Being Polite to Hitler: A Novel

( 41 )

Overview

After teaching and raising her family for most of her life, Agnes Scofield is tired of the routine. But how, at 51, can she establish an identity apart from what has so long defined her? Often eloquent, sometimes blunt, and always full of fire, the Scofield family is not one to keep its opinions quiet. As much as Agnes would like to, she can no more sidestep their adamant advice than she can step down as their matriarch. But, despite her reluctance to become even more entangled in the family web, Agnes is amazed ...

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Being Polite to Hitler: A Novel

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Overview

After teaching and raising her family for most of her life, Agnes Scofield is tired of the routine. But how, at 51, can she establish an identity apart from what has so long defined her? Often eloquent, sometimes blunt, and always full of fire, the Scofield family is not one to keep its opinions quiet. As much as Agnes would like to, she can no more sidestep their adamant advice than she can step down as their matriarch. But, despite her reluctance to become even more entangled in the family web, Agnes is amazed to feel her life grow because of it.

In Being Polite to Hitler, Robb Forman Dew intricately details personal and family life in a moving, frank, and surprising portrait of post-World War II America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A remarkable achievement, a vividly detailed and deeply textured mural of a century of American life....
Throughout the novel, Dew renders the political personal and the personal incandescent....She
zooms into the hearts and minds of her characters with the kind of acuity that reminds us why we read."—Rachel Basch, Washington Post

"Robb Forman Dew is a master at delineating the way the mundane and profound are joined at the hip, and Being Polite to Hitler in its portrait of midcentury America shuttles us smoothly from the most intimate heartbreak to events of interest worldwide, reminding us of the nearly infinite variations of grief, and solace, and how even the most conscientious and compassionate can leave emotional havoc in their wake."—Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Understand, Anyway

"Robb Forman Dew is one of our great national treasures: a novelist whose keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature is matched by her elegant, beautiful prose. Being Polite to Hitler is an absorbing story in which many readers will find their own families, and their own selves."—Dani Shapiro, author of Family History and Devotion: A Memoir

"National Book Award winner Dew (for Dale Loves Sophie to Death) uses her signature elegant and often delightfully funny style to move seamlessly back and forth between the macro- and microcosm of the new America. Her latest should generate demand for the first two series titles as well."—Beth E. Andersen, Library Journal

"National Book Award-winner Dew wraps up the trilogy she began with The Evidence Against Her by considering, in ways both joyful and elegiac, the juxtaposition of the profound and the mundane through the years 1953 to 1973 in smalltown Washburn, Ohio.... Agnes is clearly a literary heir of Mrs. Ramsay, and the narrative, ranging freely not only among Agnes's sprawling family but also throughout her political and cultural milieu, owes a debt to Woolf. Particularly when read in conjunction with her other novels about Washburn, Dew's latest is an impressionistic portrait of a family and an age striving for clarity and understanding."—Publishers Weekly

"A winning, quietly lyrical account of a simpler time."—Lisa Kay Greissinger, People

"A novel that considers, as its provocative title suggests, how people can go on being pleasant in a world that is frequently terrible....It's in her careful delineations of the quotidian that Dew writes most piercingly....She is not interested in tormenting her characters; being human every day, she feels, is hard enough."—Suzanne Berne, The New York Times

"Dew's quietly powerful tale is riveting."—Good Housekeeping

"highly original.... Robb Forman Dew covers both the cosmic and the quotidian as she follows a formidably intermingled group of people in the town of Washburn, Ohio. The novel, which resides mostly in the 1950s until an acceleration near the end yanks everyone all the way up to 1973, beautifully chronicles the experiences of a widowed schoolteacher, Agnes Scofield, and those in her midst.... Dew's novels identify and describe not just a town and its people but the American mind-set at particular moments in time.... Dew also sprinkles her storytelling with inventively apt asides, as when a character explains how a dog's stomach can spontaneously twist, "the way a lemon drop is wrapped." This sort of casual juxtaposition is ingenious and surprising. Being Polite to Hitler is a deeply knowing novel—progressive, certainly, and at times quietly, thrillingly strange."—Meg Wolitzer, New York Times Book Review

