A wealthy dowager confronts the brutality of the class system and fights for justice in this dramatic account of the Sacco and Vanzetti case
With the publication of The Jungle in 1906, Upton Sinclair became the literary conscience of America. Two decades later, he brought his singular artistry and steadfast commitment to the cause of social equality to bear on the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists accused of armed robbery and murder. Boston, a “documentary novel” published one year after Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, brilliantly combines fact and fiction to expose the toxic atmosphere of paranoia, prejudice, and greed in which the two men were tried.
Recently widowed sixty-year-old Cornelia Thornwell abandons her Boston Brahmin family to take a factory job in Plymouth, Massachusetts. She witnesses the crushing poverty and heartless bigotry endured by immigrant laborers, and befriends the charismatic fishmonger Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a committed anarchist and atheist. When Vanzetti and his fellow countryman Nicola Sacco are arrested and charged with murder, Cornelia’s belief in the fairness of the American judicial system is shattered. Joining the public outcry heard from Boston to Buenos Aires, she demands a fair trial—but it is too late. As Sacco knew all too well: “They got us, they will kill us.”
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About the Author
Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, activist, and politician whose novel The Jungle (1906) led to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. Born into an impoverished family in Baltimore, Maryland, Sinclair entered City College of New York five days before his fourteenth birthday. He wrote dime novels and articles for pulp magazines to pay for his tuition, and continued his writing career as a graduate student at Columbia University. To research The Jungle, he spent seven weeks working undercover in Chicago’s meatpacking plants. The book received great critical and commercial success, and Sinclair used the proceeds to start a utopian community in New Jersey. In 1915, he moved to California, where he founded the state’s ACLU chapter and became an influential political figure, running for governor as the Democratic nominee in 1934. Sinclair wrote close to one hundred books during his lifetime, including Oil! (1927), the inspiration for the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood; Boston (1928), a documentary novel revolving around the Sacco and Vanzetti case; The Brass Check, a muckraking exposé of American journalism, and the eleven novels in Pulitzer Prize–winning Lanny Budd series.
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A Documentary Novel
By Upton Sinclair
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1928 Upton Sinclair
All rights reserved.
THE RUNAWAY GRANDMOTHER
It was the parlor-maid who found Old Josiah in the morning, seated at his desk, his head fallen forward upon his arms. He might have been asleep, but his dinner-coat told her that he had not been to bed. She stood in the door-way, whispering his name feebly; then she fled to Addicks, the butler, who was privileged to make intrusions. He touched his master's hand and found that it was cold. So Cornelia Thornwell was awakened and told of her release.
She had had a right to expect it many years ago. Now that it had come, it seemed too late. Fright seized her, an indescribable sense of loneliness. What would life be like, without a husband to direct it? How would her grandchildren know what to do, without Josiah to incarnate the Thornwell tradition?
But she must not show emotion to servants. She slipped into her dressing-gown and came down to her husband's study. "Call Dr. Morrow," she said to the man. "And then notify Mr. James or Miss Clara." Her youngest daughter, wife of James Scatterbridge, lived upon the estate, in a house just visible through the distant trees. At this hour Clara would be getting her brood of seven started on the day, and James would be dressing for his work at the mills. Both would drop everything and hurry over to relieve Cornelia of care.
The daughter arrived in three or four minutes; very emotional, as always — it seemed as if she had come to be one more of the large brood she was raising. She was growing continually in bulk, as they did; she was chattering as eagerly as they, and her mind, like theirs, would fly from one small topic to the next. But she had a strong sense of what was proper, and was shocked to discover no tears in her mother's eyes.
James Scatterbridge came with her. He ordered the body taken upstairs and called up his two brothers-in-law and gave the news; then he came to Cornelia. "Now, Mother, you are not to worry about the practical details. We'll attend to it all." James was solidly made, both in body and mind; a plain-looking and plain-thinking business man, with nothing of what he called "frills." He ran the great cotton-mills in the valley below them, and a little thing like a funeral presented no difficulties to his mind. "I'll notify Hobson, the undertakers; also, there will be the press to see to." He moved away; and Clara, drying her tears, started off upon the subject of a dressmaker for her mother's mourning costume and her own.
Such things had to be attended to, Cornelia realized. "But, Clara, I'm not going to wear a veil."
"Oh, Mother! Whoever heard of such a thing!" Clara's large china-blue eyes grew even larger and rounder with dismay.
