|Lauren Holcomb||Tarkington, Booth: Seventeen|
|Assignment 1: Bibliographic Description|
|1. First Edition Publication Information||Booth Tarkington. Seventeen: A Tale of Youth and Summer Time and the Baxter Family, Especially William. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1916.
Copyright: 1915, 1916 by the Metropolitan Magazine Company.
|2. First Edition in Cloth, Paper, or Both?||The first American edition is published in a dull orange trade cloth binding.|
|4. Pagination||191 leaves, pp.  1-3  5-11  13-14  15-19  21-26  28 [2,2] 29-34  36-39  41-43  45-46  47-56  58-62  64-75  77-80  81-86  88-102  104-111  113-116 [2,2] 117-124  126-132 133-136  138-147  149-161  163-172  174-180  182 [2,2] 183-186  187-189  191-201  203-210  211-228  230-245  247-256  258-271  273-282 [2,2] 283-284  286-297  299-316  317  319-328  |
|5. Edited and/or Introduced?||Introductory material (on unnumbered beginning pages) includes several types of information: a list of other books by Booth Tarkington, separated into those published by Harper and Brothers and those ìPublished Elsewhereî; a table of contents listing chapter numbers, titles, and their starting pages; a table of illustrations, captions, and opposing (numbered) pages; and a dedicatory page ìTo S.K.T.î This edition had no editor or introduction.|
|6. Illustrated?||Black and white drawings enhanced with pink watercolor (to indicate skin color and lighting) appear as twelve plates inserted on glossy paper stock within the novel. The first is a frontispiece followed by a film sheet, facing the title page. Others face pages 14, 28**, 46*, 80, 116**, 132*, 182**, 186, 210, 282*, and 316**. All are signed by Arthur William Brown in the lower right corners. Each illustration has underneath it a one- or two-sentence caption taken from surrounding text.
*This illustration and its text are turned sideways, facing the opposing page on the left.
**This illustration covers two pages: i.e. p.28, blank page, ill. part 1, ill. part 2, blank page, p. 29.
|8. General Appearance||Each leaf is 185 mm long, with left margins 16 mm, right 23 mm, top 15mm, and bottom 27 mm. Text is measured at 90R. The large serif font and a good amount of spacing between lines make this edition easy to read. Illustration legends are in a slightly larger size of the same font. Each left-hand page of the spread is headed with the title "SEVENTEEN" and each right-hand page notes the title of the chapter. All pages except those that are the last page of a chapter are denoted with page numbers centered directly below the text. One instance of type fading is noticeable in this copy (legend to illustration plate facing p. 132); otherwise, text is still bold and readable.|
|10. Description of Paper||Four different types of paper are used in this edition. Readers first come across a heavy, creamy wove paper only slightly yellowed with age. The first and last leaves of the book are of this material. A ëregularí wove leaf follows this first one, called regular here because it is the stock used for the entire plot text of the book. It is the same color as the heavier paper, but is lighter-weight. Both stocks seem to be of good quality, as they have held up well over time and are only slightly yellowed (as of 2002). The third type of paper is the glossy paper stock on which the illustrations are printed. This paper is thicker than the regular paper, with one side non-glossy and of the same color as the text pages; the glossy side is whiter and smoother. Both the glossy stock and the fourth type of paper ñ the nearly translucent film following the frontispiece illustration only ñ have held up well over time and are barely discolored.|
|11. Description of Binding||This edition has no dust jacket. Its binding is of the same medium orange colored trade cloth used for the front and back covers. The endpages are of the same paper stock as the first and last leaves of the book. Gilted lettering is used for all words on the front cover and spine, except for the title ñ SEVENTEEN ñ on the front cover; this word is boxed by a gilted line, of a larger font than the authorís name, extends across the entire width of the top inch of the cover, and has its individual letters cut out of the medium orange trade cloth (thus, the word is slightly raised).
Transcription of front cover:
SEVENTEEN | BOOTH TARKINGTON
Transcription of spine:
SEVENTEEN | [gilted insignia of bow, ring, and hanging leaves] | BOOTH | TARKINGTON | HARPERS
Back cover of same medium orange cloth, no lettering or symbols.
