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Bottome’s Up

Lost Books

Stephanie Butnick
March 30, 2012
(Joanna Neborsky)
(Joanna Neborsky)

“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!

Phyllis Bottome, born in England in 1882 to an English mother and American father, published her first novel at age 17. That same year she contracted tuberculosis while caring for her sister, who died from the disease, and the young writer spent much of her early life in sanitariums. As Andrea Crawford pointed out in 2007, since Bottome’s death in 1963, her 34 novels and numerous short stories and nonfiction works have all fallen out of print. At least they had until a few years earlier, when Northwestern University Press reissued The Mortal Storm, Bottome’s prescient and hugely popular 1938 novel about life under Nazi rule.

The novel, which Crawford calls a “fascinating historical document,” told the story of a half-Jewish family living in Munich when the Nazi party took over (the successful 1940 film version starred Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan). Crawford explains:

What is most surprising in reading it today is not the accurate depiction of Nazi Germany in its earliest guise—including the murder of a main character while imprisoned in a concentration camp—but the fact that as early as 1938, at the height of U.S. isolationism and long before claims of ignorance about Nazi actions against the Jews, thousands of American readers were devouring this powerful story of a Jewish family’s struggle to survive.

Read A Woman Out of Time, by Andrea Crawford

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.