Good Housekeeping
"Dew's quietly powerful tale is riveting."
Beth E. Andersen
National Book Award winner Dew (for Dale Loves Sophie to Death) uses her signature elegant and often delightfully funny style to move seamlessly back and forth between the macro- and microcosm of the new America. Her latest should generate demand for the first two series titles as well.
Library Journal
Lisa Kay Greissinger
A winning, quietly lyrical account of a simpler time.
People
Suzanne Berne
A novel that considers, as its provocative title suggests, how people can go on being pleasant in a world that is frequently terrible....It's in her careful delineations of the quotidian that Dew writes most piercingly....She is not interested in tormenting her characters; being human every day, she feels, is hard enough.
The New York Times
Lisa Kay Greissinger - People
"A winning, quietly lyrical account of a simpler time."
Suzanne Berne - The New York Times
"A novel that considers, as its provocative title suggests, how people can go on being pleasant in a world that is frequently terrible....It's in her careful delineations of the quotidian that Dew writes most piercingly....She is not interested in tormenting her characters; being human every day, she feels, is hard enough."
Jim Shepard
"Robb Forman Dew is a master at delineating the way the mundane and profound are joined at the hip, and Being Polite to Hitler in its portrait of midcentury America shuttles us smoothly from the most intimate heartbreak to events of interest worldwide, reminding us of the nearly infinite variations of grief, and solace, and how even the most conscientious and compassionate can leave emotional havoc in their wake."
Dani Shapiro
"Robb Forman Dew is one of our great national treasures: a novelist whose keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature is matched by her elegant, beautiful prose. Being Polite to Hitler is an absorbing story in which many readers will find their own families, and their own selves."
Meg Wolitzer - New York Times Book Review
"highly original.... Robb Forman Dew covers both the cosmic and the quotidian as she follows a formidably intermingled group of people in the town of Washburn, Ohio. The novel, which resides mostly in the 1950s until an acceleration near the end yanks everyone all the way up to 1973, beautifully chronicles the experiences of a widowed schoolteacher, Agnes Scofield, and those in her midst.... Dew's novels identify and describe not just a town and its people but the American mind-set at particular moments in time.... Dew also sprinkles her storytelling with inventively apt asides, as when a character explains how a dog's stomach can spontaneously twist, "the way a lemon drop is wrapped." This sort of casual juxtaposition is ingenious and surprising. Being Polite to Hitler is a deeply knowing novel--progressive, certainly, and at times quietly, thrillingly strange."
Rachel Basch - Washington Post
"A remarkable achievement, a vividly detailed and deeply textured mural of a century of American life....
Throughout the novel, Dew renders the political personal and the personal incandescent....She
zooms into the hearts and minds of her characters with the kind of acuity that reminds us why we read."
Rachel Basch - The Washington Post
"a remarkable achievement, a vividly detailed and deeply textured mural of a century of American life.... Dew deploys a dazzling number of narrative perspectives.... Dew zooms into the hearts and minds of her characters with the kind of acuity that reminds us why we read.... Throughout the novel, Dew renders the political personal and the personal incandescent."
Susan Salter Reynolds - Los Angeles Times
"If you've been reading Robb Forman Dew these many years, fiction and nonfiction, you know that she is, like her main character Agnes Scofield, the consummate matriarch. There is beauty and order in her sentences and in the lives of her characters. There is trauma, pain and uncertainty but also a community of spirit beneath all of her books.... This novel shows why history is supplemented and often surpassed by fiction, by the fleshing out, the empathy, the imagining of lives lived and lost in the not-so-distant past."
Jim Carmin - The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"And this is what Being Polite to Hitler is all about: a 20-year sliver of Agnes Scofield's life. Robb Forman Dew, who won a National Book Award in 1982 for Dale Loves Sophie to Death, has captured again, beautifully, the poetry of the everyday. Her narrative flows effortlessly from character to character, from voice to voice, as does her sense of time, from present to future to past and back again.... Dew's elegant words capture personalities so well, as well as setting.... In Being Polite to Hitler, with lush, graceful language, Robb Forman Dew reminds us that much of what we consider to be ordinary in our lives, in the end, turns out to be quite extraordinary."
Caroline Leavitt - The Miami Herald
"Dew follows 54-year-old Agnes Scofield through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as she reinvents herself, navigating both the mine fields of rapidly changing country and family. Every sentence is a rhapsody.''
Jim Carmin
And this is what Being Polite to Hitler is all about: a 20-year sliver of Agnes Scofield's life. Robb Forman Dew, who won a National Book Award in 1982 for Dale Loves Sophie to Death, has captured again, beautifully, the poetry of the everyday. Her narrative flows effortlessly from character to character, from voice to voice, as does her sense of time, from present to future to past and back again.... Dew's elegant words capture personalities so well, as well as setting.... In Being Polite to Hitler, with lush, graceful language, Robb Forman Dew reminds us that much of what we consider to be ordinary in our lives, in the end, turns out to be quite extraordinary.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Caroline Leavitt
Dew follows 54-year-old Agnes Scofield through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as she reinvents herself, navigating both the mine fields of rapidly changing country and family. Every sentence is a rhapsody.''
The Miami Herald
Meg Wolitzer
highly original.... Robb Forman Dew covers both the cosmic and the quotidian as she follows a formidably intermingled group of people in the town of Washburn, Ohio. The novel, which resides mostly in the 1950s until an acceleration near the end yanks everyone all the way up to 1973, beautifully chronicles the experiences of a widowed schoolteacher, Agnes Scofield, and those in her midst.... Dew's novels identify and describe not just a town and its people but the American mind-set at particular moments in time.... Dew also sprinkles her storytelling with inventively apt asides, as when a character explains how a dog's stomach can spontaneously twist, "the way a lemon drop is wrapped." This sort of casual juxtaposition is ingenious and surprising. Being Polite to Hitler is a deeply knowing novel—progressive, certainly, and at times quietly, thrillingly strange.
New York Times Book Review
Susan Salter Reynolds
If you've been reading Robb Forman Dew these many years, fiction and nonfiction, you know that she is, like her main character Agnes Scofield, the consummate matriarch. There is beauty and order in her sentences and in the lives of her characters. There is trauma, pain and uncertainty but also a community of spirit beneath all of her books.... This novel shows why history is supplemented and often surpassed by fiction, by the fleshing out, the empathy, the imagining of lives lived and lost in the not-so-distant past.
Los Angeles Times
Rachel Basch
a remarkable achievement, a vividly detailed and deeply textured mural of a century of American life.... Dew deploys a dazzling number of narrative perspectives.... Dew zooms into the hearts and minds of her characters with the kind of acuity that reminds us why we read.... Throughout the novel, Dew renders the political personal and the personal incandescent.
The Washington Post
The Barnes & Noble Review