"I am not going to be a Hindoo widow and jump on the funeral pyre."
"Mother, don't start making jokes! You of all people cannot afford to be eccentric."
"Why, my dear?"
"Because everybody knows you weren't happy with Father — you didn't really love him."
"Because I didn't really love him, must I pretend that I did?"
"But Mother, we don't want to set everybody talking! Surely you owe him one last tribute!"
The telephone rang in Cornelia's room. It was her oldest daughter, Deborah. "Mother, Henry and I will be right over. We'll be there in an hour, and meantime I want to make sure nothing is done about practical arrangements."
"How do you mean, dear?"
"I mean the funeral."
"James said he would notify Hobson's."
"Oh, Mother, how perfectly atrocious! Don't you know that nobody has Hobson's?"
"I don't know anything about it, Deborah."
"Well, I do think we ought to be allowed to manage our own father's funeral without having our in-laws take everything out of our hands! Clara has no more taste than a sack of potatoes, and she lets James run her, and put the stamp of his commonness on everything in our lives. Won't you please see to it that those undertakers don't get into the house?"
"My dear," said Cornelia, "I shall follow my usual policy of letting my children do their own disputing." And she hung up the receiver.
It was not merely a matter of the social standing of undertakers, she realized; it was a deep-seated, bitter quarrel among her children, never to be assuaged. Deborah and Alice, the two oldest, considered that the husband of Clara had robbed them of their patrimony, and that Clara had compounded the felony by failing to make his life miserable. Originally the Thornwell mills had been Thornwell; established by Josiah's father and extended by the son, with James Scatterbridge an employee of low standing. But James had forced his way to the front, and after the panic of 1907, when a reorganization had been necessary, it had been he who possessed the confidence of the directors and bankers. So now a great block of shares, instead of being a family inheritance, were tucked away in James's safety-vaults.
Nor had the ex-employee helped matters by marrying the youngest daughter; that was a scandal, which the world would never forget. Three generations from now, you would hear whisperings at Boston dinner-tables: "Oh, but, my dear, don't you know that story? The original Scatterbridge was a clerk in the plant and he got all the stock away from them, and they had to marry him to get it back!"
It was not as if the other two sons-in-law had needed the money. Rupert Alvin was a banker who counted the year a failure if he had not added a million to his fortune; and Cornelia had heard Henry Cabot Winters boast that his law firm never had less than twenty-five millions in litigation. But apparently this money game was one in which it was not possible to be satisfied. Rupert and Henry, who composed a team, would have liked to take in Jerry Walker's felt-plants and the Thornwell cotton-mills, each in one bite. They had their "lines" on so many other properties that Cornelia could not keep track of them; the names were to her like those of ancient battles, famous in story, but which she had never looked up on a map.
Dr. Morrow came; the pink of fashion, rosy-faced and silver-haired, with sharply trimmed, dapper white mustaches. His manner reminded you that good breeding asserts superiority to every weakness of mortality. He went to the big four-poster bed, felt the cold hands, listened for the non-existent heart-beats, and then turned to the widow. "Well, Cornelia, old Josiah had fourteen years more than the Bible promised him. So we can't complain." He knew there had been no love between them.
Hearing the verdict, the efficient James instructed Josiah's secretary to notify the papers. Some went to press early, and would need time to handle this important story. The secretary would begin with the Transcript, the family organ of all the families that "count" in Massachusetts. The mischievously-minded assert that mortality records show a great increase upon Fridays, due to desire of the socially elect to appear in Saturday's obituary columns.
Meantime the efficient James was closeted in Josiah's study with the efficient head of the Hobson undertaking establishment, and these two were learning to understand each other. It was to be a great funeral, a matter of state, which would mean prestige and advertising to the concern which secured the contract. The family was wealthy, and would pay for the best, but there must be a distinct understanding that they were to get what they paid for. Mr. Hobson listened politely and replied that he understood Mr. Scatterbridge's position perfectly. There was no reason why a funeral should not be dealt with as any other matter of business; and certainly his firm appreciated the importance of social prestige and would be prepared to adjust its price accordingly. After which he produced a portfolio about caskets, revealing that there were art-modeled items of burnished bronze for which it was possible to pay from twenty-five thousand up. James Scatterbridge gulped once and composed his features, and did not reveal his plebeian astonishment.
