Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.
Sidebar 3: The Early Novels of Darcy Glinto
Lady—Don’t Turn Over; No Mortgage on a Coffin; Snow Vogue; You Took Me—Keep Me; Yours Truly, Hoodlum; Road Floozie
The first work you read by an author can be the defining one.
Back in my schooldays, around 1943, a dirty book circulated tantalizingly among the older boys, the second taboo book in my young life, the first, a few years earlier, having been H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, which a grown-up cousin refused even to name to me.
One day I came upon the mystery paperback in an empty locker in the deserted common-room and received it incredulously as a gift from the gods. It was strong stuff for a fourteen-year-old back then, even with what seemed to be a page or two missing at the end. And what a title: Lady—Don’t Turn Over. That was an all-boys school. The book didn’t have a cover.
When a copy of the first edition turned up in a bookseller’s catalogue in the Seventies, I sent off for it. The price was high for those days—fifteen quid—but at least I would be able to learn how the novel ended. (Actually there hadn’t been a page missing.)
Inside it, in someone’s neat small hand, was a transcription of a News Chronicle report on the outcome of the 1942 Old Bailey trial in which Harold Ernest Kelly and his publishers pleaded guilty to having published two obscene books—Lady, Don’t Turn Over and Road Floozie—and were fined, respectively, a hundred and two hundred pounds. A pound back then would have been the equivalent of forty or fifty pounds now. (See Note 8.)
I also at some point in the Nineties acquired Road Floozie and Deep South Slave through Abebooks from a historical novelist who had been willed them, along with other questionables, by a sergeant-major with whom he had served in the War.
When I got serious about Glinto a year or two ago. I assumed that the novels between Lady and Floozie would be at least as scandalous as Lady.
It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation.
In 1940-41, the authorities had other things on their minds, such as the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, and No Orchids and Lady—Don’t Turn Over had evidently sailed along until the prosecution.
Wells Gardner, Darton, who published Lady and the other pre-trial Glintos, were a respectable firm, established in 1792, and doing late-Victorian books on things like bell-ringing and imperialist derring-do. Their childrens’ Christmas annuals still figure in the long Abebooks list of their works. At the back of No Mortgage on a Coffin is a list of sixteen titles in their Everyday Library—Baby’s First Year, How to Be Beautiful, Everybody’s Guide to Popular Hobbies, etc.
But they had also gone popular with a paperback series in which Lady appeared, with its scared-looking blonde in green slip and see-through negligee on the front cover. See Note 3.
On the back of my copy is a list of “Titles in This Series,” in which, in addition to the Glintos, we have such names as Robert C. Du Soe’s The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Emery Bonett’s A Girl Must Live, Lady Mary Cameron’s Mr. Dayton, Darling, and Maurice Dekobra’s The Street of the Painted Lips.
All of them, I now see, exist in what appears to be a respectable way on Abebooks.
Spot-checking, Du Soe’s book is described on one site as,
Screenwriter Du Soe's only novel, about an innocuous feller name of Steve who gets in a car with the simple, corpulent Furgison. The pair pick up a couple of girls, and only after the bodies pile up does Furgison start to wonder who it is he's riding along with. Later  filmed into a noir classic of same name.
The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars (1927), with free-spirited heroine Lady Diana Wyndham involved in international intrigue, was apparently “fabulously successful”
This wasn’t Porn Alley.
Indeed, No Mortgage on a Coffin and “Snow” Vogue (at least) were, relatively speaking,“quality” paperbacks, their semi-stiff cardboard covers enclosed within dust-jackets. The illustration on the front of Snow Vogue is decorous, one might almost say elegant.
So it would seem as though Kelly had had a pretty free hand and was operating within the pale. Evidently he thought so too, if we can go by his statement, as quoted during the pre-trial hearing in the magistrate’s court, “I cannot see how the books can be described as obscene. I fail to see how either of the books can be described as obscene. There is no question of perversion in any book I have written.”
In fact, though, the pattern of development in the first five Glintos turns out to be the reverse of what one might expect with “exploitation” novels. The books become progressively milder, and not, it would appear, because of external constraints.
I think I now start to see what was involved.
