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Alice Adams

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Vintage Movie Classics

Written by Booth TarkingtonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Booth Tarkington
Foreword by Anne EdwardsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Anne Edwards

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On Sale: March 25, 2014
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-8041-7081-9
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The basis for George Stevens’s major motion picture starring Katharine Hepburn in her Oscar-nominated leading role.

In a small Midwestern town in the wake of World War I, Alice Adams delightedly finds herself being pursued by Arthur Russell, a gentleman of a higher social class in life. Desperate to keep her family's lower-middle-class status a secret, she and her parents concoct various schemes to keep their family afloat. Though the realities of her situation eventually reveal themselves and her relationship with Arthur fizzles, Alice's acceptance of this leads her to seek out work to support her family with an admirable resiliency. An enchanting and authentic tale of a family's aspirations to seek more out of life, Alice Adams reveals the strength of the human spirit and its incredible ability to evolve.
 
Originally published in 1921, this bestselling Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was adapted into film twice, and its heroine, the sparkling Alice Adams, still resonates with readers today.

With a new foreword by Anne Edwards.

Vintage Movie Classics spotlights classic films that have stood the test of time, now rediscovered through the publication of the novels on which they were based.

Excerpt

1

The patient, an old-­fashioned man, thought the nurse made a mistake in keeping both of the windows open, and her sprightly disregard of his protests added something to his hatred of her. Every evening he told her that anybody with ordinary gumption ought to realize that night air was bad for the human frame. “The human frame won’t stand everything, Miss Perry,” he warned her, resentfully. “Even a child, if it had just ordinary gumption, ought to know enough not to let the night air blow on sick people—­yes, nor well people, either! ‘Keep out of the night air, no matter how well you feel.’ That’s what my mother used to tell me when I was a boy. ‘Keep out of the night air, Virgil,’ she’d say. ‘Keep out of the night air.’ ”

“I expect probably her mother told her the same thing,” the nurse suggested.

“Of course she did. My grandmother——”

“Oh, I guess your grandmother thought so, Mr. Adams! That was when all this flat central country was swampish and hadn’t been drained off yet. I guess the truth must been the swamp mosquitoes bit people and gave ’em malaria, especially before they began to put screens in their windows. Well, we got screens in these windows, and no mosquitoes are goin’ to bite us; so just you be a good boy and rest your mind and go to sleep like you need to.”

“Sleep?” he said. “Likely!”

He thought the night air worst of all in April; he hadn’t a doubt it would kill him, he declared. “It’s miraculous what the human frame will survive,” he admitted on the last evening of that month. “But you and the doctor ought to both be taught it won’t stand too dang much! You poison a man and poison and poison him with this April night air——”

“Can’t poison you with much more of it,” Miss Perry interrupted him, indulgently. “To-­morrow it’ll be May night air, and I expect that’ll be a lot better for you, don’t you? Now let’s just sober down and be a good boy and get some nice sound sleep.”

She gave him his medicine, and, having set the glass upon the center table, returned to her cot, where, after a still interval, she snored faintly. Upon this, his expression became that of a man goaded out of overpowering weariness into irony.

“Sleep? Oh, certainly, thank you!”

However, he did sleep intermittently, drowsed between times, and even dreamed; but, forgetting his dreams before he opened his eyes, and having some part of him all the while aware of his discomfort, he believed, as usual, that he lay awake the whole night long. He was conscious of the city as of some single great creature resting fitfully in the dark outside his windows. It lay all round about, in the damp cover of its night cloud of smoke, and tried to keep quiet for a few hours after midnight, but was too powerful a growing thing ever to lie altogether still. Even while it strove to sleep it muttered with digestions of the day before, and these already merged with rumblings of the morrow. “Owl” cars, bringing in last passengers over distant trolley-­lines, now and then howled on a curve; far-­away metallic stirrings could be heard from factories in the sooty suburbs on the plain outside the city; east, west, and south, switch-­engines chugged and snorted on sidings; and everywhere in the air there seemed to be a faint, voluminous hum as of innumerable wires trembling overhead to vibration of machinery underground.

