Emilie Loring: Cardigans of Literature

“I am practically disqualified as a writer.”

Vogue‘s assistant editor Marjorie Hillis wrote in the Boston Globe:

Some of the reading I have been doing lately makes me feel that I am practically disqualified as a writer. You see, I have never been to Russia. I have never been in jail. I haven’t worked in a chain gang, and nobody has ever been shot down at my right elbow and spattered blood across my new suede pumps.

If I’d just been born 20 years earlier, everything might have been all right. Once when I was very young and my mother was ill, Dr, Lyman Abbot wrote her a letter recommending a list of “comfortable books.” It was a long list, and most of the books were best-sellers.

But it’s hard work to find three “comfortable books” worth reading in the bookstore today. Comfort has practically disappeared from literature.

Comfort has practically disappeared from literature.

“Good spectacular suffering is what the public seems to want”

Good spectacular suffering is what the public seems to want, and they like it better if the writer experiences it before he (or she!) writes about it.

I could feel more hopeful if I thought I could get away with a mere life-and-death case of smallpox, but nowadays, if you have anything as tame as that, you have to have it in the desert, with the temperature at 120 and the enemy’s tom-toms beating in your ears. It’s even better to have a leg or two sawed off without an anaesthetic and the doctor taunting you as he hacks. Digging yourself out of a New England snowstorm was once an adventure, but now it’s just sissy. If you’re going to write about the weather, the least you can do is to spend a couple of nights on a peak in Tibet with an icy wind piercing your tattered tweeds and the guides deserting.

. . . It wouldn’t be so bad if the autobiographical tendency weren’t getting more and more important. But my life seems so unsuitable! Even if I start off on a long trip the ship isn’t blown up, the crew doesn’t mutiny, and when I land, the innkeepers have cleaned up all the hotels with disinfectants, and the local dictator doesn’t bother to throw me into solitary confinement.

Perhaps I’d better give up the idea of writing and just quietly starve to death. Perhaps I’ll have to.

The Boston Globe, January 5, 1937

Marjorie Hillis didn’t have to starve. Her “radical self-help book,” Live Alone and Like It, was funny, charming, wise–and a blockbuster. Her premise was that, at some point, most women will live alone, “even if only now and then between husbands,” and she proposed to help them enjoy it in style.

Hers wasn’t a book of “recipes for the girl on a budget” or tips on “how to catch a man.” The woman on her own could be chic, comfortable, and utterly contented in her solo life, if she went about it intelligently, with both optimism and humor.

The point is that there is a technique about living alone successfully, as there is about doing anything really well… You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself.

But to do it well, you’ll need at least two things: a mental picture of yourself as a gay and independent person, and spunk enough to get the picture across to the other person.

Live Alone and Like It

Critics didn’t care for Marjorie’s book, which they called superficial and trivial. “The book belongs to the charm school of literature which flourishes so luxuriously at the moment.”

But readers loved it. Live Alone and Like It required six printings in its first month and showed no signs of slowing down six months later.

Just as much a part of the real world

Emilie Loring was on the same wavelength. Her novels were equal parts adventure, mystery, and romance. Her characters were confident, independent, pursued worthy goals, and found equal partners in love. No “miseries, ironies, vain hopes, and frustrated dreams” for her:

“I want to write the kind of story—it will be just as much a part of the real world—that will cause persons who see ‘Melissa Barclay’ on a cover to plump down their problems—and incidentally the price—and seize the book. If, when they reach ‘the end’ they forget to go back for their problems and march blithely toward the day’s work pepped up and refreshed, refreshed—it’s a great word, isn’t it—I shall feel that I have achieved something.”

Give Me One Summer

Emilie said it often: “The beautiful things in life are just as real as the ugly things in life.” A pleasant story could be just as real as an unpleasant one–and nicer to read for entertainment. She wouldn’t have succeeded with the other kind; she was too cheerful and optimistic.

“Who was it said ‘style in writing is like good manners in human intercourse’?”

Give Me One Summer

At the start of Give Me One Summer, twenty-five-year-old Melissa Barclay was about to be a woman on her own, having cared three years for an elderly aunt who had now died. “What next?” was the question.

