The Genteel John O'Hara
Pamela C. MacArthur
Peter Lang, 2009
By Robert Saliba
There's that scene in BUtterfield 8 where Jim Malloy goes to a party in a New York apartment, gets drunk and obnoxious and starts a fight, and a lot of people say yes, that's John O'Hara -- ignorant, pugnacious, unruly, and when I recall that scene I think of an alternate title to The Genteel John O'Hara: 'Pamela Pushes Back.' This book belongs on the shelf next to Matthew Bruccoli's The O'Hara Concern.
His mother, Katherine Delany O'Hara, was schooled in music and the arts and literature and instilled in her children good manners and a love for learning. The parents were moneyed, clean-living, cultured, and enjoyed a good reputation in the community. You take this family background and upbringing, combine it with superior intelligence and the ability to write, and you see why John O'Hara got where he got.
Last January, at the Society's Annual Meeting in Princeton, one of our members, Carol Ritter Wright, told me you could see the once upon a time if you looked at the architecture, and reflecting on that I agree with her.
John O'Hara got it right. At one time Pottsville, as the center of the anthracite industry, was one of the wealthiest cities in America. There really was an upper class elite - twenty-five leading families who dictated the social customs and mores. There's that part in her book where she takes us through Ten North Frederick and shows us how it reflects the reality of Pottsville with its people and customs. There is also a chapter on the gangster element (Ed Charney et. al.).