Dean Marshall Revisited

by Craig Stark

10 October 2011

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It doesn't seem like five years have passed since we featured children's author Clara Deane Marshall (aka, Dean Marshall), who delighted a primarily juvenile female readership with her books some fifty years ago. In my feature article I wrote:

"For much of my childhood and well into my adult life I was burdened with the belief that, if you could trust anything about books, it was that the bad stuff would eventually fall away and only the good stuff would survive - and be far more conspicuous by virtue of its survival. That's how it worked, sure enough, and examples were not hard to come by: Melville was virtually unknown during his lifetime; Emily Dickinson and Thoreau? Similarly obscure, and so on. I'm guessing that at some point in my academic career some teacher of mine must have asserted the verity of this myth, and, since it must have seemed perfectly reasonable, I bought it.... Funny thing is, there's nothing like everyday bookselling to disabuse you of mistaken assumptions about books, and bookselling has surely taught me that time doesn't always get things right."

I followed this with several examples of books that were, in my opinion, outstandingly bad but had survived quite nicely, then concluded the article with a discussion of Marshall, who, though outstandingly good, was fast disappearing into obscurity. Today, five years later, she has all but disappeared, and as guest writer, Granby Drummer reporter George Lynch, observes, many people in her hometown of Granby, Connecticut have never heard of her.

At mid-century all six of Marshall's books had been published by a major publisher - E.P. Dutton - and many of them were reprinted well into the 1950s. Not a peep from a publisher since, and only several copies of her books have sold in the past year on eBay (for good money, I should add). Her base is aging fast. If a new base isn't built, it's quite likely that copies of her books, many of them enthusiastically read and handled by children decades ago, will be nearly impossible to find in any condition, and Marshall herself will become a mere footnote in literary history.

History is, of course, peppered with examples of great authors who were rescued from obscurity, some who were virtually unknown during their lifetimes. And though Dean Marshall doesn't rise to, say, a Melville level of greatness, she was as good or better than any of the best authors contemporary to her, a good number of whom have been reprinted often in our own times.

As a bookseller, I know from years of experience that one of the better (and more rewarding) things we can do in this profession is, if not rescue authors like this from obscurity, at least educate younger generations about them and keep at least some interest alive. This is one reason I'm dedicating an entire newsletter to Marshall. The other is to urge booksellers coming into the trade to investigate any and all obscure books that come into your possession for unusual merit. It takes only a few moments to leaf through pages, read a few lines here and there, etc. Quality is almost always quickly recognizable - and very often surprisingly profitable if we take the trouble to put our teaching hats on.

The following three articles include additional biographical information on Marshall and bookselling how-to.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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