Douglas, Lloyd C.: Magnificent Obsession
(researched by Katherine Goktepe)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Lloyd C. Douglas. Magnificent Obsession. Chicago and New York: Willett, Clark & Colby, 1929. Copyright Statements: 1929 by Willett, Clark & Colby. 1929 by Thorndike Press. 1929 by Peoples Book Club. Parallel First Editions: Canadian: Magnificent Obsession. Thomas Allen: Toronto, 1932.pp.330 Chinese: Ti lao t'ien huang pu liao ch'ing. Hsing-chou shih chieh shu chu: Hsing-chia-p'o, 1956.pp.128 Danish: Den store laege. Westermann: Kobenhavn, 1947.pp.255 French: Líobsession magnifique. J.H. Jeheber: Geneve, 1940.pp.276 British: Magnificent Obsession. Allen & Unwin: London, 1932.pp.314 Polish: Wspaniala obsesja. Astrum: Wroclaw, 1998.pp.271 Spanish: Sublime obesion. Luis de Caralt: Barcelona, 1954.pp.319 Sources: Library of Congress Catalogs (CNIDR Web) WorldCat (VIRGO) WorldCat (Web) RLIN Bibliographic File The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
174 leaves, pp. [12] 1-330 [6] Source: A New Introduction to Bibliography by Philip Gaskell
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is neither edited nor introduced, but the author dedicates the book to Betty and Virginia on the fifth leaf.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations save the publishersí symbol on the title page.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Page: 7.75î x 5.25î Text: 6.25î x 4î Top margin: 1/2î Side and bottom margin: 1î 20 lines of text: 90R Type: Serif, Old Style Roman, 12-pt leaded Illustrations: None Print: Manufactured in the USA by The Plimpton Press. Norwood, Mass.-LaPorte, Ind. Typography is aesthetically-pleasing and easy to read. The printing is sharp and clear; the letters are a good width apart. The book is very well printed. The green, trade cloth binding looks worn but the book seems sturdy and strong. Chapters are numbered, without titles, in roman numerals. The first line of each chapter is in all capital letters. The first letter of each chapter is a drop-cap, about three times the size of all the other letters. Source: A New Introduction to Bibliography by Philip Gaskell
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book was printed on wove paper with even, granulated texture and has no chainlines or wiremarks. The pages have the thickness and rough appearance of good-quality construction paper. Every page of paper in the book is alike. None of the pages are ripped or torn, and the book doesnít look very used. The book has rough edges and each page is a different size, both length-wise and width-wise. One cannot flip through without skipping huge clumps of pages, due to their varied sizes. All three of the edges on the book are rough. Although the book is 70 years old, the discoloration of pages from white to an off-white hue has been slight. The copy observed was well-preserved and without stains. Source: A New Introduction to Bibliography by Philip Gaskell
11 Description of binding(s)
Light-green, calico-textured cloth, not embossed. No dust jacket. There is blind stamping on the cover and spine. The title and the authors' name are stamped on the cover cloth and are dark brown. Two lines, each 2 mm thick and 76 mm long, run above and below the title and author. This brown stamping is positioned diagonally in the upper two-thirdsí and center of the cover page. The title is printed in serif type style and is in italics. The authorís name is in serif font, in all capital letters. The spine has the same exact design, the dark-brown stamping with two lines positioned diagonally at the top and bottom, in addition to the publisher's name italicized in the same dark-brown color. The publisher's name is diagonally positioned with lines also. There are no illustrations anywhere in the book. The top edge has a faded-looking, reddish-orange color. Uncut, shabby edges of the pages give the book an uneven, rough look. Transcription of spine: Magnificent | Obsession | LLOYD C. DOUGLAS | Willet, Clark & Colby Transcription of front cover: Magnificent | Obsession | LLOYD C. DOUGLAS Source: A New Introduction to Bibliography by Philip Gaskell
12 Transcription of title page
Magnificent | Obsession | by | LLOYD C. DOUGLAS | [publisherís symbol] | WILLETT, CLARK & COLBY | CHICAGO: 440 SOUTH DEARBORN STREET | NEW YORK: 200 FIFTH AVENUE | 1929
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Information not available at this time (1999)
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
***On the bookplate or inside cover of the book, there is a black and white illustration 85 mm x 63 mm that takes up little less than one-third of the page. A woman knitting with her hair up in a bun on top of her head and legs crossed sits across from a man reading a book with a pipe in his mouth. Below the women is the signature of Lillian Gary Taylor and below the man in the signature of Robert L. Taylor. There are two additional, minuscule scribbles above his name. This illustration was pasted on and seems old-fashioned. (see Sample Illustration) ***The second and third to last leaf are not separated, as the paper is uncut on the side edge. This probably was a printing error. ***Throughout the book, there are two small, black-lined diamonds separating certain passages. They come on average about every two pages. They are about 5 mm from the text below and above (the lines in the text are separated by 10 mm when they appear.)
