Dr. Joyce Kinkead
on That Printer of Udell's
Copyright Joyce Kinkead, 1979.
Used by Permission.
continued from previous page.
The story begins when Dick Falkner's mother dies due to the abuse of his
drunken father. Not unlike the story of Wright's own life, the novel picks up
the plot sixteen years later as the boy, who has roamed the world as a
loner and has now grown up, enters Boyd City, a town in the Midwest
(actually Pittsburg, Kansas, where Wright served as minister).
A proficient printer but out of work due to a strike in Kansas City
where he formerly was employed, Falkner seeks employment only to be turned
away as a bum. In one of
these frustrating interviews, Falkner receives the same treatment that
Wright did at one time during his youth when he was also unemployed.
In the fictionalized account, Falkner is told by Adam Goodrich, a
leading citizen, that he would eventually be working in the stone yard as
Unable to find work, Falkner turns to a church where he feels he
may find employment from one of the members attending the service.
Sure that "Christians won't let me starve,"
the weak and hungry man is amazed to find little sympathy and no
substantial work or food. He
finally secures work with the printer Udell, the town "infidel,"
who refuses to become a church member.
While working there, Falkner becomes a respected and popular
citizen of the community, due mainly to the help of a "true
Christian," Uncle Bobbie Wicks.
Falkner and Adam Goodrich's daughter, Amy, have a mutual affection
for each other, but she is forbidden to associate with Falkner because he
does not belong to a higher social class.
Amy is a member of the Young People's Society, an active church
organization, which tries to help the community instead of ignoring the
town's problems as do a majority of the adult citizens.
Falkner attends the group's meeting and is eventually made manager
of the church's new reading room, provided as the only decent place for
young men to go in the evening. The
sole forms of recreation available up to that time were saloons, gambling
houses, and brothels. Falkner
gains more favor from the community by suggesting a practical method of
practicing Christianity. He
offers a plan for a self-supporting, halfway house which would provide
security for those people temporarily destitute but willing to work.
Shiftless vagrants would not be allowed to use the house but would
be turned over to the police. His
plan works and eventually becomes a part of the Salvation Army.
Meanwhile, the Goodrich family, outwardly perfect, has several
flaws within. The son, Frank,
gambles away his money and money stolen from his father's safe, but he is
rescued by Jim Whitley, who offers him the money for restitution on the
condition that he marry Amy. On
the other hand, Amy is forced by her parents to withdraw from her church
work and to concentrate on maintaining her social position.
To do so she dates Whitley who, when drunk, tries to attack her.
Saved by Falkner, she is strongly criticized by her father for
seeing the printer and is not given the opportunity to explain that
Falkner was her rescuer. On
that note she leaves town but is followed by Whitley, who tries to seduce
her. Resisting his advances, she finds herself alone and destitute
in Cleveland, where "Madam" takes her in and prepares her for a
life of prostitution. Rescued
once again by Falkner, who believes she is no longer innocent, she matures
on a farm where she works for a couple who have also been saved by the
At last Amy returns to Boyd City, confronts her parents with the
fact that she does not intend to be a social butterfly, and marries
Falkner, who has become a church member as has the town
"infidel," George Udell. The
two antagonists, Frank and Whitley, have died.
Frank dies of smallpox after he is exposed for seducing,
impregnating, and causing the death of a girl.
Whitley has a dark, murderous past to hide and retreats to Arkansas
to safety, only to be murdered by a former drinking friend of Falkner's
father who recognizes the refugee as a threat to his old friend's son.
In the space of five years' time since the hobo printer first
entered Boyd City, it is transformed from a "tough city" into a
good place of business where "the influence of evil" has been
removed. Falkner's influence
will apparently widen, for in the last pages of the novel, he is elected
as a representative to Congress.
That Printer of Udell's is still an interesting novel to
read as it accurately reflects the social gospel era of the early 1900's. Wright presents a picture of the church which has become so
involved in its own trappings and scholarship that it has forgotten the
reason for its existence. Though
the novel is lengthy, it reads quickly due to Wright's skillful use of
plot. Receiving favorable
reviews during a time when the state of the church was questioned by
millions, That Printer of Udell's plot "bore no small
resemblance to that of In His Steps but it was better in nearly
The New York Times reviewer saw the novel as a story of
The story is replete with familiar platitudes, and some of the
situations are improbable and some of the characters unnatural, but it is
well-written and decidedly interesting.
It ends by Dick Falkner marrying the cast-off daughter of the
hard-hearted hardware dealer, mush against the will of Mr. Goodrich, who
hates "that printer of Udell's," and after Goodrich's own son,
one of the heavy villains of the novel, has met with a horrible death.
The worst platitude in the novel occurs during Falkner's first day
in Boyd City. Hungry, he is
taken by a friendly man to a saloon where for the price of one beer, a man
can eat at the free buffet. However,
Falkner is unable to accept the liquor and continues to go hungry.
A similar incident occurred in Wright's autobiography, but in that
story Wright gladly accepted the beer.
In fact, Wright makes no secret of the fact that he is not a
temperance man. Apparently he
cannot allow his fictional characters to have such weaknesses, probably
because of his desire to adhere to the Protestant conventions, one of his
major weaknesses as an author. His
characters are often ideals rather than rounded individuals.
During a particularly cold winter in Boyd City, a young man's death
by exposure in front of a locked church demonstrates the hypocrisy of the
church but also leads to an improbable situation.
