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Louis Bromfield's America

Malabar Farm drew a large crowd the summer day I was there, mostly busloads of the elderly on excursion from the "senior centers" of Ohio. They came to see Louis Bromfield's legacy—the once famous agricultural experiment that is now a state park. Most of their interest centered on the tour of Bromfield's "Big House," his attempt to integrate all of Ohio's historic architectural styles into a single statement of man's attachment to the land. On the tour, we saw the grand study and desk where Bromfield wrote the essays that were collected in Pleasant Valley, Malabar Farm, and Out of the Earth. We viewed the great hall where Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Bromfield's closest Hollywood friends, exchanged their wedding vows, and we stood in the very room where the couple spent their wedding night (on twin beds).

A favorite of book clubs, publishers, newsreels, and the reading public until his death in 1956, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize 30 years earlier for his novel Early Autumn, Bromfield is nearly unknown among Americans below the age of 50. None of his novels has been elevated to the canon taught in American literature classes. While a half-dozen of his books are still in print in the Czech Republic and India, a would-be American reader must prowl the used book stalls to find a comparable selection. Despite a fascinating life spanning the interwar American expatriate community,...

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