30 June, 2012

30 June 1945

438thAAA AW BN
APO 513 % Postmaster, N.Y.
30 June, 1945      0945

My darling fiancée –

As I remember it, on this date the fiscal year ends – whatever that is. I’ve never been sure exactly. But I do know it had something to do with straightening out accounts, balancing books, etc. And so I’m asking you to kindly settle up on the several thousand kisses you’ve owed me so long. Now – how about it? It’s going to be a heck of a mess, really. When I get back, I’m entitled to countless kisses in my own right and you in yours. Just the day to day quota is going to take up a good deal of time – then how am I going to make up the back pay? What a wonderful dilemma!

Well, darling, I heard from you yesterday in a letter written on the 19th of June – which isn’t bad at all. The fact is though – there are a whole pile of letters outstanding from early June and some from May, too. I really enjoyed hearing from you again and from a recent date. I can understand your feeling about writing – but you’re wrong about the morale angle. My morale – although definitely affected by the war of course – depended more so on you, what you had to say, how you were taking the war, how often I heard from you, etc. It still does, sweetheart, because that’s the most important thing in my life right now – and more so than ever, do I have time to think about it now; more so is it aggravating not to be able to be with you now that the war is over, and more so do I want to get to know you in person. Your letters, sweetheart, are still the only substitute – although I agree maybe there’s not as much to say now. Anyway – you’ve been in it a long time now, darling. Maybe you ought to skip a day here and there or regularly. You know I’ll understand.

It was a very uninteresting and unexciting day here yesterday, and I’m afraid that there are going to be all too many just like that in the future. I didn’t do a damned thing all day – and that always annoyed me. I did start to read a rather interesting book though – and I finished it before the night was over. “Earth and High Heaven” – by Gwethalyn Graham. You may have read it or heard about it; it deals with the problem of a boy, Jewish and a girl – Protestant – and their love. It interested me particularly because I once had such a problem myself. Incidentally – the book didn’t or the author didn’t have a satisfactory solution – as I saw it.

I called Dave Ennis yesterday p.m. and he’s coming over to eat with us this evening and hang around. It was refreshing talking with him the other day. The fact is I’ve had so little opportunity for a long time to talk with another doctor about anything. The conversation at our place gets pretty monotonous at times – although it’s worse in other outfits that I know about. Anyway, as long as I’m going to be here any length of time, I may as well get out of the shell of my own set-up.

I must go now, sweetheart. Today is payday and I’d like to get it over with this morning if I can. I’ll be with you again tomorrow. How about a midnite dance – on the night before the 4th. You would? Swell! I guess I mean next year – damn it !!!! Well I’ll be with you in spirit anyway, and by gum – I’ll love you almost as hard as if I were with you, dear – Be well, love to the folks – and
All my deepest love is yours,


about Earth and High Heaven

To read the full text, click here.

Earth and High Heaven is a 1944 novel by Gwethalyn Graham. It was the first Canadian novel to reach number one on The New York Times bestseller list and stayed on the list for 37 weeks, selling 125,000 copies in the United States that year. Earth and High Heaven won the 1944 Governor General's Award for fiction, and the 1945 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. It was also the ninth best-selling book of 1945 in the United States.

Producer Samuel Goldwyn bought the movie rights to Earth and High Heaven for $100,000 - intending for Katharine Hepburn to play Erica Drake. He initially hired Ring Lardner Jr. to adapt the screenplay. Goldwyn was, however, dissatisfied with the results, telling Lardner that he "betrayed [him] by writing too much like a Jew". Goldwyn subsequently hired a succession of other writers to develop the script, and remained dissatisfied with the final product. After Elia Kazan released the similarly themed Gentleman's Agreement in 1947, Goldwyn abandoned Earth and High Heaven rather than risk having it labeled by critics as a copy of Kazan's film.

Here is a review by Claire (The Captive Reader) on Wordpress:
Taking place in Montreal over the summer of 1942, Earth and High Heaven details the relationship of Erica Drake, a twenty-eight year old editor of the newspaper’s women’s section, and Marc Reiser, a thirty-three year old lawyer. Meeting at a party at the Drake’s house, there is immediate interest on both sides but Erica is from an established Anglo family while Marc is Jewish, distinctions which certainly mattered in 1940s Montreal. The novel is the story of how their relationship progresses in the face of their families’ objections and their own prejudices.

