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University of Nebraska S C O T T L. G R E E N W E L L Fascists in Fiction: Two Early Novels of Mari Sandoz Mari Sandoz was a didactic writer. Because of her tendency toward instruction, she found much of American fiction — particularly romantic western novels —-thin, “without anything of the push and throb of life, totally inconsequential.”1 She liked bone and muscle in literature.2 She blamed what she considered the poor quality of domestic fiction on the American writers’ tendency to conform to the commercial market, and waged a continuous battle herself against what she termed “eastern editorial rewriting and pressure to recast [her works] on popular western notions.” 1 With few exceptions, Sandoz wrote to please herself and considered the market later. In this way she sought to achieve something more lasting, more permanent, in her work. She refused, for example, to consider making a popular book out of Old Jules, hoping instead to write “a book that will be as authentic and worth reading ten, twenty, even fifty years from now as today.”4 Sandoz is l>est known for her nonfiction, particularly the six volumes of history and biography which comprise her Great Plains or Trans- 'Sandoz to Bernard Smith, March 31, 1936, Mari Sandoz Collection, University of Nebraska Archives and Special Collections. All letters cited in this article are contained in the Sandoz collection (those from Mari Sandoz are carbon copies of originals), and the source will hereafter be abbreviated to read UNA-SC. 2Sandoz to O. W. Adams, Dec. 30, 1935, UNA-SC. "Sandoz, “Mari Sandoz Collection,” ms dated Jan. 12, 1966, UNA-SC. -•Sandoz to Frank C. Hanighen, Nov. 21, 1933, UNA-SC. 134 Western American Literature Missouri series.5 Yet Sandoz began her career writing fiction and, prior to her death in 1966, she published a total of eight books which are generally described as fiction and more than a dozen short stories. For the most part, however, her fiction has not received the same wide acclaim as her nonfiction. In fact, one student of literature found her novels so lacking that she concludes: “If a person wishes to read Mari Sandoz, he will read the non-fiction and enjoy it. But he will not find Mari Sandoz’ novels worth the effort.”1 1 While this criticism seems unduly harsh, the author herself was aware of certain shortcomings in her fiction writing. She viewed herself primarily as a historian who only aspired to be a literary artist, and was struck again and again by the inadequacy of much of her fiction.7 Although it is true that Mari Sandoz’ fiction is less effective than her nonfiction, her novels — particularly the early, more serious ones — are interesting and make a valid contribution to an understanding of the times about which they were written and of the author herself. The attempt here is to examine the first two novels Sandoz published, and to analyze their intended purpose and meaning. Sandoz considered Slogum House (1937) and Capital City (1939) among her more purposeful writings. Both novels are allegories with closely related themes. In them Sandoz deals with subjects of great and enduring concern to her — the will-to-power individual and the threat of fascism to modern society. It is significant that they were conceived and written during a period of acute economic crisis in the United States and political and economic instability abroad. Believing that serious writers, particularly beginners, “do their best work in material with which they have an emotional identity,”8 Sandoz found in the story of her father and the community he helped to estab­ lish some of the most promising material to start with. In the long and difficult process of writing Old Jules, Sandoz became acutely aware of "'Listed chronologically, the books in the series are: The Beaver Men: Spear­ heads of Empire; Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas; The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men; Cheyenne Autumn; Old Jules, and The Cattlemen: From the Rio Grande Across the Far Marias. A seventh book on oil in the Great Plains region was planned but never completed. r,Marian Barnes, “An...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 133-143
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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