"I gratefully look forward to oblivion, but I must be sure of it." -- Taylor Caldwell
Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell (September 7, 1900–August 30, 1985) was an Anglo-American novelist and prolific author of popular fiction, also known by the pen names Marcus Holland and Max Reiner, and by her married name of J. Miriam Reback.
In her fiction, she often used real historical events or persons. Taylor Caldwell's best-known works include Dynasty of Death, Dear and Glorious Physician (about Saint Luke), and Captains and the Kings. Her last major novel, Answer as a Man, appeared in 1980.
"Are we not all desperate one way or another?""At 8, I made a pact with God.""Character, I am sure, lies in the genes.""Even the most malignant gods would not continue to inflict life upon humanity, time without end.""Giving a phenomenon a label does not explain it.""I am a Westerner of Westerners!""I am deeply convinced that happiness does not exist in this world.""I am not convinced that there is such a thing as a soul.""I am the skeptic of skeptics.""I converse with my dog through ESP.""I have always had a horror and detestation of poverty.""I have anonymously helped many thousands.""I have been constantly betrayed and deceived all my life.""I have been the victim of heartless malice.""I have had four happy days in my life, and three of them turned out to be illusions.""I have thought that I have seen ghosts on many occasions.""I have written two medical novels. I have never studied medicine, never seen an operation.""I like animals because they are not consciously cruel and don't betray each other.""I never deviated from my grim determination to someday have all the money I needed and wanted.""I often reread books I have written.""I wanted to acquire an education, work extremely hard and never deviate from my goal, to make it.""I was never afraid of anything in the world except the dentist.""I will ge glad to have done with this life forever.""I will know him by his eyes.""I'm not that interested in people.""I've always enjoyed poor health.""If genetic memory or racial memory persists, is it possible that individual memory also exists from previous lives?""If there is a God, then he was particularly harsh to me.""If they can't do it in California, it can't be done anywhere.""In sleep, you are safe from the revolting mechanics of living and being a prey to outrageous fortune.""It is a waste of money to help those who show no desire to help themselves.""It is human nature to instinctively rebel at obscurity or ordinariness.""Learning should be a joy and full of excitement. It is life's greatest adventure; it is an illustrated excursion into the minds of the noble and the learned.""Money? I lost all taste for it.""My childhood was appalling.""My dreams are all follies.""My life has been tragic and disastrous since birth.""My literary success meant nothing to me.""My relatives used to laugh when I talked of being a writer.""No woman has ever been an authentic genius of the stature of men, but that does not enrage me.""Obscurity can be a fire of ambition in those who have stalwart souls.""One of my grandsons used to insist, when he was only 3 or 4, that he had been born and had lived in India.""People are scared to death of dying. I am the opposite.""Tel Aviv appeals to me.""The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign hands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.""The feeble soul merely whines and complains.""The stalwart soul has the will to live and is eager for the race.""The very idea of carrying my memory into eternity devastated me, and I took refuge in atheism.""The world is a penal institution.""Those who claim to have had happy lives seem to be silly fools.""Though I am a Catholic, a professing one, I have serious doubts about the survival of the human personality after death.""Women's Lib? I couldn't stand it."
Taylor Caldwell was born in Manchester, England, into a family of Scottish background. Her family descended from the Scottish clan of MacGregor of which the Taylors are a subsidiary clan. In 1907 she emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger brother. Her father died shortly after the move, and the family struggled. At the age of eight she started to write stories, and in fact wrote her first novel, The Romance of Atlantis, at the age of twelve (although it remained unpublished until 1975). Her father did not approve such activity for women, and sent her to work in a bindery. She continued to write prolifically, however, despite ill health. (In 1947, according to TIME magazine, her husband Marcus Reback discarded and burned the manuscripts of 140 unpublished novels.)
