Bertram Cope's Yearby Henry Blake Fuller
In 1919, when he was sixty-two, Henry Blake Fuller published Bertram Cope's Year. This audacious book with several homosexual characters revolves around a young English instructor in a middle western university town patterned on Evanston, Illinois. Rejected by every New York publisher, Fuller self-published and the book received scant notice or unintelligent reviews. Discouraged, Fuller burned the original manuscript. It took ten years before he ventured to publish another novel.
James Huneker, Fuller's contemporary, loved Bertram Cope's Year. He read it three times and wrote to Fuller, "Its portraiture and psychological storkes fill me with envy and joy... you are the implacable Stendhal of the lake!"
Fifty years later, critic Edmund Wilson, in a New Yorker article on Henry Blake Funner entitled "The Art of Making It Flat," called Bertram Cope's Year Fuller's best book. He wrote, "It has a philosophic theme ... which raises it well above the fiction of social surfaces of the school of William Dean Howells."
This Turtle Point Press edition is the first republication of Bertram Cope's Year since 1919.
“Bertram Cope’s YearHenry Blake Fuller’s alternately arch and melancholy riposte to the sentimental conventions of heterosexual romancehas been waiting almost a century for its due share of apt readers. At last it has a chance of finding them, thanks to Joseph Dimuro, whose expert editing, indispensable introductory essay, and judicious choice of supplemental writings and reviews open the novel up as never before to scholarly and non-scholarly audiences alike.” Max Cavitch, University of Pennsylvania
“Joseph Dimuro has produced a critical edition of Bertram Cope’s Year that is lucid and well- researched; it is a fitting study of an important novel. Adding previously unpublished material from Fuller’s journals andexcitinglyfrom the novel itself makes this edition a delight for readers, critics, and researchers alike. This Broadview Edition shows how modern Fuller was in his treatment of gay men, and their relationships with women and each other.” Keith Gumery, Temple University
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Read an Excerpt
Cope at a College Tea
What is a man's best age? Peter Ibbetson, entering dreamland with complete freedom to chose, chose twenty-eight, and kept there. But twenty-eight, for our present purpose, has a drawback: a man of that age, if endowed with ordinary gifts and responsive to ordinary opportunities, is undeniably--a man; whereas what we require here is something just a little short of that. Wanted, in fact, a young male who shall seem fully adult to those who are younger still, and who may even appear the accomplished flower of virility to an idealizing maid or so, yet who shall elicit from the middle-aged the kindly indulgence due a boy. Perhaps you will say that even a man of twenty-eight may seem only a boy to a man of seventy. However, no septuagenarian is to figure in these pages. Our elders will be but in the middle forties and the earlier fifties; and we must find for them an age which may evoke their friendly interest, and yet be likely to call forth, besides that, their sympathy and their longing admiration, and later their tolerance, their patience, and even their forgiveness.
I think, then, that Bertram Cope, when he began to intrigue the little group which dwelt among the quadruple avenues of elms that led to the campus in Churchton, was but about twenty-four,--certainly not a day more than twenty-five. If twenty-eight is the ideal age, the best is all the better for being just a little ahead.
Of course Cope was not an undergraduate--a species upon which many of the Churchtonians languidly refused to bestow their regard. "They come, and they go," said these prosperous and comfortable burghers; "and, after all, they're more or less alike, and more or less unrewarding." Besides, the Bigger Town, with all its rich resources and all its varied opportunities, lay but an hour away. Churchton lived much of its real life beyond its own limits, and the student who came to be entertained socially within them was the exception indeed.
No, Bertram Cope was not an undergraduate. He was an instructor; and he was working along, in a leisurely way, to a degree. He expected to be an M.A., or even a Ph.D. Possibly a Litt.D. might be within the gift of later years. But, anyhow, nothing was finer than "writing"--except lecturing about it.
