Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport

Front cover, paperback
It took me some time to read through this wonderful, massive 640 pages, historical epic  novel about the Pittsburgh area and the founding of the steel mills, the Scott family over generations from 1870 through 1940. Add to that the parallel life of Mary Rafferty, their servant who comes up the hill from Irish town and home again on Sundays to care for Dad. It was a saga to savor.  Not fast reading, much consideration as books used to be written.  Such great work, such great writing. 

A friend recommended it long ago but it was out of print for years, first published in 1942.  Now the University of Pittsburgh Press has reprinted it with an introduction written by the author in 1988.  It is an indescribable sweeping tale, Irish immigrants,  the hunkies (a term for the Slavic immigrants stolen by blacks to refer to white people as honkies), the wealth of the Scott family as the steel industry changes directions in war effort and through the ups and downs of the economy.  Perhaps because I know the area, I was smitten with this novel.  The characters and the way people lived back then, the development and the growth.  I had not heard of this novel before a few years ago and wonder how I could have missed it being an avid reader and having spent so much time at our local library in PA when I was growing up.  I am better informed now having read it.  I had forgotten how the European immigrants were enticed to come work in the mills and factories by unscrupulous "human traders",  these immigrants fared no better than the black slaves but our history has been  ignoring the plight of the early Caucasian immigrants, exploited beyond imaginable. 

Back cover
There is so much excellent writing that I cannot select only a few and I offer only one,  Page 466,  (The Twenties), "Why,"  people sometimes asked Mary Rafferty, "do you go on living all alone in that museum of a house?"  She never answered that question, never gave a reason.  She would smile quietly, or raise her bony shoulders to a delicate shrug.  When she was seventy years old, she still carried her white head erect, at a certain proud angle that belied the quiet unobtrusiveness of her clothes.  It was difficult for any person to read her eyes."  Yes Mary is a strong woman.  I like strong women, not whiny characters much as I like good writing.  It seems to me we have lost the art...yes, there are novels worth reading and yes there are many books of interest.  But novels like this, in the same line as Gone With the Wind are seldom if ever written today.  Today, people just  do not read for entertainment as they did back in the day.  And, that comes from lesser education, lesser interest and the availability of television, the preferred mode for ever so many.  I hope I never lose my love of reading.  It transports me and continues to educate me.  It nourishes my imagination, when I read I see the happenings, I am not just brushing over words.  Enough.


The  revised 1988 preface first page by the author...

 5 star ***** no doubt. I may take this back to PA and donate to the local library or I just may keep it on my shelf.