Authors: John P. Marquand

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Unspeakable Gentleman, 1922

The Black Cargo, 1925

Warning Hill, 1930

Ming Yellow, 1935

No Hero, 1935

Thank You, Mr. Moto, 1936

Think Fast, Mr. Moto, 1937

The Late George Apley, 1937

Mr. Moto Is So Sorry, 1938

Wickford Point, 1939

Don’t Ask Questions, 1941

H. M. Pulham, Esquire, 1941

Last Laugh, Mr. Moto, 1942

So Little Time, 1943

Repent in Haste, 1945

B. F.’s Daughter, 1946

Point of No Return, 1949

It’s Loaded, Mr. Bauer, 1949

Melville Goodwin, U.S.A., 1951

Sincerely, Willis Wayde, 1955

North of Grand Central, 1956

Stopover: Tokyo, 1957

Women and Thomas Harrow, 1958

Short Fiction:

Four of a Kind, 1923

Haven’s End, 1933

Life at Happy Knoll, 1957


The Late George Apley: A Play, pr. 1944 (with George S. Kaufman)


Prince and Boatswain: Sea Tales from the Recollection of Rear-Admiral Charles E. Clark, 1915 (with James Morris Morgan)

Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, Mass., 1925 (revised as Timothy Dexter Revisited, 1960)

Thirty Years, 1954


John Phillips Marquand (mahr-KWAHND) is, according to many, the inheritor of the mantle of Sinclair Lewis as an attentive reporter of social customs, personal ambitions, and class structures in American society. Unlike Lewis, however, whose social satire is laid on with a heavy hand, Marquand presents his pictures of upper-class New England life with a clarity and simplicity that keep the reader from immediately sensing the bitterness of the novelist’s observations. Indeed, Marquand works a vein of good-mannered but tart social comment that can be found also in the novels of William Dean Howells and Ellen Glasgow.{$I[AN]9810000142}{$I[A]Marquand, John P.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Marquand, John P.}{$I[tim]1893;Marquand, John P.}

Marquand was admirably equipped for the task to which he set himself in his fiction. He was born into a well-to-do family with New England connections; his great-aunt was Margaret Fuller, the transcendentalist. In Wickford Point and other novels he reflected the aura of tradition of his ancestral town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Marquand’s youth was, however, not a financially secure one; his family lost money in the crash of 1907, and when Marquand attended Harvard University he was forced to rely on scholarships and the help of friends. As a result of feeling socially excluded Marquand learned to look at his chosen subject matter from both sides.

After college Marquand accumulated war experience on the Mexican border and in France, but he did not find this experience of danger and fear especially suggestive in a literary way. More stimulating were several years spent in an advertising agency in New York. After two years with the New York Tribune he returned to New England to write his first novel, a cloak-and-dagger narrative titled The Unspeakable Gentleman. For almost a decade and a half, until the appearance of The Late George Apley in 1937, Marquand was a productive writer of stories that appeared regularly in the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s, work that, in Marquand’s own later judgment, naïvely accepts the morality of the success story and provides the superficial social observation of a fashionable photographer. Toward the end of this period he had great success with a series of detective stories about a Japanese detective named Mr. Moto; because of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II he had to abandon the series about 1941 but revived it with Stopover: Tokyo in 1957.

Against the advice of friends, Marquand wrote his first serious novel, The Late George Apley, which won him the Pulitzer Prize. The novel, an attack on the Brahmin class of Boston, is, like Marquand’s later social dissections, doubly chilling because of the narrative’s simplicity and quietness. The failure of his central character to achieve his own early hopes and to respond to the real chances for life and experience furnishes a pattern for many of the later Marquand novels, which often feature heroes shrewd enough to see what they really are or could be but not adventurous enough to realize this vision, choosing instead to accept the “diminished thing,” as Robert Frost phrased it, that is, life according to the wishes and social pressures of others.

Marquand was married twice, each time, as one of his characters would put it, “very well”; he and his first wife divorced in 1935. Marquand’s career after 1937 was one of unwavering publishing success, with Wickford Point; H. M. Pulham, Esquire; So Little Time; Point of No Return; Sincerely, Willis Wayde; and others. During the same time membership on the board of a book club, involvement in the productions of stage versions of several of his novels, and continuous writing changed his early success as a slick popular writer into a second career as a writer whose social comment and criticism were taken seriously. Granville Hicks pointed out that Marquand is a better observer of class structure in Newburyport than are W. Lloyd Warner and his staff of sociologists in their scientific study of the Massachusetts town in The Social Life of a Modern Community (1941).

BibliographyAuchincloss, Louis. Writers and Personality. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Marquand is one of the writers to whom a chapter is devoted in this study of the psychology of authorship. Bibliographic references.Bell, Millicent. J. P. Marquand: An American Life. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979. A comprehensive account of Marquand’s life, with a biographical rather than a critical emphasis. In the prologue Bell describes Marquand’s work as belonging to “the novel of manners” genre and compares him to William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, John Updike, and John O’Hara, among others.Birmingham, Stephen. The Late John Marquand: A Biography. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1972. A sympathetic biography of Marquand, by a young writer who had frequent contact with him, which includes some review of Marquand’s writing. Helpful in providing personal background for the Marquand scholar.Gross, John J. John P. Marquand. New York: Twayne, 1963. This full-length study examines Marquand’s success in his day and gives critical acknowledgment of his expertise as a social novelist. Discusses the action in his later novels, written in the last twenty-five years of his life. Deliberately omits review of Marquand’s work in popular magazines, gives some background information, and relates Marquand to other writers of his time. Includes a useful but dated selected bibliography.Gura, Philip P., and Joel Myerson. Critical Essays on American Transcendentalism. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Briefly mentions Marquand and the hero of his novel H. M. Pulham, Esquire. Gura and Myerson see this character as embodying the “genteel tradition” of American humanism, which becomes reactionary only when it is divorced from renewal and change.Hamburger, Philip. J. P. Marquand, Esquire: A Portrait in the Form of a Novel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952. An unusual approach in which Hamburger unfolds aspects of Marquand’s life in the novel form. Contains very little critical reference to his writings.Hoffman, Daniel, ed. Harvard Guide to Contemporary Writing. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. Discusses Marquand in the context of novelists of manners. Provides commentary on his novels, which is appreciative but also faults Marquand for becoming an emblem of the “trap of popular success.”Penzler, Otto. “Mr. Moto.” In The Private Lives of Private Eyes, Spies, Crimefighters, and Other Good Guys. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1977. A study of detective fiction that includes both bibliography and filmography.Penzler, Otto. John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto. New York: Mysterious Bookshop, 2000. A complete bibliography of Marquand’s works featuring Mr. Moto by the publisher of The Armchair Detective.Teachout, Terry. “Justice to John P. Marquand.” Commentary 84, no. 4 (1987): 54-59. A reassessment of Marquand’s literary legacy more than twenty years after his death.Whipple, Robert D., Jr., ed. Essays on the Literature of American Novelist John P. Marquand (1893-1960). Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004. Collection of scholarly essays on Marquand and his works that argue for the author’s continued relevance. An entry in the Studies in American Literature series.Wires, Richard. John P. Marquand and Mr. Moto: Spy Adventures and Detective Film. Muncie, Ind.: Ball State University Press, 1990. Focuses on Marquand’s detective fiction. Includes filmography and bibliographic references.
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