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Volume 7196

Marcia of the Doorstep: 
A Dream Come True
by Alan Hanson

"Marcia of the Doorstep" 
A Dream Come True
by Alan Hanson

As the calendar turned over to the year 2000, Burroughs fandom still found itself celebrating the spectacle that was the Disney Tarzan movie. If an impromptu vote had been taken, no doubt Burroughs fans then would have selected that as the most important Burroughs event since the ERB revival of the mid-sixties. As much as I appreciated the Disney movie and all it provided Burroughs fans, for over a year I had patiently awaited another event that, for me, would easily rate as the most significant ERB "happening" of the previous three decades. It finally came on December 18, 1999, when a copy of Marcia of the Doorstep arrived at my front door.

Of course, fans are fans of ERB for many reasons, but for a fan like me, whose focus had always been upon reading the stories themselves, nothing, not even the colossal hoopla of a Disney movie, can compare to the thrill of reading a Burroughs story for the first time. And if the dozen or so other pieces of ERB's fiction that have remained unpublished since the author's death in 1950 were all published at once, to me that could not compare to the publication of Marcia of the Doorstep. The opportunity to read this, the last remaining Burroughs full-length novel heretofore left unpublished, fulfilled my most cherished dream as a Burroughs fan. Not since the publication of I Am a Barbarian in 1967 have ERB fans had the pleasure of reading a "new" Burroughs novel.

I came to ERB fandom with many others in the Burroughs revival of the mid-sixties. By 1967, with the release of Barbarian, I had read all the significant Burroughs fiction that had been published. During the decades that passed since then, a few precious unpublished pieces of Burroughs fiction surfaced, but, for the most part, fans like me have had to be content with rereading the published list of Burroughs titles. I couldn't complain about that, as doing so had given me much pleasure through the years. However, I always hoped that someday I would be able to read the stories that remained unpublished, and foremost among them was Marcia of the Doorstep.

Reverend Heins First Review "Marcia"

As a young Burroughs fanzine reader, I was familiar with the title, but knew little about Marcia of the Doorstep until Henry Hardy Heins’ article on the novel appeared in “ERB-dom #67” in 1973. (Heins’ article was actually written in 1966 at the request of Hulbert Burroughs, who asked Rev. Heins to read the manuscript and comment on its potential for publication.) As in demand as Edgar Rice Burroughs was in the 1920s, one would have assumed that there was something very amiss with a novel written then for which he could never find a publisher. And yet, Heins in his article contended that, "Marcia of the Doorstep comes through as perhaps the best of all the ‘realistic’ novels which Edgar Rice Burroughs penned about modern life in the United States." At that time, there were only three other published Burroughs titles that fell into the category of realistic novels. They were The Girl From Hollywood, The Efficiency Expert, and The Girl From Ferris's, all of which I enjoyed reading very much. In particular, The Girl From Hollywood was then, and remains, one of my favorite Burroughs novels. And so when Rev. Heins, who judgment in such matters I thoroughly respected, concluded that it was “far better than the other ‘GIRL’ stories” by ERB, it planted in my Burroughs heart of hearts a fervent hope that someday I would get an opportunity to read that “lost” novel.

As the years, and then the decades, began to melt away, my hopes for the publication of Marcia of the Doorstep began to fade, and with good reason, I thought. Even Heins, as much as he liked the novel, had to conclude that there was no market in modern times for the “soap opera” that was Marcia. Heins asked Hulbert Burroughs to consider printing a “limited edition,” so Burroughs fans could read it, but after the financial bath ERB, Inc., took on its 1967 publication of I Am a Barbarian, surely Hulbert was in no mood to publish an even longer novel like Marcia. Back, then, into the same drawer, file, or box where it had collected dust the previous 42 years went the manuscript of Marcia of the Doorstep, to be forgotten again for another three decades.