Maybe everyone had to wrench free from the pattern someone else had designed for her…

“I’m a new person even before I’m in a new environment. Re-orienting myself, I suppose you’d call it.”

Give Me One Summer

Deciding what to do at a crossroads was relatable. That Melissa had her own lighthouse on the rockbound coast of Maine lifted her situation out of the ordinary, added an air of romance. A handsome heir, greedy relatives, and a mystery involving both disguise and espionage captured the reader’s attention and held it. There was suspense but no terror, danger but no gore. Absorbed, late-night reading carried no risk of nightmares afterwards.

Critics dismissed Give Me One Summer as “light reading.” Readers rushed to the stores, and Emilie had another best-seller.

New York Times “The Best-selling Books,”
June 15-July13, 1936

During her lifetime, Emilie Loring sold over a million books. The late 1900s brought the total to over thirty-seven million, and recent e-book sales are nudging that number higher.

Call it comfort, light reading, entertainment–whatever the term, Emilie Loring’s novels are pleasant to read, interesting enough to return to over and again. Her books portray the kinds of lives women want to live, see them as they want to see themselves, and give them a bit of wisdom to get there.

Who reads Emilie Loring? Followers of this blog give you some idea: novelists, artists, homemakers, teachers, photographers, lawyers, interior designers, accountants, home remodelers, historians, dental hygienists, therapists, caregivers, librarians, scientists, loan officers, quilters, a policewoman, and a dollhouse maker, ranging in age from ten to ninety-five (so far!).

Somehow, always just right

Emilie Loring’s books are like cardigans, not edgy or ground-breaking, but classic, comfortable across generations, and somehow always just right.

The cardigan sweater actually came to popularity at the same time that Emilie did– in the 1920s and 30s–and has remained popular ever since. Children wear them, stars wear them, scientists, flight attendants, and queens wear them.

Emilie Loring wearing a cardigan

Emilie Loring wore cardigans, and her characters wear them, too:

Hands in the pockets of her cardigan, she stood in the great doorway…

Hilltops Clear, 1933

A crisp breeze tossed the waves of her short auburn hair, twitched at the sleeve of her moss green cardigan and her white skirt.

Keepers of the Faith, 1944

A cardigan is classic, not high fashion. When you clear out your closet, you jettison the recent fads, but you keep your cardigans.

“Emilie Lorings” are classic, too–not haute literature but good stories that have proven their worth over the years.

Classic. Comfortable. Somehow always just right.


8 thoughts on “Emilie Loring: Cardigans of Literature

  1. I never really appreciated Emily Loring until I started reading your newsletters. I used to read the books for the suspense, little realizing that the books offered so much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was similar for me. I enjoyed her books and looked her up out of casual curiosity. I had no idea that her story would be so layered and interesting, that I would come to see so much more in her books. I’m glad that you have found the blog. Thank you for writing; it’s rewarding to know that my work has connected.

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  2. I have classic cardigans as well! It fits with being an EL fan. The comfort of her books–enough excitement and suspense without horror or gore. Goodness wins. Not perfect endings, but realistic. You have QEII up there. I love the cardigans and scarves that QEII would wear in The Crown, especially in the 1950s.

    Great book reference. It could have been written today as well.

    I guess those were hardback prices in 1936. In the 1980s, I purchased several EL paperbacks for $1.49-$1.99.

    Stay safe and warm.

    Happy Landings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad to have this analogy. Sometimes it’s been hard to explain where she stands in the world of literature, and the classic cardigan expresses it for me–not the cheap kind, but one with fully fashioned shoulders and shell buttons, well crafted and enduring.

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  3. I love your analogy of cardigans and Emilie’s books, “…not edgy or ground-breaking, but classic, comfortable across generations, and somehow always just right.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Give Me One Summer. Who wouldn’t want a lighthouse and all the suspense of a bad guy with a hunky heir trying to figure things out. Rereading a later book now and the heroine wears a coral cardigan. I love em too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I changed sweater covers over and over for this post. A coral one was so pretty but had crummy buttons. I like baby blue, but that one had a big tag inside. I finally went with one of Emilie’s choices, moss green. I’ll keep my eye out for more colors now!

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