Why an acclaimed author from eastern Idaho is ‘all but forgotten’ 54 years after his death
RIGBY – Empty whiskey bottles have been discovered subsequent to the physique of Vardis Fisher as he lay lifeless at his distant residence in Hagerman.
It was July 9, 1968, and the 73-year-old man, who had grown up in a rural group exterior of Rigby and had written 36 books, died of “an overdose of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol,” in keeping with one report.
Although his death was dominated a suicide, many have questioned over the years whether or not it was unintended or deliberate. Either approach, no official determination was made, but those that knew Fisher mentioned he had thought-about suicide earlier than.
“He had many reasons in his life to kill himself, but didn’t do it,” a member of the family credit. “After everything he’s been through, it wouldn’t have made sense for him to just calmly decide to end it all.”
Tim Woodward, who wrote a e-book about Fisher years in the past, says the author’s death was undoubtedly an accident. Fisher has been a heavy drinker his total life, and Woodward says it is seemingly Fisher was depressed about one thing and unintentionally drank an excessive amount of.
Fisher was reportedly engaged on a number of tasks on the time of his death, together with an autobiography. His historic novel Children of God is his most celebrated work, profitable a 1939 Harper Prize. And his e-book Mountain Man was the inspiration for the 1972 movie Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford.
But regardless of Fisher’s literary contributions, few individuals acknowledge Fisher’s title and he appears to have been forgotten 54 years after his death.
This level was Woodward’s major motivation in writing Fisher’s biography 4 many years in the past. He grew to become taken with Fisher after studying one in all his novels, which was really helpful to him by his widow. The e-book was known as Dark Bridwell, a historic western based mostly on Fisher’s life. To today, Woodward tells EastIdahoInformation.com that it is among the best books he is ever learn.
“It seemed wrong that a man who had written so many books, some of them very good ones, should be all but forgotten in his home state,” explains Woodward.
Fisher was born March 31, 1895 in a one-room cottage on the west facet of Little Butte in Annis, about 5 miles north of Rigby. His father, Joe Fisher, was associated to the realm’s early settlers, and Joe’s mom, Cindy, was “the first white woman” to spend a full yr in Annis, in keeping with household data, in keeping with Woodward.
Vardis Fisher’s mom, Temperance Thornton, is a member of the household for which the Thornton parish is named.
Woodward’s e-book paints a bleak image of Vardis’ childhood in Annis. Living in poverty and seen as odd by neighbors, Joe and Temperance are mentioned to have been distant and distant of their relationship with one another and their youngsters.
Joe is described as a miner who received up early within the morning and labored till darkish seven days per week. He most well-liked an remoted way of life, away from individuals, and had little interest in social interplay.
“Joe would go days without saying a word to anyone. He was a stranger to emotional outbursts, and his children, to whom he devoted his life, were often afraid of him,” writes Woodward.
Fear was a typical theme in Vardis’ early years. His grandmother, who reportedly disliked him, as soon as despatched him as much as his room with out supper and advised him that if he made a noise, the satan lived within the closet and would come and hang-out him.
Long hours spent alone made him afraid of his environment. Fisher was afraid of water and wildlife, and his father as soon as slaughtered a lamb in entrance of him, which solely elevated his concern of blood.
As a member of a gaggle that had damaged away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, religion was essential to Temperance, and she or he handed that religion on to her youngsters.
“She would regularly read the Bible to them,” writes Woodward. “Vardis in particular was interested in the scriptures. Before he had ever seen the inside of a classroom, he had read the Bible cover to cover repeatedly.”
Temperance believed that Vardis would at some point be a bishop or an apostle. Although Vardis was ultimately baptized into the LDS Church and wrote a number of books based mostly on Latter-day Saint doctrine, he ultimately grew to become an atheist.
Education was additionally essential to Temperance and no sacrifice was too nice to make sure her youngsters get as a lot of it as doable. Having obtained a sixth grade schooling previous to her marriage, Temperance taught her youngsters as a lot as she might earlier than enrolling them in a public college.
