The listener, p.1
The Listener, page 1
Table of Contents
Books by Taylor Caldwell
Introducing THE LISTENER
The Despised and Rejected
The Father’s Business
The Destroyer, and THE MAN WHO LISTENS
by Taylor Caldwell
Copyright © 1960
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Taylor Caldwell, christened Janet Miriam Holland Taylor Caldwell, was born in Manchester, England on September 7, 1900, into a family of Scottish background. Her family descended from the Scottish clan of MacGregor of which the Taylors are a subsidiary clan. In 1907 she emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger brother. Her father died shortly after the move, and the family struggled. At the age of eight she started to write stories, and in fact wrote her first novel, The Romance of Atlantis, at the age of twelve! (although it remained unpublished until 1975). She continued to write prolifically, however, despite ill health.
Taylor Caldwell was also known by the pen names of Marcus Holland and Max Reiner as well as her married name of J. Miriam Reback. Her works include Dear and Glorious Physician, a novel detailing the exploits of Saint Luke, The Listener, written about a mysterious altruistic individual who lends an ear where it is needed, and Dynasty of Death, a saga about a family of munitions makers.
In 1918-1919, she served in the United States Navy Reserve. In 1919 she married William F. Combs. In 1920, they had a daughter, Mary (known as ‘Peggy’). From 1923 to 1924 she was a court reporter in New York State Department of Labor in Buffalo, New York. In 1924, she went to work for the United States Department of Justice, as a member of the Board of Special Inquiry (an immigration tribunal) in Buffalo. In 1931 she graduated from the University of Buffalo, and also was divorced from William Combs.
Caldwell then married her second husband, Marcus Reback, a fellow Justice employee. She had a second child with Reback, a daughter Judith, in 1932. They were married for 40 years, until his death in 1971.
In 1934, she began to work on the novel Dynasty of Death, which she and Reback completed in collaboration. It was published in 1938 and became a best-seller. ‘Taylor Caldwell’ was presumed to be a man, and there was some public stir when the author was revealed to be a woman. Over the next 43 years, she published 42 more novels, many of them best-sellers. For instance, This Side of Innocence was the biggest fiction seller of 1946. Her works sold an estimated 30 million copies. She became wealthy, traveling to Europe and elsewhere, though she still lived near Buffalo.
Her books were big sellers right up to the end of her career. In 1979, she signed a two-novel deal for $3.9 million. During her career as a writer, she received several awards: The National League of American Pen Women gold medal (1948); The Buffalo Evening News Award (1949); The Grand Prix Chatvain (1950).
She was an outspoken conservative and for a time wrote for the John Birch Society’s monthly journal American Opinion. Her memoir, On Growing Up Tough, appeared in 1971, consisting of many edited-down articles from American Opinion.
Around 1970, she became interested in reincarnation. She had become friends with well-known occultist author Jess Stearn, who suggested that the vivid detail in her many historical novels was actually subconscious recollection of previous lives. Supposedly, she agreed to be hypnotized and undergo ‘past-life regression’ to disprove reincarnation. According to Stearn’s book, The Search of a Soul - Taylor Caldwell’s Psychic Lives (1973), Caldwell instead began to recall her own past lives - eleven in all, including one on the ‘lost continent’ of Lemuria.
In 1972, she married William Everett Stancell, a retired real estate developer, but divorced him in 1973. In 1978, she married William Robert Prestie, an eccentric Canadian 17 years her junior. This led to difficulties with her children. She had a long dispute with her daughter Judith over the estate of Judith’s father Marcus; in 1979, Judith committed suicide. Also in 1979, Caldwell suffered a stroke, which left her unable to speak, though she could still write. (She had been deaf since about 1965.) Her daughter Peggy accused Prestie of abusing and exploiting Caldwell, and there was a legal battle over her substantial assets.
She died of heart failure in Greenwich, Connecticut on August 30, 1985.
