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|Louis Bromfield (1896-1956)|
American popular novelist and essayist, forgotten agrarian reformer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Early Autumn (1926), a portrait of an old New England family. Many of Bromfield's novels have rural setting and have strongly American atmosphere, although he set some of his stories in India. One of the central themes in Bromfield's work is the contrast between city and the country – he saw his own farm as a refuge from the mechanized world, but it also was a meeting place for a number of his friends.
"The long journey across the burning, dusty plateau became suddenly a kind of nightmare, possessed only of the reality of dreams. It seemed now to belong to the remote past. Only the future existed. In her health and vitality, the aura of past experiences, however bad, never clung to her. The past had the power do depress you only if you were ill or tired. Hope, optimism, anticipation she knew, out of experience and instinct, were the rewards of health and vitality." (from Night in Bombay, 1940)
Louis Bromfield was born in Mansfield, Ohio, on a farm. He studied at Cornell Agricultural College in 1914-15 and journalism in 1916 at Columbia University, receiving honorary war degree in 1920. After the United States declared war on Germany in the World War I Bromfield joined the American Ambulance Corps, with the 34th and 168th divisions of the French Army. He served in the army from 1917 to 1919 and was decorated for his services. Bromfield then returned to journalism in New York. He wrote critics for several periodicals, among them the Bookman and Time magazine. He also worked as an assistant to theatrical producer and as advertising manager. In 1921 he married Mary Appleton Wood; they had three daughters. She died in 1952.
After publishing The Green Bay Tree (1924), set in a small town in Ohio, Bromfield devoted himself entirely to writing. He moved with his wife and daughter to France, where they settled in Senlis, an ancient village north of Paris. The family lived in a old Presbytère, which had once been the dwelling place of Capuchin monks. There Bromfield created a garden, which became famous for its hybrid musk roses and lilies.
In 1932 Bromfield visited India. The journey inspired his most famous book, The Rains Came (1937), which has been adapted to screen twice. Clarence Brown's version from 1939, starring Myrna Loy, George Brent, and Tyrone Power, is consided slick Hollywood film-making at its professional best. The story is set in Ranchipur and portrays the destinies of a large number of people against monsoon rains and the bursting of a dam. Bromfield's view of the decadent Europeans is seen in the character of Ransome, who is contrasted with awakening India symbolized by the Maharajah.
In France in the '20s, Bromfield helped Ernest Hemingway first get published, and he was compared favorably with Fitzgerald, Thurber and Steinbeck, among others. In 1931 he met Edith Wharton (1862-1937), with whom he shared a passion for gardening. Their correspondence was published in 1999. Bromfield and Wharton seldom discussed their writing but they talked frequently and at great lenght of their dahlias and petunias, and their green peas and lettuces. Bromfield learned much of his gardening from her. Bromfield took Wharton to visit a local dahlia-grower, who was a fervent communist and had named his favorite species after Henri Barbusse. She ordered from him dahlias which she never lived to see in flower.
During these expatriate years Bromfield wrote his most highly acclaimed novels, including Early Autumn. The Farm (1933) spanned a period of about 100 years and depicted the conflict between the agricultural and the industrial way of life through the experience of several generations. A Good Woman (1927) told a story of a mother, who thinks herself good and righteous, but ruins her son's life.
In the late 1930s Bromfield moved back to the United States, to his childhood surroundings in Ohio. "I was sick of the troubles, the follies, and the squabbles of the Europe which I had known and loved so long," he confessed in From My Experience (1955). "I wanted peace and I wanted roots for the rest of my life." He settled near Lucas, where he had the most famous experimental farm of the postwar years. Bromfield found it in January 1939, when he turned the corner of the road into Pleasant Valley and saw that valley after twenty-five years under deep snow. Bromfield's six-hundred-acre Malabar Farm was visited by such famous actors as Humphrey Bogart, who loved to drink and argue with writers, and Lauren Bacall – they were married there in 1945; Bromfield was best man. As a wedding gift he gave them a boxer puppy. Bromfield was more conservative than Bogart, who was a supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later Adlai Stevenson. When Bromfield visited Bogart in Los Angeles, their debates often ended in dissention on political questions. However, Bacall described Bromfield as "one of Bogie's oldest and best friends." They had known each other since the 1920s, when they had worked in the New York theater world. Bromfield also wrote the story 'Better Than Life' for the Humphrey Bogart film It All Came True (1940).
Bromfield received several awards and honors, among them LL.D. from Marshall College, Huntington, West Virginia, LL.D. from Parsons College, Fairfield, Iowa, D.Litt. from Ohio Northern University, and Chevalier, Légion d'honneur (1939). He was President of Emergency Committee for the American Wounded in Spain in 1938 and the director of the United States Chamber of Commerce. Bromfield died on March 18, 1956 in Columbus, Ohio. His later works include Pleasant Valley (1945), a personal statement with an ecological theme, Until the Day Break (1942), a spy story, set against occupied Paris in the 1940s, and Wild Is The River (1941), a romantic historical novel about the American Civil War, which was set against the background of the occupation of New Orleans by the Yankees. Brigham Young - Frontiersman (1940), filmed by Henry Hathaway, was a fictionalized part-biography of the Mormon leader who founded the Salt Lake City. Dean Jagger played the title role. The screen version was less concerned with the religious aspects, but focused on the theme of the persecution of a minority and the pioneering story in the Fordian vein.
The author's daughter Ellen has depicted in The Heritage: A Daughter's Memories of Louis Bromfield (1995) her life growing up in the shadow of her famous father. "His was a vital character, energetic, ambitious, insatiably curious about every human being, every manner of living," she wrote. "To be surrounded constantly by an assortment of human samples from as many walks of life as possible was, indeed, an obsession with him." In Strangers in the Valley (1957) Ellen Bromfield Carson drew a picture how she and her husband Carson moved to Brazil to live a farm life on the new frontier there. Louis Bromfield's Malabar Farm has become a popular tourist attraction in Ohio, receiving visitors from all parts of the world.
For further reading: Yrs, Ever Affly: The Correspondence of Edith Wharton and Louis Bromfield, ed. by Daniel Bratton (1999); Louis Bromfield, Novelist and Agrarian Reformer by Ivan Scott (1998); The Heritage: A Daughter's Memories of Louis Bromfield by Ellen Bromfield Geld (1995); Louis Bromfied and the Malabar Farm Experience by John T. Carter (1995); 'Louis Bromfield' by Pamela Cleaver in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, ed. by Lesley Henderson (1990); Louis Bromfield, ed. by David D. Anderson (1964); Louis Bromfield and His Books: An Evaluation by Morrison Brown (1956)