Joe and Temperance supplied their sons with a log cabin in the course of the college yr so they might concentrate on their research. This left Vardis and his brother Vivian to fend for themselves with all their different wants.
Although Vardis excelled academically, graduating from highschool and school and ultimately incomes his doctorate, Woodward says Vardis’ upbringing left scars that influenced him for the remainder of his life.
“He was shy, neurotic, almost morbidly introverted,” writes Woodward. “Growing up at the age of six in a primitive frontier society, the son of strict and cheerless parents, friendless and disliked even by his own relatives, he had little chance of developing a normal personality.”
A tragic romance
One of Fisher’s vibrant spots throughout his highschool years was Leona McMurtrey, a classmate whom Woodward known as one of the crucial well-liked ladies at school.
Considered an unlikely couple, the duo started courting and ultimately married in 1917. The couple spent the subsequent seven years in Salt Lake City, the place Vardis attended the University of Utah. The couple had two youngsters collectively.
On September 8, 1924, Leona dedicated suicide, an act Woodward Vardis blames.
“He was neurotic and jealous and often accused her of infidelity, which never happened. She was a country girl used to being with her large family and was lonely and unhappy when they moved to Salt Lake City and later to Chicago so he could work on his degrees,” says Woodward.
However, what drove Leona over the edge, according to Woodward, was her husband’s affair with Margaret Trusler. Vardis had accepted a teaching position at the University of Chicago while working on his master’s degree, and Trusler was one of his students.
Woodward highlights what happened in the moments before Leona’s death.
“(They) were having lunch when Vardis and Leona started fighting. Vardis accused Leona of being a poor mother,” he says in the book. “Moments later, Vardis left thinking the argument was over. He was crossing the backyard when he heard Leona calling his name and turned to see her drinking the poison.”
The poison turned out to be Lysol.
Vardis ran back into the apartment and found Leona on a kitchen chair. A neighbor called for help, but she died before arriving at the hospital.
Although Fisher’s writing career began four years later with the publication of his first book, Leona’s death haunted him for the rest of his life.
“He was sitting proper right here on this kitchen years after Leona’s death, saying my household … blamed him for her death, so why did not I simply kill him?” Leona’s brother Cal said in an interview with Woodward. “I mentioned I did not need his blood on my palms, that he simply needed to reside and undergo.”
Fisher and Trusler married in 1928 and had one youngster collectively. Eventually that relationship broke up. They have been divorced in 1939. The following yr he married Opal Laurel Holmes. They remained collectively till Fisher’s death in 1968.
“Obscurity was most likely inevitable”
Many of Fisher’s books are often compared to the works of William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe, with whom he was friends. Despite this, Vardis Fisher is largely forgotten.
Woodward says it was Fisher’s decisions in large part that contributed to this.
“He wasted so many years writing (Testament of Man) as an alternative of writing books that might have offered higher and been higher obtained critically,” explains Woodward.
Fisher’s 12-volume series, Testament of Man, chronicling human evolution since the days of Adam and Eve, was his pet project. But it didn’t go down well with readers and critics. One reason for this was their negative attitude towards Christianity.
One article indicates that a major critic considered this volume “toxic”.
“She mentioned one in all his final works (within the sequence) was the ‘literary equal of being always hit with a cane,'” reads the article.
And in some unspecified time in the future Fisher’s colleague refused to publish additional volumes.
Another issue that Woodward mentioned contributed to Fisher’s decline as a literary large was his tendency to alienate critics who reviewed his work.
“He… angered reviewers by writing detrimental issues about them, which in flip triggered them to jot down detrimental issues about him,” says Woodward. “He appeared to get pleasure from irritating individuals and making a scene, as soon as turning over a desk of books at a e-book signing.”
While some are willing to give Fisher some credit for his difficult upbringing, Woodward shows no sympathy. He says there is very little about Fisher worth remembering and there are “wonderful causes” for his disappearance from our recollections.
“If people … remember him for (his celebrated works), great. That being said, his darkness was probably inevitable,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a huge need for people to know about Fisher. Many who knew him wanted to forget him. He was a temperamental, angry man.”