‘With the Procession’ by Henry Blake Fuller

With the Procession (1895) was Henry Blake Fuller‘s fourth novel, a realist work of fiction set in Chicago like his previous book, The Cliff-Dwellers. It follows the prosperous Marshall family, one of Chicago’s original settler families, who struggle to keep up “with the procession” of Chicago’s growth, industrialization, and modernization as a global city near the turn of the century. It was Fuller’s first book not to be serialized in a magazine before publication as a finished volume, and the first not to feature illustrations. The New York Times lauded With the Procession as “the human comedy of the United States at the close of the nineteenth century.”

After the success of The Cliff-Dwellers in the summer of 1893, William Dean Howells encouraged Fuller to write another novel set in Chicago “whether you like it or not.” While The Cliff-Dwellers was a resentful indictment of the city’s shortcomings, Fuller took a different approach in With the Procession, inspired by his own family history. As a result, the characters are far more sympathetic and three-dimensional, and the narrative is more nuanced in theme and tone.

Fuller began writing With the Procession during the winter of 1893 from his family’s home at 3343 South Park Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive). It was published in May 1895 by Harper & Brothers in New York, the same publisher as his previous novel. Critics lauded With Procession as Fuller’s best work yet. “In Fuller we have at last met the American novelist,” wrote James Huneker in a review, while Howells congratulated Fuller’s “perfect intelligence.”

Yet one of Fuller’s mentors, Charles Eliot Norton, wrote him a letter after reading With the Procession that questioned whether Fuller’s embrace of realism was counterproductive for Chicago. “I believe that your Chevalier has done more for Chicago than any of the true Chicagoans whom you have given to us,” he wrote. Fuller replied, “What is a poor duck to do?” in a later letter, but seemed to agree with Norton’s sentiments, since after With the Procession, he didn’t write another novel about Chicago for 23 years (On the Stairs, 1918). Incidentally or not, With the Procession was the last of Fuller’s books to garner widespread attention and acclaim.

A character from The Cliff-Dwellers, Cecilia Ingles — socialite and wife of the wealthy owner of the Clifton Building — appears several times in With the Procession, connecting the two novels in a shared universe.

Characters

David Marshall. The 60-year-old founder of the Marshall & Co. (later Marshall & Belden) grocery empire. Husband of Eliza Marshall and father of Jane, Truesdale, and Rosy Marshall. He is overly serious and tall, with blue eyes and reddish hair turned white. He built the Marshall homestead along Lake Street near the onset of the Civil War in 1861, “a low, plain, roomy building with a sort of belvedere and a porch or two.”

Eliza Marshall. The elderly wife of David Marshall and mother of Jane, Truesdale, and Rosy Marshall. Fuller describes her as “a kind of antiquated villager—a geologic survival from an earlier age,” whose “Chicago was the Chicago of 1860, an Arcadia which, in some dim and inexplicable way, had remained for her an Arcadia still—bigger, noisier, richer, yet different only in degree, and not essentially in kind.”

Jane Marshall. The eldest daughter of David and Eliza, in her mid-30s. She is “clever and intellectual,” but in keeping with Fuller’s misogyny, is thus necessarily ugly. “I guess I’ll give up trying to be beautiful,” she says, looking in a mirror, “and just be quaint.”

Richard Truesdale Marshall. Jane’s 23-year-old brother, a worldly traveler devoted to arts and culture instead of business. At the novel’s onset he has returned from a four-year grand tour of Europe, not unlike Fuller’s own travels in his 20s.

Rosamund “Rosy” Marshall. The youngest Marshall sibling (18), described as innocent and naive. “[A]ll that she knows of life she has learned from the broadcast cheapness of English story-tellers and from a short year’s schooling in New York.”

Mrs. Granger Bates. Formerly Sue Lathrop, a wealthy family friend of the Marshalls who once dated David Marshall before either was married. A fashionable socialite, she introduces Jane Marshall to modern society and helps put pressure on the Marshalls to invest in modernizations.

Roger Marshall. The eldest son of David and Eliza (30 years old). A successful but cold real estate investor who handles the family’s finances.

Alice Marshall (now Alice Robinson). The middle daughter of David and Eliza, now married and living in the suburbs. “Alice was the radical, the innovator of the family. She often brought her conservative mother to the verge of horror.”

