Home > Oak Knoll Press > An Excerpt from Series Americana by Carol Fitzgerald

An Excerpt from Series Americana by Carol Fitzgerald

Earlier this week, author Carol Fitzgerald shared about the joy she experienced researching for The Rivers of America: A Descriptive Bibliography and Series Americana: Post Depression-Era Regional Literature, 1938-1980, A Descriptive Bibliography.

Series Americana provides a unique and compelling self-portrait of America, encompassing the American people, their history and culture, the nation’s mountains, plains, lakes, landmarks, and important American customs. Each book listed in Series Americana contains detailed descriptions of the collation, cover, contents, binding, and dust jacket, as well as thorough author biographies and notes one each title. Check out this excerpt describing the author and notes of Golden Gate Country by Gertrude Atherton.

Golden Gate Country

Gertrude Atherton, October 30, 1857- June 14, 1948

AF8    First edition, first printing (1945) [11]

BIOGRAPHY

Gertrude Horn Atherton was born in San Francisco, California, on October 30, 1857, the only child of Thomas Ludovich and Gertrude (Franklin) Horn. Horn was a New England businessman whose family had been in the shipping business there for some two hundred years. His wife, Gertrude, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, had grown up on a Louisiana plantation.

Atherton’s parents were divorced when she was a young girl. She attended public and private schools in California, lived from time to time on her maternal grandfather’s San Jose ranch, and at age seventeen went to Lexington, Kentucky, to study at the Sayre Institute. After a year, she returned to California. In 1876, shortly after her return, young Gertrude eloped with George H. Bowen Atherton, then twenty-four. He was the son of a trader with business interests in California and Chile and a Chilean mother, Dominga de Goñi. The couple had two children, George Goñi, who died at age six, and Muriel Florence. In her mid-twenties, bored with her marriage and domestic life, Atherton began to write, employing various pen names. Around 1883, her first novel, The Randolphs of Redwoods, was serialized in the San Francisco Argonaut. The novel was based on a contemporary scandal involving a privileged young woman who succumbed to alcoholism. When it became known that Atherton was the author, she was ostracized by San Francisco society. The book was revised and published in England by John Lane, The BodleyHead, in 1899 as A Daughter of the Vine.

Atherton’s husband died in 1887, while he was on a business trip to Chile. She soon began a full-time literary career, and, in 1888, moved to New York. Her books, presenting liberated women and romantic melodrama, and her sexual candor, drew critical scorn for her work. She left New York in 1895, moving to England, where she was well received. She never remarried. In the 1930s, Atherton returned to California and soon became active in San Francisco society and civic organizations. In 1935, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature by Mills College. In 1937, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in law by the University of California, Berkeley. During more than sixty years as a writer, Atherton moved between the United States and Europe and between California and New York and New England,writing fifty-six books, thirty-four of them novels. In 1943, she became the first living author to donate manuscripts, correspondence, notes, and related papers to the Library of Congress. Gertrude Atherton died in San Francisco, California, on June 14, 1948, at age 90.

NOTES ON GOLDEN GATE COUNTRY

In a June 14, 1943, letter to Gertrude Atherton, C. Halliwell (“Charles”) Duell expressed his pleasure that she would be writing a book for The American Folkways Series, noting, “your contribution calls for the highest advance we have ever paid on one of these books.” Atherton signed an agreement with Duell, Sloan & Pearce on August 9 to write the book, then entitled “Northern California Country,” to be approximately seventy-five thousand words in length. The manuscript was due on or before January 1, 1944, but in a handwritten margin note on the agreement Atherton advised “earlier date possible.” She received an advance of $750 and was to receive a royalty of 14 percent on all copies of regular trade editions sold by the publisher in the United States at discounts of less than 48 percent from the catalog price. Shortly after the contract was signed, at her request the book’s title was changed to Golden Gate Country. She was well along with the manuscript by December 1943, and the publisher hoped to include the book in the Spring 1944 catalogue. Owing to a problem with her typewriter, she was unable to provide a carbon copy of the manuscript, leading Charles Duell to write in a February 28, 1944, letter, “When your manuscript comes we shall throw a cordon of police around it, as your warning of no carbon copy is quite a caution.”

The publisher received the manuscript in mid-April, but thought it needed considerable editing and should include additional material which would carry the book into the twentieth century. The manuscript was sent to Erskine Caldwell for his review. By mid-July 1944 the manuscript had been so heavily edited that it was necessary that it be retyped before it was sent to the printer. Atherton and Caldwell were to work out the final editing details, but in the retyping of the manuscript the final chapter and the final paragraphs of the preceding chapter were not retyped, being deemed by the publisher, and presumably by Caldwell, as an unsuitable climax. Charles Duell’s letter of October 19 explains, “We have two major points of criticism to make. The first is that the matters discussed in these sections will be too soon dated. The second point of criticism is that as a conclusion to your book the Redwoods, the Save-the-Redwoods League, and so on, receive attention out of all proportion to the interests ofthe general reader. It simply unbalances the book at a point where the over-all perspective is at its most important.” He suggested the deletion of the final chapter and the last paragraphs of the preceding chapter, ending the book with a separate paragraph, “San Francisco was thoroughly alive.” This was done, and those words end the text.

By March 20, sales had passed three thousand and by April 26 had reached five thousand three hundred. In a May 24 letter responding to Atherton’s concerns about the promotion of the book, Duell stated that the firm had made a special poster on Golden Gate Country which was sent “to all of the California stores at the time of publication,” but owing to wartime space rationing the San Francisco Chronicle was unable to accept an ad for the book until sometime in June.

The fourth printing of Golden Gate Country, in November 1945, was to contain several corrections requested by Atherton, but despite the best efforts of the publisher, the printer, American Book Stratford Press, failed to include them. By January 1946, the book had sold more than seven thousand copies.

Gertrude Atherton was eighty-seven when Golden Gate Country was published. In his review in The New York World-Telegram, Harry Hansen wrote,“How Erskine Caldwell came to ask her to do a book for his series of American Folkways I do not know, but obviously she was the logical candidate when he thought of San Francisco.”

Click here for more information on Series Americana and click here for more information on Fitzgerald’s other publication, The Rivers of America.

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