The Papacy: The First Crusade, The Concordat of Worms, and Schism (1086-1143)

Despite Gregory VII being driven from Rome, chaos continued to ensue for the papacy. Antipope Clement III could not hope to win over the reformist cardinals and so they persuaded a remote cleric, Abbott Desiderius of Monte Cassino, to retreat from his splendid monastery, which was filled with rich libraries and gardens, into the unpleasant political world of the papacy. It took the cardinals nearly a year to persuade him, and as a result he was perhaps the most reluctant pope in history. And four days after his consecration, Desiderius (now dubbed Pope Victor III) was quickly proven right in his skepticism. Riots broke out in Rome and drove him back to his monastery. He was was forced between Rome and Monte Cassino for the better part of the year amidst Norman incursions and the threat of a returning Clement III. In the middle of this ongoing civil war Victor III died in 1087.

He was followed by an austere aristocrat, Pope Urban II, a reformer in the vein of the Gregorian “papal supremacy” variety. He was consecrated but spent six years in exile thanks to the forces of the antipope Clement III. Through a mix of cheating and bribery, Urban II was able to enter the Lateran and assume his rightful throne. His papacy oversaw strong efforts to re-unify diplomatic relations with the Byzantine Empire.

The First Crusade

It is worth mentioning that the only way to unify the fractious parties of Christendom occurred through a shared common enemy. The battle within was ended only by developing an enemy without. A delegation met in Constantinople at the Council of Piacenza and spoke of the looming threat from the Saracens who were conquering Asia Minor, thus bringing the humble allies of Christianity under the brutal heel of an Islamic tide (or so the narrative went). In truth, Muslim rule in region had quietly existed for centuries. Nevertheless, the propaganda was urgent, the language immediate, the threat contagious. After the council met in Constantinople, Pope Urban II traveled to France where he loudly proclaimed the threat to huge swarming crowds: Jerusalem was being besieged by a cabal of brutal Turkish overlords. It was now the duty –no less the burden– of the Christian West to unite under a common flag in order to liberate the Christian East. There was to be no delay, the great army of the Pope must assemble quickly and march eastward by the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, 1096. Many hundreds of noblemen and peasants alike, priests and monks, bowed the knee and vowed to take up the cross of the pope. Thus began the First Crusade.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the venture was a resounding “success” for the Crusaders. They quickly invaded and defeated the Seljuk Turks at Anatolia in 1097, followed by the fall of Antioch in 1908, and finally in July 1099 the Crusaders stormed their way into Jerusalem and unleashed a merciless bloodbath. They slaughtered nearly every living Muslim in the city and executed all the Jews –most were burned alive in terrible agony. After this horrid scene, many of the Christian warriors simply returned home, believing they had released the Holy Land from crushing oppression.

News of the victory never reached Pope Urban II as he died two weeks prior. He was succeeded by a good-natured Tuscan monk, Paschal II. Upon assuming the papacy, he destroyed the threat from several would be usurping antipopes and claimed the central authority of the papal imperial struggle: the power of investiture of bishops and abbots. He sought to make a deal, essentially handing over papal lands and wealth in Germany over to the new German Emperor, Henry V. It was followed by riots, the arrest of the pope, and preparation for the eventual coronation of Henry V as Holy Roman Emperor, granting him the power of investiture which, in England, Henry I was unable to extort from the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, any power given to Henry V was soon rendered null in Rome and he was excommunicated. Controversy, rioting, and land grabs hailed the end of Pope Paschal II and he died in 1118.

His successor Gelasius II was pope for only a year. He inherited the political battle with Germany over the right of investiture. After assuming power, Gelasius was immediately imprisoned and brutally beaten by the Frangipani family, one of the two chief ruling Roman families, meanwhile German Emperor Henry V appointed his own antipope to counter Gelasius II. After Gelasius was snatched and imprisoned again, he narrowly launched a dramatic escape on horseback, but this time Gelasius had had enough of Rome. He fled the city for the last time and died in January 1119.

The Concordat of Worms

By now it was clear: the issue of investiture needed to be resolved. As luck would have it, the son of a Burgundian Count, Pope Calixtus II, came to power. He sought a peaceful resolution with Germany by convening a Council at Rheims and captured the lingering antipope, Gregory, who was brought to Rome and dragged through the streets on horseback before being imprisoned for life. This was followed by the famous Concordat of Worms which granted the German Emperor temporal authority over the conferring of lands, while spiritual authority was maintained by the bishopric and papacy. In turn, appointments would be made in the king’s presence and he would be granted the right of arbitration. It was a delicate balance between church and state which was all but sure to cause friction.

