Books reflect the characters of the people who write them. Their language and tone, their themes and plot lines, the experience awaiting inside a book’s cover, all depend on the author.
Of course, the rest takes place inside the reader, when the author’s words combine with the reader’s imagination, character, experience, and thoughts. That’s how we come to have our favorite books and favorite authors. Somehow, the printed word connects with us in a way that we enjoy, and we want more of it. We read favorite books again. We read more books by the same author and never tire of them. Their familiarity becomes part of their charm, and our connection to the author feels personal.
Happy Landings: The Life Behind Emilie Loring’s Stories begins:
Books have histories. They spring from a place and a time and a pen that mark them as uniquely as fingerprints.
Emilie Loring’s writing was uniquely hers–and inevitable, given her history. She grew up in an unconventional home, immersed in the best of nineteenth-century literature and dramatics, encouraged by an atmosphere of good humor and high purpose. She was listened to from an early age, so that her voice came freely when it was her turn to write.
The thirty novels that Emilie Loring wrote and published in her lifetime are distinct from the later books (See the list here), because the later books were at least partially written by ghostwriters. Emilie Loring’s voice still sounds, her vision still creates some of the scenes, stories, and themes, but there are other voices as well, and they have their own tone.
Elinore Denniston (1900-1978) was one of the ghostwriters. By turns, she worked as a translator, a ghostwriter, and a solo author. After Emilie Loring’s death in 1951, the Loring sons and Little, Brown hired her to complete For All Your Life and My Dearest Love. Around the same time, she brought out her own mystery series under the pseudonym Rae Foley. These were called “run-of-the-mill,” her plots “unimaginative.”
Denniston took dictation and posthumously finished an autobiography for the playwright and theatrical producer Theresa Helburn (1959). She did the same for Eleanor Roosevelt’s last book, Tomorrow is Now (1962). Over time, she wrote as herself, Elinore Denniston, and under two more pseudonyms, Dennis Allan and Helen Maxwell.
Authors can write no better than their characters allow, and reviews reveal how different Denniston was from Emilie Loring. She did not “waste words describing settings or people,” “did not seem partial to lawyers,” and although some of her heroines were intelligent, others were “quite naive, some downright stupid.” A demoralized male lead in Denniston’s “Madness in the Spring” is “hounded by a relentless conscience… that stalked him like an FBI criminal.”
Compare Denniston’s titles–No Tears for the Dead, Malice Domestic, Dangerous to Me, Fear of a Stranger—and Emilie Loring’s: Here Comes the Sun! Today is Yours, High of Heart, Keepers of the Faith.
Imagine, then, the task she had to complete Emilie Loring’s optimistic, descriptive stories with Emilie’s voice and style. A Key to Many Doors is an example.
It had been a long while since I’d last read the original, serial story that was the seed for this novel. Now more than one hundred years old, The People’s Home Journal took me easily back to 1915, when Borden’s milk made “Better Babies” and Victrolas were “the instrument for dance music.”
Philip Neville is a wealthy engineer who feels compelled to be of service to the world. Nancy Elliston has “a certain zest and sweetness about her” which is infectious. Both are aboard a steamer headed for Juneau, Alaska.
Slowly and majestically, like a great white swan, the steamer sailed past Douglas Island. A glittering, sparkling channel, like a sapphire chain, separated the island from the city of Juneau, where, on a terrace half way up the hill, a vine-covered cottage showed in modest relief. (1915)
Philip, who has been jilted by his fiancé, Cynthia, overhears a conversation between a passenger and “charming Miss Elliston:”
“Your father left you in my charge and dependent upon me until you marry. Until you do, the property cannot be divided. I want my share and, as you have no other prospects, I intend that you shall marry Dick Stowell or you will have to shift for yourself. Do you think that I brought you two on this jaunt for my pleasure? You can make up your mind before we reach Juneau tomorrow. If you do not promise to marry Stowell I shall leave you there.”
Nancy defies her guardian:
“There is no condition in the will as to whom I marry, and understand me now, it will never be that liquor-soaked, degenerate nephew of yours.”
Later, Philip approaches her:
“What will you do? Have you money? Do not consider me impertinent, but I really want to be of service.” …
Even in her distress her natural joyousness of spirit and love of fun flashed out, and the dimples were in full play as she looked up and said: “You don’t happen to know of any nice, steady, thoroughly respectable man looking for a housekeeper, who would marry a maiden all forlorn to help her gain her inheritance, do you?”
I offer you the protection of my home and my name in exchange for–your companionship only. There is nothing sentimental in the proposition… you can gain your rightful inheritance, and I will be blessed with the society of a delightful comrade for the next two years…”
Fast-forward fifty-plus years to 1967 when A Key to Many Doors was published. I liked this story from the beginning. I liked the first scene in the art gallery, and I liked the relationship between Nancy’s brother and the maid, Helen.
