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Listener (Caldwell)

The Listener 
Taylor Caldwell, 1960
Random House
288 pp.


Summary
Nobody has time to listen to anyone, not even those who love you and would die for you. Your parents, your children, your friends: they have no time.... Here in a novel of unusual honesty and touching simplicity, Taylor Caldwell has written an inspiring story of how the desperate, the troubled and the unloved find help and inner peace.... The Listener remained concealed...but would reveal himself to those who truly suffered...the rich, the poor, the scoffing, and the faithful...discovered the real source of true happiness....

Through a series of modern parables, Caldwell shows what desperation and spiritual aridity can result when fundamental faith is lost or allowed to wither. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—September 7, 1900
Where—Manchester, UK
Death—1985
Where—Greenwich, Copnnecticut, USA
Education—University of Buffalo (New York)


Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell (1900–1985) was an Anglo-American novelist and prolific author of popular fiction, also known by the pen names Marcus Holland and Max Reiner, and by her married name of J. Miriam Reback.

She used often in her works real historical events or persons. Taylor Caldwell's best-known works include Dynasty of Death (1938), an epic story about intrigues and alliances of two Pennsylvania families involved in the manufacture of armaments, "Dear and Glorious Physician" (about St.Luke), and "Captains and Kings". Her last major novel, Answer as a Man, appeared in 1980.

Early Life
Taylor Caldwell was born in Manchester, England, into a family of Scottish background. Her family descended from the Scottish clan of MacGregor of which the Taylors are a subsidiary clan. In 1907 she emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger brother. Her father died shortly after the move, and the family struggled. At the age of eight she started to write stories, and in fact wrote her first novel, The Romance of Atlantis, at the age of twelve¹ (although it was to remain unpublished until 1975). In 1919 she married William F. Combs, had "Peggy" and divorced in 1931. Between the years 1918 and 1919 she served in the United States Navy Reserve. From 1923 to 1924 she was a court reporter in New York State Department of Labor in Buffalo, New York and from 1924 to 1931 a member of the Board of Special Inquiry at the Department of Justice in Buffalo.

In 1931 she graduated from the University at Buffalo. In collaboration with her second husband, Marcus Reback, she wrote several bestsellers, the first of which was Dynasty of Death. Caldwell had started to write the story in 1934. It begins from the year 1837 and focuses on the entangled relationships of two families, who control a huge munitions trust. Joseph Barbour is a servant, who becomes a successful businessman and arms manufacturer. His son Martin is not interested in money, he is an idealist and altruist. Ernest, the elder son, is an egoist and believes that money is the greatest power in the world. Ernest loves Amy Drumhill, the niece of Gregory Sessions, owner of a steel factory. However, she marries Martin, who establishes a hospital, and dies in the American Civil War. Ernest's hardness ruins Joseph, and he is cursed by his mother. Dynasty of Death attracted wide attention when it was revealed that behind the male pseudonym was a woman. The story was continued in The Eagles Gather (1940) and The Final Hour (1944).

Writing
As a writer Caldwell was praised for her intricately plotted and suspenseful stories, which depicted family tensions and the development of the U.S. from an agrarian society into the leading industrial state of the world. Caldwell's heroes are self-made men of pronounced ethnic background, such as the German immigrants in The Strong City (1942) and The Balance Wheel (1951). Her themes are ethnic, religious and personal intolerance (The Wide House, 1945), the failure of parental discipline (Let Love Come Last, 1949) and the conflict between the desire for power and money and the human values of love and sense of family, presented in such works as Melissa (1948), A Prologue to Love (1962) and Bright Flows the River (1978).

In her later works Caldwell explored the American Dream and wrote "from rag to riches" stories, among them Answer as a Man (1981). Caldwell's historical novels include The Arm and the Darkness, a fictionalized account of Cardinal Richelieu; A Pillar of Iron (1965), a fictional biography of Cicero, the Roman senator and orator; and The Earth Is the Lord's (1941), a fictional biography of Genghis Khan. Religious themes were prominent in several works. Answer as a Man begins with the clamour of the bells of a little church and ends with renewed faith.

During her career as a writer Caldwell's books sold over thirty million copies. She received several awards, among them the National League of American Pen Women gold medal (1948), Buffalo Evening News Award (1949), and Grand Prix Chatvain (1950). Caldwell was married four times altogether—the third time to William Everett Stancell, and the fourth and final time to William Robert Prestie, who was a follower of Subud (he died in 2002). She had two daughters, Judith and Mary (Judith died in 1979). She was an outspoken conservative and for a time wrote for the John Birch Society's monthly journal American Opinion and even associated with the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby. Her memoir, On Growing Up Tough, appeared in 1971, consisting of many edited-down articles from American Opinion. Caldwell continued writing until 1980, when a stroke left her deaf and unable to speak. She died of pulmonary failure in Greenwich, Connecticut on September 2, 1985.

Insights
From On Growing Up Tough:

We, perhaps, have corrupted our children and our grandchildren by heedless affluence, by a lack of manliness, by giving the younger generation more money and liberty than their youth can handle, by indoctrinating them with sinister ideologies and false values, by permitting them, as young children, to indulge themselves in imprudence to superiors and defiance of duly constituted authority, by lack of prudent, swift punishment when the transgressed, by coddling and pampering them when they were children and protecting them from a very dangerous world—which always was and always will be. We gave them no moral arms, no spiritual armor. (Chapter - "On Hippies")

The nature of human beings never changes; it is immutable. The present generation of children and the present generation of young adults from the age of thirteen to eighteen is, therefore, no different from that of their great-great-grandparents. Political fads come and go; theories rise and fall; the scientific ‘truth’ of today becomes the discarded error of tomorrow. Man’s ideas change, but not his inherent nature. That remains. So, if the children are monstrous today —even criminal—it is not because their natures have become polluted, but because they have not been taught better, nor disciplined. (Chapter - "The Purple Lodge") (Author bio from Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
(For older books, there are few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Listener:

1. Which story(ies) did you find most affecting? Or which did you most relate to on a personal level?

2. Take one story at a time: what is the central conflict of each visitor? Is it internal, external, or both?

3. How does each visitor achieve solace? What does each come to learn? What insights are gained?

4. What is the motiviation of the listener—why does he offer his services? What is his purpose...if he has one?

5. What does it mean to truly listen? Are most of us, any of us, capable of truly listening to others? Does anyone truly listen to us?

7. Everyone has his/her own story. How important is it to tell our stories? Does it matter to whom you tell them? What do you look for when you tell your story?

6. Is the emphasis of this work spiritual, psychological, emotional, or all three? In other words, in what arena can we find solace? (This will vary among members.)

7. Is Caldwell working with larger issues (symbols and themes) here?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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