When I first heard the news in the mid-1990s that Donald Grant was going to publish Marcia, I was quietly optimistic, but it wasn't until Grant actually accepted prepayment for the book in 1998 that my hopes began to rise. Prepayments, however, could always be refunded, so I refused to get excited until the book was actually in my hands. So, as the Disney Tarzan movie consumed fandom during 1999, I quietly awaited the fulfillment of a long cherished dream. It came true on December 8, 1999, and to tell the truth, I could hardly believe it. 

A Story of Love of Adventure

Reverend Heins wrote that back in 1966 he read Marcia in two evenings and was reluctant to put it down for interruptions. I took double that time — four evenings. I read slowly, savoring every line, since I knew for certain it would be the last time I would read a Burroughs novel for the first time. A standard book review usually includes a summary of the story's events, but this will not be a typical review. Rather, what follows are simply some observations about Marcia of the Doorstep that came to my mind when I read it the first time.

Remembering Heins’ contention that Marcia was better than A Girl From Hollywood, I found myself comparing the two novels as I read Marcia. Respectfully, I had to disagree with Rev. Heins, for, in the end, I concluded that The Girl From Hollywood was a much better novel. For starters, the characterization in Marcia is weak compared to the earlier novel. The sympathy the reader feels for Marcia Sackett, with all her love complications, is not nearly as intense as that generated for Shannon Burke, as she struggled with drug addiction. Colonel Pennington, the family patriarch in The Girl From Hollywood, is much stronger and more lovable than his counterpart in Marcia, Marcus Aurelius Sackett. Even the villain in Marcia, the dastardly Jewish lawyer Max Heimer, doesn't provoke the intense dislike and loathing the reader feels for The Girl From Hollywood creep, Wilson Crumb. Marcia of the Doorstep has a multitude of characters, many of them interesting, but none really memorable.

Where Marcia really suffers in comparison to The Girl From Hollywood, however, is in its lack of a social message. In the Hollywood story, Burroughs made an honest effort to pen a highly realistic novel. The themes dealing with the evilness of drugs and city life versus the redeeming influences of country life are repeatedly and effectively reinforced throughout the novel. In Marcia, however, it is difficult to identify a single unifying theme, unless it is something like the enduring nature of romantic love, hardly a theme of societal importance, then or now.

Perhaps one of the reasons Marcia received so many rejections is that Burroughs couldn't seem to make up his mind just what kind of novel he wanted it to be. It lacks the strong social theme of a “realistic” novel. An indication that Burroughs thought it might qualify as a romantic novel was his submission of it to Love Story Magazine. In the end, though, Marcia of the Doorstep comes across as more of an adventure story than anything else, although there is not a whole lot of action in it.

In fact, instead of The Girl From Hollywood, the ERB novel that Marcia resembles most is The Mucker. The wide scope of settings in both novels is nearly the same. In The Mucker, significant action takes place in several states, including Illinois, California, Kansas, Texas, and New York. Action in Marcia of the Doorstep is spread among the states of New York, California, Illinois, and Arizona. Both novels have sequences in Mexico and in the American territory of Hawaii. Both include shipwrecks and struggles for survival on lost Pacific Islands.  Each novel centers on the lead characters overcoming a seemingly insurmountable barrier to achieving the love of a man. In The Mucker, social class separates Billy Byrne and Barbara Harding, while in Marcia of the Doorstep, Marcia Sackett and Jack Chase are kept apart by the specter of incest. There are differences in the two novels, of course, but in general, those who like The Mucker, will probably like Marcia of the Doorstep. Both belong on the same list of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ non-series adventure novels.

