Robert Emmett Cantwell (January 31, 1908 – December 8, 1978), known
as Robert Cantwell, was a novelist and critic. His most notable work,
The Land of Plenty, focuses on a lumber mill in a thinly disguised
version of his hometown in Washington state.
3 Personal life and death
4.2 Time Magazine
4.3 Hiss Case
7 External sources
Crowd gathering at
Wall Street and Broad Street after 1929 crash - the
Great Depression shaped Cantwell's experience in New York City
Cantwell was born in Little Falls (now Vader), Washington. His parents
were Charles James Cantwell, an engineer, and Nina Adelia Hanson.
In 1919, the massacre during a strike in nearby Centralia, Washington,
deeply disturbed him and left a lasting impression that appeared in
his major writings.
He attended the
University of Washington
University of Washington (1924−1925) and then spent
the next four years working at Harbor Plywood Co., (1925−1929) in
Cover of Gorn (Furnace), official organ of
Proletkult — that shaped
the Labor literature of the 1930s, of which Cantwell's novels were
considered some of the best
In 1929, after selling a short story "Hanging by My Thumbs" to The New
American Caravan, he moved (with help from childhood friend Calvin
Fixx) to New York City, landed a book contract with Farrar and
Rinehart, and began work on his first novel, Laugh and Lie Down
(1931). From 1930 to 1935 (and during the Great Depression), he wrote
a second novel, The Land of Plenty (1934). He published a number of
short stories in The Miscellany, American Caravan, Pagany, and The New
Republic. In December 1933, he accepted work already passed over by
Whittaker Chambers, namely to co-write a biography of Boston's E. A.
Filene, in collaboration with Lincoln Steffens. The same month,
Steffens suffered a heart-attack and died in 1936; Cantwell handed the
manuscript to Filene in 1937.
Meantime, to support himself while writing, Cantwell took on
regular-paying jobs. From November 1932 until its close in 1935, he
worked as literary editor of New Outlook magazine. He also wrote
New Masses under pen name "Robert Simmons."
On April 23, 1935 and through 1936, Cantwell joined the editorial
staff of Time as book reviewer. In 1937, he joined Time's sister
magazine, Fortune. In 1938, he returned to Time as associate editor
(1938−1945). In 1939, he helped his friend Chambers get his old job
as book reviewer. In 1940,
William Saroyan lists Cantwell among
"associate editors" at Time in Saroyan's play, Love's Old Sweet
In 1941, Cantwell suffered a nervous breakdown. He took off work and
received treatment at the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum.) He spent
three years researching and writing the biography, Nathaniel
Hawthorne: The American Years (1948).
From 1949 to 1954 he worked as the literary editor of Newsweek. In
1954, he took up freelancing again until 1956 when he began an
association with Sports Illustrated.
He worked for the magazine from 1956 until his death in 1978. He
worked on a number of articles, three of which became books: Alexander
Wilson: Naturalist and Pioneer (1961), The Real McCoy (1971), and The
Hidden Northwest (1972). Subjects of his articles include chess,
ornithology, sports in the movies and literary figures in
Personal life and death
They shall not pass! Republican banner in Madrid during siege,
1936–39 - the
Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War epitomized the radicalism of
Cantwell and his friends
Cantwell married Mary Elizabeth Chambers, a teacher, on February 2,
1931: she (no relation to Whittaker Chambers) was a cousin of Lyle
Saxon, whom Fixx had been serving as secretary. They had three
children: Joan McNiece (Mrs. George Stolz, Jr.), Betsy Ann (Mrs.
Walter Pusey III), and Mary Elizabeth Emmett (Mrs. Lars-Erik
Upon publication of his first short story "Hanging by My Thumbs,"
Cantwell began to meet New York writers and editors like Edmund
Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, John Chamberlain, Erskine Caldwell, Matthew
Josephson, and Harry Hansen. Over time, his circle expanded to include
James T. Farrell, Meyer Schapiro, John Dos Passos, Newton Arvin,
Kenneth Burke, Granville Hicks, Kenneth Fearing, Fred Dupee, Elof
Holmlund, and Whittaker Chambers.
In the 1930s, "after he settled in New York, Cantwell was always short
of money and therefore generally in a rush to finish a piece and get
paid... All the more remarkable, then, that his short stories are of
such a generally high aesthetic quality."
Cantwell dismissed his radical affiliations of youth obliquely in
later life, saying "I had no interest in politics" and no (public)
political aspirations. Nevertheless, his circles in the 1930s a strong
Leftist one that included Schapiro (Marxist), Cowley (Communist Party
fellow traveller), Holmlund and
Calvin Fixx (Communist Party members),
and Chambers (Soviet spy). Further, his correspondence shows a strong
interest, for example, in the
CPUSA ticket for 1932 elections, which
William Z. Foster
William Z. Foster for president and
James W. Ford
James W. Ford for vice
president. He also joined the League of Professional Writers for
Foster and Ford. (Cantwell noted that he voted for Roosevelt so he
would not "throw away" his vote.) Also in the Fall of 1932, he
traveled to Washington, DC, with Cowley to cover the National Hunger
March for The New Republic. Biographer Per Seyersted concluded, "That
Cantwell did not use correct Marxist terminology would seem to
indicate that he was no CP member, that however to the left he was and
in sympathy with the Party's aims, he was an independent person doing
his own thinking."
