Vital Signs

How the Historical Novel Has Changed!

Should one read Hervey Allen or Anne Rice?  Why should the question be asked at all?  Why might a discriminating reader today even think of picking up either Hervey Allen’s massive best-seller of 1933, Anthony Adverse, or The Feast of All Saints (1979) by Anne Rice, a hugely popular contemporary author?  (Both are still available through major booksellers.)  A literary face-off here between the two historical novels, chosen out of scores of works that might invite adversarial (if not saintly) confrontation, is instructive.  They are not without resemblances—an illegitimate hero, questions of race and status (including slavery), and a New Orleans setting for Rice’s novel and part of Anthony Adverse.  Each illustrates the genre differently.

Allen (1889-1949), from Pittsburgh, was graduated (according to the Columbia Encyclopedia) from the university there, then fought in the Great War.  Toward the Flame: A Memoir of World War I records his experiences.  He taught English in Charleston, South Carolina, and collaborated with DuBose Heyward on a poetry collection, Carolina Chansons (1922).  He is best known for his biography of Poe, Israfel (1926).  According to 1933 interviews in New York newspapers, he spent five years composing Anthony Adverse.  He later published other verse and fiction.

Anthony Adverse...

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