The Schism of Innocent II and Anacletus II

In the words of John Julius Norwich: “The Concordat of Worms marked the end of an important chapter in the long struggle between Church and empire. The pope had made concessions, which he recognized would be unpopular among the more inflexible of his stock (125). It was followed by further proclamations at the First Lateran Council in 1123 not long before the pope gave up the ghost. In Rome, the two chief feuding families of the day –Frangipani and Pierleoni– jockeyed for power of the papacy. Rome was effectively ruled by two rival gangster families in an ongoing feud. In the wake of the pope’s death, the Frangipani propped up Pope Honorius II, but his six brief six year reign was dogged by losses in Sicily and France. His death in 1130 brought a new succession crisis as two popes were declared: Innocent II and Anacletus II. Both sides had fierce defenders, and both made military gains in the city while bribing their way to the top. Anacletus eventually forced his way into the Lateran and effectively took control of Rome sending Innocent fleeing to France, however outside of Rome, Innocent was significantly more popular. He raised an army from the Saxon King Lothair in Germany which invaded Italy and in a repeat of the events of Gregory VII —“for the second time in half a century one putative pope had performed an imperial coronation while another had sat a mile or two away, impotent and fuming” (John Luis Norwich, 133). However, once pope Innocent II was announced as the true pope, King Lothair’s forces departed and the situation rapidly deteriorated. Innocent did not have the military might to defend himself. The King of Sicily hailed his forces in defense of Anacletus the antipope sending Innocent to flee by cover of nightfall to Pisa. Again, it was civil war. A united force of German kingdoms fought against the expanding empire in Sicily until Lothair was pushed back to the Alps where he quietly died in a peasant’s hut. However, as fortune would have it, he was followed in death a mere seven weeks later by the antipope, himself, Anacletus. Thus brought an end to yet another bloody schism in Christendom. With none left to dispute his papacy, Innocent II slowly made way for Rome, though he was now a tired old man in his seventies.

Innocent II died in 1143 leaving a fractured papacy behind. His frail, aging persona became the very image of the papacy. All throughout the region a movement toward republican forms of self-government took hold among the people. Naturally, the papacy and its allied court of aging aristocrats opposed all such efforts which were gaining momentum in cities and towns throughout Italy.

For this reading I used John Julius Norwich’s 2011 single volume history of the papacy Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy and Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 2009 work of popular history, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

On The Prescience of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here

Sinclair Lewis’s early novels —Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Dodsworth— were blistering satires of American middle-class complacency, however his most notable later work, It Can’t Happen Here (1935), was distinct. It was written during a time of heightened anxiety with the rise of demagogues and tyrants around the world –Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco– and yet in the United States there was an oft repeated refrain: “It can’t happen here!” It Can’t Happen Here explores a satirical, historically-revisionist question: what if a fascist dictator rose to power in the United States? I was inspired to read this book, in part, after reading a few Sinclair Lewis novels from my survey of the Pulitzer Prize winners, but also I heard the historian Niall Ferguson recommend this book in light of recent political events in the United States. It serves as a cautionary tale, warning us about the appetites and excesses inherent within the democratic regime, along with the tendency of grass movements to elevate frivolous, self-serving demagogues to positions of power. Though It Can’t Happen Here was intended to be pure propaganda, Sinclair Lewis later noted: “it is propaganda for only one thing: American democracy.”

The milieu of It Can’t Happen Here is one of populism, the natural result of which is extremism, as the American fascist movement gains steam under the banner of the American Nazi party as well as the German-American Bund. Populists like Huey Long carve out their own power grabs, and Bishop Prang (based on Father Charles Coughlin) propounds a populist radio program promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as wealth redistributionist policies in order to defy secret cabals of elites. His is a revolution that begins in Rotary Club meetings and halls of the American Legion –Sinclair Lewis clearly thought the fascist threat in America would emerge from the likes of country bumpkins and complacent middle class wasps like George Babbitt, Will Kennicott, and especially Reverend Elmer Gantry.

Our protagonist is Doremus Jessup, a cynical publisher of the Daily Informer. He is a competent businessman and earthy New Englander, while his paper is the bible of rural farmers in Fort Beulah, Vermont. Jessup is born in 1876 into a Unitarian family, and he lives in the hill country of Vermont, a land of stove-heated red brick homes.