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Unable to find evidence of other editions.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
The original publisher, Willett, Clark and Colby, was on its forty-third printing of the first edition in 1935. Source: The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
1929, Houghton Mifflin Company.pp.330 1929, Grosset & Dunlap.pp.330 1929, P.F. Collier & Son.pp.330 1929, Peoples Book Club.pp.330 1932, Allen & Unwin.pp.314 1932, Ulverscroft (large print edition) 1937, Houghton Mifflin Company.pp.330 1942, Grosset & Dunlap.pp.330 1943, Pocket Books.pp.282 1945, Grosset & Dunlap.pp.330 1956, Pocket Books.pp.282 1956, Houghton Mifflin Company.pp.330 1957, Cardinal Pocket Books.pp.282 1957, Halliday Books.pp.330 1957, International Collectors Library.pp.233 1958, Grosset and Dunlap.pp.370 1962, Pan.pp.252 1963, Pocket Books.pp.282 1972, Ulverscroft (large print edition).pp.502 1972, Pocket Books.pp.282 1976, Amereon, Limited (hardcover) 1977, Amereon, Limited (hardcover) 1982, Buccaneer Books, Incorporated.pp.282 1986, Buccaneer Books, Incorporated.pp.282 1990, Amereon, Limited.pp.282 1992, Macmillan Library Reference (large type edition, hardcover).pp.424 1992, Thorndike Press (large print edition).pp.434 1994, Macmillan Library Reference (large type edition, hardcover) 1997, Buccaneer Books (hardcover) 1999, Houghton Mifflin Company (paperback).pp.330 1999, Mariner Books (paperback).pp.330 Sources: Books In Print Amazon.com WorldCat (VIRGO) WorldCat (Web) Library of Congress Catalogs (CNIDR Web) RLIN Bibliographic File Eureka Bibliofind.com
6 Last date in print?
As of 1999 Magnificent Obsession is currently in print, the most recent copies being the Houghton Mifflin and Mariner Booksí paperback editions, published April of 1999. Sources: Amazon.com
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Up to 1975, the total number of copies sold, of both hardbound and paperbound books, was 2,974,030. The number of paperbound copies sold was 2,335,123 as of 1975. Sources: Hackettís 80 Years of Best Sellers
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
The book sold for $2.50 in 1929, 1930, 1931 and in 1932. June 11, 1932, the book reached #8 on the May Best Sellers list of Publishers' Weekly. On this list, next to the title reads ìThis novel has been a best seller for several years in the middle west. Now itís fame is spreading to other sections of the country.î May 28, 1932, an ad in Publishersí Weekly reads ìCurrent monthly sales of ëMagnificent Obsessioní are exceeding the first yearís average.î The book was on the bestsellers list for a total of 44 weeks. Sources: Publishersí Weekly advertisements and best seller rankings Bestseller Index: All Books, Publishers' Weekly and the New York TImes Through 1990
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
***The Christian Century advertised Magnificent Obsession on two pages in their December 18, 1929 issue. The first ad, on the last page of the book, is listed under the heading ìGood Books are the Ideal Gifts: 30 of the best recommended to the Christian Century readers.î Two sentences below the title and author read ìThe keynote of this new novel is the spirit of generosity. It is the novel for Christmas giving ($2.50).î ***The second advertisement (see Image of sample advertisement) is on the back cover of the magazine. The top right side of the page reads ìAfter all, it is the way a book ëtakes oní with the reading public which partly determines the reading value of the book for YOU. ëMagnificent Obsession,í the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, published a few weeks ago, IS ëtaking on.í The book was published in the expectancy that it would do this and it has. ëMagnificent Obsessioní is placed before you again with increased assurance of it being a book which you must not miss reading-----î Following this paragraph in large, bold type is ìMagnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas.î Below on the right is an illustration of the book and on the left is another paragraph, which reads ìWoven into a good story, well handled, is the discovery of strange, transforming life forces. There they are -- revealed in the book -- and there they work out human destinies. Here is fiction, but intrigued readers are asking, ëwhat about these forces?íî Centered underneath is the price, $2.50, in parenthesis. ***Publishersí Weekly ran 8 ads for Magnificent Obsession, the first one published in their September 21, 1929 edition and the last in their May 28, 1932 edition. ***One full-page ad ran January 9, 1932 with black background and white letters. A drawing of the book in white is centered on the page. Above the book reads ìROMANCE ADVENTURE | TRAVEL MYSTERY | and a | Philosophy for the needs of today | A first novel | Fast becoming a ëstandardí.î Below the book, on the left in large font, reads ì13th Printing.î Centered at the bottom of the page: ìContinuing a national ëBest Sellerí not by virtue of its authorís previous successes or intensive selling but by virtue of its own amazing vitality.î ***Before the book came out in stores, an ad ran in the September 21, 1929 issue of Publishersí Weekly. On the page beside 5 other books listed, Magnificent Obsession, in bold type, appears on the right next to the words ìReady October 22.î Underneath the title reads ìA novel of strong color and varied interests -- dealing with strange, transforming life forces.............$2.50î Sources: December 18, 1929 issue of The Christian Century Publishersí Weekly Book Review Digest
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A21019991013203141.jpg