On the death of his wife, twelve years his senior, the ageing Benjamin Disraeli reportedly said that when he married her it had been for her money, but that if he had done it again later, it would have been for love.
My hunch is that when Harold Kelly sat down to write his first novel, at least his first published one, it was for the money. A glaring factual error in the first two pages, which was removed in the 1949 edition—the eyes of Doreen Milmay are simultaneously masked and visible—suggests that the book went into production fast. I don’t know how many copies were sold.
I think that while writing it, Kelly began discovering novelistic interests, and continued exploring them in the next four books.
If Lady—Don’t Turn Over (another marvelous title) still disturbs, it is in part because we are drawn more sympathetically than we are in No Orchids into the consciousness of the women victims—the raped Edda Van Nuys, Cora Bilt screaming against the muffling bedding, Doreen Milmay with masked eyes in the car in the opening scene, and, especially, Clare Holding, the tall black-haired daughter of the assistant chief of the F.B.I.
But what are their experiences, and what the peculiar eroticism of the book?
What may have taken it to the Bow Street magistrate’s court, and thence to the Old Bailey?
Glinto never becomes topographical about the naked female form.
Nor do we have the everyday peeking at stocking tops and the lacy edges of undergarments that Stephen Frances keeps inserting in the Hank Janson books, and which Kelly himself provides in the Sixties when taking his turn in the Janson mill.
Nor are the sexual invasions in the novel simply a matter of brute force and the penetrated body, as they had been in E.M. Hull’s The Sheik (1921) or Jean de Villiot’s Woman and Her Master (translated in 1904, retranslated as Black Lust in 1932, and partly adapted by Hull).
Or in fevered imaginings about Huns on the rampage in 1914 Belgium.
There is indeed violation.
Though we never witness the brothel in operation, its horror enters the reader’s mind when Slitson, apropos of the possibility of scaring protection money out of other rich “judies,” demands,
”Or do they like being laid by an oily punk with hot pants who’s got the dough to pay, putting on strip acts so’s they c’n be looked over same as they might look over a poodle pup themselves, an’ getting themselves hotted with a piece of rubber hose when they won’t play ball?”
When former inmate Julie Drexel tells Clare’s father Grover Holding, Assistant Head of the Federal Investigation Bureau, that at Cora’s nightclub The Long Bottle she has just seen
“another man who—who … She stammered for a second or two and then went on with an effort, “One of the men who was turned loose with me several nights. He’s an old, white-haired, driveling … oh God,”
it has a special force. The white-haired man is the millionaire John P. Halmar whose drooling the gold-digging Cora Bilt has already commented on (imagine making love to the Guy Kibbee of 42nd Street!), and who is now abruptly not a figure of fun. Glinto knows the power of the off-stage and imagined.
The chapter-long build-up to the rape of newly-arrived blonde, soft, “full-fleshed,” and obviously nice Edda Van Luys, psychologically stalked by lawyer Mouth Fennig, is particularly disturbing, and to judge from the cut in the later edition, contributed to the book’s winding up in the dock.
Offering himself as her pal, Fennig gentles her along in the bedroom to get her to write a note telling her parents she’s away on vacation, and induces her to have a little drink to calm her nerves, and then another, and Edda keeps wanting to trust him, and then recoils in instinctive and well-judged suspicion, but accepts it when he says gently that he’ll go and she can rest.
“Okay. I’ll be on my way.” But there was a light-switch hanging against the wall beside the bed. He looked at it and down at the cord holding the wrap about her waist, measuring the distance to both. Then suddenly he leaned forward quickly and pressed off the light.
End of chapter, at least in the reissued edition. (See Sidebar 8.)
That we have no clear sense of how Fennig looks contributes to the sensation of having been insidiously drawn in as accomplices.
Things are more complicated, however, between big, blonde, fleshy gang-leader Dill Slitson and Clare Holding, with her “massed-up waves of black hair, the cream of her complexion, the wide-apart big brown eyes, the firm breasts pointing out through her blouse and the flowing lines of her hips and legs.”