|12. Title Page Transcription||Title page recto transcription:
SEVENTEEN | A TALE OF YOUTH AND | SUMMER TIME AND | THE BAXTER FAMILY | ESPECIALLY WILLIAM | BY | BOOTH TARKINGTON | ILLUSTRATED | [signet with Greek lettering and a torch being passed from one hand to another] | HARPER AND BROTHERS PUBLISHERS | NEW YORK AND LONDON
Title page verso transcription:
SEVENTEEN | Copyright, 1915, 1916 by the Metropolitan Magazine Company | Printed in the United States of America | Published March, 1916 | B-Q
|14. Manuscript Holdings||The University of Virginiaís Special Collections Library has a Booth Tarkington Collection that includes photographs, drawings, letters (including one to Frederick A. Duneka at Harperís about the status of his publications), an advertisement card for his novel, an election support postcard, and several manuscripts (i.e. ìA Great Manís Career,î ìEdgar Comedies No. 16Ö Title: Edgarís Black Magic,î ìFlowers for the Living,î A Tribute to Julian Street). The University of Virginia also has holdings of papers of the Forean Society (1927-1952), in which Tarkington participated. Other manuscripts and papers are kept in Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, New York Public Library, Princeton University, and Indiana State Library in Indianapolis. These collections do not include the original manuscript of Seventeen.|
|15. Other||The copy examined is an inscribed copy. The front fly leaf has a collectorís sticker on it, reading: ìHic Fructus Virtutis.î It is illustrated with a green tree, a small coat of arms, and a larger coat of arms that is black with silver diagonal stripes and gold leaves. In cursive black writing, the bottom of the sticker is printed ìClifton Waller Barrett.î The first leaf (unnumbered) is signed in cursive with thick black ink: ìVery gladly [?-]ed | for Mr. C.W. Barrett. | Booth Tarkington. | Indianapolis, | March 5, 1940. The back fly leaf has a small, red, rectangular sticker printed ìGotham Book Mart, Inc. | 51 West 47th St., N.Y.î in gilted lettering. The library collections box in which the book is kept has gilted lettering on the spine indicating the title, author, ìinscribed copy,î and ìfirst edition.î|
|Assignment 2: Publication History|
|1. Other Editions:||First edition:
New York (and London): Harper & Brothers. 1915-1916. 329 p. pl. (some col.) 19 cm.
Subsequent editions and/or printings* by Harper:
New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1917. 328 p. 11 plates. 18.5 cm. "Not first edition."
New York and London: Harper & Brothers, Harper's Modern Classics. 1932, 1944. 303-308 p. 19 cm. Edited by Mabel Dodge Holmes.
New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1932, 1944, 1952. 288 p. 23.5 cm. Illustrations by Edward Tunis.
Evanston, IL: Harper & Row, 1963. 299 p. 21 cm. Harper's Modern Classics. Introduction by Bernard Weiss.
New York: Harper & Row, 1968. 184 p. 19 cm.
*See difficulties explained in Section 4.
|4. First Edition printings or impressions?||A copy of Seventeen noted "Not first edition" in the National Union Catalog was published by Harper & Brothers in 1917, one year after the original publication date. The only differences between the bibliographical description of this subsequent edition are slight and vague. For example, the 1916 edition is measured at 19 cm and the 1917 edition is measured at 18.5 cm; one or both measurements could be slightly off, meaning the two editions could actually measure the same. The other difference is that the first edition has twelve plates while the subsequent edition is described as having eleven. This could in fact be a variation in the editions, but another possibility is that the bibliographer describing the 1917 edition did not include the frontispiece in his/her illustration count.
The significance of the apparently small difference between the 1916 and 1917 Harpers editions is that identifying printings or impressions of the first edition as opposed to those of the second edition becomes difficult. No information was found clearly identifying a particular printing as "first edition reprinting" or "1917 edition reprinting," and the similarities between the two editions make identification by copy examination complex.
Minimum information can be deduced from the National Union Catalog: that is that the first edition was printed at least twice by Harpers, first in New York and then in London. Also, Johnson's First American Editions notes that the first edition was reissued in New York in 1932 with a new introduction.
|5. Editions from other publishers?||- In The Works of Booth Tarkington. Seawood edition. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, and Company. v. 12 of 13-27. Possibly 1918-1919. Some say limited to 1075 copies; some say 565. One entry says "Publication initiated by Doubleday, Page and completed by Doubleday, Doran."
- In the Standard Collection of British and American Authors, v. 72. Paris: Louis Conard, 1917.
- New York: S. French, 1924. "Booth Tarkington's SeventeenÖ in four acts, by Hugh Stanislaus Stange and Stannard Mears, in collaboration with Stuart Walker."
- New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1915-1916, 1918, 1930, 1939, 1940. 328-9 p. 19-20 cm.
- New York: Grosset & Dunlap, A Thrushwood book. 1916, 1967, 1970. 249 p. 21-22 cm. Reprinted 1946-1947.
- London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916. 328 p. illus. 20 cm.
- Mattituck, NY: Amereon House, 1916. 328 p. 23 cm.
- Garden City: Doubleday, 1922. 358 p.
- New York: Bantam books, 1945. 254 p. 16.5 cm. "Bantam edition published November, 1945."