Meantime Deborah Thornwell Alvin was descending from her limousine, tall and stiff, always ready for a funeral, because she dressed in black, with only a touch of white at the neck and a double necklace of white pearls. She had her father's lean and stern features, and had served as his deputy in keeping the family traditions in effect. As soon as she was in the house she began objecting in decorous whispers; and presently there arrived her sister, Alice, her ally in war on the Scatterbridge clan. Who had given James authority to bring those vulgar Hobson people into the case? Who had taken the responsibility to rush the family into print, from who could tell what cheap and sensational angle?
"Mother," said Deborah, "do you know anything about Father's will?"
"Nothing, my child; he never spoke of it to me in his life."
"We're going to find, of course, that James has got this house and the land. You know he took a mortgage on it when Father lost his money in the New Haven jam."
"Let me remind you, Mother," put in Alice. "Father promised me my pick of the old furniture. He knew I was the only one that appreciated it — he told me that again and again."
"Yes, my dear. I hope he put it into the will."
"I can only say this, if James and Clara get that Mayflower cradle that I was rocked in, they may bury me in it." Alice Thornwell Winters's fair blonde features were set in a look which her beauty-specialists would have deplored, because it made sharp lines on each side of her mouth. Alice was the adventurous one of the family, going in for costly culture, inviting poets and artists and people of that dubious sort to her home. She had been painted several times and hung in exhibitions, and had learned to regard herself as a work of art, a feature of the social landscape. The fact that she could appreciate the old treasures of the family was a moral reason for a family quarrel: something which Boston quarrels require.
If Cornelia had realized the previous night that she was hearing her husband's last words, no doubt she would have paid more attention. There is a certain importance attaching to finality as such, even when it applies to the words of a man who has been your husband for forty years, and whose every mental reaction is known to you in advance.
Cornelia had been reading about the destruction of the Rheims cathedral; there was an engraving of it among the works of art she had brought back from her honeymoon, and she had gone into her husband's study, and seated herself upon a hassock, and begun rummaging in the drawers of a chest which had belonged to Great-grandfather Thornwell, holding the records of his ships in the East India trade. In a drawer bearing in faded gold letters the label, "Sylph of the Sea," she had found the portfolio of engravings and sat turning them over for an hour or two.
And meantime Josiah was conversing with Rupert Alvin, — oldest of his sons-in-law. They paid no more attention to Cornelia than if she had been a mouse. They were talking about Jerry Walker and his felt-business; and Cornelia, even while thinking about cathedrals, could not help catching the drift of their remarks. Jerry Walker had been an errand boy in an institution of which Cornelia had been a patroness; and now it appeared that he was on the way to monopolizing the felt-business of New England. Rupert Alvin, who ran the Pilgrim National Bank, objected to monopolies in the hands of other people, and was of the opinion that Jerry was dangerously impulsive — he had paid over a million dollars for the Atlas hat-works, while Rupert was in the midst of making up his mind whether the concern was good for a small loan.
Cornelia glanced at her son-in-law, who sat very straight, as he always did, in the big leather armchair; his dinner-coat bulging, his tucked shirt-front puffed out, so that he looked like a black and white pouter-pigeon. Rupert's face ran to bulges: his forehead a great pink bulge, with two minor ones over the eyes, his cheeks half a dozen rosy-red bulges, and his neck and chins a number of bigger and redder ones. To Cornelia there was something comical in his indignation that some one else had dared to think more quickly than he. But that was the kind of thought she had spent forty years learning to keep to herself.
Josiah gave his decision, in his old man's voice that was beginning to crack. Jerry Walker might break himself some day, but not now; these were the days to buy anything at any price; hats were necessary to armies and felt slippers were worn in hospitals. That led them to the subject which all men of affairs were discussing in this summer of 1915. Josiah repeated his well-known opinion that it would be a long war and that it was the part of wisdom to buy and buy. Cornelia sat thinking of human lives while they were thinking of money.
Rupert was of the opinion that the war couldn't last over the year, because the warring nations were heading for bankruptcy. But Josiah told him not to worry; we would lend them the money, provided they spent it for our goods. How would we get the money back? And Josiah said we wouldn't have to get it back — it would be like Jerry Walker's felt-business. "When Jerry can't pay what he owes us we'll take over his plants."
