Miller, Alice Duer (1874–1942)
Miller, Alice Duer (1874–1942)
American novelist and poet who is best known for her long narrative poem that became a runaway bestseller, The White Cliffs. Name variations: Mrs. Alice Miller. Pronunciation: DUE-er. Born Alice Duer in New York City on July 28, 1874; died in New York on August 22, 1942; daughter of James G.K. Duer and Elizabeth (Meads) Duer; graduated from Barnard College, June 1899; married Henry Wise Miller (a Wall Street broker), in October 1899; children: son Denning.
The Modern Obstacle (1903); Calderon's Prisoner (1903); Less Than Kin (1909); The Blue Arch (1910); Come Out of the Kitchen (1916); The Charm School (1919); The Beauty and the Bolshevist (1920); Manslaughter (1921); The Priceless Pearl (1924); The Reluctant Duchess (1925); Gowns by Roberta (became the successful Kern-Har-bach musical comedy Roberta, 1933); Death Sentence (1935); The Rising Star (1937); Not for Love (1937); And One Was Beautiful (1938); The White Cliffs (1940); I Have Loved England (1941).
Written in 1940, the year before the United States entered World War II, The White Cliffs was an American tribute to the courage of the people of Great Britain, who had been under furious bombardment and the threat of invasion by the Germans since 1939. The long narrative poem, essentially a novel in verse, tells the story of an Englishwoman who loses both a husband and a son in the war, and strongly conveys the sentiments of one who considers her country worth dying for:
I have loved England, dearly and deeply
Since that first morning, shining and pure,
The white cliffs of Dover I saw rising steeply
Out of the sea that once made her secure.
Alice Duer Miller was a well-known writer in her mid-60s when this work was rejected by several publishers. It finally appeared in a small printing and became a runaway bestseller after it was read over the radio by actress Lynn Fontanne . The book sold over 125,000 copies in the U.S alone in the first 10 months after its publication and appeared in abridged form in Life magazine. According to Stanley Kunitz, "Critics seemed to agree that the emotions aroused by The White Cliffs has little to do with the quality of the verse," but Noel Coward, one of the most gifted writers of his day, was both kinder and more astute in observing:
I should imagine that even a Hottentot, providing he had a reasonable knowledge of the English language, could not fail to be impressed and touched by the sincerity, quality and charm of this book, but I am an Englishman and as such obviously prejudiced, very prejudiced, indeed, and very grateful.
Alice Miller had a prominent background; she was the granddaughter of Rufus King, the American ambassador to England in 1844. In October 1899, following her graduation from Barnard College, she married Henry Wise Miller, who would later become a successful stockbroker. In the early years of their marriage, Alice Miller augmented the household income by teaching mathematics, selling coffee at night, and writing fiction. After her story "Come Out of the Kitchen" had been accepted by the Saturday Evening Post and her husband landed a job on Wall Street, family finances were never a worry. The Millers spent most of their time in New York City, in an apartment overlooking the East River, but they also lived in Costa Rica, Scotland, London, and on the French Riviera. Writing also brought Miller to Hollywood many times for brief periods.
A social-minded feminist and longtime Giants fan, Miller was a founder and the first president of the Women's City Club in New York, a club considered radical for fostering what were then thought to be iconoclastic views about city planning, health education, and crime prevention. In 1939, she wrote the history of her alma mater, Barnard College: The First Fifty Years, with Susan Myers .
In 1935, Come Out of the Pantry, based on Miller's story "Come Out of the Kitchen," was filmed in England, starring Fay Wray and Jack Buchanan. The White Cliffs of Dover was released by MGM in 1944, when World War II was at its height, and starred Irene Dunne , Peter Lawford, Gladys Cooper , and Dame May Whitty . Describing the movie's reception, Jay Robert Nash reports, Britons "living in the U.S. sobbed." Miller, however, had died two years earlier, in 1942, after an eight-month illness.
Block, Maxine, ed. Current Biography 1941. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1941.
Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.
Nash, Jay Robert, and Stanley Ralph Ross. Motion Picture Guide. Chicago: Cinebooks, 1987.