- New York: Bantam Books, 1963. 184 p. 19 cm.
- New York: Buccaneer Books, 1983. 184 p. 23 cm.
- Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. Braille edition. 1932, 1955.
|6. Last date in print?||Seventeen is in print in several forms as of October 2002:
- CD-ROM. $6.25, 2001.
- Audiocassette. Audio Book Contractors, $35.95, 1992.
- The Works of Booth Tarkington, Classic Books.
- Seventeen: publishers between 1995-2001 include Classic Books, Eighteen Hundred Seventy Three Press, Buccaneer Books, SoftBook Press, Amereon, Ltd., & Electric Umbrella Publishing.
|7. Total copies sold?||619,716 copies had been sold as of 1956.
Gale's Contemporary Authors series says "nearly eight hundred thousand copies" of Seventeen were sold (2000).
|8. Sales by year?||619,716 copies had been sold as of 1956. Sales figures previous to this number and/or by year are unavailable.|
|9. Advertising copy:||One Publisher's Weekly ad (1916) has "17" blocked off in all four corners of the ad. It reads: An Important Announcement | On March 10th | will be published | Booth Tarkington's | SEVENTEEN | A Tale of Youth and Summer | Time and the Baxter Family | - Especially William | Illustrations in Tint. Cloth $1.35 net. Leather $1.50 net. | Do not forget to send in your order | promptly for this worthy successor to | "THE TURMOIL" | Seventeen Letters Describe It | DELIGHTFULLY FUNNY | Posters and Postcards will be | furnished on request | HARPER AND BROTHERS.
The March 11, 1916 edition of Publisher's Weekly lists Seventeen under "Fiction" in its two page spread of the "Spring List."
Under "Some Important Spring Books" / "Fiction," Seventeen is summarized: "How a romance invaded the untroubled life of William Sylvanus Baxter, age seventeen. A delightfully funny story in the author's most irresistible manner."
Seventeen is also under "The Books Being Talked About" / "Fiction." The blurb says, "William, at seventeen, has a hard time maintaining his manly dignity through the progress of his first love affair."
In the April 18, 1916 edition, Seventeen has a two page spread of advertisement describing it as "The Big Success of The Spring Season." On the left-hand side of the spread are ten booksellers reviews; on the right-hand side are twelve critic reviews.
Other ads appear in The New York Times Book Review.
In the March 5, 1916 edition, the excerpt reads: A NOVELIST'S HUMOROUS VIEW OF YOUTH | Delicious Lampoon by Booth Tarkington in His Forth- | coming Novel "Seventeen" - Latest Works of Fiction. It has a circular photo of Tarkington, and text is in 2.5 columns.
An advertisement in the March 12, 1916 edition has the same circular photo of Booth Tarkington. "SEVENTEEN" is printed diagonally, in effect cutting the ad in two halves, and the subtitle is off to the left. Text reads: Just Published | A New Romance | by | Booth | Tarkington | Author of | "THE TURMOIL." Longer paragraphs read:
-How romance invaded the untroubled life of William Sylvanus Baxter, age seventeen. A deliciously funny story in the author's most irresistible manner. There are two serious dogs also.
-"Aside from the fact that it is one of the most laughter-provoking tales of the year, Mr. Tarkington's story is also, beneath all its fun, a notable study of the psychology of the boy in his latter teens." - New York Times
A similar ad appears in the April 2, 1916 edition, except this one is at the bottom of the page and does not include the two long paragraphs. "SEVENTEEN" is printed diagonally in the same way. This ad lists four reviews and prices of the book as well. Text reads: by | Booth | Tarkington, Author of | "THE TURMOIL" | HARPER AND BROTHERS, Established 1817.
|11. Other promotion?||A Tarkington Drama Festival was held in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1940. This event may have included theater productions of Tarkington's other works but was probably a promotion event for the Paramount Pictures film of Seventeen as well, since it came out in 1939-1940.|
|12. Performances in other media?||- Famous Players Film Co., 1916. Starred Louise Huff & Jack Pickford.
- Screenplay by Agnes Christine Johnson & Stuart Palmer. Paramount Pictures, 1939. Directed by Louis King.
- Seventeen; a musical comedy, based on Booth Tarkington's Seventeen. Book by Sally Benson, music by Walter Kent, lyrics by Kim Gannon. NY: S. French, 1954. 98 p. 22 cm.
- Vocal & piano score of musical. Toronto: S. French, 1954. 140 p. 31 cm.
- Chamber opera, 1989. Wiscasset Music Pub. Co., B. Warren.
|13. Translations?||Seventeen has been translated into several languages, including:
- Warszawa, Bibljoteka groszowa, 1937. Siedemnasta wiosna. Translated by Janina Sujkowska. 2v. in 1. 19 cm. Polish.
