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March, William 1893-1954

MARCH, William 1893-1954

PERSONAL: Born William Edward (March) Campbell, September 18, 1893, in Mobile, AL; died of heart failure May 15, 1954, in New Orleans, LA; son of John Leonard (a lumberman) and Suzy (March) Campbell. Education: Attended University of Valparaiso, 1913-14; attended University of Alabama, 1914-15; attended University of Toulouse, 1918. Hobbies and other interests: Theater, collecting French art.

CAREER: Clerk in a law firm in New York, NY, 1916-17; Waterman Steamship Corporation, 1919-38, began as stenographer, became manager of Memphis, TN office, and Kansas City, MO, office, vice president, 1931, founded branch office in Hamburg, Germany, 1932, worked in English branch office, 1933. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1917-19, became sergeant; received Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Croix de Guerre.

WRITINGS:

Company K, American Mercury, 1931, new edition, with an introduction by Philip D. Beidler, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1989.

Come in at the Door, Harrison Smith & Robert Haas (New York, NY), 1934, published as Desire and Damnation, Lion Library (New York, NY), 1956.

The Little Wife, and Other Stories, Harrison Smith & Robert Haas (New York, NY), 1935.

The Tallons, Random House (New York, NY), 1936, published as My Brother's Bride, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1962.

Some Like Them Short (short stories), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1939.

The First Sunset, Little Man Press, 1940.

The Looking Glass, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1943.

Trial Balance: The Collected Short Stories of William March, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1945, with an introduction by Rosemary M. Canfield-Reisman, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1987.

October Island (first published in Good Housekeeping, October, 1946), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1952.

The Bad Seed, Rinehart (New York, NY), 1954, with an introduction by Elaine Showalter, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1997.

A William March Omnibus, edited by Robert Loomis and with an introduction by Alistair Cooke, Rinehart (New York, NY), 1956.

Ninety-nine Fables, edited and with an introduction by William T. Going, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1960.

Battlefield Nocturne (broadside and poem), Unicorn Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1967.

Also author of unfinished novel The Gift.

March's correspondence is housed in the Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

ADAPTATIONS: The Bad Seed was adapted by Maxwell Anderson as a two-act play, published as The Bad Seed: A Play in Two Acts, Dodd, Mead, 1955, and was also made into a film in 1956.

SIDELIGHTS: William March wrote several notable novels and short stories between leaving the Marine Corps in 1919 and his death in 1954. March's first novel, Company K, grew out of several short stories that he had written about his experiences serving in Europe during World War I. Over one hundred vignettes, each told from the point of view of a different member of one company of Marines, combine to create a chilling picture of the atrocities war can cause otherwise decent men to commit. About half of these vignettes had been previously published as short stories in magazines, and reviewers noted that the vignettes hold up well as stories on their own merits.

Several of March's novels, including Come in at the Door, The Tallons, and The Looking Glass, are all set in fictional Pearl County, Alabama. March spent his childhood in several small Alabama and Florida towns, as his father, a sawmill worker, moved about following jobs, so he knew small-town Southern life well. Come in at the Door, the first of these novels, is about a young white boy who is overcome with guilt for his role in the hanging of an African-American man to whom he had been close. The Looking Glass, a collection of incidents that happen over an extended period of time and are narrated by several different characters, is structurally similar to Company K but uses this technique to expose the dark side of life in one small town.

March's most popular novel, The Bad Seed, was published only a year before his death. The Bad Seed is a horror story about a woman who discovers that her mother was a serial murderer and that her daughter, now a young child, is likely to grow up to be one as well. The book was turned into both a play and a film within a few years of its publication.

Although March spent much of his adult life in New York, he returned south to New Orleans, shortly before his death. He died in his home in the French Quarter on May 15, 1954, surrounded by an extensive collection of fine art paintings, including one by noted Spanish cubist Pablo Picasso.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951-1955, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York, NY), 1977.

Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature, Ungar Publishing (New York, NY), 1960.

Martin, Abigail Ann, An Irony of Fate: The Fiction of William March, Borgo Press (San Bernardino, CA), 1994.

Perkins, George, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger, editors, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, first edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

Renaissance in the South: A Critical History of the Literature, 1920-1960, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1963.

Rubin, Louis D., The Faraway Country, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 1963.

Simmonds, Roy S., The Two Worlds of William March, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1984.

Warfel, Harry R., The American Novelists of Today, American Book Co. (New York, NY), 1951.

PERIODICALS

Alabama Review, October, 1963, William T. Going, "William March's Alabama," p. 244.

Ball State University Forum, spring, 1975, Roy S. Simmonds, "Unending Circle of Pain: William March's Company K."

Carson-Newman College Faculty Studies I, 1968, O. B. Emerson, "William March and Southern Literature," pp. 3-10.

Guardian (London, England), June 8, 1954, Alistair Cooke, "William March: A Trial Balance," p. 4.

New York Review of Books, November 6, 1997, Joyce Carol Oates, review of The Bad Seed, pp. 16-19.

New York Times Book Review, October 28, 1984, Harold Strauss, review of Company K, p. 44; December 23, 1984, Herbert Mitgang, review of The Two Worlds of William March, p. 17.

Saturday Review, July 17, 1954, Robert Tallant, "Poor Pilgrim, Poor Stranger," pp. 9, 33-34.

Studies in American Fiction, spring, 1975, Roy S. Simmonds, review of Company K.

Times Literary Supplement, March 26, 1999, Jonathan Fasman, review of The Bad Seed, p. 23.

University of Kansas City Review, winter, 1958, Richard Crowder, "The Novels of William March."*

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