He died in 1978, aged 70, in a St. Luke's hospital n New York City,
after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.
In his obituary,
Sports Illustrated wrote:
Bob Cantwell was with us during the last 22 years of his life, in
which he wrote dozens of memorable articles, among them a portrayal of
Cecil Smith, the Texas cowboy who became perhaps the greatest polo
player the world has ever seen. When Cantwell wrote of Banjo Paterson,
the virtually unknown author of Waltzing Matilda, he made sure that a
colorful footnote to history was not going to be lost, at least not to
SI readers. As he once said, "History is a natural resource, just as
much as fossil fuel. It's what is there. We should not ignore it." Bob
Cantwell was a unique intellectual resource and a friend. We shall
Cantwell's correspondence includes: James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos,
Van Wyck Brooks, Erskine Caldwell, Malcolm Cowley, Henry Luce, Clare
Boothe Luce, Marianne Moore, T. S. Matthews, and Edmund Wilson.
Hemingway (center) with Dutch filmmaker
Joris Ivens and German writer
Ludwig Renn during Spanish Civil War, 1937 - Hemingway was one of
Cantwell's greatest and longest-term admirers
Ernest Hemingway considered Cantwell "his best bet" in American
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Cantwell's first short story, "Hanging by
My Thumbs": "Mark it well, for my guess is that he's learned a better
lesson from Proust than
Thornton Wilder did and has a destiny of no
T. S. Matthews wrote, "Before I met him, I knew that he was reported
to be the best book reviewer in New York; after only three book
reviews, everybody admitted it."
Cantwell, his close colleagues, and many staff members as of the 1930s
helped elevate TIME–"interstitial intellectuals," as historian
Robert Vanderlan has called them. Colleague
John Hersey described
them as follows:
Time was in an interesting phase; an editor named Tom Matthews had
gathered a brilliant group of writers, including James Agee, Robert
Fitzgerald, Whittaker Chambers, Robert Cantwell, Louis Kronenberger,
and Calvin Fixx... They were dazzling. Time’s style was still very
hokey—“backward ran sentences till reeled the mind”—but I
could tell, even as a neophyte, who had written each of the pieces in
the magazine, because each of these writers had such a distinctive
Whittaker Chambers joined
Calvin Fixx as close friend of Cantwell's,
then became an emblem of his fears
In October 1931, Cantwell attended a dinner party in honor of his
first novel, Laugh and Lie Down, where he met Whittaker Chambers,
friend Mike Intrator, and Intrator's wife Grace Lumpkin. At the time,
Chambers had become an editor at the
New Masses magazine; he and
Cantwell became "very close friends." Soon after meeting, Cantwell
joined the John Reed Club.
When Chambers went into the Soviet underground in mid-1932, Cantwell
knew; he declined to let Chambers use his home as a letter drop. In
April 1934, Cantwell met Chambers' underground comrade, John Loomis
Sherman, whom he knew as "Phillips." For the rest of his life,
Cantwell would remain unclear about just how much he knew about or was
involved in Chambers' underground activities. In May 1934, when
Chambers started working with the
Ware Group (according to Cantwell's
papers), Cantwell accompanied him; about this time, Chambers let
Cantwell know that he was using the alias "Lloyd Cantwell" in
Baltimore. Biographer Seyersted notes that in his 1952 memoir Witness,
Chambers may have changed dates for his first meetings in Washington
Ware Group to June and later in order to protect Cantwell.
Cantwell helped get
Whittaker Chambers a job at TIME magazine, as
Chambers recounted in his memoirs:
The morning mail brought a letter from my friend, Robert Cantwell, the
author of Laugh and Lie Down, and later, the biographer of Nathaniel
Hawthorne. Cantwell was then one of the editors of Time magazine...
But his letter... urged me to go to New York at once. As sometimes
happens at Time, several jobs were suddenly open. Cantwell thought
that I might get one of them... Cantwell thought I should try for a
book reviewer's job. I wrote several trial reviews. A few days later,
Time hired me.
Chambers had used the alias "Lloyd Cantwell" during his time in the
Soviet underground, including the formation of the American Feature
Writers Syndicate with comrade John Loomis Sherman (using the alias
Charles Francis Chase) and literary agent Maxim Lieber. During the
Hiss Case, Cantwell's name came up, and he found himself under FBI
surveillance. When Chambers published his memoirs, Cantwell wrote a
Cantwell's mental breakdown in 1941 plus Chambers' use of his surname
in the 1930s may well have led the Hiss defense team to conflate the
two Cantwells and thus question Chambers' own sanity. ("Is he a man
of sanity?" Hiss publicly questioned as early as August 25, 1948.)
