up with them defending the indefensible by accident (the South, the Viet Cong, the Taliban)?
Apr. 15th, 2011 11:12 am (UTC)
On the other hand I don't believe in Mary Surratt as a conspirator; Stacton's picture of her as a vague and feckless doting mother with no real sense of what was at stake and a knack for not seeing things is more convincing to me.
Apr. 15th, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
The evidence as I've read it in the dox just doesn't have her come through like that. Women running boarding houses just couldn't be like that, for starters.

Love, C,
Apr. 15th, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
I yield to your greater knowledge.
Apr. 15th, 2011 01:49 pm (UTC)
When it comes to this particular one, the glorification of the cvs lost cause in the movies I know why, actually. It began with quite other than that now-out-of-date 'liberal,' the revisionists. But now they include those who think they know history when they don't, plus revisionist glorious lost cause also, plus also very lazy script writing for motivation.

Yes, I've written articles and now working on book, along with this other book, which must be finished by end of summer, but there ya go!

Love, C.
Apr. 15th, 2011 02:10 pm (UTC)
I hope you take it back to the mild and nostalgic view of the ante-bellum South that arose in the 1930s (right in the midst of a left movement int the US) -- steamboats and plantations and girls in hoop skirts -- it precedes but is capped by Gone with the Wind. Slavery as a sort of accident corrected by the heroic Lincoln but not really anybody's fault.

A 50s voice mocking that was Tom Lehrer's:

I want to go back to the Swanee
Where pellagra makes you scrawny
And the honeysuckle clutters up the vine.
Poll Tax! Poll Tax! How I love ya How I love ya my dear old PollTax! [etc.]
Apr. 15th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
Apr. 15th, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
O yes. It began Palm Sunday, 1865, with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In fiction by northerners even, you see it in James's The Bostonians.

One of the minority of novelists in the first half of the 20th C who attempted to write honestly of the dark heart of the South was Ross Lockridge's Raintree Country (1948). The movies made a hash of that, because it could not bear to touch, or even mention, what was the heart of the novel, the dark heart that the protagonist and the narrator struggled with in one way or another through most of the novel -- slavery and racism.

Edna Ferber always dealt with these matter in fairly forthright manner with any of the racisms more than tolerated nationally, such as that against Mexican-descent people in Texas, as in Giant, racism against African Americans in Show Boat, and other leftist matters as well, such as labor and unions. She wouldn't ever be published today -- not because of her style (well, we don't write that way any more), but because of her treatment of such 'issues.'

Love, C.

Love, C.
Apr. 15th, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
Ack -- that was supposed to be Raintree County!

Love, C.
Apr. 15th, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC)
Yes -- I got that. Ross Lockridge was a figure when I went to college because of that book (I went to Indiana University), I knew his son, an odd duck, which considering his family story he had a right to be. Have you read Ross and Tom?

Your book sounds more interesting all the time. I was thinking of Show Boat as an exception.
Apr. 15th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Edna Ferber was a real lefty -- some even said commie! -- back in her day. How the country has changed in terms of its entertainment since then.

What is Ross and Tom? Book?

Love, C.
Apr. 15th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)
O, and you really need to read Saratoga Trunk to get all of what that woman believed in!

Besides, it is an interesting to watch her grappling with greedy capitalism, racism, labor vs. her attempts to make a 'good' capitalism of the good America that allows for up-by-bootstraps entrepreneurship, and social mobility, while telling a pretty good yarn.

Love, C.
Apr. 15th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC)
It's a book about Ross Lockridge and Thomas Heggen, the guy who wrote Mister Roberts. Both first books, his and Ross's, and both huge best sellers, sold to the movies, both fell into confusion and depression, wrote nothing further, and both committed suicide. Very touching book about American success and failure.

Larry Lockridge, Ross's son, the one I knew, also wrote a full-dress bio of his father.
Apr. 15th, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I am going to look for Ross and Tom.

FWIW, I still believe Raintree County is a beautiful novel about our country and how it came to be. It is so purely a post Jacksonian Age America, with the focus really on the Jacksoninan 'west' and the south.