That young Englishman had been the victim of a drunken American
tourist several years earlier when the tourist had run over the man's
younger brother and then had knifed the elderly grandfather who tried to
save the boy. Seeking revenge
for the two deaths, the brother trailed the American to Boyd City where he
died before confronting Whitley as the murderer.
Fortunately, but unrealistically, Falkner was a witness to the
murders at the time of their occurrence, so Whitley does not to
With the exception of these two incidents, Wright's first novel is
often realistic in depicting his chosen theme--the hypocrisy of the
church. Boyd City has a dozen
churches, each interested in out-doing the others with music, decoration,
attendance, and socials. The
ministerial association is comprised of several different types; one is a
scholar who has no time for worldly matters; one believes that the church
should follow a strict interpretation of the Bible, and a few are truly
interested in the welfare of the people
One preacher, the Reverend Jeremiah Wilks, typifies the majority of
the ministers when he relates his story of trying to get a donation from a
citizen to the rest of the ministers:
There's Mr. Richman. . . he's not a member of any church you know.
I only called him brother to make him feel good you know. He said: "Good
morning, reverend;" kind of short; and then deliberately turned his
back on me and went on talking with his friend.
I didn't like to leave him like that, you know, for he's got a lot
of money, I'm told. And you
know we preachers never would get anything if we always quit like that; so
I said, "Brother Richman, I don't like to interrupt you, but can't
you give me a little something this morning?
I'm behind on our new organ, and on our benevolences and yet."
(Printer, p. 208)
Mr. Richman, who does not see any benefit from giving money to Wilkes, has
already donated unsolicited one hundred dollars to the rescue home which
would do, in his words, "some actual good among the poor people in
the city" (Printer, p. 209).
The hypocrisy of the church in its concern over material wealth is
also evidenced in a church member who inspect "the diamonds in the
ears of the lady by her side" during the sermon in the church with
beautiful frescoed ceilings, costly stained-glass windows, soft carpets,
and carved furniture (Printer, p. 79).
In fact, one of the prominent church members, Adam Goodrich,
frequents his place of business "where on the shelves and behind the
counter of his hardware store he kept the God he really worshipped" (Printer,
p. 179). His son, Frank, follows his lead and hides his true
personality. "Like many
other, he was a bad as he dared to be; and while using the church as a
cloak to hid his real nature, was satisfied if he could keep the
appearance of respectability" (Printer, p. 234).
In the opinion of some of the wealthy church members, membership
should be restricted to those people who have the wealth.
Associating with the lower classes, even on church business, is
degrading, as Goodrich explains to his daughter:
You must learn, . . . that the church is a place for you to listen
to a sermon, and that it's the preacher's business to look after all these
other details; that's what we hire him for.
Let him get people from the lower classes to do his dirty work; he
sha'n't have my daughter. Christianity
is all right, and I trust I'm as good a Christian as anyone; but a man
need not make a fool of himself to get to heaven, and I'm only looking out
for my family's interest. . . . I wish you would follow Frank's example.
He is a good church member but he don't let it interfere with his
best interests. He has plenty
of friends and chooses his associates among the first families in the
city. (Printer, p. 178)
Wright is extremely critical of people who are church members only
for appearance's sake, but he offers several suggestions on what the
church should be like if it is to follow in the teachings of Christ.
The Reverend James Cameron of the Jerusalem Church is the leader in
the movement for practical Christianity.
He preaches on "The Church of the Future" (Printer,
p. 44) which would concern itself with the problems of life rather than
paying lip service to Christ and arguing over denominational superiority.
Cameron hopes for a "wilderness" preacher similar to John
the Baptist (Falkner seems a possible candidate) to rid Boyd City of its
bigotry, selfishness, man-made doctrines and creeds in the pulpit; saloons
and brothels on the street; church doors closed over mawkish
sentimentality, and men and women dying without shelter and without
God" (Printer, p. 212).
Instead of depending on the Ladies' Aid to run the church on a
"lemonade and ice cream basis" (Printer, p. 83), the
church should pay its own way just as the poverty stricken should do by
working when they are taken in by the rescue home.
Too many church members have settled into listless, comfortable
lives, paying their dues and feeling holy and self-satisfied.
Christianity is not to be merely attendance at church on a weekly
basis but a course for the Christian' life in which he does good deeds for
his fellow man. Wright's
basic argument is for a united church which simply follows the life of
Christ in its thought and actions. Knowing
such a union was impossible because of the nature of people, he preached
for the next best thing, individuals following Christ's example.
Wright presents three types of characters in That Printer of
Udell's: the Christian
hypocrite, a church member; the Christian church member; and the
non-church member who believes that church members are for the most part
hypocrites. Adam Goodrich
typifies the first category while his daughter is the second type.
The Christian non-church members are represented by George Udell
and Dick Falkner, who are eventually converted to the church through the
sincerity of the minister who insists that a church can not divorce itself
from social issues. The hypocritical church members are never
"converted" to Christianity.
At times in the novel Adam Goodrich appears to be softening but
then reverts to a man of hard feelings.
The characters to be truly admired are not the ones like Amy
Goodrich, who blindly follows the church, but characters such as Falkner
and Udell who actually question the church and its worth before
considering joining. Each man
goes through a tremendous struggle within himself as he finally decides to
affiliate himself with the church. To
Wright church membership is imperative since the church can and should be
an active force in social questions, which are the responsibility of all
Copyright Joyce Kinkead, 1979.
Used by Permission.