In the key-setting opening scene of the fast-moving first chapter, Lynx Hanson (just a name at that point) is driving a rich-looking girl in a Chrysler Airflow to the depot to, as he puts it, “turn her loose,” with instructions to keep her mouth shut. The Airflow, a luxury car ahead of its time technologically, was introduced in 1934, which gives us a bit of dating. (Note 32)
The girl looks as though she might own the car, but she is slumped down in the back seat and her eyes are covered with cotton pads (in England, cotton-wool) held in place by adhesive tape.
En route, Hanson stops the car.
“H’yah, Sister?” Hanson said familiarly. He slammed down beside her. The girl made no reply. She did edge herself slightly away and pulled her skirt lower over her knees with a mechanical movement.
“A bit late for keeping your legs private,” he said, and jerked her skirt back. His other hand held a gun. The girl half moved to resist but then went limp again. She remained with about three inches of thigh showing, but she only looked at the gun. Hanson slapped his hand down hard and grabbed the knee nearest him.
I’m quoting from the first edition and, yes, her looking at the gun is a boo-boo that was removed in the revised edition.
He rips off the adhesive tape and
The girl’s limpness was no mystery then. She had a look that was made up of many things but all bad—shame, pain, everything down to despair. Even the smart of the tape being ripped off did not make her wince. It seemed she had suffered too much to notice a trifle like that.
Her name, as we learn subsequently, is Doreen Milmay, her father is rich, and she has been kidnapped and forced to work in a brothel for several weeks. She is now ripe to be blackmailed. No, she isn’t the lady of the title.
In the by-play with the skirt, we have the first instance of that shame-making exposing of flesh, and the lost protection of normally concealing clothing, that will figure at other points in the novel.
When Clare is high-hat after being brought into the hideaway, Slitson outdoes Ma Grisson’s manhandling of Miss Blandish.
From his grip on her clothes he shook her until her mouth had dropped open, then he ripped until her body was open to the waist except for her brassiere, and finally hit her on the chin with such force that her head smacked back against the wall and sounded like a door slamming. She stayed that way a moment her mouth still hanging open and Dill Slitson standing over her. Then she slithered to the floor. On the way her skirt hooked over the corner of a chair and peeled itself back into a roll at her waist..
“Pretty!” sniggered Min. She meant the long stretch of silk-clad legs and delicate almost transparent knickers and the exposed white body from waistband up. With a view like that around, Fennig and Matsu were using their eyes all right. (First edition.)
Later on, up in the windowless bedroom that becomes her cell,
“Min!” Slitson shouted. The old woman came in almost immediately. “Didn’t I say leave her like she was?”
Min nodded. “Yeah.” Then she shuffled over and took a quick grab at Miss Holding’s waist. It left the clothes gaping wide and the girl’s body exposed as it had been after Slitson socked her. (pp. 32-33).
At the end of the chapter, “Her skirt was lying by the divan where Min had dropped it. He went over, picked it up, tore it into half a dozen pieces and went out.”
With the loss of control over what is seen by others, and can be touched and handled and envisaged by others, comes shame—sexual shame, with its charge of a felt unworthiness. You can’t feel proudly ashamed or defiantly ashamed. You are temporarily annihilated as an agent. With the exposure threatened by a blackmailer, the annihilation, the sensed gaze of others, can become permanent.
There is a considerable erotic charge to the idea of shame and shaming, at least for some (male) readers.
One is invited to become, unreproved, not so much a voyeur as a feeler, presented with a surrendered female consciousness without any of the normal realworld transactions required for its achievement. One is simultaneously empowered and released from striving.
It is “she” who has surrendered and is feeling the guilt.
Poor Edda Van Luys will obviously blame herself for having allowed herself to drink too much and “fall,” rather than be mad at Fennig.
What is sought by Slitson is a willing surrender, not just a drugged or coerced one.
Despite being confined, like Miss Blandish, in a windowless bedroom and flogged, probably more than once, by the gorilla-like hunchback Min, Clare doesn’t break, even though retreating from her initial voiced de haut en bas contempt for her captors into an interior exile.
Hyper-sensitive to any put-downs of his masculinity, it is essential to Slitson that Clare, epitome of a class to which he feels inferior, surrender to him voluntarily and want him. Though she turns in weary hopelessness to the gin bottle, he can’t simply “take” her.