Repetitive Themes — Hollywood, Suicide, Jews

Three other topics jump out to the reader of Marcia of the Doorstep — Hollywood, suicide, and Jews. Burroughs treatment of Hollywood in Marcia is much more positive than it is in The Girl From Hollywood, which was written in 1922, two years before Marcia. In the earlier novel, Hollywood and its burgeoning movie industry are portrayed as impersonal and corruptible. In Marcia of the Doorstep, Hollywood is depicted as essentially a harmless place that has drawn to its bosom displaced by respectable stage performers looking to make the transition to the big screen. ERB's change in attitude toward Hollywood may have been a result of developing a closer relationship with the Southern California film crowd. ERB biographer Irwin Porges reported that during 1924, when Marcia was written, there was an active social life at ERB's Tarzana ranch. Weekends were essentially open house time, and ERB's guests often included members of the Hollywood film colony. There had been no Tarzan movies made since 1921, and so perhaps a fading resentment with how Hollywood had treated Tarzan, combined with getting to know the film crowd socially, resulted in ERB developing a more positive attitude toward Hollywood, which then found expression in the writing of Marcia of the Doorstep.

Suicide was an element ERB used in many of his stories, but in Marcia of the Doorstep there is an orgy of self-destruction. No less than four characters, all men, attempt suicide. Two succeed. The story opens with John Hancock Chase, Jr., shooting himself rather than have it be known that he fathered a baby during a drunken one-night stand. Later, facing financial ruin, Marcia’s adopted father unsuccessfully tries to gas himself to death.  Jack Chase, depressed by the belief that the woman he loved was his sister, came within a second or two of putting a bullet in his own head.  Finally, stunt pilot Dick Steele leaped from his own airplane after becoming convinced he could never possess Marcia. There is nothing wrong with an author using suicide as an element in a story, but in Marcia of the Doorstep it is overdone. Having four different characters turn suicidal in response to kinds of emotion stress that most people are able to work through weakens the story. By allowing his characters to take the easy way out of their problems, ERB comes across as taking the easy way out of his plot complexities.

Finally, there is the Jewish issue in Marcia of the Doorstep. When it first became known that Donald Grant would publish the novel, it was rumored that there were unkind references to Jews in the text and that they might be removed before publication. In his introduction to the book, however, Danton Burroughs explained, in the interest of authenticity, these racial references had not been taken out. Certainly, the Max Heimer character, an unscrupulous Jewish lawyer who commits fraud and embezzlement for financial gain, could be viewed by some as an unfair Jewish stereotype. In the dialogue, Heimer is referred to as a “nice little ‘Jewboy’” and a “dirty little kite.” In addition, the narration contains the following generalization. “Jews of Heimer’s type are always prone to surround themselves with well favored employees of the opposite sex, and each of the other four attorneys who shared the common outer office with Heimer were of his kind.” So, for those who care to find them, there are slurs and derogatory statements about Jews in Marcia of the Doorstep. However, considering Heimer is a main character, there are relatively few such expressions in the story, and reasonable readers will take no offense where none was intended.

In fact, Burroughs took some action to diminish the negative characterization of Jews in the story. For his article, Rev. Heins read a typewritten manuscript of Marcia. Of that manuscript, he reported the following.

The original typing at all points always emphasized, in sometimes uncomplimentary terms, that the lawyer was a Jew, but repeated references to “the Jew” — once even ‘kike’ in a line of dialogue — have all been crossed out by ERB and replaced by softer phrases — “the man,” “the fellow,” “chap,” etc.”

Heins’ statement is a little confusing, though, since the word “kite” does appear in the Donald Grant edition, Perhaps some or all of he crossed-out terms were put back in the text before publication. Heimer’s Jewish stereotype is softened a bit toward the very end of the story, when it is revealed that Judge Isaac Berlanger, the high-principled lawyer of the Chase family, is also Jewish. Berlanger tells Heimer, “Yes, I'm a Jew, and I'm proud of it; but I'd put you behind the bars, where you belong, quicker than a Gentile, for what he might do would bring no disgrace upon my race as you and such as you have.” It is interesting, though, that although Judge Berlanger appears several times throughout the story, it was not until the very end that he was revealed to be a Jew. Perhaps ERB made Berlanger a Jew at the last minute to show the reader that not all Jewish lawyers were dishonest.

