February 12, 1940
Dear Mrs. Prouty:
I like it enormously. It seems to me the most effective and intriguing beginning of any of your books so far. Notwithstanding my handicap as a critic, which you mention (I don’t see what we can do about it), I am already deeply concerned in the fortunes of your heroine and will just about pass out unless you can find some measure of permanent happiness for her at the end of the story.
I believe that this very sincere feeling on my part is the best possible evidence that the thing should prove an extremely successful book.
Answering your specific questions, I do not think the tale opens too slowly. The travel background etched in is very vivid and interesting and catches the reader at once. One enjoys the veracity of your observation and memory: little touches like the small package tied with a loop for the forefinger are helpful. The comparison of the scene to an old-fashioned backdrop is happily chosen. The reader feels from the very first page that he is into something that he is going to enjoy very much indeed, though I do think your first sentence ought to be enlarged so as to read:
“A blizzard was raging in New York; so it had been reported by Marconi-gram on the ship’s bulletin in port that morning.”
Otherwise the reader is held up for a moment in the very first paragraph wondering how in hell the ladies sitting on the terrace in the sun could have known what the weather was at the moment in New York. Also I think the immediate indication that she was just off a ship helps the initial interest.
Yes, I do think there is just a shade too much flash-back in Chapter V, particularly along through pages 5, 6, and 7 and again on 9 and 10. I think these could be pruned a little and made more, shall we say, “imagistic” to advantage.
No, there is not too much detailed description of the processes of a lady’s thought and I think it would be unconvincing to speed up the progress of her affair with Durrance. The slow but steady growth of their interest in one another is, to my mind, one of the sound and good things in the development of the story.
In short, the whole idea and plan of the novel seem to me very happily conceived. I should suppose that the book would sufficiently satisfy the curiosity of the reading public about the further fortunes of the Vale family but I have a strong suspicion that they, like me, are going to be much more interested in Charlotte than in Lisa.
I hope you are not going to keep me waiting long for more. And can you, by any chance, give us any kind of prognostication as to when you expect to finish?
The weekend was a rather hectic and unhappy one, including the first attack on my income tax return with one ear on the radio for news from Lord Tweedsmuir in Montreal, but I had an hour or two of real pleasure from your manuscript. Thank you,
P.S. We are returning the manuscript from the Chilton Club.
MS Am 1925 (1462), Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co. archive, Houghton Library, Harvard University