"ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING AND REPRESENTATIVE FIGURES IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN RADICALISM": FIRST EDITION OF MARY HEATON VORSE'S PIONEERING 1929 NOVEL, STRIKE!, IN RARE ORIGINAL DUST JACKET
VORSE, Mary Heaton. Strike! WITH: DUNNE, W[illiam] F., Gastonia. Citadel of the Class Struggle in the New South. New York: Horace Liveright / Workers Library, 1930, 1929. Two volumes. Octavo, original red-printed black cloth, pictorial endpapers, original dust jacket; small octavo (5 by 7-1/2 inches), staple stitching as issued, original black-printed tan self-wrappers. $2200.
First edition of Vorse's ground-breaking realist novel on the violent 1929 Gastonia strike that became an international cause célèbre, based on her on-the-ground coverage of "one of the most momentous clashes in American labor history," exceedingly rare in original dust jacket, accompanied by a first edition of William Dunne's separately-published Gastonia, issued the same year as the strike, a pristine copy in original wrappers.
One of the Great Depression's first strike novels that later included Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1939), Strike! was the first of six novels sparked by the explosive violence of the 1929 Gastonia strike. It also stands apart in recognizing the "importance of women in the national labor force and as active agents and critics in the public world." When Vorse arrived in Gastonia in April 1929, she was already "one of the most experienced labor reporters and popular writers of women's fiction in the country" (Garrison, Introduction, Strike! xi, xx). The town's Loray Mill workers were largely poor southern whites, many women and children who labored 55-60 hours a week and were paid well under the average weekly wage of less than $16 for male workers. Yet what especially made "Gastonia a cause célèbre was not so much the strike as the strike-breaking" violence by police, hired enforcers, town mobs and local newspapers that aimed unrelenting fury at the strikers (Draper, Gastonia Revisited, 14).
A writer whose works "pulled her audience to a wider vision of democracy," Vorse was "one of the most compelling and representative figures in the history of American radicalism" (Garrison, Mary Heaton Vorse, ix). In Strike! she created "a fictional rendition of a strike that is devoid of propaganda, yet allows a realistic portrayal of human complexity" (Garrison, Introduction, xvii). Vorse spent six weeks in Gastonia reporting for Harper's and making detailed notes for Strike!. She based the characters Fer Deane on strike leader Fred Beal and Mamie Lewes on Ella May Wiggins, a beloved musician murdered in Gastonia and seen by Woody Guthrie as one of America's best songwriters. In the novel Vorse closely echoed Wiggins' documented murder by the hired men who "shot the singin' woman to death." She also created male journalists to convey her experiences, knowing "a male reporter would legitimize… in a way that a woman character would not" (Garrison, Introduction, xv). Vorse, who died in 1966, "judged people by what they did, not by what they said… Not liberal, Communist or anti-Communist, she eluded categorization… in 1944 the FBI placed her on a the list of dangerous citizens to be jailed immediately on presidential order." In Strike! Vorse provides a "front-row view… on one of the momentous clashes in American labor history" (Garrison, Vorse, xvi-vii). Accompanying is a rare first edition of radical journalist William Dunne's Gastonia, issued the same year as the strike, documenting the economics of the textile industry, the "stretch-out" that cut the number of workers while doubling their labor, mob destruction of the strikers' tent city, and eyewitness accounts of the murderous violence. Strike: first edition, first printing; copyright page with no statement of edition or printings; without virtually unobtainable belly band. Gastonia: "First Edition—September 1, 1929" on copyright page; found with wrappers printed in black (this copy) and in red, no priority established; five full-page illustrations including facsimile of May 16, 1929 announcement and four photographic plates. Rideout, Radical Novel, 295.
Book fine; slight edge-wear, early tape reinforcement to very rare, very good dust jacket; fine accompanying pamphlet.