In 1918-1919, she served in the United States Navy Reserve. In 1919 she married William F. Combs. In 1920, they had a daughter, Mary (known as "Peggy"). From 1923 to 1924 she was a court reporter in New York State Department of Labor in Buffalo, New York. In 1924, she went to work for the United States Department of Justice, as a member of the Board of Special Inquiry (an immigration tribunal) in Buffalo. In 1931 she graduated from SUNY Buffalo, and also was divorced from William Combs.
Caldwell then married her second husband, Marcus Reback, a fellow Justice employee. She had a second child with Reback, a daughter Judith, in 1932. They were married for 40 years, until his death in 1971.
In 1934, she began to work on the novel Dynasty of Death, which she and Reback completed in collaboration. It was published in 1938 and became a best-seller. "Taylor Caldwell" was presumed to be a man, and there was some public stir when the author was revealed to be a woman. Over the next 43 years, she published 42 more novels, many of them best-sellers. For instance, This Side of Innocence was the biggest fiction seller of 1946. Her works sold an estimated 30 million copies. She became wealthy, traveling to Europe and elsewhere, though she still lived near Buffalo.
Her books were big sellers right up to the end of her career. In 1979, she signed a two-novel deal for $3.9 million.
During her career as a writer, she received several awards.
The National League of American Pen Women gold medal (1948)
The Buffalo Evening News Award (1949)
The Grand Prix Chatvain (1950)
She was an outspoken conservative and for a time wrote for the John Birch Society's monthly journal American Opinion and even associated with the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby. Her memoir, On Growing Up Tough, appeared in 1971, consisting of many edited-down articles from American Opinion.
Around 1970, she became interested in reincarnation. She had become friends with well-known occultist author Jess Stearn, who suggested that the vivid detail in her many historical novels was actually subconscious recollection of previous lives. Supposedly, she agreed to be hypnotized and undergo "past-life regression" to disprove reincarnation. According to Stearn's book, The Search of a Soul - Taylor Caldwell's Psychic Lives (1973), Caldwell instead began to recall her own past lives - eleven in all, including one on the "lost continent" of Lemuria.
In 1972, she married William Everett Stancell, a retired real estate developer, but divorced him in 1973. In 1978, she married William Robert Prestie, an eccentric Canadian 17 years her junior. This led to difficulties with her children. She had a long dispute with her daughter Judith over the estate of Judith's father Marcus; in 1979 Judith committed suicide.
Also in 1979, Caldwell suffered a stroke, which left her unable to speak, though she could still write. (She had been deaf since about 1965.) Her daughter Peggy accused Prestie of abusing and exploiting Caldwell, and there was a legal battle over her substantial assets.
She died of heart failure in Greenwich, Connecticut on August 30, 1985.
Dynasty of Death was her first published work, a family saga lasting from 1837 to World War I, about two families in western Pennsylvania who rise to control a great armaments business. The story was continued in The Eagles Gather (1940) and The Final Hour (1944).
As a writer Caldwell was praised for her intricately plotted and suspenseful stories, which depicted family tensions and the development of the U.S. from an agrarian society into the leading industrial state of the world. Caldwell's heroes are self-made men of pronounced ethnic background, such as the German immigrants in The Strong City (1942) and The Balance Wheel (1951). Her themes are ethnic, religious and personal intolerance (The Wide House, 1945), the failure of parental discipline (Let Love Come Last, 1949) and the conflict between the desire for power and money and the human values of love and sense of family (Melissa (1948), A Prologue to Love (1962), and Bright Flows the River (1978)).
In her later works Caldwell explored the American Dream and wrote stories of the "rags to riches" course of life. Among these was her last great best-seller, Captains and the Kings (1972), which chronicles the rise to wealth of a poor Irish immigrant to America in the 1800s. Captains and the Kings was made into a television mini-series in 1976. Another was her last novel, Answer as a Man (1980).
She wrote many historical novels, including several about famous religious figures.
Dear and Glorious Physician (1959) was about Saint Luke; Great Lion of God (1970) was about Saint Paul; and I, Judas (1977) was about Judas Iscariot.
