Never Let Me Go: Landfall by Helen R. Hull
Continuing with our Helen R. Hull revival, I found it challenging to figure out exactly what Helen wrote. There is a Helen S. Hull and a Helen Hull Jacobs, both of whom also published books. Helen R. (Rose) Hull’s books often list her simply as “Helen Hull” making it even harder to figure out which books are hers. Happily, I ran into the Facebook page that Pat Miller created for Helen R. Hull and exchanged some emails with Pat. Pat wrote her dissertation on Hull and has written forwards for at least three of her books, two in reissues and one as (I think) a new compilation of her novella(s) and short stories (#187 Last September). In an earlier post, I said that Mayling Soong Chiang was the only nonfiction book that I knew of written by Hull. Pat generously let me know that she actually wrote a number of other nonfiction books on writing (listed below) and corrected some things and added some dates – thanks! So, here’s the list of what I’ve been able to figure out she wrote – if any of you find any additions or corrections, please let me know and I’ll correct this:
Helen R. Hull’s Oeuvre
1. Quest (1922)
2. Labyrinth (1923)
3. The Surrey Family (1925)
3. Islanders (1927)
4. The Asking Price (1930)
5. Heat Lightning (1932) Also, see Book Snob’s review.
6. Hardy Perennial (1933)
7. Morning Shows the Day (1934) (links to Book Snob’s review)
8. Candle Indoors (1936)
9. Frost Flower (1939)
10. Through the House Door (1940)
11. A Circle in the Water (1943)
12. Hawk’s Flight (1946)
13. Landfall (1953) Reviewed below.
14. A Tapping on the Wall (?) there is a 1970 edition.
1. Uncommon People (1936)
2. Last September (1988)
2. Experiment (Four Novellas) (1940)
1. Art of Writing Prose (1930 & 1936), Copyright-1927
2. Creative Writing: The Story Form (1932)
3. Mayling Soong Chiang (1943)
4. The Writer’s Book (1956)
5. Writer’s Roundtable (1959)
I’ve bolded the books I either own or have gotten from the library, I have linked to the ones I’ve reviewed.
#157 Landfall by Helen R. Hull (1953)
Anice and Clif are a married couple living in New York City. She is an editor for a publishing house, he is a professor. Both are gorgeous and sophisticated. They have an Irish maid, Katherine, who is devoted to Clif. Both have adult children from former marriages.
The book starts the day after Anice has been told by a mutual friend that Clif is having an affair with one of the students in his department. Anice seizes this as an opportunity to leave him. Just as she is about to go, Clif becomes very seriously ill.
The book covers the week or two around this time as Clif and Anice figure out what to do with each other. Anice is married to her work and disconnected from her life. Clif is warmer – although we don’t learn too much about what he thinks, we read wondering: is he a stereotype or not? Can an accomplished, successful, and powerful “career woman” like Anice have a personal life and her work? Does she want to?
In the course of the book, we learn something about the publishing business where Anice manipulates her authors and co-workers (and it is interesting to read this at the same time I’m reading Reading Jackie which also talks a lot about the book publishing business through the work that Jackie Onassis did for Doubleday). It is also interesting to learn something about 50s era hospital care and household service.
Many of Hull’s books were reviewed in the New York Times when first published, including Landfall, which was reviewed by Andrea Parke March 1st, 1953 (warning, if you do read the review, it provides more plot points than I did). You have to have a New York Times subscription to read these reviews and other articles about Hull, including her obituary. Parke described Landfall as a “sharp pronged dissection of women” and her portrayal of Anice as “a shattering portrait of a woman without a single saving grace.” I think Parke got Landfall somewhat wrong – partly because Parke lived in an era when Anice would have violated nearly every rule regarding how a good woman should behave. Partly I wonder if she read the book carefully (for instance, she spells Clif’s name “Cliff” but Hull consistently spells it “Clif” – of course, this could have been an editor miscorrecting). Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that this is Hull’s best novel – Heat Lightning is much more powerful. As I was reading, from time to time, I wondered if Hull wrote Landfall to make money rather than out of some deep personal need.
It is, however, interesting to locate this book within what I have read of Hull’s other work and what I know about her personal life. She was gay, in a long-term relationship with a woman, spent most, if not all of her career as a professor, and seems (so far) to include far more sexually transgressive behavior in her books than (I think) most female novelists of the era in which she wrote (roughly 1920-1970). So, we can look at Anice as a woman who behaves like a man – and, in fact, if she had been a 1953 man, I bet Parke would have seen her as more likeable. Anice is highly manipulative and cold with most people (the exception is her son). But it is informative to contextualize the book with Parke’s absolutely scathing review saying “It is the more surprising that her prose effects are so self-conscious and labored that they rival the over embroidered passages of the pulps.” Hmmm…. Nothing in the book is at all “pulpy.” At least to me. The book doesn’t grab a reader like Heat Lightning does, but it isn’t simple or sordid. I guess what reading this review helps me see is how transgressive this book would have been in its day. Perhaps Hull was using her power as an established novelist to provide readers with a new kind of protagonist: a female professional who behaves like a self-involved male.
Pat Miller told me Labyrinth is a particularly strong novel – I’m going to keep reading, even if this particular book wasn’t my favorite, it was intriguing as an historical document and as part of Hull’s work.
Happy reading, Ruby