Christopher Morley

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Christopher Morley in 1932

Christopher Morley (5 May 1890 – 28 March 1957) was an American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet. He also produced stage productions for a few years and gave college lectures.[1]


Morley was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His father, Frank Morley, was a mathematics professor at Haverford College; his mother, Lilian Janet Bird, was a violinist who provided Christopher with much of his later love for literature and poetry.[2]

In 1900 the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. In 1906 Christopher entered Haverford College, graduating in 1910 as valedictorian. He then went to New College, Oxford, for three years on a Rhodes scholarship, studying modern history.

In 1913 Morley completed his Oxford studies and moved to New York City, New York. On 14 June 1914, he married Helen Booth Fairchild, with whom he would have four children, including Louise Morley Cochrane. They first lived in Hempstead, and then in Queens Village. They then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in 1920 they made their final move, to a house they called "Green Escape" in Roslyn Estates, New York. They remained there for the rest of his life. In 1936 he built a cabin at the rear of the property (The Knothole), which he maintained as his writing study from then on.[1]

In 1951 Morley suffered a series of strokes, which greatly reduced his voluminous literary output. He died on 28 March 1957, and was buried in the Roslyn Cemetery in Nassau County, New York.[3] After his death, two New York newspapers published his last message to his friends:

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.[1]


Morley began writing while still in college. He edited The Haverfordian and contributed articles to that college publication. He provided scripts for and acted in the college's drama program. He played on the cricket and soccer teams.

In Oxford a volume of his poems, The Eighth Sin (1912), was published. After graduating from Oxford, Morley began his literary career at Doubleday, working as publicist and publisher's reader. In 1917 he got his start as an editor for Ladies' Home Journal (1917–1918), then as a newspaper reporter and newspaper columnist in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger.

Morley's first novel, Parnassus on Wheels, appeared in 1917. The protagonist, traveling bookseller Roger Mifflin, appeared again in his second novel, The Haunted Bookshop in 1919.

In 1920 Morley returned to New York City to write a column (The Bowling Green) for the New York Evening Post.[4]

Baker Street Irregulars Fletcher Pratt, Christopher Morley and Rex Stout (1944)

He was one of the founders and a longtime contributing editor of the Saturday Review of Literature. A highly gregarious man, he was the mainstay of what he dubbed the "Three Hours for Lunch Club". Out of enthusiasm for the Sherlock Holmes stories, he helped found the Baker Street Irregulars[1] and wrote the introduction to the standard omnibus edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. He also wrote an introduction to the standard omnibus edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare in 1936, although Morley called it an "Introduction to Yourself as a Reader of Shakespeare".[5]

That year, he was appointed to revise and enlarge Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (11th edition in 1937 and 12th edition in 1948). He was one of the first judges for the Book of the Month Club, serving in that position until the early 1950s.

Author of more than 100 novels, books of essays, and volumes of poetry, Morley is probably best known for his 1939 novel Kitty Foyle, which was made into an Academy Award-winning movie. Another well-known work is Thunder on the Left (1925).

From 1928 to 1930, Morley co-produced theater productions (dramas) at his theaters in Hoboken, New Jersey,[1][6] which he had "deemed the last seacoast in Bohemia".[7][8][9]

For most of his life, he lived in Roslyn Estates, Nassau County, Long Island, commuting to the city on the Long Island Rail Road, about which he wrote affectionately. In 1961, a 98-acre (40-hectare) park was named in his honor on Searingtown Road in Nassau County. This park preserves as a publicly available point of interest his studio, the "Knothole" (which was moved to the site after his death), along with his furniture and bookcases.

Major publications

  • Parnassus on Wheels (novel, 1917)
  • Shandygaff (book of essays, 1918)
  • The Haunted Bookshop (novel, 1919)
  • Pipefuls (collection of humorous essays, 1920)
  • Where the Blue Begins (satirical novel, 1922)
  • The Powder of Sympathy (collection of humorous essays, 1923, illustrated by Walter Jack Duncan)
  • Thunder on the Left (novel, 1925)
  • Essays by Christopher Morley (collection of essays, 1928)
  • Off the Deep End (collection of essays, 1928, illustrated by John Alan Maxwell)
  • Born in a Beer Garden, or She Troupes to Conquer (co-author with Ogden Nash, 1930)
  • Seacoast of Bohemia ("history of four infatuated adventurers, Morley, Cleon Throckmorton, Conrad Milliken and Harry Wagstaff Gribble, who rediscovered the Old Rialto Theatre in Hoboken, and refurnished it", 1929, illustrated by John Alan Maxwell)
  • John Mistletoe (autobiographical novel, 1931)
  • Ex Libris Carissimis (non-fiction writing based on lectures he presented at University of Pennsylvania, 1932)
  • Shakespeare and Hawaii (non-fiction writing based on lectures he presented at University of Hawaii, 1933)
  • Human Being (novel, Doubleday, Doran & Co., Garden City NY, 1934)[10]
  • The Trojan Horse (novel, 1937)
  • Kitty Foyle (novel, 1939)
  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship (analysis of Arthur Conan Doyle's writings, 1944)
  • The Old Mandarin (book of poetry, 1947)
  • The Man Who Made Friends with Himself (his last novel, 1949)[1]
  • On Vimy Ridge (poetry, 1947)

Literary connections

  • Morley was a close friend of Don Marquis, author of the Archy and Mehitabel stories featuring the antics and commentary of a New York cockroach and a cat. In 1924 Morley and Marquis co-authored Pandora Lifts The Lid, a light novel about the well-to-do in contemporary Hamptons. They are said to have written alternate chapters, each taking the plot forward from where the other had left off.
  • Morley's widow sold a collection of his personal papers and books to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin after his death.
  • Morley helped to found the Baker Street Irregulars, dedicated to the study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
  • Morley edited two editions of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: 1937 (11th) and 1948 (12th.)
  • Morley's 1939 novel Kitty Foyle was unusual for its time, as it openly discussed abortion. It became an instant best-seller, selling over one million copies.
  • Morley's brothers Felix and Frank were also Rhodes Scholars. Felix became President of Haverford College.[1]
  • In 1942 Morley wrote his own obituary for the biographical dictionary Twentieth Century Authors.
  • Morley was at the center of a social group in Greenwich Village that hung out at his friend Frank Shay's bookshop at 4 Christopher Street in the early 1920s.
  • Morley's selected poems are available as Bright Cages: Selected Poems And Translations From The Chinese by Christopher Morley, ed. Jon Bracker (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1965). The translations from the Chinese are actually a joke, explained to the public when the volumes by Morley containing them appeared: they are "Chinese" in nature, good-humored accounts: short, wise, often humorous. But they are not in any strict sense of the word, translations.


Further reading

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External links