In a crude parody of Willie Stark in All The King’s Men, the 1936 presidential election leads downtrodden Americans to elect Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip as the next President of the United States. Windrip is a folksy New England version of Huey Long, though he is every bit a threat to the political order as the dictatorial Kingfish of Louisiana. Windrip travels across small towns praising the “forgotten common man” while promising to restore America to its former greatness. He whips up paramilitary groups like the “Minutemen” (a reference to the famous Revolutionary War militia group) and in doing so, Windrip easily bulldozes all opposition –including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is a fascinatingly prescient story. Consider the following observation of Windrip while on the campaign trail:

“Doremus Jessup, so inconspicuous an observer, watching Windrip from so humble a Boetia, could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store” (71).

And another quotation in which Doremus wonders how dangerous Buzz Windrip might be despite being such a comical figure:

“The hysteria can’t last; be patient, and wait and see, he counseled his readers… It was not that he was afraid of the authorities. He simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure. It can’t happen here, said even Doremus –even now… The one thing that perplexed him was that there could be a dictator seemingly so different from the fervent Hitlers and gesticulating Fascists and the Caesars with laurels round bald domes; a dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain, a George Ade, a Will Rogers, an Artemus Ward.”

This “professional con man” and “prairie Demosthenes” is swept into the White House under an agenda of “Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Man” loosely based on Huey Long’s “Share-The-Wealth” campaign. The reforms call for centralized authority in the executive branch which apparently only Windrip can accomplish because of his popularity within the Democratic base. This temporary transfer of power to President Windrip is necessary in order to restore American greatness, or so he claims. He calls on all patriots to stand. up and support his cause. In the words of Samuel Johnson: “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” What does Windrip stand for? He is for the unions but against all strikes, he is for the bankers but against the banks, he is pro-freedom but anti-disloyalty. Above all, he supports himsef. Windrip is a mix of contradictions, hence why he appeals to such a wide swath of disaffected working class voters. While the ordinary worker says to himself, why am I struggling? Why is my life so difficult? The populist politician like Buzz Windrip comes along and says: Fear not! None of this is your fault. You have simply been made the victim of vile people, invading bands of immigrants, greedy Jews who are hoarding all the money, minorities who seek to replace you and your family, ivory tower elites who don’t care about you, and so on. The message is always the same: you have been betrayed, and I alone can fix it.

Abroad, Windrip pursues a policy of isolationism which actually winds up looking more like a praise of America’s greatest enemies: “‘I don’t altogether admire everything Germany and Italy have done, but you’ve got to hand it to ’em, they’ve been honest enough and realistic enough to say to the other nations, ‘Just tend to your own business, will you?'”

Despite overwhelming support for Buzz Windrip and his degradation of American culture, a resistance movement grows among educated classes and media figures like Jessup, but Windrip’s political enemies increasingly disappear. These people become mere roadblocks on the path toward American greatness, and so Jessup is imprisoned after he joins the Underground resistance movement. In time, Windrip’s authoritarianism draws anger from his own cabinet, especially when the fabled economic prosperity that he promised does not materialize, and it leads to high profile departures, some of his senior officials flee to Mexico and Canada. The Secretary of State leads a military separatist group against the President, and the ensuing factions lead to civil war as the military effectively claims power and begins running portions of the country. This then leads to a string of coup d’états. One General invades the White House forcing Windrip to flee to France, while another has plans to invade Mexico. The novel ends in questionable fashion as the country hangs in the balance, but Jessup begins working with the “New Underground” movement which has arisen. Thus ends a foreboding and eerily familiar glimpse of what happens when political farce becomes dangerous reality.

It Can’t Happen Here has continued to have a surprisingly powerful legacy. On October 3, 1937, nearly two years after the publication of this novel, more than 2,000 American Nazi stormtroopers rallied at Madison Square Garden and by 1939 that number grew to over 20,000 of the German-American Bund to hear Fritz Kuhn, the so-called “American Fuhrer.” Fascist inclinations continued for decades, and as I write these reflections, Republican politicians across the country are openly campaigning on efforts to overturn future elections in the hopes of disenfranchising American voters. Unsurprisingly, following the results of the 2016 United States presidential election, sales of It Can’t Happen Here surged and it became a bestseller for the first time in decades (for obvious reasons). While I have never been the biggest cheerleader for Sinclair Lewis, I thought It Can’t Happen Here was a starkly clear reminder that the renewed price of freedom is still eternal vigilance.

Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. Penguin, Signet Classics. New York, 2014.

Click here to read my reflections on Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men

Old Customs, New Traditions, and a Good Man in John Hersey’s A Bell For Adano

“Invasion had come to the town of Adano.”

John Hersey’s third book, A Bell For Adano, is a true delight. It is an episodic story about the Allied occupation of a Sicilian town at the end of World War II (“Operation HUSKY”) after the American troops invaded and Mussolini’s forces were pushed back. Published in 1944, A Bell For Adano won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1945, and was adapted into a movie in 1945 directed by Henry King featuring John Hodiak and Gene Tierney.

In the forward to the novel, our anonymous narrator announces the whole purpose of the story: to offer an example of a good man named Major Victor Joppolo, an Italian-American from New York who is sent to Italy during World War II. What makes him good? This is a central question in the novel. He is an Amgot (Allied Military Government Occupied Territory) officer sent to a small Sicilian coastal town called Adano (the fictional town of Adano is based on the true Sicilian port of Licata). Adano has been recently shelled in the crossfire following the Allied invasion and the battle has sent the fascists packing. By the time Major Joppolo arrives, he becomes the de factor Mayor of Adano. While some of the townsfolk proclaim happiness about the change of leadership, many in Adano are understandably skeptical of the Americans –will they rule dictatorially like the fascists?

Major Joppolo quickly reveals himself to be a different kind of leader. He praises democracy as a model of servant-leadership. He listens to the people, and keeps his word with them. He asks them about their needs. Rather than demanding food or money, the chief issue among the people of Adano concerns a 700 year-old bell which once sat in the old baroque clock tower over the Palazzo in the town square. The bell rang beautifully every quarter hour, announcing daily life, a cycle which continued for centuries until the bell was tragically confiscated by the fascists and melted down for “rifle barrels or something” (12). The bell once represented the town spirit, it was a metaphor for the constancy of a people –past, present, and future. Centuries ago, it was placed in the clock tower by Pietro Aragona and designed by a notable Renaissance sculptor Lucio de Anj of Modica. The bell once warned of the invasion of Roberto King of Naples in the 14th century, and about 100 years later later it warned of Admial Targout and his invading French and Turkish forces. Now, the absence of the bell in Adano has left the people adrift. Its deafening silence serves as a small reminder of all that has been lost in the war.

In the words of the priest Father Pensovecchio of the Church of Sant’Angelo: “The bell was the center of the town. All life revolved around it. The farmers in the country were wakened by it in the morning, the drivers of the carts knew when to start by it, the bakers baked by it, even we in the churches depended on that bell more than our own bells. At noon on the Sabbath, when all the bells in town rang at once, this bell rose above the others and that was the one you listened to” (22).

After learning the details of the situation, Major Joppolo makes it his quest to acquire a new bell for Adano, though he must do so while struggling to balance order and justice in the city. There are lingering fascist sympathizers among the people –who can be truly trusted? Where do Adano’s alliances lie? Around town, we meet a colorful swath of Adanoans: Mercutio Salvatore, the town crier; Father Pensovecchio of Sant’Angelo; Giuseppe the interpreter; Tomasino, the calloused fisherman with two beautiful daughters; Lojacono the town painter who creates a striking portrait of Major Joppolo, and Mayor Nasta, a traitorous fascist and former mayor of Adano who spreads pernicious lies about the Major until he is eventually imprisoned and shipped off to Africa (despite one failed escape attempt). On the flip-side, Major Joppolo faces endless internal roadblocks within the American military. The institution is burdened by byzantine bureaucracy and arrogant personalities, many of whom sneer at the simple-minded, one-dimensional Italian peasants. Some of these military personnel include 35 year-old Hungarian-American M.P. Leonard Borth, a cynical man who handles security in Adano; Captain Purvis, a sexually aggressive captain who is often drunk, and the most notorious among the military personalities is perhaps General Marvin, a military bureaucrat whose arrogance and hubris frequently sends him flying into a blinding rage while frivolously shouting wild, erratic commands. He is the fictional embodiment of General Patton: “Probably you think of him as one of the heroes of the invasion; the genial, pipe-smoking history-quoting, snappy-looking, map-carrying, adjective-defying divisional commander; the man who still wears spurs even though he rides everywhere in an armored car; the man who fires twelve rounds from his captured Luger pistol every morning before breakfast; the man who can name you the hero and date of every invasion of Italy from the beginning of time; the father of division and the beloved deliverer of Italian soil” (47-48). However, this is quickly revealed to be a false image and General Marvin is revealed to be a very “bad man.” We get a sense of the work cut out for Major Joppolo. It is also worth noting that a variety of present-day senior American military leaders often list A Bell For Adano among their required reading courses (as in the case of General James Mattis who placed A Bell For Adano as one of the few novels among a batch of seventy or so books required for his officers to read).

