The Baltimore Literary Heritage Project

Christopher Morley
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Christopher Morley, article title
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 be always part of unanimity.
-Christopher Morley

Christopher Morley wrote popular essays, poetry, and novels. Most people who remember him today may know him from his biggest success, the novel Kitty Foyle, which became an Oscar-winning movie starring Ginger Rogers.

Morley was born in 1890 in Haverford, Pennsylvania, where his father taught math at Haverford College. His mother, a musician and poet, taught him how to read, and he became a voracious reader.

When he was ten his father joined the mathematics faculty at Johns Hopkins University, and the family moved to Baltimore. He later wrote a novel about his youth on Baltimore's Park Avenue, Thorofare. In it, he described the Baltimore Fire of 1904, which he and his family watched from a few miles away:

No citizen has ever forgotten the great fog of smoke and burning that lasted so long... The flames were so alive, so terrifying, it was hard not to think them conscious with malevolence.

Morley graduated from Haverford College in 1906 and was named class valedictorian. He won a Rhodes scholarship and sailed to England to study history at Oxford. While there, he published his first book of poetry, The Eighth Sin.

After college, Morley started a long career in publishing, working as an editor for Doubleday and The Ladies Home Journal, among others, and cofounding The Saturday Review of Literature. He numbered among his friends such writers as Don Marquis (of Archy and Mehitabel fame) and Baltimorean Ogden Nash, with whom he collaborated on various humorous works, including Born in a Beer Garden.

Among Morley's several novels were two books about a traveling bookseller, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. The Encyclopedia Britannica refers to his work as "lighthearted, vigorous displays of the English language." However, his most famous novel, Kitty Foyle (1939), is more serious, the story of a young woman from a working class Philadelphia neighborhood trying to make a career in business. That plot alone shocked many readers. Imagine, then, the greater shock of reading about Kitty's decision to have an abortion!

Morley was a highly quotable author and, appropriately, edited two editions of Bartlett's Quotations. He promoted the writing of Joseph Conrad and enjoyed the works of Arthur Conan Doyle so much that he founded a Sherlock Holmes fan club. He selected books and wrote reviews for the Book-of-the-Month Club, thus influencing the reading habits of many Americans.

He and his wife, Helen Fairchild, had four children and lived in Nassau County, New York. Morley had several strokes in 1951, and his failing health made writing difficult. He died March 28, 1957 at his New York home.

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