"Why haven't we known you before?" Medora T. Phillips asked him at a small reception. Mrs. Phillips spoke out loudly and boldly, and held his hand as long as she liked. No, not as long as she liked, but longer than most women would have felt at liberty to do. And besides speaking loudly and boldly, she looked loudly and boldly; and she employed a determined smile which seemed to say, "I'm old enough to do as I please." Her brusque informality was expected to carry itself off--and much else besides. "Of course I simply can't be half so intrepid as I seem!" it said. "Everybody about us understands that, and I must ask your recognition too for an ascertained fact."
"Known me?" returned Cope, promptly enough. "Why, you haven't known me because I haven't been here to be known." He spoke in a ringing, resonant voice, returning her unabashed pressure with a hearty good will and blazing down upon her through his clear blue eyes with a high degree of self-possession, even of insouciance. And he explained, with a liberal exhibition of perfect teeth, that for the two years following his graduation he had been teaching literature at a small college in Wisconsin and that he had lately come back to Alma Mater for another bout: "I'm after that degree," he concluded.
"Haven't been here?" she returned. "But you have been here; you must have been here for years--for four, anyhow. So why haven't we ... ?" she began again.
"Here as an undergraduate, yes," he acknowledged. "Unregarded dust. Dirt beneath your feet. In rainy weather, mud."
"Mud!" echoed Medora Phillips loudly, with an increased pressure on his long, narrow hand. "Why, Babylon was built of mud--of mud bricks, anyway. And the Hanging Gardens ...!" She still clung, looking up his slopes terrace by terrace.
Cope kept his self-possession and smiled brilliantly.
"Gracious!" he said, no less resonant than before. "Am I a landscape garden? Am I a stage-setting? Am I a--?"
Medora Phillips finally dropped his hand. "You're a wicked, unappreciative boy," she declared. "I don't know whether to ask you to my house or not. But you may make yourself useful in this house, at least. Run along over to that corner and see if you can't get me a cup of tea."
Cope bowed and smiled and stepped toward the tea-table. His head once turned, the smile took on a wry twist. He was no squire of dames, no frequenter of afternoon receptions. Why the deuce had he come to this one? Why had he yielded so readily to the urgings of the professor of mathematics?--himself urged in turn, perhaps, by a wife for whose little affair one extra man at the opening of the fall season counted, and counted hugely. Why must he now expose himself to the boundless aplomb and momentum of this woman of forty-odd who was finding amusement in treating him as a "college boy"? "Boy" indeed she had actually called him: well, perhaps his present position made all this possible. He was not yet out in the world on his own. In the background of "down state" was a father with a purse in his pocket and a hand to open the purse. Though the purse was small and the hand reluctant, he must partly depend on both for another year. If he were only in business--if he were only a broker or even a salesman--he should not find himself treated with such blunt informality and condescension as a youth. If, within the University itself, he were but a real member of the faculty, with an assured position and an assured salary, he should not have to lie open to the unceremonious hectorings of the socially confident, the "placed."
He regained his smile on the way across the room, and the young creature behind the samovar, who had had a moment's fear that she must deal with Severity, found that a beaming Affability--though personally unticketed in her memory--was, after all, her happier allotment. In her reaction she took it all as a personal compliment. She could not know, of course, that it was but a piece of calculated expressiveness, fitted to a particular social function and doubly overdone as the wearer's own reaction from the sprouting indignation of the moment before. She hoped that her hair, under his sweeping advance, was blowing across her forehead as lightly and carelessly as it ought to, and that his taste in marquise rings might be substantially the same as hers. She faced the Quite Unknown, and asked it sweetly, "One lump or two?"
"The dickens! How do I know?" he thought. "An extra one on the saucer, please," he said aloud, with his natural resonance but slightly hushed. And his blue eyes, clear and rather cold and hard, blazed down, in turn, on her.
"Why, what a nice, friendly fellow!" exclaimed Mrs. Phillips, on receiving her refreshment. "Both kinds of sandwiches," she continued, peering round her cup. "Were there three?" she asked with sudden shrewdness.
"There were macaroons," he replied; "and there was some sort of layer-cake. It was too sticky. These are more sensible."
"Never mind sense. If there is cake, I want it. Tell Amy to put it on a plate."