In his youth Adams might have been less resentful of sounds such as these when they interfered with his night’s sleep: even during an illness he might have taken some pride in them as proof of his citizenship in a “live town”; but at fifty-­five he merely hated them because they kept him awake. They “pressed on his nerves,” as he put it; and so did almost everything else, for that matter.

He heard the milk-­wagon drive into the cross-­street beneath his windows and stop at each house. The milkman carried his jars round to the “back porch,” while the horse moved slowly ahead to the gate of the next customer and waited there. “He’s gone into Pollocks’,” Adams thought, following this progress. “I hope it’ll sour on ’em before breakfast. Delivered the Andersons’. Now he’s getting out ours. Listen to the darn brute! What’s he care who wants to sleep!” His complaint was of the horse, who casually shifted weight with a clink of steel shoes on the worn brick pavement of the street, and then heartily shook himself in his harness, perhaps to dislodge a fly far ahead of its season. Light had just filmed the windows; and with that the first sparrow woke, chirped instantly, and roused neighbours in the trees of the small yard, including a loud-­voiced robin. Vociferations began irregularly, but were soon unanimous.

“Sleep? Dang likely now, ain’t it!”

Night sounds were becoming day sounds; the far-­away hooting of freight-­engines seemed brisker than an hour ago in the dark. A cheerful whistler passed the house, even more careless of sleepers than the milkman’s horse had been; then a group of coloured workmen came by, and although it was impossible to be sure whether they were homeward bound from night-­work or on their way to day-­work, at least it was certain that they were jocose. Loose, aboriginal laughter preceded them afar, and beat on the air long after they had gone by.

The sick-­room night-­light, shielded from his eyes by a news­paper propped against a water-­pitcher, still showed a thin glimmering that had grown offensive to Adams. In his wandering and enfeebled thoughts, which were much more often imaginings than reasonings, the attempt of the night-­light to resist the dawn reminded him of something unpleasant, though he could not discover just what the unpleasant thing was. Here was a puzzle that irritated him the more because he could not solve it, yet always seemed just on the point of a solution. However, he may have lost nothing cheerful by remaining in the dark upon the matter; for if he had been a little sharper in this introspection he might have concluded that the squalor of the night-­light, in its seeming effort to show against the forerunning of the sun itself, had stimulated some half-­buried perception within him to sketch the painful little synopsis of an autobiography.

In spite of noises without, he drowsed again, not knowing that he did; and when he opened his eyes the nurse was just rising from her cot. He took no pleasure in the sight, it may be said. She exhibited to him a face mismodelled by sleep, and set like a clay face left on its cheek in a hot and dry studio. She was still only in part awake, however, and by the time she had extinguished the night-­light and given her patient his tonic, she had recovered enough plasticity. “Well, isn’t that grand! We’ve had another good night,” she said as she departed to dress in the bathroom.

“Yes, you had another!” he retorted, though not until after she had closed the door.

Presently he heard his daughter moving about in her room across the narrow hall, and so knew that she had risen. He hoped she would come in to see him soon, for she was the one thing that didn’t press on his nerves, he felt; though the thought of her hurt him, as, indeed, every thought hurt him. But it was his wife who came first.

She wore a lank cotton wrapper, and a crescent of gray hair escaped to one temple from beneath the handkerchief she had worn upon her head for the night and still retained; but she did everything possible to make her expression cheering.

“Oh, you’re better again! I can see that, as soon as I look at you,” she said. “Miss Perry tells me you’ve had another splendid night.”

He made a sound of irony, which seemed to dispose unfavourably of Miss Perry, and then, in order to be more certainly intelligible, he added, “She slept well, as usual!”

But his wife’s smile persisted. “It’s a good sign to be cross; it means you’re practically convalescent right now.”

“Oh, I am, am I?”

“No doubt in the world!” she exclaimed. “Why, you’re practically a well man, Virgil—­all except getting your strength back, of course, and that isn’t going to take long. You’ll be right on your feet in a couple of weeks from now.”

“Oh, I will?”

“Of course you will!” She laughed briskly, and, going to the table in the center of the room, moved his glass of medicine an inch or two, turned a book over so that it lay upon its other side, and for a few moments occupied herself with similar futilities, having taken on the air of a person who makes things neat, though she produced no such actual effect upon them. “Of course you will,” she repeated, absently. “You’ll be as strong as you ever were; maybe stronger.” She paused for a moment, not looking at him, then added, cheerfully, “So that you can fly around and find something really good to get into.”

Something important between them came near the surface here, for though she spoke with what seemed but a casual cheerfulness, there was a little betraying break in her voice, a trembling just perceptible in the utterance of the final word. And she still kept up the affectation of being helpfully preoccupied with the table, and did not look at her husband—­perhaps because they had been married so many years that without looking she knew just what his expression would be, and preferred to avoid the actual sight of it as long as possible. Meanwhile, he stared hard at her, his lips beginning to move with little distortions not lacking in the pathos of a sick man’s agitation.

“So that’s it,” he said. “That’s what you’re hinting at.”

“ ‘Hinting?’ ” Mrs. Adams looked surprised and indulgent. “Why, I’m not doing any hinting, Virgil.”

“What did you say about my finding ‘something good to get into?’ ” he asked, sharply. “Don’t you call that hinting?”

Mrs. Adams turned toward him now; she came to the bedside and would have taken his hand, but he quickly moved it away from her.

“You mustn’t let yourself get nervous,” she said. “But of course when you get well there’s only one thing to do. You mustn’t go back to that old hole again.”

“ ‘Old hole?’ That’s what you call it, is it?” In spite of his weakness, anger made his voice strident, and upon this stimulation she spoke more urgently.

“You just mustn’t go back to it, Virgil. It’s not fair to any of us, and you know it isn’t.”

“Don’t tell me what I know, please!”

She clasped her hands, suddenly carrying her urgency to plaintive entreaty. “Virgil, you won’t go back to that hole?”

“That’s a nice word to use to me!” he said. “Call a man’s business a hole!”

“Virgil, if you don’t owe it to me to look for something different, don’t you owe it to your children? Don’t tell me you won’t do what we all want you to, and what you know in your heart you ought to! And if you have got into one of your stubborn fits and are bound to go back there for no other reason except to have your own way, don’t tell me so, for I can’t bear it!”

He looked up at her fiercely. “You’ve got a fine way to cure a sick man!” he said; but she had concluded her appeal—­for that time—­and instead of making any more words in the matter, let him see that there were tears in her eyes, shook her head, and left the room.

Alone, he lay breathing rapidly, his emaciated chest proving itself equal to the demands his emotion put upon it. “Fine!” he repeated, with husky indignation. “Fine way to cure a sick man! Fine!” Then, after a silence, he gave forth whispering sounds as of laughter, his expression the while remaining sore and far from humour.

“And give us our daily bread!” he added, meaning that his wife’s little performance was no novelty.
Booth Tarkington

About Booth Tarkington

Booth Tarkington - Alice Adams
Newton Booth Tarkington, an enormously prolific novelist, playwright, and short story writer who chronicled urban middle-class life in the American Midwest during the early twentieth century, was born in Indianapolis on July 29, 1869. He was the son of John Stevenson Tarkington, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Booth Tarkington. His uncle and namesake, Newton Booth, was a governor of California and later a United States senator. In the essay 'As I Seem to Me,' published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941, Tarkington recalled dictating a story to his sister when he was only six. By the age of sixteen he had written a fourteen-act melodrama about Jesse James. Tarkington was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Purdue University, and Princeton, where his burlesque musical The Honorable Julius Caesar was staged by the Triangle Club. Upon leaving Princeton in 1893 he returned to Indiana determined to pursue a career as a writer.