11 Other promotion
Two ads in Publishersí Weekly marketed a Magnificent Obsession book-stand pyramid to display the book upon. One full-page ad in the February 20, 1932 issue shows a drawing of the pyramid display. Written upon one side of the display are the words ìMagnificent | Obsession | ërouses the | Genius within,î and upon the other, ìA LOVE STORY | Flavored with | Mystery | Adventure | and a Startling | Philosophy of Achievement!î Below the picture of the book display reads ìA New Display | to Further Sales | of this Book of Amazing Vitality.î In the upper-right corner of the page are the words ìYour Display | is Ready-- | Write for it.î The second advertisement for this pyramid is in the May 28, 1932 issue of Publishersí Weekly. On the lower-left side of the page reads ìAre you using the new | pyramid display pictured | below for ëMagnificent | Obsessioní? (16th printing.) | Booksellers enthusiastic --- | report steady sales.î Below is a picture of the book on the book-stand pyramid. Underneath the picture is a black box with white letters that read ìIt has been frequently | said of this strange story | that people who read it | are never quite the same | again. | Current monthly sales of | ëMagnificent Obsessioní | are exceeding the first | yearís average. | $2.50.î Source: February 20, 1932 Publishersí Weekly May 28, 1932 Publishersí Weekly
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Films: 1935, Magnificent Obsession, Universal Productions, Inc., b&w, 13 reels, 112 minutes. Producer and Dierctor: John M. Stahl. Cast: Irene Dunne (Helen Hudson), Robert Taylor (Robert Merrick). 1954, Magnificent Obsession, Universal- International Productions, Inc., Technicolor, 35 mm, 107 minutes. Producer: Ross Hunter. Director: Douglas Sirk. Cast: Jane Wyman (Helen Phillips), Rock Hudson (Bob Merrick). Music (Soundtracks): 1954, Magnificent Obsession music from the sound track of the Universal-International Technicolor production, Decca, 33 1/3 rpm, 12 in. Universal-International Orchestra and Chorus. Conductor: Joseph Gershenson. Sound Cassettes: 1994, Magnificent Obsession, Thorndike Press, unabridged, 8 sound cassettes (9 hours, 15 minutes). Read by John Durbin. Plays: 1941, Magnificent Obsession: a drama in three acts, by Frank Vreeland. Publisher: Longmans, Green and company, New York. Radio shows: Broadcast on CBS November 13, 1944. The Lux Radio Theatre, a radio adaption of the novel, starring Don Ameche and Claudette Colbert. Aired on Screen Directors Playhouse February 13, 1949. Magnificent Obsession, a dramatized radio play of the film version, starring Irene Dunne and Willard Waterman. Sources: The Motion Picture Guide Volume V (L-M) by Jay Nash and Stanley Ross. The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures in the U.S. Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com) Library of Congress RLIN WorldCat (VIRGO)
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Translations: Ti lao tíien huang pu liao chíing. Hsing-chou shih chieh shu chu: Hsing-chia-pío, 1956.pp.128. Translated by Chih-yu Mao. (Chinese) Ti lao tíien huang. Hsiang-kang: Chi to chiao wen i chíu pan she, 1974.pp.326. Translated by Tsan-yun Hu. (Chinese) Den store laege. Westermann: Kobenhavn, 1947.pp.255. Name of translator N/A. (Danish) Líobsession magnifique. J.H. Jeheber: Geneve, 1940.pp.276. Translated by Claude Moleyne. (French) Wspaniala obsesja. Astrum: Wroclaw, 1998.pp.271. Name of traslator N/A. (Polish) Sublime obesion. Luis de Caralt: Barcelona, 1954.pp.319. Translated by Frbricio Valserra. (Spanish) Sublime obesion. D.F. Editorial Diana: Mexico, 1964.pp.286. Name of translator N/A. (Spanish) Sources: The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints Eureka WorldCat (VIRGO) RLIN Bibliographic File Library of Congress Catalog (CNIDR Web)
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Llyod C. Douglas wrote one sequel to Magnificent Obsession: Doctor Hudsonís secret journal. Houghton Mifflin company: Boston, 1939.pp.295 ìThis book is related to Magnificent Obsession as an overture rather than a sequel.