Emilie Loring: Good Company

Today is yours wprEmilie Loring’s readers needed no reviews or advertising; they placed their orders as soon as Today is Yours was announced. Within a week, the book was sixth on the best-seller list, behind Sinclair Lewis and Pearl Buck but ahead of Agatha Christie and Faith Baldwin. These are the best-sellers of February, 1938:

  1. The Prodigal Parents, Sinclair Lewis
  2. The Citadel, A. J. Cronin
  3. This Proud Heart, Pearl S. Buck
  4. The Rains Came, Louis Bromfield
  5. Bow Down to Wood and Stone, Josephine Lawrence
  6. Today is Yours, Emilie Loring
  7. Trumpets Calling, Dora Aydelotte
  8. Enchanted Oasis, Faith Baldwin
  9. Northwest Passage, Kenneth Roberts
  10. Hell on Ice, Edward Ellsberg
  11. Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie

To put the list in perspective, Sinclair Lewis and Pearl Buck had each earned both the Nobel Prize in Literature and a Pulitzer by this time. A. J. Cronin’s novel about the British medical system was made into a movie right away. (Incidentally, Cronin spent the next six summers in Blue Hill, Maine, where Emilie also summered.) Louis Bromfield had earned a Pulitzer, and most of his books were made immediately into films. Josephine Lawrence was a step lower in esteem, but she was still a several-time, Book-of-the-Month-Club author.  Fine company, indeed.

Below Emilie Loring on the list, Faith Baldwin and Agatha Christie had careers much like Emilie’s.  They wrote to entertain and sold a lot of books in consequence. Baldwin earned over $300,000 that year in royalties (which is a lot of books at 15%), and this was Agatha Christie’s twenty-fourth popular mystery.

Emilie Loring earned no Pulitzer—although she was nominated—but her unique style sold books like hotcakes.

“Refreshing is the word which best describes Mrs. Loring’s delightful romances. There is always a fascinating plot twist and her characters are the kind of high-spirited people you’d like to meet in real life.” Grosset & Dunlap advertisement

Emilie’s stories entertained, but they did even more: they respected the reader. Effective prose, lively dialogue, and ideas worth considering lifted Emilie Loring novels some notches above run-of-the-mill romances.

“Here’s your story. It’s good. You have a fine style. Who was it said ‘style in writing is like good manners in human intercourse’?” Give Me One Summer, 1936

ELtea wpr 600
From Emilie Loring’s table

Emilie admired style–in writing and in life.

“After all, living is the biggest thing any of us have to do. Why not treat it as an art rather than in hit-or-miss fashion?”

I like to think of how Emilie might have styled this week leading up to Christmas, and that’s easy to do, because she described it so often.

Linda entered Ruth’s living room to find it in the state of colored paper, brilliant ribbons and glittering tinsel which immediately precedes Christmas. There were packages already tied and labeled for the post, others swathed in gay wrappings; there were books and handkerchiefs, bags and scarfs on a table awaiting their turn. There Is Always Love

Dress for a holiday party? Glitz and glamour!

“The gold-net skirt and the scarlet jacket. It looks Christmasy. Toss me the gold sandals… On the third finger sparkled the diamond setting of an emerald ring which extended from second to third joint.“ There Is Always Love

I have never had a gold-net skirt and scarlet jacket, but I have put these on in imagination, many times.

When she went visiting, Emilie took her hard sauce for the Christmas pudding. It was a confection in which she took a measure of pride.

“Made the hard sauce for the plum puddings. Would you believe it, Mr. Buff whispered to me that Madam Steele said the cook’s always made her think of the sand pies she used to make as a child.” She bridled with pride. “Mine was as smooth as whipped cream.” There Is Always Love

hard sauce sq wprI have been reading about this hard sauce for ages, and at last, I decided to try my hand at it. You might want to try it, too. There are many variations, but this is Emilie’s, from her 1914 cookbook.

From the contents of my preserve closet I can always present a delicious dessert, but I do keep on hand one can of plum pudding in case of need; when that is served piping hot with a hard sauce made by creaming one-half cup of butter and adding to it gradually one and one-half cups of confectioner’s sugar, stirring constantly, flavoring with vanilla or sherry, and crowning the lightly piled mass with grated nutmeg, it proves a great success. For the Comfort of the Family

 Pretty as it was, I’m not used to double-down sweets, so I was happy to recall Emilie’s other Christmas favorite: a large, naval orange, peeled and then sliced into little rounds and eaten with dainty forks. These are extra steps, style steps, that we don’t usually take, and they elevate a simple experience to elegance. Try it and see if your orange doesn’t taste a little more special.

This is a busy week, and it’s all we can do, sometimes, to just keep up.  Try a new recipe?  Take extra time to do anything?! My tendency is to cut a corner here and there–and there, too–but when I read an Emilie Loring book, I’m inspired to invest some moments in grace and style.  “After all, living is the biggest thing any of us have to do. Why not treat it as an art rather than in hit-or-miss fashion?”

Enjoy your week, and let me know, if you take time to read one of 1938’s best-sellers or if you try an idea from one of Emilie’s books. I especially want to know if one of you gets that gold net skirt!

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