After a five-year apprenticeship marked by publishers' rejection slips, Tarkington enjoyed a huge commercial success with The Gentleman from Indiana (1899), a novel credited with capturing the essence of the American heartland. He consolidated his fame with Monsieur Beaucaire (1900), a historical romance later adapted into a movie starring Rudolph Valentino. 'Monsieur Beaucaire is ever green,' remarked Damon Runyon. 'It is a little literary cameo, and we read it over at least once a year.' The political knowledge Tarkington acquired while serving one term in the Indiana house of representatives informed In the Arena (1905), a collection of short stories that drew praise from President Theodore Roosevelt for its realism. In collaboration with dramatist Harry Leon Wilson, Tarkington wrote The Man from Home (1907), the first of many successful Broadway plays. His comedy Clarence (1919), which Alexander Woollcott praised for being 'as American as Huckleberry Finn or pumpkin pie,' helped launch Alfred Lunt on a distinguished career and provided Helen Hayes with an early successful role.

Following a decade in Europe, Tarkington returned to Indianapolis and won a new readership with the publication of The Flirt (1913). The first of his novels to be serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, the book contained authentic characters and themes that paved the way for Penrod (1914), a group of tales drawn from the author's boyhood memories of growing up in Indiana. The adventures of Penrod Schofield, which Tarkington also chronicled in the sequels Penrod and Sam (1916) and Penrod Jashber (1929), seized the imagination of young adult readers and invited comparison with Tom Sawyer. Equally successful was Seventeen (1916), a nostalgic comedy of adolescence that subsequently inspired a play, two Broadway musicals, and a pair of film adaptations as well as Tarkington's sequel novel Gentle Julia (1922).

Tarkington broke new artistic ground with The Turmoil (1915), the first novel in his so-called Growth trilogy documenting the changes in urban life during the era of America's industrial expansion. William Dean Howells, the father of American realism, praised Tarkington's vivid depiction of the human misery generated by one man's worship of bigness and materialism. The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), the second work in the series, earned Tarkington the Pulitzer Prize. 'The Magnificent Ambersons is perhaps Tarkington's best novel,' judged Van Wyck Brooks. '[It is] a typical story of an American family and town--the great family that locally ruled the roost and vanished virtually in a day as the town spread and darkened into a city.' The Midlander (1924) concludes the trilogy with the story of a real estate developer who is both a creator and a victim of the country's new wealth.
Tarkington won his second Pulitzer Prize for Alice Adams (1921), a novel often seen as an extension of the Growth trilogy. The unforgettable portrayal of a small-town social climber whose outlandish attempts to snare a rich husband are both poignant and hilarious, Alice Adams was later made into a film starring Katharine Hepburn. Tarkington's other memorable books of the period include Women (1925), a cycle of amusing stories about the flourishing social life of suburban housewives, and The Plutocrat (1927), a satire of an American millionaire abroad. In addition he turned out The World Does Move (1928), a volume of autobiographical essays, and Mirthful Haven (1930), a serious novel of manners inspired by his many summers in Kennebunkport, Maine.

In the late 1920s, Tarkington commenced a prolonged battle with failing eyesight and near blindness. After undergoing more than a dozen eye operations he regained partial vision, but he was forced to dictate his work to a secretary. His joy at being able once more to see colors maintained a lifelong passion for collecting art. The entertaining stories Tarkington wrote for the Saturday Evening Post about the art business were published as Rumbin Galleries (1937). In addition he completed Some Old Portraits (1939), a book of essays about his collection, which included works by Titian, Velázquez, and Goya.

During the final years of his life Tarkington again focused on Indiana. In The Heritage of Hatcher Ide (1941) he updated the family sagas of the Growth trilogy, while in Kate Fennigate (1943) he offered another social comedy in the spirit of Alice Adams. In 1945 Tarkington was awarded the prestigious Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Booth Tarkington died at his home in Indianapolis following a short illness on May 19, 1946. The Show Piece (1947), his unfinished last novel, profiles a young egoist reminiscent of the George Minafer of The Magnificent Ambersons.

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