Raintree County (novel)

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First edition (publ. Houghton Mifflin)

Raintree County is a novel by Ross Lockridge, Jr. published in 1948. It tells the story of a small-town Midwestern teacher and poet named John Shawnessy, who, in his younger days before his service as a Union soldier in the Civil War, met and married a beautiful Southern belle; however, her emotional instability leads to the destruction of their marriage.


Map of Raintree County by illustrator John V. Morris, based on author's sketch

The novel, set in fictional Raintree County, Indiana, is essentially in two parts; before the Civil War and after. It spans the 19th century history of the United States, from the pre-Civil War westward expansion, to the debate over slavery, to the Civil War, to the Industrial Revolution and the Labor Movement which followed. The book is often surreal, with dream sequences, flashbacks and departures from the linear narrative. It has been described as an effort to mythologize the history of America, which to a great degree it succeeds in doing through the eyes and the commentary of John Shawnessy. For example, a number of turning points in John's life seem to coincide with Fourth of July celebrations.

John, or 'Johnny', as he was called before The War, is a lover of literature, and is influenced by three separate cultural icons: the concept of becoming a Hero, in the sense of the legendary figures of ancient Greece; Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Great Stone Face", in which legend predicts that a great man will appear whose face is identical to the natural stone face which, in the Hawthorne story, is a local landmark; and finally, the quest to find the legendary Raintree, which was supposedly planted somewhere in Raintree County by John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Shawnessy tends to view the events of his life through the prism of one or more of these contexts, and to draw parallels to these legends, frequently with considerable justification.

It is a long novel, around 400,000 words. Most editions run to about 1000 pages.

The fictional town of Waycross was based on Straughn, Indiana and the fictional Raintree County was based on Henry County, Indiana.

The film

The novel was made into a 1957 film starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Nigel Patrick, Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor and Agnes Moorehead. It was adapted by Millard Kaufman and directed by Edward Dmytryk. In the credits for the film, the author's name is misspelled (Ross Rockridge Jr).

The film varies significantly in content from the novel.

External links

  • http://www.raintreecounty.com/ - Official website, maintained by Lockridge's son, Larry Lockridge

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