“The first week in December… It was also the week in which she had returned to the United States after eight years in Europe… What lay ahead? Whatever it was she could take it, she was tingling to meet it.” Across the Years
The inspiration for Emilie Loring’s Across the Years was a visit to her friend Louise Hallett in the nation’s capital. Louise had returned to the United States after many years in Europe, and she rented an apartment at the Mayflower Hotel.
“Tell him the Senator’s orders changed my plans, that I must attend a tea at the Mayflower.” … Less than two hours later she was in the midst of a crush of envoys, reporters, socialites, senators, congressmen, their constituents from the sticks and wide-eyed women who were seeing Washington for the first time. The sound of music melted into the hum of voices the scent of spring flowers mingled with exotic perfumes.”
Four blocks from the White House, the Mayflower Hotel truly was the “Grand Dame of Washington, D.C.” with more 24K gold leaf decoration than any building except the Library of Congress. The Mayflower’s newsletter claimed that its daily register of guests “has always reflected the national and international scene.” Franklin D. Roosevelt stayed at the Mayflower the night before his inauguration in 1933 and wrote his famous first inaugural there–“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Every inaugural ball since Coolidge had been held in its Grand Ballroom, and when Charles Lindbergh flew around the world, his 1000-guest, celebration breakfast was held at the Mayflower.
She detoured to Constitution Avenue, and entered the Smithsonian for a glimpse of the Spirit of St. Louis. The sight of the small plane always fired her with the determination to make good. If a man could fly across the Atlantic in that toy why should she fear to attempt any difficult thing? Answer: She shouldn’t.
In Across the Years, Faith Jarvis comes to Washington to work as social secretary to Senator Teele’s sister. Both her brother, Ben, and his best friend, Duke Tremaine, work for the senator, and both are also engaged in hush-hush, anti-spy activities. It isn’t long before Faith is involved in mystery, counter-espionage, and romance against the backdrop of pre-World War II politics. Senator Teele expressed a prevailing sentiment of that time:
“I honestly believe that war is on the way out of the world. That belief isn’t super-optimism, it’s anti-defeatism. I believe, also, that if this country is adequately prepared to meet aggression, war as a means of settling international quarrels will be given a hurry-up shove toward extinction.”
The Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, White House and National Mall provided the story’s realistic backdrop. Duke Tremaine’s Argyle House, which “makes even the most blasé cave-dweller sigh with envy,” was real. So, too, were Emilie’s forty silver boxes that she mentions not once, not twice, but five times in the story.
“She filled two week-end cases, one with silver boxes, they were the darlings of her heart.”
“Remember I told you I had a present for you? Here it is.” From his pocket he drew the heart-shaped silver box. “With all my love.”
In one fanciful scene, the Teeles’ duck, Jemima, escapes the house and runs around Dupont Circle.
What was that white thing ahead? It couldn’t be! It was! Jemima waddling toward her in the middle of the sidewalk…”Jemima. Nice Jemima!” she cajoled… She was angrily aware that she was making a spectacle of herself as the duck squatted, flew, pranced on tiptoes and she raced, clutched, raced and clutched with no success to the accompaniment of chuckles, cheers, guffaws, shouts of good-natured derision from persons passing. Duke had said that the world needed laughter. Thanks to the act that silly duck was putting on, it was getting it this morning–plus.
Surprisingly, this was true, too. The real duck’s name was Osgood, and it lived at 1826 Massachusetts Avenue, the pet of a Mr. Thomas Henson. In the heaviest of traffic, the duck would waddle out and splash in puddles, amazing passers-by and disrupting traffic until its fun was over.
All too familiar are Madame Carr’s observations about Washington politics:
“The surface is stimulating, shining, mirroring high ideals, brilliant plans, honest thinking and endeavor, but underneath, the current of temptation runs strong and deep to sweep men from their feet, the temptation to use power and prestige and the trust of fellow workers for self gain.”
Madame Carr and Duke Tremaine recognize that Faith is incorruptible.
“She knows the world yet the knowledge hasn’t tarnished her spirit or her belief in the best. One can’t call her innocent, because there is no longer the ignorance of life we used to call innocence.”
“Perhaps not, but there’s a lot, a whole lot of decency, which takes its place. Decency, standards, and a sense of moral responsibility which guards against cheapness.”
Across the Years
I think this is an important point to make about Emilie Loring’s central characters. They are neither oblivious nor perfect, but they strive for high ideals, and when they falter, they pick themselves up and do better. Emilie was criticized for this, as though, in a work of fiction, a person of good character was too unrealistic–not the treachery, bigamy, espionage plot, or kidnapping that are also part of the story.
I suppose it comes down to what one believes about humankind, and I like what Gene Stratton Porter, author of Girl of the Limberlost, said about that: “A thing utterly baffling to me is why the life history of the sins and shortcomings of a man should constitute a book of realism, and the life history of a just and incorruptible man should constitute a book of idealism. Is not a moral man as real as an immoral one?”
When Emilie began this story in December 1938, a newspaper correspondent from London wrote, “Europe is drifting into a war which will break out next spring unless the present international tension is relaxed within a month or two.” She finished the story in April with hope that the worst could still be averted:
“I honestly believe that as a means of settling international difficulties war is on the way out and that it becomes more and more the duty of the United States to preserve peace…” Across the Years
By October 1939, when Across the Years was published, war in Europe had begun. Emilie had time for two more novels, There is Always Love and Where Beauty Dwells before Pearl Harbor brought the United States out of peace and into the second World War of her lifetime.