In Robb Forman Dew's multi-generational trilogy set in Washburn, Ohio, "the profound and the mundane are joined at the hip" -- as they are in life. Her saga is thus at once narrowly focused and expansive, microscopic and macroscopic, personal and political. Evoking both Anne Tyler (especially The Amateur Marriage) and Evan Connell's Mrs. Bridge, Dew writes about fortunate middle Americans who go through life absorbed by petty and intimate details, and are only infrequently focused on weightier world events, "the atmosphere in which they lived."

In The Evidence Against Her (2001), The Truth of the Matter (2005), and now Being Polite to Hitler, Dew spins an intricate, occasionally plodding, but cumulatively addictive story rooted in the lives of three close friends all born on the same day, September 15, 1888, in Washburn, 45 miles east of Columbus. She follows them through two world wars, family upheavals, marriages, and offspring. Lily Scofield and Robert Butler -- Dew's tribute to her maternal grandfather, Kenyon Review founder John Crowe Ransom -- marry each other. The third member of the trio is Lily's first cousin Warren Scofield. He weds Agnes Claytor, a local woman 11 years younger, who becomes the linchpin of all three books.

Being Polite to Hitler picks up the Scofield story in 1953, in an industrious post-war America "glisten[ing] with well-being" yet shadowed by "an unacknowledged dread and anticipation of some sort of retribution for having perpetrated an act of aggression previously unmatched by any other country." Spanning 20 years of momentous change in American society, including the Cold War, the space race, and the Civil Rights movement, it takes its peculiar title from Agnes' daughter-in-law's exasperation with people not speaking up for principles but instead clinging to propriety and etiquette, ever in danger of failing to distinguish "those rare occasions when it was, in fact, Hitler to whom you were extending such instinctive courtesy, and therefore it was time, at last, to abandon any niceties at all."