Books by Taylor Caldwell
1938 DYNASTY OF DEATH
1940 THE EAGLES GATHER
1941 THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S: A Tale of the Rise of Genghis Khan
1941 TIME NO LONGER
1942 THE STRONG CITY
1943 THE ARM AND THE DARKNESS
1943 THE TURNBULLS
1944 THE FINAL HOUR
1945 THE WIDE HOUSE
1946 THIS SIDE OF INNOCENCE
1947 THERE WAS A TIME
1949 LET LOVE COME LAST
1951 THE BALANCE WHEEL
1952 THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE
1953 MAGGIE - HER MARRIAGE
1954 NEVER VICTORIOUS, NEVER DEFEATED
1955 YOUR SINS AND MINE
1956 TENDER VICTORY
1957 THE SOUND OF THUNDER
1959 DEAR AND GLORIOUS PHYSICIAN
1960 THE LISTENER
1961 A PROLOGUE TO LOVE
1963 GRANDMOTHER AND THE PRIESTS
1963 THE LATE CLARA BEAME
1965 A PILLAR OF IRON
1965 WICKED ANGEL
1966 NO ONE HEARS BUT HIM
1967 DIALOGUES WITH THE DEVIL
1968 TESTIMONY OF TWO MEN
1970 GREAT LION OF GOD
1971 ON GROWING UP TOUGH
1972 CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS
1973 TO LOOK AND PASS
1974 GLORY AND THE LIGHTNING
1975 ROMANCE OF ATLANTIS (with Jess Stearn)
1976 CEREMONY OF THE INNOCENT
1977 I, JUDAS (with Jess Stearn)
1978 BRIGHT FLOWS THE RIVER
1980 ANSWER AS A MAN
Dedicated with all humility
For who listens to us in all the world, whether
he be friend or teacher, brother or father or
mother, sister or neighbor, son or ruler or
servant? Does he listen, our advocate, or our
husbands or wives, those who are dearest to us?
Do the stars listen, when we turn despairingly
away from man, or the great winds, or the seas or
the mountains? To whom can any man say —
Here I am! Behold me in my nakedness,
my wounds, my secret grief, my despair, my betrayal,
my pain, my tongue which cannot express my sorrow,
my terror, my abandonment.
Listen to me for a day — an hour! — a moment!
lest I expire in my terrible wilderness, my lonely
silence! O God, is there no one to listen?
Is there no one to listen? you ask. Ah yes,
there is one who listens, who will always listen.
Hasten to him, my friend! He waits on the hill for you.
For you, alone.
This is a true story. It may be your story, but certainly it is your neighbor’s story. You may find your own face here, and it may anger you. I hope so. Anger is a cleansing agent.
The most desperate need of men today is not a new vaccine for any disease, or a new religion, or a new ‘way of life’. Man does not need to go to the moon or other solar systems. He does not require bigger and better bombs and missiles. He will not die if he does not get ‘better housing’ or more vitamins. He will not expire of frustration if he is unable to buy the brightest and newest gadgets, or if all his children cannot go to college. His basic needs are few, and it takes little to acquire them, in spite of the advertisers. He can survive on a small amount of bread and in the meanest shelter. He always did.
His real need, his most terrible need, is for someone to listen to him, not as a ‘patient’, but as a human soul. He needs to tell someone of what he thinks, of the bewilderment he encounters when he tries to discover why he was born, how he must live, and where his destiny lies. The questions he asks of psychiatrists are not the questions in his heart, and the answers he receives are not the answers he needs. He is a sealed vessel, even when under drugs or while heavily drinking. His semantics are not the semantics of anyone else, not even the semantics of a psychiatrist.
Our pastors would listen — if we gave them the time to listen to us. But we have burdened them with tasks which should be our own. We have demanded not only that they be our shepherds but that they take our trivialities, our social aspirations, the ‘fun’ of our children, on their weary backs. We have demanded that they be expert businessmen, politicians, accountants, playmates, community directors, ‘good fellows’, judges, lawyers, and settlers of local quarrels. We have given them little time for listening, and we do not listen to them, either. We must offer them concrete help and assume our own responsibilities. We forget that they are men also, frequently very tired, always unappreciated, sometimes disheartened, quite often appalled, worried, anxious, lonely, grieved. They are not supermen, without human agony and human longing. Heedlessly, we neglect them — unless we wish them to serve us in material ways, when their ways should be exclusively God’s. We demand of them what we would not dare to demand of anyone else, even ourselves. We give them no time to listen, when to have someone listen, without hurry, without the click of a clock, is the direst need of our spirits.
Until we free our shepherds from our insistence that they be our servants, let us remember that there is someone who listens. He is available to all of us, all of the time, all of our lives. The Listener.
We have only to talk to him. Now. Today. Tonight. He understands our language, our semantics, our terrors, our secrets, our sins, our crimes, our sorrow. He will not consider you sentimental if you speak fondly of the past, if you are old. He will not turn you away if you are a liar, a thief, a murderer, a hypocrite, a betrayer. He will listen to you. He will not be impatient if you become maudlin, or cry in self-pity, or if you are a coward or a fool. He has listened to people like this all his life. He will continue to listen.
