Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Birthday Book: How to libel a neighbor and still be a Book of the Month Club Main Selection

In honor of her  121st birthday (see related post this day), Henry Bemis Books is pleased to offer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ memoir, Cross Creek (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1st ed., 1st printing, 1942).


Rawlings 1938 novel, The Yearling, won her critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize; two books later she returned to her rural Florida homestead for this autobiographical account of her first decade there. The book contains colorful portraits of neighborhood, characters, including one Zelma Cason, whom she described as “an ageless spinster resembling an angry and efficient canary. She manages her orange grove and as much of the village and county as needs management or will submit to it. I cannot decide whether she should have been a man or a mother. She combines the more violent characteristics of both and those who ask for or accept her ministrations think nothing at being cursed loudly at the very instant of being tenderly fed, clothed, nursed, or guided through their troubles.

Cason, who wore pants, had an inordinate fascination with guns, and swore with such vigor neighbors claimed they could hear her a quarter mile off, took umbrage at Rawlings’ profile, hired one of the first women lawyers in Florida, and sued Rawlings for libel. Though Rawlings won at trial, the judgment was overturned on appeal and Rawlings was assessed damages of $1.

Bitterly disappointed, Rawlings moved away from Cross Creek and never wrote of her life there again. Despite the personal fallout Cross Creek caused, the book was a financial success. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and was issued in a servicemembers’ edition during World War II. A film version, issued in 1983, won Alfre Woodard an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

Henry Bemis Books’ copy is a hardcover, unclipped but worn dust jacket. Some yellowing to the edges of the text block. Copyright page bears the Scribner “A”.  Original purchaser’s bookplate on the endpaper; her name is written on the half title with the date, April, 1942. Good condition overall. HBB price: $35 obo.


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