March 06, 2004

The Code of the Brewsters

Ian Hamet has become well known for his essays on the great movie directors; today he's branched out a bit, and posted a lengthy and informative disquisition about the early 20th century drama critic and cultural observer Mortimer Brewster, whom he touts as a forerunner of our own Terry Teachout.

Much of Hamet's essay is taken up with the disturbing scandals that plagued Brewster's life, including his 1940 conviction for serial murder. Brewster never confessed to the crimes, and indeed was supported in his claims by his wife of two years, Elaine Harper. He was eventually released from prison in 1946, and disappeared--with Elaine--to lead a quiet life in the Far East.

I'm less interested in the various Brewster scandals, however, than in Hamet's disturbing misrepresentation of Elaine Harper. As is well-known (he published no less than five books on the subject), Mortimer Brewster was no friend to matrimony; indeed, Elaine Harper was clearly an exceptional woman to not only catch such a confirmed bachelor and man-about-town, but also to keep him. Hamet says of her,

One gets the impression that she actually accepted Mortimer's views and would have lived with him under any arrangement he demanded.

Now, I must say that this seems highly unlikely. For Brewster to marry, given his published views, was to expose himself to public ridicule. Surely if Elaine Harper had been willing to enter into some less formal arrangement, Brewster would have taken advantage of it?

It is true, I grant you, that the young Mrs. Brewster completed the unfinished manuscript of her husband's fifth book on marriage, Mind over Matrimony, and saw it into publication; but what else could she do, with her husband being in prison at the time for a string of murders he may not have committed, and all the legal expenses to pay?

In short, I simply cannot buy Hamet's portrayal of this loving, loyal minister's daughter as some kind of potential libertine-in-waiting. Rather, I would prefer to think of her as an old-fashioned girl who stood by her man, right or wrong.

Beyond that, I found Hamet's narrative to be both informative and compelling, and I commend it to anyone with an interest in the dramatic scandals of the 1930's and '40's.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 6, 2004 02:10 PM

Phil said:

Again and again I've put off commenting on this post. No longer.

Whenever I see this post I think, "Is talking about a relation of W. G. Podehouse's Wertrum Brooster?"