Erica’s family immediately discourages her interest in Marc, even before the two make contact again after their first meeting (admittedly, this takes them a while as both are very conscious of the issues confronting them). The Drakes’ protests, while not the violent or hate-filled rants polluting Germany at the time, are of a more common, insidious form of racism, the kind found among those who consider themselves tolerant, well-educated and liberal. There is a concern about the lack of shared culture and beliefs, of different values and aims, and the knowledge that, if married, the pair would not fit easily into either of the social spheres from which they came:
‘I don’t want my daughter to go through life neither flesh, fowl, nor good red herring, living in a kind of no man’s land where half the people you know ill never accept him, and half the people he knows will never accept you.  I don’t want a son-in-law who’ll be an embarrassment to our friends, a son-in-law who can’t be put up at my club and who can’t go with us to places where we’ve gone all our lives. I don’t want a son-in-law whom I’ll have to apologize for, and explain, and have to hear insulted indirectly unless I can remember to warn people off first.’
The Grants’ arguments have nothing to do with Marc himself – they refuse to meet him – but with the exile he represents for Erica, the stigma that an alliance with him would attach to her. Marriage, both sets of parents say, is difficult enough without bringing in these kinds of stresses, stresses which Erica and Marc can do nothing to alleviate. As Mr Reiser tells Marc,
‘You think you could compromise and somehow you’d manage, but sooner or later you’d find out that you can go just so far and no farther. You’d get sick of compromising, and so would she, and some day you’d wake up and realize that it wasn’t a question of compromising on little things any more, but of compromising yourself. And you couldn’t do it, neither of you could do it. Nobody can do it.’
Erica’s own racism colors her views, even after she has fallen in love with Marc. To her, Marc is simply Marc. He is an entirely unique and fascinating person who happens to be Jewish. But she still seems to think of him as the exception. Her racism is unconscious, which she realizes when listening to Marc describing his brother David and finds herself waiting to hear some sort of defining Jewish characteristic in his description, surprised by her surprise that David sounds just like any Gentile:
Evidently it was not going to be anything like as easy as she had thought; you could not rid yourself of layer upon layer of prejudice and preconceived ideas all in one moment and by one overwhelming effort of will. During the past three weeks she had become conscious of her own reactions, but that was as far as she had got. The reactions themselves remained to be dealt with.

She had counted too much on the fact that her prejudices were relatively mild and her preconceived ideas largely unstated…
Erica is a much more forceful presence in the novel than Marc.  Marc is rather resigned, beaten down by the world and himself. And yet he is still interesting and quietly competent and forceful, despite this rather melancholy description of him:
There was a lurking bewilderment in his eyes, as though, in spite of all his common sense and most of his experience of living, he still expected things to turn out better than they usually did.

Above all, when that smile went out like a light, his appalling vulnerability became evident, and you began to realize how much strain and effort had gone into the negative and fundamentally uncreative task of sheer resistance – resistance against the general conspiracy among the great majority of people he met to drive him back into himself, to dam up so many of his natural outlets, to tell him what he was and finally, to force him to abide by the definition.
I found Erica incredibly sympathetic and appealing. At twenty-eight, she has a successful career and is generally respected and admired. But she has no particular interest in working, despite having a talent for it, only having started at the newspaper after her fiancé died when she was twenty-one. What she wants most is a family of her own, though her life seems to have been remarkably romance free prior to the arrival of Marc. But most importantly, she has an incredibly close bond with her father, Charles. They are confidantes and best friends, as well as father and daughter. She brings out the best in him and, we see as the novel progresses, the worst. The violence of Charles’ reaction to Marc has more to do with his terror of losing the person he loves most than with any deeply held anti-Semitic beliefs. The fight scenes between him and Erica are harshly realistic and almost unspeakably cruel – no holds are barred and they each know just where to strike to make it hurt the most.

Graham’s dialogue among Erica’s coworkers was equally well-written, though significantly lighter and quite humourous, reading like something straight out of a screwball comedy. These moments of levity blended well with the otherwise serious tone of the book, since even in the office serious topics are never far off, with the war never far from peoples’ minds. It is always fascinating to read books written and published during the war that deal with issues related to it and Graham touches on almost anything you can think of. Anti-Semitism, clearly, is the main issue discussed, with Marc’s insistence that racism in North American has gotten significantly worse over the past decade, that even as people were ignoring Hitler’s militaristic aims they were listening and sympathizing with his racial slurs.  But there is also much said about French-Canadians and their attitudes towards the war and in Miriam, Erica’s younger, divorced sister just arrived in Montreal after years in London, we see the effect of witnessing the war up close and the way the first-hand knowledge of death has made her pursue physical passion at the expense of emotional love and intimacy.

While Graham’s views regarding marriage and religion may no longer be controversial, her determination to expose Canadian anti-Semitism, and her willingness to suggest connections between Canadian attitudes and the Nazi regime at a time when the true horrors of the Holocaust were starting to be uncovered, remains remarkable.

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