î --from the Foreword of Doctor Hudsonís secret journal Sources: The Whole Story: 3000 Years of Sequels & Sequences compiled by John E. Simkin The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Before he became an author, Lloyd C. Douglas spent 26 years as a Protestant preacher whose sermons were immensely popular due to their story-like narrative (Busch 110). In 1904, at age 26, he published, at his own cost, a volume of essays. Not very successful at his first attempt at writing, he waited years before publishing four other collections of essays. When he was 52, he began another book of essays, which became his first novel, Magnificent Obsession (Busch 109). When he was halfway finished, he decided to convey his message in story form instead, presenting the unifying theme in his essays through fiction, for a wider audience (Gelder 301-302). The story demonstrates the advantages of doing good for others, and does so without being didactic (Mott 281). This happily-ever-after story of human goodness was considered old-fashioned by literary critics, but Douglas remained unaffected by their comments, claiming he was too old to be concerned with his literary status (Gelder 301). Lloyd C. Douglas was born in Columbia City, Indiana on August 27, 1877, to a prominent lawyer-turned-clergyman (Magill). Like his father, he attended Wittenberg College in Ohio. He then went on to Hamma Divinity School, where he received his B.D. degree in 1903 (Magill). Upon graduating, he married Besse Io Porch, a minister's daughter, and started preaching in North Manchester, Indiana, fulfilling his father's plans that his son should become a minister (Busch 110). After 26 years of preaching, during which he held six pastorates in the US and Canada, he gave up ministering and dedicated his time to writing (Magill). After Magnificent Obsession, Douglas wrote other novels, including Forgive Us Our Trespasses (1932), Green Light (1935), White Banners (1936), Home for Christmas (1937), Disputed Passage (1939), Doctor Hudson's secret journal (1939), Invitation to Live (1940), The Robe (1942), and The Big Fisherman (1948). The main theme in his fictional stories was happiness gained from helping others. He also wrote another collection of inspirational essays. Douglas was halfway through his autobiography about his childhood, Time to Remember, when he died in 1951 (Magill). When Douglas stopped preaching, he, his wife, and daughters Betty and Virginia moved to Bel-Air, Los Angeles, California. Douglas depended on his wife frequently for advice, both when writing sermons and books (Busch 144). Shortly after she died in 1944, he contracted pneumonia and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to live under the care of his daughter Betty and her husband John Weldon Wilson (Busch 109). Douglas died at the zenith of his success in Los Angeles, California 7 years later (Magill). The main collection of Douglas' papers is in the Bentley History Library at the University of Michigan. The Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia has some holdings of his papers (Virgo). Kriendler Memorial Collection in Rutgers University Library, Univeristy Archives in the Univerisity of Illinois, Baker Library in Darthmouth College, Columbia University Libraries, and East Carolina Manuscript Collection in East Carolina University Library also have collections of his manuscripts (National Union Catalog Manuscript Collections). Surprisingly, Douglas had some trouble getting Magnificent Obsession published. His previous publishers, Harper & Brothers, told Douglas that the message the book offered was fine, but the writing and story was not up to par. Doubleday told Douglas the opposite: they said the fiction was good, but Douglas should remove the inspirational theme (Busch 112). Douglas' book was finally published by Willet, Clark & Colby, a small publishing house mainly associated with religious literature. At first, the book was slow-selling, and mostly reviewed in religious magazines. But word-of-mouth recommendations helped popularize the book, and in two years it was on the bestsellers lists, and the career of Lloyd C. Douglas as an author began (Mott 281). Sources Used: Busch, Noel F. "Close-Up: Lloyd C. Douglas." Life. 27 May. 1946: 109-116. Gelder, Robert Van. Writers and Writing. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946. Magill, Frank N., ed. Cyclopedia of World Authors, 3ed ed. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1997. Mott, Frank Luther. Golden Multitudes. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947. The National Union Catalog Manuscript Collections. Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1988. Virgo (Web). "Lloyd C. Douglas." The World Book Encyclopedia. 1995.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Most of the reviews for Magnificent Obsession praised the novel for being an action-packed book, and one which contains well-written dialogue. Contemporary reviewers were especially intrigued with the author, Lloyd C. Douglas, who was a preacher. Many a reviewer expressed shock that the book could have been so well-written and savvy, and teach such a memorable lesson about life, without being didactic and preachy. They praised Lloyd C. Douglas' ability to craft the story and write so outstandingly. (Book Review Digest) The book was chiefly reviewed in the mid-west directly following it's publication. It became a best-seller first by word-of-mouth mainly in the Midwest (Hackett), and not until two years and six months after its publication did the book appear in Publishers' Weekly on the May bestsellers list at # 8 (Publishers' Weekly). Therefore, the magazines