A Turning Point for ERB

The time has come to assess the significance of Marcia of the Doorstep within the body of ERB's work. For starters, to fairly judge the novel, it is necessary to understand the time frame in which it was written. ERB's notebook reveals that he wrote the story between April and October of 1924. Six months to write a novel, even a long one like Marcia, was a long period for Burroughs. Even more intriguing, though, is that it was the only story he wrote in 1924. Why was it that an author, at the height of his popularity, would write only one novel, and such an atypical one, in a calendar year?

Fortunately, the Porges biography helps answer that question. In 1924, instead of writing, Burroughs’ energy was being devoted mostly toward several money-making projects. Occasionally, he was renting his Tarzana ranch to film companies for location shooting. In early 1924, though, he became involved in the most ambitious of his business enterprises with the sale of 120 acres of his Tarzana Ranch for the creation of the El Caballero Country Club. His partners convinced Burroughs to take on the management of the project, and to that end, Burroughs took a downtown office to handle the membership drive, building plans, and the club program.

Porges reports that when ERB came home in the evenings during this period, he was overcome by fatigue, and so it is surprising that he had the time or energy to write anything during this period, much less a 125,000 word novel. In a letter to his brother Harry, ERB explained, “I am giving up my writing and practically everything else to put this club together.” To add additional stress, the country club project was an ongoing financial nightmare for Burroughs, and so it is understandable that the novel he wrote while in this harried frame of mind would not be his best work.

A couple of years later, in a 1927 letter to his McClurg editor Joseph Bray, ERB explained that Marcia was written at a time when his mind “was occupied by other things,” and that the “rottenness” of the novel was a result of his “mental attitude” at the time. Being aware, then, of how ERB was distracted by business concerns during the writing of Marcia of the Doorstep helps the reader understand, in part, why this novel lacks the focus and passion so often present in his other fiction.

Business distractions aside, there is also the question of why ERB was writing that kind of novel at that time. The novel Burroughs wrote immediately preceding Marcia was Tarzan and the Ant Men, and while many critics and fans alike have considered it one of the better Tarzan stories, it is clear that by 1923 Burroughs was fed up with Tarzan and disliked writing Ant Men. During the writing of the novel, he confessed the following in a letter to Munsey editor Robert Davis. “Instead of enjoying my work, I am coming pretty near to loathing it … If I had not promised you this one I would chuck it right where it is.”

Clearly, then, after finishing Ant Men, Edgar Rice Burroughs felt a desire to change the direction of his writing. The writing of Marcia of the Doorstep was a rebellion against the formula-written Tarzan novels that he was feeling pressured to produce. In attempting to write a realistic novel, Burroughs was again trying to realize his dream of being accepted as a serious writer of mainstream fiction. He had tried it and failed in 1919 with The Girl From Hollywood, and, unfortunately, he would fail again with Marcia of the Doorstep. Despite multiple submissions, he was unable to sell the story to any magazine. And, unlike The Girl From Hollywood, which ERB insisted in publishing in book form despite lack of interest, he made no effort to find a book publisher for Marcia of the Doorstep. In fact, according to Porges, Burroughs did not even send the manuscript to Joseph Bray at McClurg because he knew the editor wouldn't like it.

In the career of Edgar Rice Burroughs, then, Marcia of the Doorstep, although it was never published during his lifetime, was a turning point. It was his last attempt to break free of the Tarzan-Fantasy mold that he felt had entrapped him. Beginning in 1925, with the writing of The Master Mind of Mars, ERB no longer demurred when editors asked for Tarzan and Mars stories. Perhaps, whenever the old dream of critical acceptance arose in his heart, he had only to remember the six wasted months spent writing Marcia of the Doorstep in 1924. That probably was enough to remind him of his destiny as a writer — and then he reluctantly conjured up Tarzan again.


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From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
Marcia of the Doorstep
Disney Tarzan movie
I Am a Barbarian
The Girl From Hollywood
The Efficiency Expert
The Girl From Ferris's
The Mucker
Tarzana Ranch
El Caballero Country Club
Tarzan and the Ant Men
The Master Mind of Mars

Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

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