December 24, 1914: National magazine pans Duluth writer’s first novel

On this day in 1914, the Nation magazine had harsh words for the first novel of Duluthian Claude Washburn. Washburn was the son of Jed and Alma Washburn, prominent Duluthians who were highly involved in local and state education issues—Duluth’s Washburn Elementary School and Washburn Hall on the campus of the Duluth State Normal School (now UMD) were named for Jed Washburn. According to biographer David Ouse, Claude was just six years old in 1890 when his parents moved to Duluth. His family’s wealth afforded him an Ivy League education, and in his senior year at Harvard he edited The Advocate, the school’s literary magazine. He also travelled extensively as a young man and had several poems and short stories published in national magazines, including McClures and Harper’s Bazaar. His first book, a collection of essays, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1910. His second, an autobiographic first novel titled Gerald Northrup, “tells the story of a young man who, after spending years in Europe, returns to his hometown of Valencia, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan, a town that has striking similarities to Duluth.” The New York Times said that the main character “isn’t deserving of 500 pages,” and the Nation’s review on Christmas eve said the book “is an excellent example of a type of current fiction which possesses a number of good qualities, and which we might very well do without.” It took Washburn six years to produce his second novel, and his father’s wealth allowed him to keep writing despite a lack of commercial success. There is much more to Washburn’s story, and you can read it here.

Claude Washburn. (Image: Duluth Public Library)