"Yes, Amy. My Amy."
"Off with you,--parrot! And bring a fork too."
Cope lapsed back into his frown and recrossed the room. The girl behind the samovar felt that her hair was unbecoming, after all, and that her ring, borrowed for the occasion, was in bad taste. Cope turned back with his plate of cake and his fork. Well, he had been promoted from a "boy" to a "fellow"; but must he continue a kind of methodical dog-trot through a sublimated butler's pantry?
"That's right," declared Mrs. Phillips, on his return, as she looked lingeringly at his shapely thumb above the edge of the plate. "Come, we will sit down together on this sofa, and you shall tell me all about yourself." She looked admiringly at his blue serge knees as he settled down into place. They were slightly bony, perhaps; "but then," as she told herself, "he is still quite young. Who would want him anything but slender?--even spare, if need be."
As they sat there together,--she plying him with questions and he, restored to good humor, replying or parrying with an unembarrassed exuberance,--a man who stood just within the curtained doorway and flicked a small graying moustache with the point of his forefinger took in the scene with a studious regard. Every small educational community has its scholar manque--its haunter of academic shades or its intermittent dabbler in their charms; and Basil Randolph held that role in Churchton. No alumnus himself, he viewed, year after year, the passing procession of undergraduates who possessed in their young present so much that he had left behind or had never had at all, and who were walking, potentially, toward a promising future in which he could take no share. Most of these had been commonplace young fellows enough--noisy, philistine, glaringly cursory and inconsiderate toward their elders; but a few of them--one now and then, at long intervals--he would have enjoyed knowing, and knowing intimately. On these infrequent occasions would come a union of frankness, comeliness and elan, and the rudiments of good manners. But no one in all the long-drawn procession had stopped to look at him a second time. And now he was turning gray; he was tragically threatened with what might in time become a paunch. His kind heart, his forthreaching nature, went for naught; and the young men let him walk under the elms and the scrub-oaks neglected. If they had any interest beyond their egos, their fraternities, and (conceivably) their studies, that interest dribbled away on the quadrangle that housed the girl students. "If they only realized how much a friendly hand, extended to them from middle life, might do for their futures ...!" he would sometimes sigh. But the youthful egoists, ignoring him still, faced their respective futures, however uncertain, with much more confidence than he, backed by whatever assurances and accumulations he enjoyed, could face his own.
"To be young!" be said. "To be young!"
Do you figure Basil Randolph, alongside his portiere, as but the observer, the raisonneur, in this narrative? If so, you err. What!--you may ask,--a rival, a competitor? That more nearly.
It was Medora Phillips herself who, within a moment or two, inducted him into this role.
A gap had come in her chat with Cope. He had told her all he had been asked to tell--or all he meant to tell: at any rate he had been given abundant opportunity to expatiate upon a young man's darling subject--himself. Either she now had enough fixed points for securing the periphery of his circle or else she preferred to leave some portion of his area (now ascertained approximately) within a poetic penumbra. Or perhaps she wished some other middle-aged connoisseur to share her admiration and confirm her judgment. At all events------
"Oh, Mr. Randolph," she cried, "come here."
Randolph left his doorway and stepped across.
"Now you are going to be rewarded," said the lady, broadly generous. "You are going to meet Mr. Cope. You are going to meet Mr.------" She paused. "Do you know,"--turning to the young man,--"I haven't your first name?"
"Why, is that necessary?"
"You're not ashamed of it? Theodosius? Philander? Hieronymus?"
"Stop!--please. My name is Bertram."
"Bertram. Why not?"
"Because that would be too exactly right. I might have guessed and guessed------!"
"Right or wrong, Bertram's my name."
"You hear, Mr. Randolph? You are to meet Mr. Bertram Cope."
