Sunday, May 31, 2009

TSS: Louis Bromfield's Books

Over the Memorial Day weekend my family went camping at Malabar Farm State Park up near Mansfield, Ohio. The farm was once owned and run by Pulitzer Prize winning author Louis Bromfield.
Bromfield shot to fame with the publication of his first novel, The Green Bay Tree, in 1924. His popular and financial success were so great that he was able to devote himself to writing full time. Bromfield won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1927 with his 3rd book Early Autumn.
In 1925 Bromfield and his family moved to France where Bromfield became part of the group that Gertrude Stein would name The Lost Generation. A young group of artists living in France following WWI, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Edith Wharton. Wharton and Bromfield actually hit it off rather well and maintained a correspondence until her death. It is interesting to note that while Ernest Hemingway is well known and studied by students everywhere today, Louis Bromfield was the more popular and well known author of the day.
In 1938 the Bromfields left a Europe on the brink of war and moved to Richland County, Ohio, close to where Bromfield had grown up.
Bromfield purchased three farms, combined them and named his new home Malabar. Soon his passion turned to soil conservation, restoring plundered forests, and agriculture. Bromfield's farming techniques and innovations became famous and soon he was hosting up to 30,000 visitors and agriculturists a year at his farm. Malabar farm became the most famous farm in America and possibly the world. This fame was helped by Bromfield's Hollywood connections. In 1945 Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married at Malabar and many other famous celebrities often visited the farm. Bromfield wrote several screenplays for MGM and 7 of his books were turned into movies.
Over time Bromfield's writing turned from fiction to works on agriculture and he lost his standing with critics. When he did write fiction it was for the money, as a means to support his work at the farm. His heart was in the farming and not so much the writing anymore.
The best part about choosing this campsite to stay at was learning all about Bromfield and visiting his 32 room mansion which still looks very much like it did when Bromfield died. What I loved most about the house was that it still houses Bromfield's collection of about 3,000 books!
Here are pictures of a few of the many bookshelves scattered throughout the home.I love this desk! Bromfield had it designed himself with big shelves all across the front to house books.
This last picture is part of a poem that E.B. White wrote about Malabar Farm and that was published in the New Yorker. Here is a short excerpt:

Malabar Farm is the farm for me,
It's got what it takes to a large degree:
Beauty, alfalfa, constant movement,
And a terrible rash of soil improvement.

Far from orthodox in its tillage,
Populous as many a village,
Stuff being planted and stuff being written,
Fields growing lush that were once unfitten,
Bromfield land, whether low or high land,
Has more going on than Coney Island.

When Bromfield went to Pleasant Valley,
The soil was hard as a bowling alley;
He sprinkled lime and he seeded clover,

And when it came up he turned it over.
From far and wide folks came to view
The things that a writing man will do.
The more he fertilized the fields
The more impressive were his yields,
And every time a field grew fitter

Bromfield would add another critter,
The critter would add more manure, despite 'im,
And so it went-ad infinitum.
It proves that a novelist on his toes
Can make a valley bloom like a rose.

Although a prolific and popular author in his day, Bromfield has fallen into obscurity today. Most of his books are out of print and difficult to find. A few have been reprinted by Wooster Book Company and I was able to purchase his Pulitzer Prize winning book Early Autumn and one of the books he wrote about Malabar Farm, Pleasant Valley. If I enjoy them, I am sure I will order more.
I had no idea how much of a history and literary lesson I was going to get when I booked this campsite but I am so glad we went! We have every intention of returning soon.

P.S. A picture of the spot where Bogie and Bacall tied the knot.


infiniteshelf said...

What an amazing place!
I'm particularly in ove with that desk; I need one just like that!

Irish said...

Wow !!! What a gorgeous house ....... And I love, love, love the desk .....Where can I get one .... I need to get my hubby to make me one :)

Jeanette said...

I did not mention it in the post but Bromfield decided that the desk was not very comfortable and did all his work at a little card table set up behind the big desk. It still looks amazing though doesn't it?

Karey said...

How funny that he didn't even end up using the desk. It sure is memorable and beautiful to look at, though! I'd love to tour the house, I have to say. It reminds me of the Louisa May Alcott home in Concord, Mass. So full of love and learning.