Later Published Writings
of the author of the Vale novels
The Friends of the Goddard Library at Clark University has published Pencil Shavings, Prouty's memoirs, and Between the Barnacles and Bayberries, her collected poems. They still have copies for sale. In these two books we get a fresh dose of Prouty, the author's view of her experiences.
Between the Barnacles and Bayberries 1
It is September. I am lying on the rocks—bright, apricot-colored rocks near the bayberries where the sun shines all day long.
Dull, olive-colored rocks near the barnacles where the salt waves rush up and wash the pink sun-glow off.
I am lying halfway between the barnacles and bayberries.
I am facing the sun. I close my eyes, and let it shine full upon my face.
I let it have all of me, as I have all of it, for the sun is like a searchlight,
and there is only one path between it and the single small circle on the earth it turns its face upon.
I alone am in that circle. I alone am the sun's desire
This cool September morning, as I lie upon the rocks
halfway between the barnacles and bayberries.
This is a rite I perform every year, before I go home
to my five stories of furniture and hangings
packed in between bricks and mortar.
I am not young. I am a woman of forty. Yet I come out
on the rocks every year and close my eyes
and give myself to the sun.
And drink deep of the joy of sound—late crickets in the bayberries,
mingling with the wash of waves on the barnacles.
And of the joy of color—apricot and olive, aquamarine and cobalt blue,
tangerine and blood orange.
For the sun, burning against my closed lids,
turns the shifting light-dust between them
from purple and blue like a grotto
to yellow and red like a fire.
Pencil Shavings 1 — Prouty's memoirs
This book shares some of the author’s failures and successes. It recounts her dealings with editors and publishers, both early in her career and later when she wrote her Vale novels. She said that she cared not as much for the finished article as for the process of its making, "irrespective of the rating of its quality." (Pencil, p. 230). She needed to write in order to complete herself.
The memoir tells an amusing story of her seeing the movie Stella Dallas—one of her creative offspring that got out of her control.
Its preview in New York was no gala occasion. It took place in a projection room at Radio City with some forty or fifty guests of Mr. Goldwyn's. Lewis and I had some difficulty in locating the projection room and the lights were lowered when we arrived. Our host met us at the door and led us to the seats he had reserved which were not together. I groped my way to the empty chair which my host indicated at the end of a short row, murmuring thank you's and apologies.
I was not introduced to the person seated beside me. He had no idea that I had any connection with the picture and I had no idea who he was or what he looked like. But I soon discovered he was full of wit and charm. We joined in laughter at the wrong places. At the teary places he told me he had an extra handkerchief if I needed it and as the picture proceeded we agreed that it was "not our cup of tea." It wasn't until after I had bidden him goodnight that I learned that my companion was an ex-governor of New York, none other than Al Smith. In spite of Mr. Smith's and my opinion of the picture it proved to be another success for Samuel Goldwyn.
Pencil Shavings reveals her thoughts in writing Home Port, the sequel to Now, Voyager. Unfortunately she says nothing about the writing of Lisa Vale. The memoirs talk of the writing of Now, Voyager in a chapter called “The Hide of a Rhinoceros”. She needed a thick skin after reading the review of Now, Voyager in The New York Times. This review saw none of the quality of the novel—saw it as woman’s fiction and nothing more. Prouty says “The theme of Now, Voyager is a woman’s nervous breakdown. Much of the action takes place in a sanitarium similar to the Riggs Foundation in Stockbridge and one of the important roles is that of the doctor in charge.” Here we meet the progenitor of Dr. Jaquith and Cascades. Prouty describes her own time at Austen Riggs Foundation in the preceding chapter of her memoirs called “The Right End of the Leash”. When Prouty worries that she is neglecting her children when she engages in her writing, Dr. Riggs says “There it goes! That New England conscience of yours! You mustn’t let it lead you. You must get onto the right end of the leash and lead it.”
She took part in script revisions for the Hollywood movie version. As described in the memoirs,
Soon after the signing of the contract Mr. Wilk of Warner Brothers informed me that Casey Robinson was to write the film version and advised me to get in touch with him. Mr. Robinson and I exchanged several letters before he began the undertaking, and assured me that he would mail me the script before the picture went into rehearsal. In due time the script arrived with a letter asking for my comments and announcing that rehearsals would begin within a fortnight.
I had never seen the manuscript of a moving picture before. I spent several hours becoming acquainted with such terms as “close shot, angle shot, moving shot,” and such fascinating directions as “camera holds, camera shoots through, camera pulls back, camera pans to centre,” etc., etc. The single word SOUND in capitals appeared frequently followed by intriguing details. The descriptions of the sets, and the camera directions consumed far more space than the dialogue. The dialogue was typed in the centre of the page, with only seven or eight words to a line leaving wide margins on each side, convenient for “my comments” with which my mind was seething after the first reading.
I set to work immediately covering all available space on Mr. Robinson’s neatly typed pages with not only comments but suggestions. For instance the picture opened with an exterior view of the Vales’ residence on Marlborough Street, described as approached by a drive, flanked by stone pillars on one of which the name VALE appeared on a large brass plaque. I wrote in the margin “No such residence with pillars exists on Marlborough Street in Boston, and names on brass plaques are confined chiefly to doctors.”
I had three copies made of Mr. Robinson’s script and sent one to Mr. Robinson and another to Irving E. Rapper, the director of the film. There wasn’t a single page that escaped my comments in red type. Sometimes I added an extra page or two. There followed a lively correspondence between Mr. Robinson and myself, carried on largely by telegrams sometimes covering two pages of telegram blanks. The few portions of my suggestions that were accepted made the effort worthwhile. Although the stone pillars and brass plaque remained, I was gratified by rescuing my psychiatrist from a portrayal of the stereotype stage-doctor. It was a delight to hear the speeches I had rewritten spoken by Claude Raines, who enacted the role to my perfect satisfaction. Another screen portrayal that coincided with my conception of the character was Tina, the little girl, played by twelve-year-old Janice Wilson.
Here Prouty recounts the transformation of Now, Voyager into a movie. If Mrs. Prouty hadn't held out for more money when Warner Brothers bid on the movie rights for Home Port, we may have had another classic film to enjoy today. And we could have met more of Lisa Vale's children on screen.