- Xianggang : Jin ri shi jie chu ban she, 1966. Shi qi sui. 244 p. 18 cm. Chinese.
- Utrecht ; Antwerpen : Uitgeverij Het Spectrum, 1960, 1969. 267 p. 18 cm. Dutch.
- K¯benhavn : Jespersen og Pios Forlag, 1918. 188 p. 20 cm. Norwegian.
|14. Serialization?||Seventeen was serialized in Metropolitan Magazine, which had previously published Tarkington's Harlequin and Columbine and a few Penrod stories. Parts of Seventeen were published in ten different issues of the magazine, beginning in January of 1915.|
|15. Sequels or Prequels?||No prequels exist for this book. Although there are no actual sequels either, Tarkington reportedly used the character "Jane" in Seventeen as inspiration for developing the character of protagonist "Florence Atwater" in his book Gentle Julia. Sequels are listed for Tarkington's popular book Penrod, but none appear to have been written for Seventeen.
|Assignment 3: Brief Biography|
|* Other biographical information on Booth Tarkington can be found in this database in Meghan Fleming's entry on Gentle Julia and Lisa Payne's entry on The Turmoil.
Booth Tarkington (July 29, 1869 - May 19, 1946) had a very successful career writing novels, short stories, and plays. The author lived through an era of many changes in technology, communication, and transportation; his country struggled through two world wars and a major economic depression. More personal events for Tarkington in the early twentieth century included divorce from his first wife and an intense struggle with alcoholism, which contributed to several years of unproductive writing. These events doubtlessly affected his career as well as his everyday life and mentality, and traces of their lasting effects may be found in his longer, more "serious" writings.
However, happier events led Tarkington to get back on track with his writing and discover that "entertainment was the commodity that he could most easily afford [the public]" (Cooper 208). In 1912 (three years before the serialization of Seventeen, Tarkington met and soon married Susanah Robinson, and he also gave up drinking. These decisions gave him a renewed sense of the importance of writing and a fresh optimism about life. Tarkington had grown up in "the Gilded Age," and he remembered his childhood as pleasurable years. He loved reading as a child, and he began writing and producing his own short stories and plays in his early teens. Nostalgia for these years of innocence and fun led Tarkington to spend several years writing humorous, light-hearted juvenile fiction. Indeed, Penrod and Seventeen were based in large part on his childhood memories of middle-class Midwestern America and on the lives of his nephews (John, Donald, and Booth Jameson) and their young friends. One historian explained, "Seventeen is a nostalgic tale that was compounded from the author's memories of adolescence when he was Willie Baxter and Bush Browning and Horace Hord were Johnny Watson and Joe Bullitt" (Woodress 189). Another wrote, "There is no question that [Tarkington] greatly enjoyed recapturing those childhood escapades hidden in the recesses of his memory (Fennimore 101).
Tarkington's memories of his own adolescence also allowed him to accurately relate common teenage feelings of frustration and confusion, which Willie Baxter struggles with in Seventeen. While the situations in the book are exaggerated for the purpose of humor, the characters' passions, flaws, and everyday struggles resonate strongly with those remembered by older reading audiences. Seventeen's style, theme, and language are geared toward adults, while the child and adolescent audience relates to its situations and characters. The success of Penrod led Tarkington to further explore the juvenile fiction field. Just as "there is something of Penrod in every man and much of Tarkington in Penrod" (Fennimore 112), the same transitive property applies this quote to Seventeen's Willie Baxter. These novels dealt primarily with American boyhood, perhaps due to his own family circumstances: his older sister acted much like a mother to him; his daughter was (for the most part) raised by his first wife; and his sister's children were his nephews, not nieces.
In Seventeen and his other "juvenile" fiction of the decade, Tarkington used humor and satire to write about conflicts between generations (especially parent-child relationships), which often appeals to the older generation while it may humiliate or anger teenagers having those feelings at the time. As Tarkington once stated, "The child lives almost as much in his dreams of what will happen as the very aged man does in his dream of what has happened" (Fennimore 102-103). Seventeen's magazine serialization in 1915 and book publication in 1916 came in the middle of the success of his popular "Penrod stories" (Penrod, Penrod and Sam, and Penrod Jashber). His success as a juvenile fiction writer led to a marked change in his literary reputation, as people in following generations remember him in connection with these stories, plays, and films about the trials of adolescence (Gale).