At one point, after furiously shaking her and throwing her down so that she is half lying on the bed,
He stood a moment, panting from his effort. Then he bent down and drew his hand across the white flesh of her waist. He did it yet again. The smoothness of her skin seemed to intoxicate him. He went on mechanically but in quick urgent movements.
But nothing more happens at that point, though presumably he has an orgasm.
Kelly/Glinto understood the hunger for a granted possession, and the undeflectable persistence that can go into obtaining it.
They figure prominently again later in the odious bootlegger Poulos’ fixation on Carrie Donovan in Curtains for Carrie (1947), especially chapter 5, and in Pen Lupin’s attempt in No Come Back from Connie (1948) to break Connie O’Mara by imprisoning her without food or water.
The best, the subtlest writing in Lady is there in those occasions when Slitson and Clare are alone together, particularly in Chapter XVI, with its three pages of analysis of his need to have her yield and his fury when he realizes that, even when she desperately flings herself at him to be taken, so as to end an intolerable impasse, he hasn’t broken her.
The chapter is all the more poignant because of the early quiet in it.
He unlocked the door of the room and let himself in. She was sitting at the head of the bed with her knees drawn up to her chin and a quilt covering them. She looked ill and worn out. Slitson did not notice that. There was an odd expression in her face as she looked at him. It had fear in it, but a sort of relief as well.
“Feelin’ cold or just kinda shy?” he asked her.
“I wasn’t feeling anything particularly,” she said quietly. (pp. 127-8)
That “quietly” is heartbreaking. We are further inside her consciousness here than we ever are with Miss Blandish.
Eight years earlier, Kelly himself had been a victim of the powerful in the libel suit that bankrupted his paper City Mid-Week with a judgment, immense in those days, of fifty-thousand pounds. (See Note 8.
I think we can see him now, in Lady, particularly interested in how victims cope with their violations.
Devastated by shame, self-disgust, and the likelihood of public exposure, society girl Doreen Milmay, whom we see at the outset in the Airflow with Hanson, kills herself, as Miss Blandish does after being rescued from Slim.
But shipping-magnate’s daughter Julie Drexel, despite the fact that press silence can’t be wholly guaranteed, bravely agrees to help Holding and his assistant Glyn Alder save Clare from what she herself went through.
And Clare Holding, as I’ve said, doesn’t surrender the innermost fortress of her self. We can be pretty sure that even if Slitson had taken her when she flung herself at him, and the relationship continued, she wouldn’t have killed herself after being rescued.
Cora Bilt, of course, has no sense of shame. Despite her dislike of him physically, she has no trouble using her body to keep Halmar on the hook until the old goat has given her not only the Long Bottle nightspot but a huge chunk of money. After that, as she and “boyfriend” Lynx Hanson agree in one of their candid conversations, Hanson can simply bump him off.
In the end, though, not only Milmay but Clare, Cora, and drunken sadistic Min all go down into the same darkness.
In the remaining pre-Old Bailey novels, Glinto is obviously becoming increasingly interested in women who aren’t victims, either because they simply refuse to be trapped and dominated—but in more complex ways than Cora Bilt’s—or because even when they lose, it doesn’t wreck them.
He is also becoming interested in the phenomenon of men finding women interesting for their personalities, and not simply as prey or fetishized sex-objects.
At the outset of No Mortgage on a Coffin, it must have looked to the punters who’d put down their one-shillings as though Glinto were going to top what he’d done in Lady. Thirty-six pages in, we’re inside some American Nazis’ underground torture chamber, with the Jewish anti-Nazi crusader Simon K. Mecklen tied spread-eagled to rings in the wall and crying. “Tears were slithering slowly down his face and he was making queer sobbing grunts like a dog dreaming.”
He’s crying because his daughter Hester is standing in the middle of the room stripped to the waist, with her hands pulled over her head by a rope coming down from the vaulted ceiling. “There was fear in her eyes of what was to come, but it was the humiliation of being so exposed and helpless before half a dozen men that she seemed to be feeling most.” A couple of thugs are standing by with short-handled whips with thin knotted lashes of twisted hide.