and newspapers which reviewed the book early after its publication will tend to be small publications from the mid-west. Exceptions to this would be Christian Century, a religious weekly periodical, which reviewed Magnificent Obsession because it was a book with a strong religious message, The New York Times Book Review and Boston Transcript. "It is a good story, not one to read when seeking slumber, but first class reading for the tired man or woman who cannot forget the business worries of the day, for it quickly absorbs one's entire attention." ---Boston Transcript "In the pulpit, Dr. Douglas is a good preacher, but in this novel he is no preacher at all. Though this is his first novel, he is here all novelist. He can create characters as real as anyone you know. He can create situations of dramatic intensity, and he can weave his people and incidents into a plot which is a going concern right up to the last page. If it were a play, I would say that it was good to the last drop--of the curtain. Above all, he can write dialogue with more skill than any but a very few of the first rank novelists." ---Christian Century "The fault with many a modern novels is that in it nothing happens. It is one merit of 'Magnificent Obsession' that it really has a plot in the sense that older novelists understood that word. Incident follows incident with impelling force. Love, finance, accident, injury and death all play their part in depicting a character controlled by a great ideal." ---Portland Evening News The only review which went against the grain of strong praises was one in Books, which criticized the novel for being too verbose: "Told in half the space which the novelist occupies, 'Magnificent Obsession' might be ticketed as an entertaining product, but Mr. Douglas never uses one word when five will serve." ---Books Sources: "A Theory of Life." The New York Times Book Review 12 Jan. 1930: 12,16. Hackett's 80 Years of Bestsellers Publishers' Weekly 11 June 1932. Book Review Digest : Books 2 Feb. 1930: 13. Boston Transcript 15 Jan. 1930: 2. Garrison, W.E. Christian Century 6 Nov. 1929. Marriner, E.C. Portland Evening News 22 Jan. 1930: 5.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Most of the reviews for Magnificent Obsession praised the novel for being an action-packed book, and one which contains well-written dialogue. Contemporary reviewers were especially intrigued with the author, Lloyd C. Douglas, who was a preacher. Many a reviewer expressed shock that the book could have been so well-written and savvy, and teach such a memorable lesson about life, without being didactic and preachy. They praised Lloyd C. Douglas' ability to craft the story and write so outstandingly. (Book Review Digest) The book was chiefly reviewed in the mid-west directly following it's publication. It became a best-seller first by word-of-mouth mainly in the Midwest (Hackett), and not until two years and six months after its publication did the book appear in Publishers' Weekly on the May bestsellers list at # 8 (Publishers' Weekly). Therefore, the magazines and newspapers which reviewed the book early after its publication will tend to be small publications from the mid-west. Exceptions to this would be Christian Century, a religious weekly periodical, which reviewed Magnificent Obsession because it was a book with a strong religious message, The New York Times Book Review and Boston Transcript. "It is a good story, not one to read when seeking slumber, but first class reading for the tired man or woman who cannot forget the business worries of the day, for it quickly absorbs one's entire attention." ---Boston Transcript "In the pulpit, Dr. Douglas is a good preacher, but in this novel he is no preacher at all. Though this is his first novel, he is here all novelist. He can create characters as real as anyone you know. He can create situations of dramatic intensity, and he can weave his people and incidents into a plot which is a going concern right up to the last page. If it were a play, I would say that it was good to the last drop--of the curtain. Above all, he can write dialogue with more skill than any but a very few of the first rank novelists." ---Christian Century "The fault with many a modern novels is that in it nothing happens. It is one merit of 'Magnificent Obsession' that it really has a plot in the sense that older novelists understood that word. Incident follows incident with impelling force. Love, finance, accident, injury and death all play their part in depicting a character controlled by a great ideal." ---Portland Evening News The only review which went against the grain of strong praises was one in Books, which criticized the novel for being too verbose: "Told in half the space which the novelist occupies, 'Magnificent Obsession' might be ticketed as an entertaining product, but Mr. Douglas never uses one word when five will serve." ---Books Sources: "A Theory of Life." The New York Times Book Review 12 Jan. 1930: 12,16. Hackett's 80 Years of Bestsellers Publishers' Weekly 11 June 1932. Book Review Digest : Books 2 Feb. 1930: 13. Boston Transcript 15 Jan. 1930: 2. Garrison, W.E. Christian Century 6 Nov. 1929. Marriner, E.C. Portland Evening News 22 Jan. 1930: 5.