“A Breath from the Pines” (E56)

  • Originally printed:  Life Magazine, October 6, 1921
  • First reprinted in:  Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Robert C. Benchley (column header: “The Latest Books”)



Benchley’s first impulse as a critic was never to reach for the knife (unless his Guy Fawkes persona had command of the pen), but sometimes only a knife will do. Your humble chronicler has never read Gene Stratton-Porter, but this piece makes an excellent argument against the advisability of taking the time to experience Her Father’s Daughter, at any rate. Celebrated in her day as a feminist and an ecological activist, Stratton-Porter appears to have embraced (in this late-career novel, at least) one of early-20th century Progressivism’s least savoury side-issues: white supremacist eugenics.

Benchley identifies the book’s protagonist – a homespun huckster for birth rates and “efficacy” – as a proto-Fascist. The term itself wasn’t available to him just yet, as Mussolini’s party was still a year away from power in 1921, so Benchley brings its American analogue into the discussion, nominating this vile character for a fictional leadership position in the distressingly resurgent Ku Klux Klan. What else can you do with a dismal dynamo named “Linda Strong”? As amusing as this takedown is, Benchley’s liberal disgust with all forms of jingoism and chauvinism emerges palpably from the piece, lending a crusading edge to the hilarity rarely seen outside the precincts of the Wayward Press.

Favourite Moment:

Linda Strong is the kind of girl who is ‘just a bully good pal to a fellow’. She is constantly going out on ‘hikes.’ She wears low-heel shoes and common-sense clothes and delivers little three-minute talks on their efficacy during occasional lapses in her ardor for ‘bucking up’ her boy-friends to make them do better in school. And she believes that every woman ought to have at least six children, training them to grow up into fine, strong, virile women and men, fit to fight the Japanese some day.

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