It is a scene straight out of the shudder pulps. When Reitzer calls out, “Twenty!” and the first blow falls, and the second, and the third, and she is screaming and writhing and her father is screaming, it looks as if we are off for a classic Grand Guignol exploitation ride, “exploitation” being defined here as a concern primarily, as in Italian zombie movies, with normally taboo effects.
But in fact it’s flagellatio interruptus.
After the third blow, and thinking of her lacerated back, Sam Lemberg, gangster and brothel-owner, talks Nazi chief Reitzer into letting him carry her off with him (the father’s fate, predicted later on in one sentence, serving as a sop to the reader’s fouler imaginings), and the rest of the novel, apart from an episode of sabotage, is mainly about the new sexual quadrangle of Lemberg, Hester, and his two mistresses, Sonia and Rita, The tensions between the latter culminate in a savage fight in Sonia’s apartment extending across four pages of solid text, at the end of which Rita takes a pair of scissors and gouges the unconscious Sonia so badly on her cheeks and the insides of her thighs that she kills herself.
Hester holds up remarkably well, starting with when she quietly strips herself to the waist and allows Lemberg to doctor the welts on her back. “It was as she had said to herself: ‘I cannot avoid doing this thing so I might as well do it straightforwardly and without palaver.’ ”
She comes out all right at the end, too, after having stood up to Lemberg and told him straightforwardly, when he threatens her with white-slavery in his chain of brothels, that he’ll never be more than a low crook to her but that she recognizes that she’s in his power and that he can have her when he wants her.
She is in fact almost consigned to a brothel by Rita, acting behind Lemberg’s back, but she is saved in the final pages, thanks to a persistent newspaper reporter. Rita perishes (undescribed) in the torture chamber.
In Snow Vogue there is an early flicker of the old Soho-bookshop appeal (Kelly obviously still kept his eye on the market) when gangster Dario coldly flogs his congenitally unfaithful mistress Zola with a rattan cane until his arm gets tired. But after that we are off into a straightforwardly Hammetesque narrative about Dario’s ascent in the drug racket. It seems to me the least interesting book of the five.
You Took Me—Keep Me is considerably more interesting beginning with a remarkable episode in which young Edda Garfe, hitchhiking to Canada in 1931 Depression America, finds herself in a roadside shelter during a blizzard with young roughneck Max Broler, truck-driver for a bootleg operation. He rapes her, and it is a remarkable episode as she keeps trying to dodge and argue with and talk him out of it without losing her head, and fights him hard (looking round for a weapon) after she realizes that despite her initial confidence this is for real, and breaks a lamp on his head, and is obviously decent and honest.
But it’s all to no avail, because he is the stronger, and for him she is obviously for all her talk, just a judy or floozie, and doesn’t really not want it, and it will be no big deal for either of them anyway, he thinks. And after it’s over (undescribed), and she’s “sobbing but in a dry, hiccoughing sort of way like a kid that has cried too long,” he’s saying things like, “Guess it’ll need some more kerosene. I gotta can in the cleaning kit on the truck,” and, when he comes back in and she’s sitting beside the stove repairing a tear in her slip, “Take a drink. It’ll set yuh up,”
In a touching meditative speech, she explains to him that she’d been hoping that maybe she’d be lucky and the right man would come along.
“ if I—saved myself for that I could feel I’d—earned a good time… I wanted to go on feeling that I hadn’t—used myself right at the start. I don’t know if it’s high-hat being that way. If it is, a girl ought to have the right to do what she likes with—with herself… I guess I could have taken almost anything—and liked it—if I could have gone on feeling good about myself. Now I’ll never be able to again. It’s no good having plans any more. “(pp. 19-20)
Nevertheless, this isn’t the end of the road. He’s a complete stranger to her, she says, and she would have killed him if she could, but he was too strong. “And that’s all I am now—your leavings. But if I stay with you, it’ll be different. Whenever we—did it again—it could mean something. I could feel this is where I belong. Maybe I could get a thrill out of it, too, then.”(p.21) She adds, “I guess I ought to be hating the sight and sound of you. But I’m not. I don’t know if we could make out together. I would do my best to make it work.”