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Magnificent Obsession was not the stereotypical bestseller: the author was an unknown minister, the religious themes were uncommon in its fellow bestsellers of the early 1930s, and the book was unwieldy and rather large for the typical "quick-read" bestseller. However, the success of Magnificent Obsession greatly depended on the time-period in which it was published: when the nation was in the midst of a great depression. Like the run-of-the-mill bestseller, Magnificent Obsession offered hope to the nation with the secret to success revealed in the novel. However, Magnificent Obsession illustrates the atypical best-selling novel, proving that bestsellers do not have to be quick reads, have reviews in major publications, or even have an obvious appeal to a wide readership. The stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed worsened the economic conditions of many Americans. The percentage of unemployment in the civilian labor force jumped from 1.8 percent in 1926 to 24.9 percent in 1933 (Historical Statistics 135). The total number of unemployed after 1929 rose steadily, with even more millions of people working less than full-time. Many Americans sought aid, and some unemployed demonstrated for relief from the government, only to be suppressed in their efforts (Thorkelson 344). Magnificent Obsession had a new way of living to offer Americans in their time of trouble and despair. Advertisements in Publishers' Weekly for Magnificent Obsession had one promise in common, as summed up by the January 8, 1932 ad: "[Magnificent Obsession offers] a philosophy for the needs of today." In 1932, when the depression reached its lowest level, people were eager for something new (Unstead). Magnificent Obsession promised a new way of life through the new philosophy it offered. Magnificent Obsession reveals the key to success through a novel Christian philosophy. The melodramatic story revolves around the discovery by a rich young playboy, Bobby Merrick, of a coded journal. The journal belonged to the highly-successful Doctor Hudson, who dies tragically because at the moment he needs an inhalator to save his life from a swimming accident, it's in use on Merrick, who was slightly injured in a trivial boating accident. With the help of Doctor Hudson's loyal nurse, Merrick decides to return to college and complete Medical School. Upon deciphering the journal, Merrick discovers the reason for Hudson's immense success, "the rules for getting whatever you want, and doing whatever you wish to do, and being whatever you would like to be." (Douglas 131) The key lies in the Bible, as "it took the man who discovered it to a cross at the age of thirty-three!" (Douglas 144) The formula rests in doing good deeds for others, but secretly. Douglas explains the need for secrecy as he compares his notion to a battery, which needs insulation to protect the current. Douglas explains that "most personalities are grounded," and that by doing good for others, one energizes and expands one's own personality and is able to become a great achiever (Douglas 141). This promise of achievement in a time when Americans had no where else to turn for answers served to comfort the nation. The ads for the book echoed the ability for readers to achieve their highest goals. Other ads from Publishers' Weekly reveal the "startling philosophy of 'getting what you want.'" (Nov. 8, 1930) Upon reading the book, "the golden door of attainment" opens, similarly proclaimed an October 19, 1929 ad. Being able to win in a society where food and shelter were of the essence was a welcomed promise to the poverty-stricken people of 1932. Even those that had jobs or were wealthy would be eager to find success and the "door of attainment." In the story, Merrick himself is a wealthy playboy who benefits from this life-changing philosophy. No matter whether rich or poor, we all want to know the secret to success. This universal appeal helped Magnificent Obsession reach the bestsellers list. However, the fact that the book did not reach the bestsellers list until 1932, although it was published in 1929, suggests the importance of the depression in the selling of Magnificent Obsession. Between 1929 and 1932, the total number of unemployed increased by 20 percent. After 1931, the membership of religious bodies steadily increased as more and more people sought God's help to appease their problems. In terms of personal consumption expenditures, the total decline in spending on all products most radically declined from 77,222 million in 1929 to 45,795 million in 1933, whereas spending on religious and welfare activities those same years only declined from 1,196 million to 872 million (Historical Statistics 135, 319, 391). Because there was not as sharp a decline in spending on religious activities suggests that Americans read Magnificent Obsession when they chanced to benefit from it. This serves as one reason for the slow start in the popularity of the novel. Magnificent Obsession not only