Tarkington endured many hardships in the years following publication of Seventeen, including the deaths of his father and only daughter, as well as becoming blind for three years before surgery renewed his vision. Tarkington's strength and glowing personality continued despite his setbacks. Despite his fictional characters' immense popular success, grand-niece Susanah Mayberry stated, "Uncle Booth was his own best character" (156). She also wrote, "One of his nephews spoke for all of us the day after Uncle Booth died. He said, "This is the first day I can remember when I didn't think after I woke up, 'I wonder whether I'll get to see Uncle Booth today.'" (Mayberry 137). Tarkington's idealism and optimism about life and the future of America was evident in his writings as well as his personal relationships. His writing repertoire had a wide range, extending from long novels and plays to short, lighthearted fiction; in the end, Seventeen was noted as "one of the happiest moments in Tarkington's literary career" (Woodress 189).
*Cooper, Frederic Taber. Some American Story Tellers. Rahway, NJ: The Quinn and Boden Co. Press, 1911. p. 196-224.
*Fennimore, Keith J. Booth Tarkington. NY: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974.
*Gale Contemporary Authors Database. [Online] Entry from April 28, 1998. Copyright 2002. [Entry for "Newton Booth Tarkington"].
*Mayberry, Susanah. My Amiable Uncle: Recollections about Booth Tarkington. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1983.
*Woodress, James. Booth Tarkington: Gentleman from Indiana. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1955.
Woodress, James. "Booth Tarkington." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 102: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945. Second Series. Ed. Bobby Ellen Kimbel. The Gale Group, 1989. [Online]
|Booth Tarkington’s juvenile literature, including the novel Seventeen, was thoroughly enjoyed by the majority of his contemporary audience. America had loved his adolescent nostalgia in Penrod, and Seventeen followed in the same line of expected glory. Tarkington wrote Seventeen in the midst of the booming success of his Penrod stories, finding that “entertainment was the commodity that he could most easily afford [the public]” (Cooper 208). Indeed, in 2002 he is remembered most for these humorous juvenile tales.
The New York Times Book Review first introduced the public to Seventeen in its March 5, 1916 review, “A Novelist’s Humorous View of Youth.” The novel was to be published the following Friday, and the anticipation for the book was apparent by the size of the review: it took up two and a half columns on the front page of the literary section and even included a large photograph of Tarkington. This early review uses words such as “clever” and “amusing” to describe Seventeen’s plot and characters. It’s billed as “a deliciously funny story, even more provocative of laughter than was ‘Penrod.’” Issues of Publisher's Weekly in March 1916 used a similar phrase, calling Seventeen "delightfully funny" in both an ad before the book's publication as well as its following review. This type of language, mainly describing the book’s entertainment value, was used in many contemporary reviews of the story. The New York Times review goes on to note, “Mr. Tarkington’s story is also, beneath all its fun, a notable study of the psychology of the boy in his latter teens.”
Reviews of Seventeen were not always so positive, as some people viewed Tarkington’s writings not as worthwhile literature, but as doting representations of a time of struggle for children and young adults. James Branch Cabell mocked the author – but perhaps complimented the novel in a roundabout way – in an article titled “Which Defers to the Arbiters,” part of his book Beyond Life (1919): “…the fact remains that out of forty-nine years of living Mr. Tarkington has thus far given us only Seventeen" (454 TCLC). Another odd review was written in The Men Who Make Our Novels (1919) by Charles C. Baldwin in his article “Booth Tarkington.” Baldwin wrote: “Seventeen is Mr. Tarkington’s high water mark. It is farce, without passion, without poetry, palpably insincere and shallow – but it is hilarious” (459 TCLC). Thus, some reviewers may have liked the story almost in spite of themselves. Others sincerely applauded Tarkington for Seventeen, which was evident in the book's sales figures and its bestseller status. Publisher's Weekly named Seventeen "The Big Success of the Spring Season" in its April 18, 1916 issue.
Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. [Online], via Virgo. [search for Subject “Tarkington”].
Cooper, Frederic Taber. Some American Story Tellers. Rahway, NJ: The Quinn and Boden Co. Press, 1911. p. 196-224.
Publisher's Weekly [Microfilm]. January - June, 1916. Alderman Library, S-13.
The New York Times Book Review, March 5, 1916. “A Novelist’s Humorous View of Youth.”
Twentieth Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 9 (1983). Alderman Library, Ref. PN 771 .78.
|James Woodress explains the fading presence of Tarkington in subsequent review history as a combined result of Tarkington’s style and his reputation as an author mainly of popular juvenile fiction. He writes (1983): “Academic critics never have paid much attention to Tarkington, regarding him as an articulator of his time and place, not as a literary pioneer” (195 Facts on File).
