Cover for HERBST: Pity Is Not Enough

Pity Is Not Enough

"I'd rather fail in story writing than succeed in anything else," Josephine Herbst declared in 1913. The Iowa native's Trexler family trilogy, with Pity Is Not Enough as its first volume, shows clearly that Herbst in fact succeeded at storytelling. The book draws loosely on Herbst's family history, using Reconstruction's demise in Georgia to link the advance of free market capitalism to the North's abandonment of its commitment to racial justice. The protagonists–Catherine Trexler and her brother Joe, a carpetbagger embroiled in railroad scandals–are ripped apart financially and psychologically by competing codes of domesticity, Southern manners, and capitalism. In her introduction to the book, Mary Ann Rasmussen argues that Herbst was unlike many other 1930s Leftists in that she refused the "essentialist notions of gender difference that confounded radical men and women of her generation." Herbst's first two novels, published in the late 1920s, were praised by both Katherine Anne Porter and Ernest Hemingway, but the writer gained greater fame with the proletarian fiction and leftist journalism she wrote during the next decade. Though never a member of the Communist Party, Herbst was ostracized as a sympathizer and dismissed from a government job in 1942. Because she never repudiated her radical beliefs and lifestyle, her literary reputation suffered.


"A powerful picture of the seamy side of life in drab houses and dreary towns in the latter half of the last century."
-- Basil Davenport, Saturday Review of Literature

"Reproduces the background of the economic conditions under which men and women sought to climb the ladder, slipped back and persistently tried to climb again."
-- Christian Science Monitor

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