Cope, who had risen and had left any embarrassment consequent upon the short delay to Basil Randolph himself, shot out a hand and summoned a ready smile. Within his cuff was a hint for the construction of his fore-arm: it was lean and sinewy, clear-skinned, and with strong power for emphasis on the other's rather short, well-fleshed fingers. And as he gripped, he beamed; beamed just as warmly, or just as coldly--at all events, just as speciously--as he had beamed before: for on a social occasion one must slightly heighten good will,--all the more so if one be somewhat unaccustomed and even somewhat reluctant.
Mrs. Phillips caught Cope's glance as it fell in all its glacial geniality.
"He looks down on us!" she declared.
"How down?" Cope asked.
"Well, you're taller than either of us."
"I don't consider myself tall," he replied. "Five foot nine and a half," he proceeded ingenuously, "is hardly tall."
"It is we who are short," said Randolph.
"But really, sir," rejoined Cope kindly, "I shouldn't call you short. What is an inch or two?"
"But how about me?" demanded Mrs. Phillips.
"Why, a woman may be anything--except too tall," responded Cope candidly.
"But if she wants to be stately?"
"Well, there was Queen Victoria."
"You incorrigible! I hope I'm not so short as that! Sit down, again; we must be more on a level. And you, Mr. Randolph, may stand and look down on us both. I'm sure you have been doing so, anyway, for the past ten minutes!"
"By no means, I assure you," returned Randolph soberly.
Soberly. For the young man had slipped in that "sir." And he had been so kindly about Randolph's five foot seven and a bit over. And he had shown himself so damnably tender toward a man fairly advanced within the shadow of the fifties--a man who, if not an acknowledged outcast from the joys of life, would soon be lagging superfluous on their rim.
Randolph stood before them, looking, no doubt, a bit vacant and inexpressive. "Please go and get Amy," Mrs. Phillips said to him. "I see she's preparing to give way to some one else."
Amy--who was a blonde girl of twenty or more--came back with him pleasantly and amiably enough; and her aunt--or whatever she should turn out to be--was soon able to lay her tongue again to the syllables of the interesting name of Bertram.
Cope, thus finally introduced, repeated the facial expressions which he had employed already beside the tea-table. But he added no new one; and he found fewer words than the occasion prompted, and even required. He continued talking with Mrs. Phillips, and he threw an occasional remark toward Randolph; but now that all obstacles were removed from free converse with the divinity of the samovar he had less to say to her than before. Presently the elder woman, herself no whit offended, began to figure the younger one as a bit nonplused.
"Never mind, Amy," she said. "Don't pity him, and don't scorn him. He's really quite self-possessed and quite chatty. Or"--suddenly to Cope himself--" have you shown us already your whole box of tricks?"
"That must be it," he returned.
"Well, no matter. Mr. Randolph can be nice to a nice girl."
"Oh, come now,------"
"Well, shall I ask you to my house, after this?"
"No. Don't. Forbid it. Banish me."
"Give one more chance," suggested Randolph sedately
"Why, what's all this about?" said the questioning glance of Amy. If there was any offense at all, on anybody's part, it lay in making too much of too little.
"Take back my plate, somebody," said Mrs. Phillips.
Randolph put out his hand for it.
"This sandwich," said Amy, reaching for an untouched square of wheat bread and pimento. "I've been so busy with other people ..."
"I'll take it myself," declared Mrs. Phillips, reaching out in turn. "Mr. Randolph, bring her a nibble of something."
"I might------" began Cope.
"You don't deserve the privilege."
"Oh, very well," he returned, lapsing into an easy passivity.
"Never mind, anyway," said Amy, still without cognomen and connections; "I can starve with perfect convenience. Or I can find a mouthful somewhere, later."
"Let us starve sitting," said Randolph, "Here are chairs.
The hostess herself came bustling up brightly.
"Has everybody ...
And she bustled away.
"Yes; everybody--almost," said Mrs. Phillips to her associates, behind their entertainer's back. "If you're hungry, Amy, it's your own fault. Sit down."
And there let us leave them--our little group, our cast of characters: "everybody--almost," save one. Or two. Or three.
Meet the Author
Joseph Dimuro is Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of California, Los Angeles and the editor of the Broadview Edition of Henry Blake Fuller’s The Cliff-Dwellers.
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