Even positive reviewers recognize that, while he certainly wrote some successful and substantial works for adult audiences, Tarkington’s literary fame does rest mainly on his juvenile stories. A 1983 review states, “He is best remembered today for his adventure-filled, wholesome young-adult fiction, most notably the Penrod series and Seventeen” (451 TCLC). This same article on Tarkington describes Seventeen and Penrod as “classic portraits of the all-American boy at the turn of the century” (451 TCLC). Scholars have sometimes compared Tarkington’s adolescent male characters – such as Penrod Schofield and Willie Baxter – to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, usually in favorable ways. In comparing Tarkington’s two major hit juvenile novels of the time, James Woodress remarked, “Seventeen’s Willie Baxter is “a character almost as well known as Penrod” (188 Woodress).
Just as in its contemporary reception, some later reviewers of the works disliked what they considered the stock characters and humdrum experiences of the boys and girls in Seventeen. For example, Carl Van Doren gave a harsh review (“Contemporary American Novelists: Booth Tarkington”) in The Nation Magazine in 1922. He summed up his opinions by writing: “What all these books [Penrod, Penrod and Sam, and Seventeen] primarily recall is the winks that adults exchange over the heads of children who are minding their own business, as the adults are not; the winks, moreover, of adults who have forgotten the inner concerns of adolescence and now observe only its surface awkwardnesses… The adolescence of Mr. Tarkington’s tales is almost nothing but farce-staged for outsiders” (455 TCLC).
While the book is certainly read much less frequently than it was in Tarkington's time, its status as a book still in print (as of November 2002) gives it reason to be called a twentieth-century classic. Perhaps the most modern reviews can be found online, where Amazon.com's Seventeen buyers gave it a 'four' on a five-star rating system. One customer wrote in January of 2001, "Anyone reading SEVENTEEN needs to understand that this book is about a time and place now so far away and different from what we have come to know that it could be science fiction. Yet people remain the same, emotions remain the same" (www.amazon.com). This review and most others on the site are positive, noting the book's unfailing humor just as reviewers in the early twentieth-century did for the most part.
Undoubtedly, Tarkington’s reception would have been different had more reviews come from the other half of his targeted audience: teenagers themselves (one such review is in fact available at www.amazon.com, as of November 2002). As it is, prominent reviews seem to vary from loving Seventeen to considering it a waste of time and paper. Nevertheless, its positive impression has left a mark on American literary history. In 1967, James Woodress wrote “Popular Taste in 1899: Booth Tarkington’s First Novel.” While this article concentrated mainly on Tarkington’s Gentleman From Indiana, Woodress more generally stated: “Never in [Tarkington’s] career did he write solely to meet the demands of the literary market place. What he was able to do, however, mirrored the public taste. He had the happy knack of pleasing while being natural” (Schulz 121). Most of the reception of Tarkington’s Seventeen seems to prove this statement, acknowledging the author’s bright view of the years in which the novel was written. Pleasant childhood memories and “remember when” stories led the public to receive Seventeen graciously in its own time, while its innocent juvenile content also led its reputation to fade over time.
Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction: 1866-1918. Alderman Library, Ref. Z1231 .F4B46.
Schulz, Max, ed. Essays in American and English Literature, Presented to Bruce Robert McElderry, Jr. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1967. Alderman Library, PS121. E79.
Twentieth Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 9, 1983. Alderman Library, Ref. PN 771 .78.
Woodress, James. American Fiction, 1900-1950: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1974. Alderman Library, Z1231 .F4W64.
Woodress, James. Booth Tarkington, Gentleman from Indiana. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1955.
www.amazon.com Book Reviews [search for “Seventeen”].
|A year’s bestseller lists can divulge more information about the reading public than perhaps the individual readers know about themselves. In this sense, the bestseller status of Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen in 1916 is as humorous, nostalgic, and touching as the short novel itself.
Seventeen is a light-hearted novel about the anxieties and ecstasies experienced by most young boys during adolescence. Author Booth Tarkington focuses on the plight of one such seventeen year-old, Willie Baxter, to gain sympathy for him and those around him during one angst-ridden summer of “first love.” Readers are taken along on Willie’s visits with the object of his affection, and though much of the contact between them remains a secret, Willie's pesky little sister Jane often gives an eavesdropping, “fly on the wall” perspective. While Willie’s reactions to his beloved Miss Pratt may seem more like those of a twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy to twenty-first century readers, his emotions are portrayed in the book as comical but genuine. This characterization makes readers sympathize with Willie, and the unquestionable realness of his family’s exasperated feelings towards him and his situation make Willie’s “supporting cast” likeable as well. The humor that results from Mr. Parcher’s encounters with Willie, his constant and obnoxious visitor as long as Miss Pratt is the Parchers’ house guest, is hysterical to any reader who has had visitors outstay their welcome. Thus, at first glance it may seem that Seventeen’s success rests on its simple, enjoyable plot and sympathetic, unproblematic characters.
