There’s a new book out that suggests where William Shakespeare may have gotten not only inspiration but also settings, themes, and specific wording for eleven of his most famous plays. Researcher Dennis McCarthy used plagiarism software to detect similarities between Shakespeare’s plays and an unpublished manuscript of the time. It’s an intriguing technique that unearths influences–direct or in common–that lay behind creative works.
We don’t have to look so far into the past to discover the inspirations behind Emilie Loring’s stories, but it still takes some sleuthing, as I undertook today in With This Ring.
Where, for example, does this story take place?
Cynthia Farley survives a plane crash in California, gets rescued from a train crash in Chicago (tough trip!), and finally arrives in familiar Boston, where she sees Faneuil Hall, Washington Street, and the State House. When Alexander Houston drives her to his aunt’s home, they cross the bridge going north through Charlestown and look down on “Old Ironsides.” But then they go on to “Newbury Point,” and where is that?
The publisher makes the requisite statement about all places, persons, etc. being fictitious, and goes one step further, saying specifically that “Newbury Point is a composite of the many charming spots which abound on the New England coast.” If you watch for location clues, we can target the Massachusetts coast, near Salem, Beverly, and Gloucester, with a single trip up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for the evening.
I set my sights on Newburyport as the real “Newbury Point,” and not just because they sound similar. Alexander Houston’s Aunt Eva Shaw has written a book:
“It dealt with some of the eccentric characters of early days in America, so she titled it Off-Beat Yankees. People like Sir Timothy Dexter, who sold warming pans in the West Indies, and Johnny Appleseed, and a strange fellow called ‘The Cat Inspector of Little Rest, Rhode Island.'” With This Ring
Emilie Loring wrote at the Boston Athenaeum with several Boston authors, including Alice Brown, who was known for her books about New England characters, and John P. Marquand, who wrote the biography of the very strange Sir Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, where his family summered. To place Aunt Eva Shaw in Newburyport would be just right, and for the genealogists among you, there were several real Eva Shaws who lived there–lots of them, in fact. It appears that Eva Shaw was a popular name along the New England coast!
(This photo is of Clara Endicott Sears; I often picture Emilie’s regal, elderly women characters looking like her.)
But before we make too much of this passage about Newbury Point, who wrote it? Emilie Loring? Her sons? Miss Dennison?
The copyright is curious. “© 1955, 1959 by Selden M. Loring and Robert M. Loring.” Where is the story from 1955?
Here it is:
It’s a short story called “She Didn’t Like Flying,” published in Grit on October 30, 1955. But wait. Emilie Loring wrote a story called “She Didn’t Like Flying” that was published in the Boston Daily Globe on October 30, 1938. (It really was the same day, seventeen years later… pretty neat!)
They were not duplicates. In fact, “The story of a girl with two minds” was nearly prophetic, although it would have been more accurate to say “three.” There was the story of a girl that Emilie Loring wrote in 1938, the story that Selden and Robert “updated” in 1955, and the story that was incorporated into With This Ring by Elinore Denniston in 1959.
Read the three openings:
1938: The first intimation Gay Latimer had of danger was Eric Crane’s quick shake of the stick and seizure of the controls. She had been about to make a landing. She had done it a dozen times.
Had she blundered? She looked back at him. Impatiently he pushed his goggles up on his helmet, an infallible sign of concentration. His gray eyes were eagle keen, his thin lips tense, his face was drained of color under the skin.
1955: The first intimation Gay Latimer had that something was wrong was Eric Crane’s quick squeeze of her elbow. Without a word she let go the controls and changed seats swiftly with well rehearsed precision. She had been about to make a landing and had done it successfully a dozen times before. Had she blundered this time? Something must be very wrong to whiten her companion’s bronzed face and tense his thin lips.
1959: Cynthia’s first intimation that something was wrong came from Eric Crane’s sharp order, “Let go, I’ll take over!” He turned from peering out the window and his tanned hands flashed to the wheel of the little plane. There were two sets of controls, so she needed only to release her own grip and shift her feet from the pedals to give him command. At the same moment she glanced at Eric beside her; his face was white and tight-lipped.
How had she blundered this time, she wondered. Taking off, as she’d done dozens of times before, what stupid mistake caused her fiancé to suddenly take over? Of course there was that jolt and twist of the plane just before the landing wheels left the ground. But that was not unusual in her take-offs. Eric criticized her often for driving an airplane like a snowplow.
In all cases, a wheel has come off, and our heroine reflects on why she’s flying planes in the first place:
1938: She had sworn to herself that she would become air-minded or perish in the attempt. It looked at the present moment as if it might be perish.
1955: She had sworn to herself that she would become air-minded to please him or perish in the attempt. It looked at present as though it might be perish, she told herself impersonally, and felt a quiver of fear.
1959: Was this to be her last flight? The end of the rigid self-discipline she had administered during all of her two months’ engagement to Eric Crane, forcing herself to endure flying because flying seemed to be his whole life? What a satiric ending!
Then (romance antennae up!) she thinks of Jim Carroll, a man eight years older than she. Eight years. The same as between Emilie and Victor, a pretty good tip-off that he is the one for her.
1938: If only she had a tight hold of Jim Carroll’s hand! In times of stress she had clutched it–figuratively speaking–since he, a boy of 10, had led her, aged two, into his mother’s garden.
1955: If–if only she had tight hold of Jim Carroll’s hand. In times of stress she had clutched it, figuratively speaking, since he, a boy of ten, had pulled her, age two and dripping, from his mother’s pool.
The short stories ended with Gay and Jim united in flying and in life:
“But I’ll adore flying with you, Jim… it isn’t what you do, it’s with whom you do it that counts.”
But there was no Jim Carroll in With This Ring. A whole new story begins when Cynthia Farley arrives at Newburyport with Alexander Houston. I have to admit that I like the story very much from here. Cynthia pretends to be married (using her brother’s name for the absent husband) in order to secure a position as secretary to Aunt Eva Shaw. Alexander never believes it and falls for her; mean Eric Crane tries to win her back; and all are swept into an intrigue made of murder, thwarted love, gambling, and espionage.
Much of this part of the novel comes straight from Emilie Loring’s short story, “Hand of Fatima.” I only have the 1955 version from Grit, so I’ll guess that similar edits were applied as we’ve seen already, but it sounds like her. Miss Ober is the manager of the employment office (like the real Miss Ober who scheduled stage performances for Emilie’s father, George Baker), and the characters of Cynthia, Alexander, and Miss Eva Shaw are very much the same in story and book.
The story’s lucky piece changes, though:
She stared at the bit of gold filagree in the youth’s not too clean palm. It was shaped like a hand, flat, thin as a wafer, with a blue stone in the center.
The boy recommended eagerly: “Hand of Fatima. Lucky-piece. It’s guaranteed to bring the breaks your way.
She peered at the bit of gilded metal, poked it with a gloved finger. It was a miniature star.
“It’s a lucky star, see?” the budding salesman recommended. “Sure to bring you all kinds of good breaks.”
There’s very little “With this ring” theme in the story, but that’s forgotten in the fun of reading. If you haven’t seen this one in awhile, it’s worth the journey to Newburyport.
She sent the plane skyward. Something seemed to snap within her as it soared. “Give your heart a chance to grow wings, Doc Barnes had said. Was that what she felt? Wings sprouting?
A wild sense of freedom set her pulses racing.
“She Didn’t Like Flying,” 1938