Raintree County, 1948
Ross Franklin Lockridge, Jr., wrote only one book, committing suicide just short of his thirty-fourth birthday, soon after his novel was published in 1948. Born April 25, 1914, in Bloomington, Indiana, he studied at the Sorbonne and Harvard, and held teaching positions at Indiana University and at Simmons College while working on his novel.
Raintree County reflects the novelist’s personal concern with place and time. Set in Indiana, it attempts to encompass the popular democratic vigor of mid-nineteenth century American social history by means of flashbacks. The novel follows the experiences of one man, John Shawnessy, through the events of one day, July 4, 1892, which symbolically represents the author’s theme of “encyclopedia Americana” with its school picnics, local post office gatherings, and political speeches. But the actual time covered is from 1844 to 1892; what Lockridge attempted was a re-creation, on a tremendous scale, of American society and history in the decades before and after the Civil War.
Lockridge, who spent seven years writing his work, considered it a major effort. Because of its loose realism and experimental devices of style and language, suggesting a combination of Thomas Wolfe and James Joyce, the novel gained wide attention when it was first published. Full-bodied in its teeming sense of life, Raintree County is more than historical panorama. It is also poetic insight and myth, and in spite of certain obvious crudities it remains an interesting and ambitious effort to create a living legend of the national experience. A rare novel of ideas with popular appeal, it was excerpted in Life magazine and won the prestigious MGM Novel Award.
Lockridge fell into a depression shortly before the novel’s publication while beginning work on a new literary project. His death occurred in Bloomington on March 6, 1948.