And it does, despite his being half as smart as her during his gangland rise with her help, and chronically unfaithful, and we really do want things to go well for her, while fearing that there won’t, in this unfair world, be a happy ending.
In the rape episode we can see Road Floozie starting to form.
Yours Truly, Hoodlum opens promisingly (see Note 46) with Lugs Cortesi as a slum kid watching a well-described car-crash and shoot-out with cops at the end of which the gangster driver is dead, along with his floozie, whose black panties, garter belt, and stockings have been spectacularly exposed.
Lugs sets up in the protection racket with his own juvenile gang, and becomes obsessed with a tough aloof local girl, José, whom he asks to model the “right” underthings that he’s bought for her. When she indignantly rejects him, he goes berserk and a savage fight ensues, interrupted by a neighborhood cop, who thrashes Lugs’ ass with his nightstick before carting him off to the station. During his five years in reform school, Lugs makes obscene little figurines with his woodworking tools and figures out how to persuade the school shrink that he’s normal. At mobster Dings Albery’s club where he goes for a job on his release, he watches a spectacular strip act containing the right garments.
So far, so good. But starting on p. 81 there’s a twenty-page stretch of such substandard writing that the novel is broken-backed. Albery sets the new kid up to take the fall in a needlessly complicated sub-plot involving the murder of a socialite junkie, with awkward plot summary, wooden dialogue, an insufficient characterization of Albery, and no effective presence of other gang members.
Despite the betrayal, Lugs returns to work for Albery, delivering dope for him, killing a nosy cop, and having an affair with one of the girls at the club, Jessie, who’s willing to humour his obsession. In an interesting episode he revisits proud José, who’s become a weary floozie, and gets her to wear the right things now, which he finds doesn’t excite him. (To undermine her self-confidence, he deliberately doesn’t make any sexual advances to her.) He also kills the cop who had thrashed him so badly that he had to sleep on his stomach for days.
But the episode in which Albery makes him knock out and deliver to a brothel Albery’s mistress, the lovely stripper with whom Lugs has also been having an affair, is under-written (could there be cuts in the Robin Hood edition?), as is Lugs’ final comeuppance.
It’s interesting seeing Kelly dealing frontally with the underwear fetishism that is an element in Lady—Don’t Turn Over, and with the male beating-and-humiliation that figures more powerfully in She Gave Me Hell and … (1950) and The Trouble-Kid Quits (1951).
But he hasn’t worked at animating Albery and his gang, and his attitude towards Lugs isn’t as clear as it might be (sympathetic? ironical). The whole thing doesn’t sufficiently hang together, as if he couldn’t get clear enough to himself what most interested him about Lugs’ obsession. He was probably also working at white-hot speed, producing five novels in that year.
If you go to Google, you will find Iain Sinclair opining that something or other is “about as likely as Pope John Paul suggesting that Road Floozie’ by Darcy Glinto isn't a bad read.” I can’t speak for His Holiness, but Google will also take you to a serious, I may say (modestly) an excellent, web book about poetry that contains a slightly fuller version of the following remarks:
Here is a passage from a twentieth-century novel:
She went on past the café and the jam of parked trucks. Beyond a field, the railway ran parallel with the road for some way. The track was on a steep embankment and beyond it was a wooded slope. At distances there were bricked arches cut through the embankment far enough past the café for none of the guys arriving or leaving the trucks to notice her. The arches had concrete gullies to carry away the water from the wooded slopes. She went through the arch and climbed up to the trees. She found a flat patch big enough to lie on, spread it with all the brush she could find making a springy pad. Then she came back and crossed the field straight where a big advertisement hoarding stood at the road edge. That would let her find her way across to the same spot in the dark. She went back to the café.
The passage gave me a thrill when I first read it a year or two ago, and it still does. It opens up a space in which you (well, I) can momentarily live and breathe. It makes me want to say, instinctively, That’s art!
And part of what is involved seems to me this.
The writer, his mind’s eye on the scene in front of him, is giving much more than what would be needed to simply get her settled later on for the night.