However, much more can be observed about Seventeen’s quick rise to the top of the charts. Booth Tarkington was a well known author in the early twentieth century, and his book The Turmoil had just been well received in 1915. Promotors of Seventeen used these factors wisely. For example, some ads for the book in The New York Times Book Review featured pictures of Tarkington, and a 1916 Publisher’s Weekly ad promoted Seventeen as a “worthy successor to “THE TURMOIL.” Furthermore, Seventeen was published in the heyday of Tarkington’s juvenile fiction career, which was itself the major highlight of his more varied repertoire of writings. In 2002, most critics and reviewers remember Tarkington for his outstanding stories about children and adolescents. Furthermore, among this genre, the Penrod stories are usually considered his most substantial work. Incidentally, Penrod was a bestseller in 1914, just two years before Seventeen made its splash. While Seventeen has newly devised characters and situations, it was written just after Tarkington discovered one of his greatest and more lucrative talents: writing bestselling juvenile fiction. Of course, fans of Tarkington also noticed this new burst of talent when they laughed aloud reading Penrod in 1914; thus, they didn’t hesitate to purchase Tarkington’s latest book on adolescents (Seventeen) in 1916. In this way, Seventeen can be considered a follow-up bestseller based on the success of Tarkington’s previous books and on the author’s reputation, even as it was changing and solidifying to become that of a mainly juvenile fiction writer.
While critics of Tarkington may say that Seventeen sold in high numbers only because of Penrod’s success, several aspects of Seventeen’s content keep it in print in 2002, perhaps for reasons unobserved even by its most avid fans. Tarkington banks (correctly, apparently) on the idea that the Baxters’ humdrum experience will provoke happy nostalgia about childhood in his reading audience.
While the book was promoted as a child’s book, its complicated adult language undoubtedly left most children in the dark as to what was truly occurring in the book’s pages. A seventeen year-old reader may sympathize with Willie when he’s dealing with his bratty younger sister, but he probably does not see many parallels between Willie’s problems (begging to wear an adult evening suit or struggling with a collar-button) and his own (asking for a curfew past midnight or having to pay a speeding ticket). An audience Jane’s age probably finds the plot boring, since Jane’s character is not excited by the prospect of being “in love of” someone, which is the center of Willie’s life and problems. Therefore, while the book is about children, it is not exactly for them; indeed, most of readers’ laughter comes at the expense of Willie and his peers.
Tarkington’s treatment of the “children” in Seventeen is one reason why this book would have no hope of becoming a bestseller in 2002; it dates itself and becomes a “period piece” bestseller. Ten year-old Jane acts more like a seven- or eight-year-old, and seventeen-year-old William could easily pass as a thirteen-year-old boy. Tarkington is not using these characters as exceptions to usual standards of the time; all of the young characters in the book are called children, and their behavior and speech confirms that status. When Willie talks about the rare cases of people his age who are married, it is understandable why Mrs. Baxter gets fidgety and nervous about Willie’s proposed affections for Miss Pratt. She believes – as much as readers of this book do – that Willie’s character is more that of “Silly Bill” (an occasional childhood nickname) than that of “Mr. William Sylvanus Baxter.” In 1916, the concept of adolescence was regarded completely differently than it is in the twenty-first century. The word “teenager” was not even developed for everyday use until the 1940’s and 1950’s. A person went from childhood to adulthood, probably signified by moving out of the parents’ home, getting married, or getting a job. In 2002, a person can be a baby, a child, a pre-teen, a teenager, and a young adult before finally accepting the full responsibility of the title “adult”! Since Tarkington’s youthful characters in Seventeen are the main source of its humor and character relations, its ideological distance from 2002’s generation of teenagers separates itself enough that the book loses massive readership.
Another huge attitude difference between the social atmosphere of 1916 and that of the 2000’s is the management of racial issues. In Seventeen, African-American people are usually referred to as “colored,” a term rarely accepted in social contexts post-1970. The Baxters regularly enlist the help of Genesis, an African-American handy-man. William hates to be identified with Genesis in public, which he has the occasion of doing twice within this summer. At one point he shouts at his mother, “You expect me to walk through the public streets with that awful-lookin’ old nigger” (Tarkington 11). An adolescent repeating this phrase in 2002 would be chastised not only for talking back to his parent (as William might expect to be), but also for the use of what has come to be considered an extremely offensive word to most black Americans, or perhaps even for the anti-black sentiment in general. While Tarkington sometimes hints at the word “damn,” the closest he comes to other offensive language is William’s frequent cry of “Ye gods!” In 2002, writing “damn” or other such words would be much less likely to draw criticism than using the word “nigger” outside of anything other than a necessary context. The only other black characters in the novel are also servants, one serving the Baxters a meal and the others serving at Miss Pratt’s farewell dance. Even this treatment of the race issue, no doubt considered usual and harmless to Tarkington’s mainstream white readership in 1916, would be considered unfair in the twenty-first century. Genesis is given favorable character traits, but his speech is represented by an almost incomprehensible attempt at spelling out the dialect phonetically, so readers in no way come to see him as an equal to the other characters vying for main roles. The change in racial mood since Tarkington’s time is certainly one of the more drastic changes that have taken place in America since the book’s publication. Altering the book market to gear it towards people of mixed races and ethnicities has inevitably changed the books themselves; thus, this book would probably not sell well if first published in today’s social atmosphere.