In later years, Cantwell would express skepticism that Chambers even
was in the underground; at others, he would express great fear of
Soviet retribution (for Chambers' defection–and Cantwell's role in
"Hanging by My Thumbs" in The New American Caravan (1931)
Laugh and Lie Down (1931)
Land of Plenty (1934, 1971)
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The American Years (1948, 1971)
Famous American Men of Letters, illustrated by Gerald McCann (New
York: Dodd, Mead, 1956)
Alexander Wilson: Naturalist and Pioneer: A Biography, decorated by
Robert Ball (1961)
Real McCoy: The Life and Times of
Norman Selby (1971)
Hidden Northwest (1972)
The Humorous Side of
Erskine Caldwell anthology edited and introduced
Robert Cantwell (1951)
White Rose of Memphis by William C. Falkner, introduced by Robert
Charterhouse of Parma, by Marie-Henri Beyle (Stendhal, translated by
Lady Mary Loyd, revised by Robert Cantwell, preface by Honoré de
Balzac, illustrated by Rafaello Busoni (1955)
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, introduced by Robert
Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, introduced by Robert
Cantwell, engraved by
Agnes Miller Parker
Agnes Miller Parker (1958)
The History of Pendennis by William Makepeace Thackeray, introduced by
Robert Cantwell (1961)
E. A. Filene
E. A. Filene with
Lincoln Steffens (1934)
Autobiography of James B. McNamara, convicted labor dynamiter
Small Boston, projected novel from the early 1970s
The FBI, privacy, and Cantwell’s involvement with politics and
Four Novelists on William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, James T. Farrell
and Erskine Caldwell
"What the Working Class Reads" in The New Republic (1935)
"What the Working Class Reads" in The New Republic (1935)
Sports Illustrated (1956–1978)
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Seyersted, Per (2004).
Robert Cantwell: An American 1930s Radical Writer and His Apostasy.
Oslo: Novus Press. pp. 12 (Centralia).
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Agapito, Aggie; Kihunrwa, Aika-Maria (2004).
"Guide to the
Robert Cantwell Papers 1926−1978". Archives West -
Orbis Cascade Alliance. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
^ a b c d Reed, T.V (2014).
Robert Cantwell and the Literary Left: A
Northwest Writer Reworks American Fiction. University of Washington.
pp. 23 (Centralia), 50 (Robert Simmons). Retrieved 15 December
^ Lewis, Merrill (1985). Robert Cantwell. Boise State University.
Retrieved 15 December 2016.
^ "Literary Editor And Writer at 2 Magazines". Washington Post. 10
December 1978. p. B12. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ a b "Robert Cantwell: Literary Editor and Writer at 2 Magazines".
Washington Post. 10 December 1976. p. B12. access-date=
requires url= (help)
^ Lineages of the Literary Left: Essays in Honor of Alan Wald. Maize
Books. 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
^ Saroyan, William (1940). Love's Old Sweet Song: A Play in Three
Acts. Samuel French. p. 72. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
^ Craig, R. Bruce (2001). "The Hiss-Chambers Controversy: Records of
the House Un-American Activities Committee". The
Alger Hiss Story: A
Search for Truth. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
^ "Robert E. Cantwell, 70, A Journalist and Author Robert Emmett
Cantwell". New York Times. 10 December 1978. p. 44. Retrieved
2014-09-30. (Subscription required (help)).
^ a b Sutton, Kelso F. (18 December 1978). "Letter From The
Publisher". Sports Illustrated.
^ Baker, ed., Carlos (1981). Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters,
1917−1961. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 709.
ISBN 0-684-16765-4. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list
^ Vanderlan, Robert (2011). Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art,
and Ideas Inside Henry Luce's Media Empire. University of Pennsylvania
Press. p. 239. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
^ Dee, Jonathan (1986). "John Hersey, The Art of Fiction No. 92".
Paris Review. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
^ a b Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House.
pp. 85–86 (Robert Cantwell), 365–366 (Lloyd Cantwell).
^ "Hearings regarding Communist espionage in the United States
Government". US Government Printing Office (GPO). 22 October 1948.
p. 1167. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
^ Cantwell, Robert (1948). "Nathaniel Hawthorne". Rinehart. Retrieved
26 March 2017.
^ "A Real Man's Life". TIME. 4 October 1948. Retrieved 26 March
^ Cantwell, Robert (17 July 1935). "What the Working Class Reads".
Retrieved 11 December 2016.
^ Cantwell, Robert (23 February 1938). "The Communists and the CIO".
Retrieved 11 December 2016.
^ "Articles by Robert Cantwell". Sport Illustrated. Retrieved 11
Guide to the
Robert Cantwell papers at the University of Oregon
Lewis, Merrill (1985). Robert Cantwell. Boise State University.
Retrieved 15 December 2016.
Reed, T.V (2014). obert Cantwell and the Literary Left: A Northwest
Writer Reworks American Fiction. University of Washington. Retrieved
15 December 2016.
Seyersted, Per (2004). Robert Cantwell: An American 1930s Radical
Writer and His Apostasy. Oslo: Novus Press.
ISNI: 0000 0001 1034 9482
BNF: cb15126267q (da