In The Earth Is the Lord's (1941), she fictionalized Genghis Khan; in The Arm and the Darkness (1943), Cardinal Richelieu; in A Pillar of Iron (1965), the Roman senator and orator Cicero; and in Glory and the Lightning (1974), Aspasia, mistress of the Athenian leader Pericles.
Caldwell addressed religious themes in several works.
For instance, Answer as a Man begins with the clamor of the bells of a little church and ends with an evocation of renewed faith.
"Jason raised his eyes and smiled. God is good. He moves mysteriously, as the priests say, but he has his ways, he has his ways! He is not the adversary of man. Man is, Jason thought. God is not to be understood by man. He is just to be trusted."
In Dialogues with the Devil (1967) Caldwell explicitly addresses religious subjects: the story is in the form of correspondence between Lucifer and Michael. Mixed into this dialogue are old tales, stories of a lost continent and of other worlds, and theological speculations.
..."Childish raptures! said Lucifer, with scorn, his eyes flashing like lightning. "Are we indeed whimpering and craven children, or slaves? Can we be content with toys and little deliciousnesses? Are we not mind, as well as emotion? And is not the mind, of both angel and man, the noblest of possessions, and worth exercising. It is in our minds that we approach the closest of Him, Who is all Mind. Mind is the creator of all philosophy, all order, all beauty, all satisfaction, but emotion is the lowliest of the virtues, if it is a virtue at all. Mind has in it the capacity to know all things, or, at least, the minds of angels."
"The nature of human beings never changes; it is immutable. The present generation of children and the present generation of young adults from the age of thirteen to eighteen is, therefore, no different from that of their great-great-grandparents. Political fads come and go; theories rise and fall; the scientific ‘truth’ of today becomes the discarded error of tomorrow. Man’s ideas change, but not his inherent nature. That remains. So, if the children are monstrous today — even criminal — it is not because their natures have become polluted, but because they have not been taught better, nor disciplined.” — On Growing Up Tough, chapter The Purple Lodge
In her 1957 social/political article "Honoria" she chronicles the rise and fall of the fictitious country she calls "Honoria". She ends the article with a very foreboding rebuke of society. “It is a stern fact of history that no nation that rushed to the abyss ever turned back. Not ever, in the long history of the world. We are now on the edge of the abyss. Can we, for the first time in history, turn back? It is up to you.”
Many of Caldwell's books centered on the idea that a small cabal of rich, powerful men secretly controlled the world.
"There can be help. There's always God," said Amy. "I'm ashamed. I'd forgotten about Him.” She was quiet for a time. When she lifted her head she looked older and resolute. “Don’t blame yourself too much, Cousin Caroline,” she said. “That’s as bad as taking no blame at all. I’m not going to blame everything on Ames; I was a little fool myself. I was old enough to know that things aren’t simple.” - A Prologue to Love
"The American insanity for Loving Everybody is ruining my good temper and delivering my stomach to enormous bouts with acidity." - On Growing Up Tough, "Dolts and Love Cultists"
"There is no solid satisfaction in any career for a woman like myself. There is no home, no true freedom, no hope, no joy, no expectation for tomorrow, no contentment. I would rather cook a meal for a man and bring him his slippers and feel myself in the protection of his arms than have all the citations and awards and honors I have received worldwide, including the Ribbon of Legion of Honor and my property and my bank accounts. They mean nothing to me. And I am only one among the millions of sad women like myself." - Ask Them Yourself
"Antonius heartily agreed with him [sc. Cicero] that the budget should be balanced, that the Treasury should be refilled, that the public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of the generals should be tempered and controlled, that assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt, that the mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence, and that prudence and frugality should be put into practice as soon as possible." - A Pillar of Iron; this sentence is regularly attributed to Cicero, but it's Caldwell's own, not in Cicero's actual work. It can be found on page 483 of the 1965 edition published by Doubleday (Garden City, NY.)