The book capitalizes on the pervasive youth and innocence of not only William, but also of his small, close-knit family. The Baxter family – Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, son, and daughter –forms the ideal American family unit, an image sought out by most of America well into the 1950’s. Mr. Baxter works most weekdays, while Mrs. Baxter stays home and takes care of the house and children with help from hired servants. Since the story takes place during a summer break, siblings Willie and Jane mingle with their contemporaries to participate in various activities. This picture of an unhurried hot summer for the family is construed as typical in the book: the other families in the neighborhood nonchalantly follow this same standard for summer behavior. For most readers, no such summer or family ever existed. To be sure, lazy days and happy family moments have been experienced by a majority of Americans, but certainly not to the point of perfection suggested by Tarkington in these pages. Thus, another reason this book was a bestseller is that it paints a picture of a town, family, and life in which every reader wishes to take part. This yearning exists in 2002 as it did in 1916, and it exists for readers whose lives come close to the ideal as well as for those who have almost nothing in common with the picture being painted. Perhaps written in the same vein as “self-help” books that sell in large numbers in the twenty-first century, simply put – this book makes readers happy.
Even at the time Seventeen was a bestseller, its content has to have been considered idealistic: the nation was becoming involved in its First World War. Just as the war changed America’s economy, politics, and education system, it had a major effect on what the nation picked up to read. Conceivably, in 1916 readers could have appreciated the juvenile aspects of the literature exponentially more than they had enjoyed Penrod in 1914. William is seventeen: in Tarkington’s world, this means he is still protected by his parents, enjoying his dream world of fantasy love, safe from even the idea of firing squads, trenches, or mass murder. William’s problems are incredibly trivial compared to those of most of the reading audience in 1916. The bestselling figures of Seventeen show that the United States longed to continue giving its children these beloved years of carefree growing up. The choices for other bestsellers in 1916 confirm this idea: Just David, Eleanor Porter’s follow-up to Pollyanna, glorifies childhood as a treasured period in any person’s life, and the main subject matter of H.G. Wells’s Mr. Britling Sees it Through is World War I. Although bestsellers have changed over the century, their potential use as tools of relaxation and escape – such as books that fall into this war time category – remains the same.
Whether Americans loved Seventeen because it reminded them of their own childhood innocence or created for them a likeable and necessary fantasy of such a time, the fact that the book remains in print in 2002 shows that these heartwarming effects can be enjoyed by many who never experienced life in 1916. However, its removal from the bestseller lists after a short reign at the top demonstrates that, just as the attitudes of the American public change dramatically over time, so must the makeup of the lists. Books about war and childhood may continue to sell well, but the datable aspects of Seventeen, such as its treatment of adolescence and race, make the book relatively hard to find in 2002. Although period pieces may not be as socially valued in later decades, their impact at the time of publication is obvious by the large number of bestsellers that fall into this category. In his Dictionary of Literary Biography, James Woodress describes some of Tarkington’s books as “works of lasting value in their authentic recreation of a time in America’s past and in their statements of social significance” (Gale n.pag.). Thus, Seventeen joins many other period bestsellers in creating a legacy that continues to lend twenty-first century readers a small glimpse into one narrow window of American history.
Dictionary of Literary Biography. James Woodress on “Newton Booth Tarkington.” Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945, 1981; Volume 102: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945, Second Series, 1991. Referenced on Gale Database.
Gale Contemporary Authors Database. [Online] Entry from April 28, 1998. Copyright 2002. [Entry for "Newton Booth Tarkington"].
The New York Times Book Review, March 5, 1916. “A Novelist’s Humorous View of Youth.”
Publisher's Weekly [Microfilm]. January - June, 1916. Alderman Library, S-13.
Suite 101 Writing & Publishing Community. [Online]. Copyright 1996-2002. Viewed December 2002. http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/11243/89986
Tarkington, Booth. Seventeen: A Tale of Youth and Summer Time and the Baxter Family, Especially William. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1916.
Whole Heart Ministries – Books. [Online]. Copyright 2002. Viewed December 2002. http://www.wholeheart.org/books_just_david.asp.
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