Each new chapter in the novel paints a brief picture of life in Adano: mule carts need to be transported in and out of the city (despite military orders blocking mule carts from the roads), fishermen who desire to go out fishing again (amidst the risk of exploding mines in the harbor), and children who hunger for “caramelle” candies. Major Joppolo makes great efforts to cut through regulations devised by the American military and, in doing so, he unilaterally allows Adano to go about its daily business, however Major Joppolo’s actions do not sit well with military superiors. With the passing of time, he grows beloved and respected in Adano, and despite being married, he falls in love with Tina, the blonde-haired daughter of Tomasino the fisherman (Tina’s own paramour died in the war). And in the end, Major Joppolo manages to secure a huge bronze bell for Adano courtesy of the U.S. Naval vessel, the U.S.S. Corelli, but before it can be rung out for the first time in the village square, Major Joppolo is punished by the military establishment for his intransigence, and he is sent away to Algiers. The general feeling of exhilaration and jubilance that comes with the arrival of the bell is contrasted with a quietly sorrowful scene of Major Joppolo being whisked away from Adano, the small town he helped rebuild. While driving away, he hears the sound of the new bell ringing out for the first time:

“About four miles outside the town the Major said to the driver: ‘Stop a minute, would you, please?’
It was a fine sound on the summer air. The tone was good and it must have been loud to hear it as far as this.
‘Just a bell,’ the driver said. ‘Must be eleven o’clock.’
‘Yes,’ the Major said. He looked over the hills across the sea, and the day was as clear as the sound of the bell itself, but the Major could not see or think very clearly.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘eleven o’clock'” (269).

A Bell For Adano is a splendid tale in my view. It is simple, yet it carries immense depth. It ranks among the best of the Pulitzer Prize winners I have encountered thus far in this project. A Bell For Adano offers an optimistic reminder: in spite of overwhelming obstacles, good people like Major Joppolo can still accomplish great things. The image of the bell serves as both a metaphor for reclaiming old traditions while also embracing a new era of peace and hope. It is sentimental yet serious in tone, while offering a compelling examination of good leadership, especially in exploring the traits of a leader who wishes to earn the trust and respect of ordinary people (notably, the people of Adano do not necessarily require mere material economic concerns, but rather they desire something deeper, a connection to their history, people, and place in the form of the town bell). Not unlike the bridge in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the bell in A Bell For Adano points us toward something much deeper within the human spirit.

I will conclude my reflections here with a brief digression –one of my favorite aspects of reading through the Pulitzer Prize winners has been getting my hands on early copies of these novels. I was pleased once again to read a first edition copy of A Bell For Adano, a successful gleaning from my local library. Inside the book there was an old flap (as is often the case) tracing past library due dates back to the mid 1940s. Sometimes I wonder who else may have read this book and embarked on the same journey that I did back to an old Sicilian port town at the end of the war. Much like Adano’s bell in the novel, libraries still arouse a sense of wonder and a unique connection to the past. In both cases –books and bells– their beauty still rings true for people with open ears for listening.

The following are some notable quotations I found while reading:

“America is the international country” (vi).

“And he told about Adano’s seven-hundred-year-old bell. He told how it had been taken away, and about what he had done to try to get another… He made the town’s need for a new bell seem a thing really important, and he made the bell seem a symbol of freedom in Adano. He made it seem as if the people of Adano would not feel truly free until they heard a bell ringing from the clock tower of the Palazzo” (207).

“War is awful for men but it is not too good for women” (216).

On the 1945 Pulitzer Prize Decision

In 1945, Orville Prescott joined the Pulitzer Prize Jury, replacing Lewis Gannett from the prior year. Mr. Prescott was the lead book reviewer for The New York Times and he remained a Pulitzer Juror for several more years to come.