At 54, Agnes, long widowed and long working as an uncomfortable third grade teacher, is "bottomed-out" -- tired beyond her years -- and ready to stop deferring politely to anyone. When her younger, almost too-good-to-be-true friend, Sam Holloway, asks her to marry him, she decides to ignore her grown children's objections. "It was about reclaiming and slaking her own desires after the long years of their being defined by the people to and for whom she felt responsible…she had become indifferent to anyone else's opinion of her. Well, not indifferent, but disengaged in the effort to sway them to view her favorably."

Dew's prose is unrushed, and occasionally marred by too much telling and not enough showing, as teachers like Agnes might say. But there are also lovely passages that capture the tone of small-town life in less hectic times: "The crackling, dry hot air of Washburn smelled like freshly ironed shirts, and Agnes felt as though she were being turned to Melba Toast in a slow oven. Any curiosity, any energy or animation, had evaporated, leaving behind only a flat, dry, gingerbread man of herself."

Like Anne Tyler, Dew makes the case that there's no such thing as an ordinary person. She occasionally strains all-too-visibly to broaden her narrative, resulting in some jarring shifts to follow the life of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun in Alabama. Her characters, meanwhile, strive more convincingly to reconcile their ongoing pursuit of happiness and their optimism on a personal level with what they gradually come to recognize as a bleak universal picture. This, it turns out, is the real rub between the profound and the mundane, and one of life's great challenges.

--Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316018753
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 10/13/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 939,273
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robb Forman Dew was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For the past thirty years she has lived in Williamstown, MA, where she lives with her husband, who is professor of history at Williams College. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Dew is the author of the novels Dale Loves Sophie to Death, for which she received the National Book Award; The Time of Her Life; Fortunate Lives; The Evidence Against Her; and, most recently, The Truth of the Matter; as well as a memoir, The Family Heart.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 41 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(23)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(6)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 41 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 5, 2011

    The Best of Masterpiece Theater - in a Book!

    This is the third in a wonderful series about the Scofields of Washburn, Ohio - those in the clan, and those who marry in, and it was a treat, as were the first two books. It is truly like watching a dramatic series on Masterpiece Theater, one that you hope will never end (from Upstairs, Downstairs to Downton Abbey). The characters are life-like, the family problems and dysfunction are recognizable, the "feelings" expressed (on marriage, careers, parenting, relatives)are right on. It's the best possible fiction, the kind that transports you to another time and place while making you feel that you know the folks that are in its pages. This is the book that you want curl up with, and - finish at one sitting! Kudos to the author and a plea to keep them coming!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    I fell in love with Robb's writing! I was captivated within the first few pages and I could not put it down. Being Polite to Hitler is hard to describe because it feels almost like it has a life of it's own. It has an unbelievably entertaining plot and great characters. Five stars.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2013

    Grace

    Im here fuq me if u want

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2012

    MAIN CAMP #2

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Sunfall

    "No prob..." *I cock my head* "Now what? I could be thing one you could be thing two?"

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Sunpelt to all

    Im locked out :(

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Cloudmist

    Sat next to them waiting.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Dufihikv

    *Patrolls*

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Urgent

    Night wing was attaced by a fox in the 8 result!!!! I was injureed too, but its not serious. HELP!!!!!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Birchkit

    She curled up inher mothers fur.
    {••• Birchkit

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2012

    ???

    Kits, what is the matter? No one to play with?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Nightwing

    Tenth.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2012

    Skyheart

    Skyheart, who happened to be passing by, placed her tail on flutterpaws shoulder" Im sorry honey, but toxicpaw loves honeypaw, more than anyone, or anything, including you. I know that for a fact. I think you should move on, and find someone else" she meowed, gently.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    Berryleaf

    She prepares cobwebs and marigold for Larkwing. -Berryleaf

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    Firteee

    True

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2012

    Tigerjacket

    Tigerjacket~ whats happening...?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2012

    Owflight

    She mewed

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Ron

    Fine. Ifmy broher dies tell me

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

    Stormtalon

    Goodbye

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

    Goldenstar

    Stormtalon! No! Come to deu!

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