Cornelia got up, carrying her engraving. "Good-night," she said, and they answered in a perfunctory way; and that would have been the end of it if she had been the right sort of a wife. But she could not resist the impulse to stop in front of her son-in-law and remark, "It'll be fine, Rupert, when we can bring Europe up to date." Rupert, a practical-minded man, assented; and Cornelia held up the picture of the cathedral. "We can widen out this Angel Tower and make it the branch office of Jerry Walker's felt-plants."
For forty years, even during the two that Josiah Quincy Thornwell had been governor of the Commonwealth, Cornelia had been saying things like this, and some people had found it roguish. But never Josiah; always he would frown, and remark, as now, "Your sense of humor is untimely, Cornelia." She put her hand lightly on the top of his white wig and said, "Some day, my husband, you will tell me the proper time for my sense of humor."
So she tripped out, the little old lady who had seen so much that was funny in this big household that the wrinkles around her eyes had got set in a pattern of laughter. Not even the destruction of the Rheims cathedral, not even the thought of the peasant-boys in the trenches, could wipe out her amusement at the moral impulse of Boston, which was driving Rupert Alvin to take charge of Jerry Walker's felt-business, and likewise of the geography and finance of Europe. Her last thought was "He'll do both those things." And, in his own time and at his own convenience, he did.
In the offices of half a dozen evening papers the "rewrite" men had dug out a column or two of copy which had waited for thirty years, being brought up to date every year or two. They inserted at the top the information that Josiah Quincy Thornwell, twice governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, leading manufacturer and philanthropist, for twenty years a member of the Republican State Committee, had been found that morning dead at his desk in the family home in the town of Thornwell, the probable cause being heart failure. The more sensational papers added how the body had been found by a parlor-maid; the sort of thing for which Deborah would hold James Scatterbridge responsible. Also they said that the funeral services would be held at Trinity Church, Boston — whereas Deborah and Alice were determined that they should be at the family home, so that the undesirables might be excluded.
Upstairs in the ex-governor's apartments Mr. Hobson's shirt-sleeved assistants were spreading their rubber-sheets and placing two tables end to end, at the same time listening to their employer set forth his conviction, that "ninety percent of this business is psychology. You meet a hard-boiled guy like that one downstairs and you have to let him talk himself out, and then he's ashamed of himself and you can do what you want with him. After all, what does he know about funerals and how a swell one ought to be conducted?"
And at the same time in Cornelia's sitting-room Deborah and Alice had brought up the subject of the Shah of Persia's rug. "It really is my property," Deborah was saying. "I only left it in the house because I knew Father liked to have the heirlooms all together. For years I have seen to the cleaning of it every spring and sent a servant to make sure it was safe. You know that is true."
"Yes, of course," said Alice.
"And now if James and Clara think they are going to move in and let their children trample it —"
Cornelia went downstairs and met Great-uncle Abner, Josiah's youngest brother; Abner Quincy Thornwell, burly and slow-moving, stoop-shouldered and very deaf. Like many thus afflicted, he considered it necessary to hear his own voice. "Well, Cornelia," he boomed, "well, well — so it has come at last! A hard day for you, I know! We'll stand back of you, my dear. Anything I can do?" There was a look of concern on his bland and rosy countenance — something that happened rarely, for he gave most of his time to chess and would sit for hours lost in a problem.
Clara appeared, and greeted her uncle. When he asked her what he could do, she shouted into his ear, "Make Mother wear a veil."
"Veil?" said Abner. "Of course she'll wear a veil! Aren't veils made for widows?"
"Mother doesn't care, she wants to advertise to the world that she isn't grieving. I don't believe she has shed a single tear."
Said Cornelia, "I have read that moving picture actresses make tears out of glycerine. Perhaps I may do that for the funeral."
Excerpted from Boston by Upton Sinclair. Copyright © 1928 Upton Sinclair. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Runaway Grandmother,
2 Plymouth Rock,
3 Dago Red,
4 Young America,
5 The Saving Minority,
6 White Terror,
7 Deportation Days,
8 The Detective Machine,
9 The Web of Fate,
10 The Legal System,
11 The Graft Ring,
12 Shadows Before,
13 Trial by Jury,
14 Judge Fury,
15 The Whispering Gallery,
16 The Law's Delay,
17 The Mills of the Law,
18 The Supersalesman,
19 Academic Autocracy,
20 The Decision,
21 Days of Grace,
22 The City of Fear,
23 The Last Enemy,
24 The Triumph,