Summary

In the fall of 1893, the wealthy, once-influential Marshall family begins to realize it has failed to keep up “with the procession” of Chicago’s modernization. The parents, David and Eliza Marshall, were among Chicago’s earliest settlers in the 1860s, when David established a prosperous grocery business, but while the city has grown and changed dramatically in the decades since the Great Chicago Fire, the Marshalls have stayed the same.

For instance, their Michigan Avenue home near the new Art Institute is now one of the only private residences in a business district, while the rest of Chicago’s prominent families have moved south to Prairie Avenue or onto the north side. The interior of the home, as well as the family’s typical wardrobe, is no longer fashionable. The Marshall grocery empire has failed to keep up with business innovations. David Marshall, unlike his peers, hasn’t donated funds to a university, hospital, or cultural institute for the naming rights to a new building. And no one in the family participates in Chicago society via cultural events.

A southward-looking sketch of Michigan Avenue in 1893, with the new Art Institute building on the left. The Marshall residence at “200-something” would have been between Adams and Jackson streets on the right.

The plot is set in motion by two events. David’s son Truesdale Marshall returns home to Chicago after a four-year stay in Europe with a new perspective on modernity. And David’s eldest daughter Jane Marshall becomes determined to give her little sister, Rosamund Marshall, a formal debut with Chicago society for her eighteenth birthday. Jane enlists the help of an old family friend, Mrs. Granger Bates, who once dated David Marshall before he married Eliza. Unlike the Marshalls, Mrs. Bates has “kept up with the procession,” and thus introduces Jane to modern Chicago society and culture, and helps her put pressure on David and Eliza to modernize.

Thanks to their efforts, David eventually agrees to build a new home in a more fashionable neighborhood (still on Michigan Avenue, but three miles south), throw a formal tea ceremony for Rosamund’s debut (where Mrs. Bates introduces her to Cecilia Ingles, a recurring character from The Cliff-Dwellers), and take a more active role in Chicago society. However, David soon falls ill and dies. Fuller implies that the stress and the heavy financial burdens that Jane and Mrs. Bates convinced him to undertake are what killed him. Though he refused to donate funds for naming rights to a new building, he leaves his entire fortune to Jane, who donates it to a university for exactly that purpose.

The novel ends with the remaining Marshalls in a cold, empty new house where David has died in the attempt to make them happy. While Fuller’s indictment of Chicago is more nuanced in With the Procession than it was in The Cliff-Dwellers, he still makes it clear that modern Chicago’s obsession with “being fashionable” is purely for show (like Mrs. Bates and Jane), instead of rooted in a true appreciate for arts and culture (like Truesdale and presumably Fuller himself).

Contemporary Reviews

“What Mr. Henry B. Fuller is doing is to plow a broader social field than has been hitherto attempted. His is not a mere surface skimming. He turns up the subsoil, and not that of a limited section of this country. Mr. Fuller has wonderful gracefulness of touch, and, combined with tact, the gift of making high comedy. Without these qualities, how could such a story as this of American social conditions have been produced? … Quick are Mr. Fuller’s criticisms on art, music, books, social conditions. Some only will see the flash of them, and not be conscious how strong is the lightning stroke. Sooner than we could have thought possible, a man has come to write the human comedy of the United States at the close of the nineteenth century, and we venture to assert that the particular impress of this man’s hand is likely to be a permanent one in American literature. Yet many a long year may pass before Mr. Fuller is thoroughly understood or appreciated. He will, however, be listened to, because he has no fad.” —The New York Times, Saturday, May 11, 1895 (no byline)

Editions

  • First edition (1895), Harper & Brothers, New York. Full view courtesy of Project Gutenberg.
  • Harris edition (1965), University of Chicago Press, Chicago. New introduction by Mark Harris. Cover art.

Links

  • “Art in Chicago: Fuller’s With the Procession” by G. Thomas Couser, JSTOR, 1980

Sources

  • The Henry Blake Fuller Papers, Newberry Library
  • Henry Blake Fuller: A Critical Biography by Constance M. Griffin
  • Henry Blake Fuller by John Pilkington Jr.
  • A Varied Harvest: The Life and Works of Henry Blake Fuller by Kenneth Scambray
Categories:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s