offered religious comfort, but also a highly interesting story and dramatic plot. The story not only provided a new slant on an old Biblical lesson to its readers, but a melodrama with mysterious and interesting characters in a plot-line where everything turns out happily in the end. Critics of Douglas carped on his fairy tale-like stories as a flaw, calling them old-fashioned (World Authors 565). Douglas, agreeing, laughed off criticisms by literary scholars: "I came into this business [of writing] too late to take on any airs about it." (Life 110) However, this style of writing is what the American public wanted to read. Enough depression filled the streets around them, and only in books could they see a society not troubled with economic or personal woes. In 1933, because 25 percent of the nation was unemployed, those who had jobs were forced to fight to hold on to them (Historical Statistics 135). Competition was fierce and men and women were compelled to work even harder than before. One of the reviews of the book from 1930 pointed out that Magnificent Obsession proved good reading "for the tired man or women who cannot forget the business worries of the day." (Boston Transcript) Women and men alike, working long and hard shifts, lucky to have jobs, found escape in novels like Magnificent Obsession and attributed to the novel's wide-spread reading. Other notable women's novels in the 1930s such as Gone With The Wind and Bad Girl sought to "extract the working-class woman from her job." (Hapke 6, 23) The fact that Magnificent Obsession succeeded in taking readers minds off the gloom surroundings of the day, coupled with the formula for success presented in the novel, elevated the novel to bestsellersdom. Another reason Douglas fared so well in the writing world was that he "had something which other authors lacked" in his religion themes (Life 109). Not many other books on the best sellers list in the early 1930s were marketing novels containing religious teachings (Hackett 146). Edmund Wilson compared a similar Douglas novel, The Robe, to other books in the time period; after examining the novel he writes, "What I have found is rather surprising. Instead of the usual trash aimed at Hollywood and streamlined for the popular magazines, one is confronted with something that resembles an old-fashioned novel for young people." (Life 112) Douglas was a middle-aged minister unaccustomed to the literary world at the time of Magnificent Obsession, his first novel (Life 109). The novel originally started out as a collection of essays, but he turned to fiction-writing in the hope to "make his point [about doing good deeds for others secretly] by telling a story...using his pulpit-parable style on a larger scale." (Life 112) Wilson recognized Douglas' aim not solely towards a readership or "Hollywood," but towards the telling of a well-written story and getting his point across about the benefits of righteousness and giving. The book is old-fashioned in the religious and action-packed senses, but emphasizes its teachings on the younger generations also, as the main character is a young man who changes his life around due to the legacy of an old doctor. The book appealed to both younger and older generations of the day, as both were faced with the troubles of the nation and might equally seek the secret to success. Readers found such hope in the religious aspects of the novel, that about 10 years after the book hit the bestsellers lists, one group of readers tried to convince Douglas of starting his own religion based on philosophies discussed in the novel, which Douglas refused (Life 112). One possibility is that men of the depression, unable to be saved by their former religious affiliations, turned to new slants on religions such as one expressed by themes in Douglas' books. In times of a national depression, despairing and anxious men could find solace in hope for a better tomorrow. These men found these kinds of promises in Magnificent Obsession. Bernard DeVoto wrote, "It is always comforting to frightened, weary and discouraged men to be told that they are the masters of their fate....Comfort is what readers ask of Dr. Douglas and comfort is what they get." (Life 112) Douglas received mail thanking him for the comfort his readers found in his novels, suggesting that the 1930s population appreciated help finding positive solutions to their problems, versus negative ways of finding solace (World Authors 565). The small decline in spending on religious literature and welfare compared to the sharp decline in spending on other items illustrates the renewed stock people continued to put in religion. This throws light on the want for positive help that the 1930s population sought (Historical Statistics 319). Despite the fact that Magnificent Obsession's hopeful message to readers exemplifies reasons for its popularity, many reasons exist for why it might not have reached the best-selling charts. The novel, in many ways, does not possess the qualities of a typical bestseller. For one, the novel is unwieldy and rather large (330 pages) to be a bestseller. The New York Times Book