Apparently, there was almost no consensus within the Jury in 1945. Orville Prescott supported A Bell for Adano, Maxwell Geismar argued for Joseph Pennell’s The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters, and John Chamberlain (returning chairman) supported Edith Pope’s Colcorton. Thus the split decision came before the Pulitzer Advisory Board where, despite one objection from a particularly loud and disgruntled Board member who was upset at the portrayal of General Patton, the Board nevertheless awarded the Pulitzer Prize to A Bell For Adano.

Who Is John Hersey?

Born in China, John Hersey (1914-1993) was the child of American missionaries in Asia. His family descended from early 17th century settlers of Massachusetts. After spending his early years in China (where he learned to speak Chinese before English), Mr. Hersey returned to the United States at age 10 and he grew up in New York before attending Yale University and later Cambridge University. During this period, he amusingly worked for a spell as Sinclair Lewis’s personal secretary and chauffeur before becoming a war correspondent for Time and Life magazines.

An intrepid journalist, Mr. Hersey accompanied Allied troops on their invasion of Sicily (which later inspired A Bell For Adano), survived no less than four airplane crashes, and was commended by the Secretary of the Navy for his role in helping evacuate wounded soldiers from Guadalcanal. After the war, during the winter of 1945–46, Mr. Hersey was stationed in Japan, reporting for The New Yorker on the reconstruction of the devastated country, when he found a document written by a Jesuit missionary, a survivor of the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. This led to several other introductions and when he returned to America, he began writing his most famous book, Hiroshima, focusing on six stories of ordinary people who survived the Hiroshima bombing.

He lectured at Yale and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was also active in Democratic politics. In 1950, during the Red Scare, Hersey was investigated by the FBI for possible Communist sympathies. He published some twenty books, most of them fictional and bestsellers like The Wall (1950) which was about the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. His work was widely praised: Mr. Hersey became the first non-academic named master of a Yale residential college. He served as past president of the Authors League of America, and he was elected chancellor by the membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hersey was an honorary fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University. He was awarded honorary degrees by Yale University, the New School for Social Research, Syracuse University, Washington and Jefferson College, Wesleyan University, The College of William and Mary and others

Hersey married twice. He had three sons and one daughter with his first wife, Frances Ann Cannon, whom he married in 1940 and divorced in 1958. He married his second wife, Barbara Kaufman, in 1958 and they had one daughter together.

In his later years, Mr. Hersey lived in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He died at the age of 78 at his winter home in Key West, Florida, on March 24, 1993 at the compound he and his wife shared with his friend and fellow writer Ralph Ellison. Mr. Hersey’s body was transported and buried at Martha’s Vineyard. His legacy, however continues to live on. In 2007, Mr. Hersey was honored as one of six 20th century journalists honored by the U.S. Post Office with a personalized stamp. He was also honored with a memorial lecture and scholarship in his name at Yale. The inaugural lecture was delivered in 1993 by the brilliant American historian David McCullough.

Hersey, John. A Bell For Adano. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1945.

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

On Rod Serling’s “Escape Clause”

“Witness, my dear… the new Walter Bedeker!”

In Rod Serling’s “Escape Clause,” we meet the same insufferable bathrobe-wearing, bedridden, forty-four year old hypochondriac as found in The Twilight Zone episode. Walter Bedeker is demanding and annoying and despite his wife Ethel’s best efforts, Walter’s fears are many: “death, disease, other people, germs, drafts and everything else… In short, he was a gnome-faced little man who clutched at disease the way most people hunger for security” (33). In fact, his phobias are so severe that Walter even refuses to allow windows to be opened in the house.

He verbally berates a doctor, then a janitor, and his own wife before finally being left alone in his room when suddenly the deep, resonant, laughing voice of a man named Cadwallader can be heard in his room. Cadwallader is soon revealed to be the devil himself offering Walter Bedeker immortality in exchange for his soul. After a serious negotiation, Walter signs away his soul and begins testing his invincibility in a series of challenges, each more radical than the last. Unfortunately, his newfound freedom from fear makes him equally as insufferable a man. However, he soon faces a new kind of monotony in his life without the looming threat of death any longer. He devises a dark plot wherein he kills his wife and winds up in prison in Kansas. In despair, Walter exercises the “escape clause” of his contract with Cadwallader and he immediately dies. Life without death is empty and meaningless.

This short story closely mirrors the plot featured in its component Twilight Zone episode. Once again, the tone of this Serling tale is light-hearted, amused, and playful up until the point Walter kills his wife and winds up in jail, begging for death. These folkoric, supernatural, Faustian fables taking place in our contemporary context are simply terrific.

Serling, Rod. Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “Escape Clause”