Peter Gerard is a wealthy diplomat who puts his career on hold to investigate subversive activities in his hometown. Nancy Jones cares for her brother, Noah, who has been disfigured by a car accident.
After the overheated hospital, with its inevitable smells of ether and medications, the air felt fresh and clean. As clean, that is, as New York air can ever be. (1967)
When Noah complains that Nancy is sacrificing too much for him, she lies that she is happily engaged to be married. At the art gallery, she overhears Peter’s reply when greedy Cynthia Barbee breaks off her engagement to him:
“Don’t make any mistake about it,” Peter said, his eyes cold and bleak. “I’d marry any girl–the first girl I met–rather than marry you as you really are.”
Nancy approaches him:
“Did you mean it?” she asked.
“Mean what?” He spoke vaguely, wishing that the tiresome girl would go away, take her troubles elsewhere. He had enough troubles of his own.
“That you would marry the first girl you met?”
His voice was suddenly hard. “What’s that got to do with you?”
“Well, I wondered–in that case–will you marry me?”
They agree that marriage will give each of them a useful cover story, but there is no talk of companionship.
“I simply need a reason for holing up in Simonton for a while, but now your brother’s condition can supply that reason more plausibly.” He added coldly but with deadly conviction, “If you ever betray me to anyone, for any reason, you’ll wish you had never been born.”
It could be argued that Elinore Denniston delivered just what was needed for the postmodern times in which she wrote. The 1960s were more cynical, less formal, than 1915. On the other hand, The Solitary Horseman, originally published in 1928, was a best-seller the following year. Was it necessary to “update” the later stories for the ’60s?
Emilie Loring began each of her books with a theme that was often told in its title. This is how Elinore Denniston treated the key to many doors theme, presented in both stories by the minister at the couple’s marriage:
“Marriage, of course,” the clergyman was saying when she heeded his words again, “is a key to many doors.”
Bluebeard’s door, Nancy thought.
“That key may lead to a sympathetic comradeship which increases in sweetness and strength and understanding as the years pass; it may lead to the pitfalls of intolerance and irritability. A united life, Peter and Anne. A patient and long understanding of each other’s convictions and tastes and temperaments. The ability to bend a little, to give up a little. Sometimes I think it is only the small things that count, that disrupt a marriage, the momentary and trivial irritations. The same key fits many doors. Some may open on joy and some on sorrow. You can encounter either confidently if you love each other enough and keep locked the doors of doubt and distrust.”
Doubt and distrust. Behind his unrevealing face Peter was sardonically amused. About the only feelings he had toward the girl at his side were those of doubt and distrust.
This is how Emilie Loring wrote it:
“Remember, my child–marriage is the key to many doors. One leads to a sympathetic comradeship, which increases in sweetness and strength and understanding as the years pass. One opens the way to flagrant disregard of laws, both human and divine, or to petty misunderstandings and dissensions. The same key fits many doors, some opening on joys and sorrows, which are the common lot. Believe in your husband, and keep any door leading to distrust or doubt of him securely locked!”
The theme and basic premise of the plot line are the same for both stories. Beyond those, differences accumulate, so that each story is worth its own reading. Does one appeal to you more than another?
Emilie Loring wrote thirty novels in their entirety, plus serials, short stories, articles, and partially-completed manuscripts. If you are interested only in her completed works, these will be the ones you seek. (Check copyrights; Emilie Loring died in 1951.)
Until works are published, though, one’s writing is only story potential; it takes someone to finish and publish them before they can reach the reading public. Even then, there are levels of publishing. Emilie’s homemaking books were collections of articles that she had already published in magazines. She also up-cycled portions of shorter works when she wrote her novels. For example, she re-used Alaska scenes from “The Key to Many Doors” when she wrote Lighted Windows and Behind the Cloud.
I can see, then, how her sons would have looked at the nearly-completed stories she left behind and decided to complete them, so they, too, could reach the public. The first few, For All Your Life, My Dearest Love, I Take This Man, and The Shadow of Suspicion came from novellas and nearly-completed manuscripts. Look to the Stars was a partial rewrite of a completed novel her publisher had rejected the first time around. Later stories were cobbled together from shorter works, “as by” Emilie Loring, and some of these were ghostwritten by her sons–“Loring” novels, then, if not entirely “Emilie Loring” novels.
We’ll visit another time about the effect of the later books on Emilie Loring’s literary reputation, and maybe you’ll chime in about how you like each era of her books. Meanwhile, I hope everyone who loves a good story and language used well will give her books a try. I have read all of them, over and over again.
A Key to Many Doors (1967) just came out as an e-book, and soon, it will be joined by originals Fair Tomorrow (1931) and To Love and to Honor (1950), the mostly-Emilie hybrid I Take This Man (1954), and later ghostwritten titles, In Times Like These (1968) and The Shining Years (1972). With luck, the rest of her backlist will join them before long.