While he listens, you will find your own problems solved. Will he speak to you, also? Who knows? Perhaps. Surely, if you ask him. If you listen, too.
Introducing THE LISTENER
The newspaper reporters were wild with curiosity.
“Oh, come on, sir!” they said to old John. “Who’s behind that curtain? A clergyman? Clergymen on shifts around the clock? The — what do you call this, anyway? — is open twenty-four hours a day, isn’t it? How much did it cost you? Is it true that you put your life’s savings in it? Real Carrara marble, isn’t it? But who’s behind that curtain?”
Old John Godfrey was eighty years old. A mediocre lawyer in a large city rarely made much money, especially if he was honest, and John had been both mediocre and honest. He was a widower. Beyond a few, a very few, devoted old friends, his name had not been known widely. He had never wanted to be a lawyer in the first place, but his mother and father, who had worked so hard to educate him, had chosen that profession for their only child. They were immigrants; they had never learned to read and write. In the old country a man of law had been a man of consequence, even more esteemed than a physician. He had been the man to approach for help in leaving the country and going to America; he wrote out the applications, the forms; he made mysterious journeys to the big town where he no doubt consulted grave authorities and consuls. He had been the man who could approach the clergy easily for baptismal certificates, and the police for a letter stating that the would-be immigrant had no bad record. A friend of the mayor or burgomaster, it was not difficult for him to obtain exit visas or passports. If he frequently took a man’s last cow or pig in payment for his benevolent and necessary services, what did that matter? Men become rich in America, almost overnight.
John, whose surname was not Godfrey but something beyond the tongue of Anglo-Saxons to pronounce, never told anyone that he had always wanted to be a poet. He had been born in this large American city only two months after his parents’ arrival. One of his teachers, a shy young girl, suspected his ambition and his natural endowment, and she had timidly encouraged him. But she had been the only one. His parents would not have understood, and he was their only child and he loved them, and above all things he would never disappoint them. So he became a lawyer, and disliked every minute of it.
He had made an adequate living. Naturally austere, he had not longed for many material pleasures. Books of prose and poetry and history, a small organ, four acres on the edge of town where he built an undistinguished clapboard house, but where he had a magnificent garden, a dog, a cat, two canaries, and a few friends, were more than enough for any man, particularly John Godfrey. He had no taste for the flamboyant part of law and confined himself to a prosy practice which did not occupy his mind but left it free to think and pray and meditate and plan his garden. Freedom, above all things, of soul and mind and body, was the stuff of life to John Godfrey. He early became acquainted with the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, and he had his own Walden Pond on his four acres of land.
When he was thirty he married the daughter of old immigrant friends of his parents, and there were no children. Few ever saw Mrs. Stella Godfrey, who bore a strange resemblance to the shy young teacher who had first known that John was a poet, when he had been only six years old. Stella, though American-born and educated, always retained a strong but soft accent, and she was extremely reserved and gentle and timid. Even John’s few friends had found her colorless. When she died, ten years after the marriage, they hardly missed her. John rarely mentioned her; his friends believed that he did not miss her, either. She lay near his parents in ‘that queer old foreign cemetery’, and if he visited those three graves his friends did not know. He had a quiet serenity of manner, a charming smile, and was not loquacious. He preferred to listen to others. None of these characteristics altered or dimmed after his wife’s death, so it was decided, with relief, that ‘poor Stella’ had left no mark in John’s life.
There was one odd thing about John Godfrey. No one, not even the closest of his friends, Walter Baker,
The city grew up around his four acres of land, but he would not sell them for any price. Apartment houses rose within sight of his living-room windows; a school and its yard lay beyond his walled garden; a busy street hummed not far from his bedroom. But he kept his acres, and he painted his old-fashioned house, mowed his own lawn, and attended his own flowers — even to the day he was eighty years old.
He told no one, not even his best friend, Walter Baker, the city’s leading urologist, of a dream he had held for fifty years. But the day after he was eighty, four architects, with blueprints, called on him and stayed with him for hours. They left, smiling but silent, wonderingly shaking their heads at each other. No one knew anything until John Godfrey moved into a small residential hotel nearby and the old house was demolished. Friends questioned; he only smiled. When the finest of white marble arrived, carefully crated, the newspapers took their first notice. John refused to answer any questions, gently but firmly. The foundation was dug. People came to stare and wonder, and speculate. A private library, museum, music school? No one knew. John, who was retired now, stood and watched, a tall old white-haired man, his hands under his coattails, his face attentive, a cigar in his mouth. For the first time he seemed mysterious.
by Taylor Caldwell / Literature & Fiction / Historical Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes