Monday, January 22, 2018

'The longing to go down and serve fought the timidness born of his exile.'

Warren P. Staniford was an advertising executive who one fine day decided that he wanted to write fiction. He published one story in the pulps, and "His Service" (Adventure, Jan. 30, 1926) is it. The idea of it seems basically to be what if the American sailor in Madame Butterfly actually stayed in Japan and married his Japanese lover? What we get is a rather pathetic portrait of a homesick American, McConnell, who teaches English (presumably) to Japanese kids. He goes a little crazy when an American ship arrives in port to take on fuel. The year is 1918 or 1919 and the ship is on its way to Vladivostok to take part in the Allied expedition against Bolshevik Russia -- a subject about which Staniford wrote a non-fiction piece for The American Legion Weekly. McConnell is desperate to be useful to fellow countrymen, to feel like an American again. He acts as a negotiator and fixer; among other things, he "settled an incipient riot in a movie house where Charlie Chaplin on the screen aroused a reckless homesickness that sought relief in destruction." He tries to be evenhanded, keeping Japanese sharpers from ripping off the Americans, but also keeping the sailors from bullying innocent Japanese. McConnell is possessed by "the spirit of adventure and service" and a yearning to belong in a way he never can, so he thinks, in Japan. He becomes a creep about it, passing his long-suffering Japanese wife off as a maid while hosting the ship's commander. Meek and obedient, Omume cooperates in the imposture, hiding her wedding ring, but not before the commander notices. He has more respect for her than her husband does, it seems. "Somehow I knew it was that," he muses, "Poor little kid, it's tough on you." Fortunately, McConnell's conscience keeps him from deserting Omume. "I thought you'd come through like that -- old boy," the commander compliments him, but McConnell is still "gripping the sides [of his chair] and holding himself down" as the ship departs, while Omume thinks of cherry blossoms and how "McConnell had told her many times that cherry flowers were the next-best treasure of Japan." It's an unsually bittersweet story for Adventure, appearing at a time when editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman was feeling sensitive about dismissive critiques of his magazine's content. Regrettably, Staniford didn't claim a spot at "Camp-Fire" to talk about himself or the story, and pulpdom never heard from him again.

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