Love, C.
Apr. 8th, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
Good heaven that’s me.

What I mean to say, but evidently didn’t since it’s causing confusion was:

As a political historical novelist and essayist Vidal has staked out much the same territory as Stacton’s about the American “empire”. Both are highly critical of the development of American history and of America's tendencies to both imperialism and isolationism. While Gore Vidal has written many essays and reviews about older forgotten writers, he is often abrasive about people who come close to sharing the same territory. Vidal projects the self-image of the fearless speaker of truths that people don’t wish to hear, and who has successful transformed these ideas and investigations of hsitory into fiction. Given that, why would he want to point out that he actually has a rival? Hence silence.

Indeed Vidal may never have read Stacton. But the impression Vidal gives is that he was a voracious reader of much mid-brow fiction of this period – into which Stacton and his reviews easily fit. The sort of things Vidal was writing in the early 60s are not dissimilar to Stacton’s political opinions, and Stacton is reviewed in the type of magazines that Vidal was appearing in, so Vidal could have easily have known about Stacton’s writings.

Maybe that makes it clearer. Maybe it doesn’t.

- matthew davis
Apr. 8th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
That makes it both clear and convincing, though I suppose in order to be a true claim there would have to be some sort of documentation (proving that he never mentions Stacton of course proves nothing.) I myself -- a non-Vidal guy, except for "Myra Breckenridge" -- am happy to suppose it true.
Apr. 9th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
I liked Vidal's empire novels very much. I think he gets it right. But also, all the books I've read that you have spoken well about, I've liked a lot, so I'm looking forward to reading Stacton.
Apr. 10th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
Симпатичный сайт! Все качественно сделано.
Как обычно, вебмастер грамотно опубликовал!

Симпатичный сайт! Все цивильно сделано.
Apr. 13th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
More on Stacton
I started reading Stacton circa 1962, and have written about him on my blog Writing Fiction (http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/fiction/2010/05/writers-revisited-david-stacton-and-the-judges-of-the-secret-court.html ). No idea if he and Vidal ever knew one another, but as historical novelists they were very different (and Stacton also wrote detective fiction and gay porn--not exactly on the level of Myra Breckenridge). But Stacton enjoyed serious reviews before his death, and was undeservedly forgotten thereafter. I hope that Judges of the Secret Court is just the first of a long string of new printings of his remarkable novels.

Crawford Kilian
Apr. 13th, 2011 10:38 am (UTC)
Re: More on Stacton
Thanks and welcome. I read your blog post on Stacton well before beginning my essay (alerted to it by Bob Nedelkoff) and found it useful. The NYRB has asked me for recommendations of other Stacton novels, and we may indeed see more -- if we all rush out and buy Judges.
Apr. 14th, 2011 08:04 am (UTC)
Apart from Judges (I'll buy it I swear), which other works of Stacton could you recommend?
Apr. 14th, 2011 11:28 am (UTC)
Re: recommending...
If you can find them (only in large libraries I'd bet) you might look for "A Dancer in Darkness," a novel based on the same Renaissance murder story that Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi" is based on. Or "Old Acquaintance," a non-historical love stroy of sorts between a figure probably based on Marlene Dietrich. Or "On a Balcony," about the pharaoh Akhenaten and his sister Nefertiti (the same story as Mika Waltari's in the much more famous "The Egyptian" but utterly different.)
Apr. 14th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Re: recommending...
Ah, many thanks! Even more difficult to get them here in Germany, but I'll try.
Apr. 19th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
I am late to this, but now I have to go through Aegypt and find where they are going to reissue Fellowes Kraft's books with similar covers.

Given NYRB classics look alike, it's not quite like they're doing a uniform Stacton edition, but it's enough of an echo for a frisson. I have noticed they sometimes use the color schemes if they have more than one title by an author.
Jun. 10th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
Stacton recommendations
Just picked up newest NYRB novel by Stacton with intro by J. Crowley.

Can anyone recommend other Stacton novels to read? Introduction has peeked my curiosity.

Jun. 11th, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Stacton recommendations
See above response to dalaruan.
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