The writer is feeling his way forward with her. He is feeling and seeing with her in her problem-solving. He is enjoying the act of writing. And so he is throughout her odd, alienated, but sympathique peregrinations, without the programmatic noir bleakness of actual American writers like James M. Cain.
Nor, despite the [ Old Bailey ] judge’s disapproval, is the book conventionally violent or obscene.
Predating Camus’ L’Etranger, it is a sort of existentialist-novel-before-the-fact. Did the French, who loved James Hadley Chase, ever pick up on it, I wonder?
The answer to that question of mine, to judge from the Bibliothèque Nationale’s online catalogue, is No, or maybe even, Are you kidding?
And the plot?
After losing her Irish temper and beating up on the bullying forewoman in the garment workshop where she’s sweated for a year, beautiful Eilleen Rourke gets seven days in jail, after which, being now unemployable in that town, she takes to the road, relishing her new-found country-air freedom.
Thereafter Glinto is totally with her and inside her experience at every point as she thinks her way through the problems of clothing (shoes especially), money (only a few bucks but she stretches them), food, rain, shelter, getting rides.
Heading at first, in a general way, for Cincinnati, about which she knows almost nothing, she gets a ride part way with a decent, sympathetic trucker, Cal Morley. But then, after she fights off the advances of another trucker and watches his truck recede, she realizes that disaster has struck:
“But my dough’s there too,” she said helplessly.
“Dough—everything. I haven’t got a thing now.” She began crying. A loud blubbering crying. She went on walking. She stayed right where she was in the middle of the road, hoofing on blindly, crying, the tears streaming down her face and the rain streaming all over her. (p. 41)
There are more important literary qualities than stylistic smoothness.
And it goes on from there, always with an intense and non-alienated—a grounded, a truly existential—consciousness of the physical, the conditions that have to be coped with, and believably rendered truck-stop cafes and trucker’s conversation when they give her a ride.
Almost everything that she does is a free choice. She isn’t compelled to remain on the road. She simply would rather be free there than wage-slaving. Nor are the truckers, with two fatal exceptions, or countermen, or even cops brutal to her. The truckers who are interested in her are obviously working along the border of tacit negotiations where it’s for her to define herself as a floozie. She has a strong sense of personal space.
When she decides to “give” herself, while eating one of the essential meals paid for by an interested trucker, it doesn’t become a big deal, either erotically or as a statement of some kind.
Here, from the 1941 Wells Gardner edition, is the unexpurgated central part of chapter V, in the cab of Ray’s truck after they’ve parked off the road. The excisions in the 1953 Robin Hood edition, presumably honouring the objections of the prosecution at the trial, are in reddish-brown.
“I c’n tell yuh what would be swell, honey.”
She was getting breathless, pleasantly breathless.
“What?” she asked.
“If you could get these down.” He flipped at the shoulder tapes of her vest and slip. She said,
“Go on, have another drink.” She took her suit coat right off. Took one arm out of her shirtwaist, slipped down the tapes and put the waist back on her arm. She did the same with the other. He said,
“You, too.” While she drank, he held her body under her waist and gave a quick squeeze so that she spluttered. They both laughed. He put the bottle back, then he took her in his arms again and kissed her. He did it fiercely, excitedly. She wanted to let him do everything now. He was holding her on his lap. He put a hand under her skirt. Then he stopped kissing her and said,
“A bit sheeted up this end, ain’t it, honey?” She murmured,
“Take them off.” She lifted herself willingly to help him. She reached down and released the clips of her suspender belt. He lifted her, swung her round and laid her along the seat.
In the reaction Eilleen got helplessly sleepy. She dressed fully again but almost before he had pulled the truck back on the road her head dropped over on to her shoulder. He said,
“Okay, honey. If you feel this way, sleep. Lie right out. There’s room if you curl your legs.” (pp. 62-63)
The characters are always individuals, not types or personifications or symbols. There are no politics.
What’s happened isn’t affectless, though, particularly when she thinks of meeting up with Cal again.
