September 7th – Taylor Caldwell

”I wanted to acquire an education, work extremely hard and never deviate from my goal, to make it.”

Taylor Caldwell

Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell was born on September 7, 1900, in Manchester, England. At the age of 7 she won a medal for an essay on Charles Dickens. Around the same time, in 1907, her family emigrated to the United States. She wrote stories from the age of eight, and at twelve completed her first novel, which she sent to her grandfather, who worked at E.P. Dutton. He accused her of plagiarism, not believing a twelve-year-old could write such a novel. (Conflicting sources say this was either The Romance of Atlantis, or Dear and Glorious Physician). 

From 1918-1919 she served in the United States Navy Reserve and during this time married William F. Combs. In 1920 they had a daughter, Mary (called Peggy). From 1923-1924 she was a court reported in Buffalo, New York before going to work for the United States Department of Justice. In 1931 she graduated from the University of Buffalo and divorced William Combs. She married Marcus Reback, and had a second daughter, Judith, in 1932. They remained married until his death in 1971. 

In 1934 she began to work on the novel Dynasty of Death, set in a fictional mill town north of Pittsburgh. Dynasty of Death is an epic multigenerational saga, stretching from 1837 to the eve of World War I, about the Bouchard and Barbour families, who grow their small munitions factory into a great international corporation. Caldwell submitted the manuscript to the famous editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s. Although she was an unknown housewife from Buffalo, the novel was published in 1938 (when she was thirty-eight) and it became a best-seller. It was published under the name ‘Taylor Caldwell,’  instead of Janet Reback. The publisher rightfully thought readers would presume the author was a male, which most did, doubting that a woman would write such a seasoned novel. But at that time Caldwell had written 100 unpublished novels, at the kitchen at night while her family slept, so a seasoned writer she was. According to an article in Time in 1947, her husband took about  140 manuscripts of unpublished novels and burned them in the incinerator of their home. 

Over the next 43 years, she published 42 more novels, many of them best-sellers. For instance, This Side of Innocence was the biggest fiction seller of 1946, spending more than six months on the New York Times Fiction Best Seller list, including nine weeks at #1.

In 1967 Caldwell was pistol-whipped during a home invasion and lost her hearing. Her husband was also injured in the attack, and died in1971. Caldwell married two times after his death. In 1972 she married William Everett Stancell, a retired real estate developer who had been married seven times previous. They divorced in 1973. And in1978 she married William Robert Prestie, an ‘eccentric’ Canadian and former trappist monk, 17 years her junior. This marriage caused problems with her daughters. Her daughter Judith committed suicide in 1979. Her other daughter Mary (called Peggy) entered a legal battle with Prestie after Caldwell suffered a stroke, claiming he abused and exploited Caldwell. 

In 1979 Caldwell returned from a three month cruise and signed a two-novel deal for $3.9 million before suffering a stroke that left her speechless. She finished one of the novels, Answer As A Man, which was published in 1980. It was the last novel published during her lifetime. 

Caldwell’s published works sold an estimated 30 million copies during her career. She became wealthy, traveling to Europe and elsewhere, though she kept her home near Buffalo. Her books were big sellers right up to the end of her career. 

She was a staunch conservative, and had no problem telling the world what she believed in and how others should behave. This didn’t always settle well with people, and may have something to do with her waning popularity today. 

Taylor Caldwell died of heart failure in Greenwich, Connecticut, on August 30, 1985.

Lesson from Caldwell:

Caldwell believed writers were born, it was an instinct you couldn’t ignore, and although it took her thirty years and over a hundred novel’s worth of worth to get published, she worked tirelessly at it, not letting anything move her focus from her goal.

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