"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unpublished since the author's death in 1950 were all published at once,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full-length novel heretofore left unpublished, fulfilled my most cherished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During the decades that passed since then, a few precious unpublished pieces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to read the stories that remained unpublished, and foremost among them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,
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
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,
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
Girl From Hollywood, which was written in 1922, two years before
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
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
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,
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.
~ THE END ~