She did not feel any different from the way she had done yesterday. But it was different. She guessed it made a whole lot of difference to a whole lot of things. And she guessed she would find out soon enough what the difference was. She went out and began walking back along the road to Cincinnati. She had five dollars now. She could walk again without being scared of what might happen. It was a swell day. In her body she felt good. In her mind she felt good except that way down there was a parcel of thoughts and feelings she was not wanting to open up right now. Midday she drank a coffee and ate an egg roll. She remembered the two packages of cigarettes that Ray had bought her. She smoked one. (p.85)
She settles into flooziedom, becomes better at it and more comfortable with the guys. It’s a job. Until, that is, the extended double rape in chapter 7, with Eily fighting and screaming to the end. It’s heavily cut in the Robin Hood edition and was no doubt principally responsible for the book’s having landed in court. At the end of it,
They spread her along the seat on her back, the trucker held her there, the nigger poured the black, sticky oil over her and rubbed it round, smothering her from the waist to the knees. Then they turned her over and did the same again. (p.82)
But no, the book’s not racist. Sorry, but it’s not. Truly.
After a sympathetic reception by the cops and several days in hospital, she buys a revolver for thirty-five bucks and has a tailor fix a pocket for it in her suit-coat. By the end, six truckers have died, three of them entirely undeservedly. The ending is tragic rather than life-gets-you-in-the-end noir.
An oddity, but one which contributes to holding us inside her consciousness, is that we never see any other floozies. That way, Eily doesn’t become a type figure and Glinto doesn’t have to get into woman-to-woman dialogue where he might be less at home.
There is so much life in the book. Here’s Eily early on, when she’s decided she may as well let a lecherous storekeeper put on her just purchased stockings for the dollar he offered her back when a dollar meant something. Again, the dark brown type indicates later cuts.
He did a lot more smoothing up and down her thighs than it needed. But there was only once when he looked like trying to go outside his contract. When he was clipping the side buckle to the second stocking it sprang back. He had to feel under the elastic of her pants to find it and he started trying to make a long journey of it. Eilleen asked him quickly,
“Do I have to start screaming?”
“No, no. It’s okay,” he said. As soon as he had clipped the last suspender buckle, she said,
“That’s fixed. You’re through.” She jumped up and shook her skirt down.
“Ain’t you gonna throw in a little kiss?” he asked her with a slobbery sort of looseness to his mouth.
“Not for another fifty dollars,” she told him. “We’re through trading and I’ll be on my way. It beats me what there is about a girl’s legs, just her legs, that gets you big boobs. A girl would have to be crazy before she could get a kick out’ve mauling a man’s legs.”(p.29)
Here’s a trucker coming into a café where she’s sitting by the counter
with that weaving kind of walk she knew. It meant he had been sitting so long over the wheel fighting off the sleep his body ached for that his legs had forgotten how to walk. The wide ground was like a tight-rope . . . . The trucker came across and told the tender in a husky bark,
“Coffee.” He gulped it down steaming hot. He was seeing nothing yet unless the endless picture of a stretch of road sliding under his front wheels was still fixed in front of his eyes.
I could keep going.
The book doesn’t date. As Orwell said of No Orchids, there isn’t a false note in it. It has to be brought back into print again. And you know, I think that, if not John Paul, then at least Josef Wojtyla would have found it an interesting presentation of a credible soul. What happens at every point matters. There is no acedia.
The only copy of the 1941 edition in a British library, according to the on-line Copac catalogue, is in Trinity College, Dublin, but when I enquired, it had gone missing. I count myself very fortunate indeed to have been able to read a photocopy. It’s hard accepting the possibility that a text may have effectively vanished for ever.
For the 1942 trial at the Old Bailey, see Sidebar 8.
- Sidebar 1. Some Orchids
- Sidebar 2. Chase and Glinto
- Sidebar 4. Deep South Slavery
- Sidebar 5. Darcy Janson
- Sidebar 6. Rogues’ Gallery
- Sidebar 7. Kelly Brothers
- Sidebar 8. Scandal
- Sidebar 9. Westerns
- Sidebar 10. City Mid-Week
- Sidebar 11. Gangdom
- Sidebar 12. Jungle Books
- Sidebar 13. Bodily Harms
- Sidebar 14. Propaganda?