Review, in 1930, begins its review of the book with, "Even for those who have a large appetite and enjoy a varied menu, Magnificent Obsession should prove an ample though rather indigestible repast." In this review, one cannot tell whether the review is favorable or not. The review also neglects to mention the religious aspects of the novel. In a highly negative review in Books, the critic also carps on the length of the novel: "told in half the space which the novelist occupies." Both these reviews came out directly after Magnificent Obsession's publication. Consequently, the novel became a bestseller by word-of-mouth recommendations, not by reviews in major publications directly following the publication of the novel (Hackett 146). Also unlike typical bestsellers, Magnificent Obsession did not rise to popularity via praising reviews in major publications. In fact, the only publication that mentioned the novel's main theme as it related to religion was the Christian Century. However, Magnificent Obsession is not the type of novel to get reviewed in major publications; the sole reason it was reviewed in major eastern publications rested in the fact that it was achieving high praise in the Midwest shortly following its publication (Publishers' Weekly June 11, 1932). Even then the reviews were only around 200 words. In contrast, the review in the Christian Century ran 1, 250 words (Book Review Digest). Moreover, the reviews in the major publications seemed to miss the religious and philosophical points of the novel. They tended to focus more on the obsession with doing good deeds for others that possesses Merrick in the novel. Major publications' reviews ran along the lines of, "it quickly absorbs one's entire attention," (Boston Transcript) or "[it] might be ticketed as an entertaining product." (Books) The New York Times Book Review implies that the book might be a case study of obsessive behavior. Quite differently, the Christian Century discusses Douglas' past as a preacher and how he transgresses from preacher to novelist without a trace of didactic language. This stark difference might hint at the reason why the novel took 2 years after its publication to become a bestseller. The reviews that it did get in major publications mostly portrayed the novel as a unique, if not unattractive, one to readers. Nevertheless, it caught on without much help from major publications and almost chiefly through world-of-mouth (Hackett 146). Another surprising factor when examining the popularity of Magnificent Obsession is the lack of obvious appeal to a wide readership. The universal appeal was revealed later as the novel caught on as offering solutions to current woes. The main cause for the seeming lack of appeal initially was due in part to publications such as The New York Times Book Review, which recommended the book to "those with curiosity concerning obsession." (16) The average reader doesn't want to read a book that examines obsessions. Another reason why the book failed to hit the best-sellers list right away might have been because it fell into the sub-genre of "religious literature" before the time came when the public sought religion as comfort. Magnificent Obsession was a first of popular religiously-themed novels, and not until the public sought religious solutions to their woes did they discover in it the comfort they would later find (Hackett 146). Many factors went into making Magnificent Obsession a bestseller, the most important one being the great depression of the early 1930s. The effect the depression had upon Magnificent Obsession proves that the success of a bestseller can greatly depend on the time period in which it is published. Because of Magnificent Obsession's great appeal to the nation in times of the depression, the novel overcame the setbacks of not being the typical bestseller, such as its bulky size and initial reviews in major publications or lack thereof. Magnificent Obsession transcended many obstacles before it reached the bestsellers list, proving that the success of a bestseller is virtually unpredictable and relies on the mood of the nation at the time the book comes out. Sources: "A Theory of Life." New York Times Book Review. 12 Jan. 1930: 14, 16. Books. 2 Feb. 1930: 13. Book Review Digest. Boston Transcript. 15 Jan. 1930: 2. Busch, Noel F. "Close Up: Lloyd C. Douglas." Life. 27 May 1946: 109-116. Christian Century 46 (1929): 1378. Douglas, Lloyd C. Magnificent Obsession. Chicago: Willett, Clark and Colby, 1929. Hapke, Laura. Daughters of the Great Depression: women, work, and fiction in the American 1930s. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. Hackett, Alice. 70 years of Bestsellers 1896-1965. "Lloyd C. Douglas." Cyclopedia of World Authors. Publishers' Weekly. 19 Oct. 1929. Publishers' Weekly. 8 Nov. 1930. Publishers' Weekly. 8 Jan. 1932. Publishers' Weekly. 11 June 1932. Thorkelson, John H. "Great Depression." Encyclopedia Americana. 1996. Unstead, J.R. "Twentieth Century." Encyclopedia Americana. 1996. Historical Statistics of the United States. Washington, DC: US Bureau of Cencus, 1975.
You are not logged in. (Sign in)