Pittsburgh author Marcia Davenport’s absorbing and complex chronicle of a family’s fortunes from the economic panic of 1873 through the dramatic rise of American industry and trade unionism, through waves of immigration, class conflict, natural disaster, World War I, to Pearl Harbor.
Marcia Davenport is the author of four other books and a biography of Mozart. Her autobiography, Too Strong for Fantasy, was published in 1967.
“Marcia Davenport’s The Valley of Decision stands foremost in my memory of the books about Pittsburgh that I liked best of all.”—David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time National Book Award winner
“Entwined with family histories, Marcia Davenport has re-created the industrialization of Pittsburgh from the post–Civil War era to the 1940s. Beginning with the Scottish steel barons to the Irish, Czech, and Slovak immigrants who fought for unionization, she shows what made Pittsburgh synonymous with steel, smog, and struggle. It feels like reality, not the alternate reality that fiction is presumed to be. Her characters are as real as the streets and neighborhoods she knows by name.”—Samuel Hazo, author of And the Time Is: Poems, 1953–2013
“A magnificent novel about human beings who spring full-featured and living from its pages. . . . It is not too much to call The Valley of Decision a real American saga.”—New York Times
“A vibrant and realistic novel of America . . . as strong, bright, and finely tempered as the steel of which it tells.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“In the vast scope and crystalline detail of The Valley of Decision, Marcia Davenport has achieved a truly monumental work which never for one instant loses its quality of stirring human interest.”—Book Review Digest
On the eve of World War II a writer named Marcia Davenport, who was best known for her biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, spent several years in Pittsburgh, her imagination caught by the drama of American industry. In 1942, Charles Scribner’s sons published her Pittsburgh novel, The Valley of Decision. It was an instant success, and its story of four generations of the Scott family - owners and operators of a Pittsburgh iron and steel works - has captured the imagination of three generations of readers.
The novel is set in Pittsburgh, but, as The Saturday Review of Literature commented, it is “a cavalcade of America, industrially, socially, and domestically.” The story is absorbing and complex, chronicling the family fortunes from the economic panic of 1873 through the dramatic rise of American industry and trade unionism, though waves of immigration, class conflict, natural disaster, World War I, to Pearl Harbor.
The first portion of the narrative covers the period 1873-83, when ironmaster William Scott, founder of the Scott Iron Works, marched with American industrial progress and died at the hands of union agitators. The second section covers 1889-1929 and his son Paul, who inherits the mills and manages them well, embracing technology, the demands of the first World War, and an enlightened view of labor. Part Three (1933-41) is the book of Claire, great-granddaughter of William. Energetic, responsible, and worldy-wise, she fights to save the integrity of the family’s mills as they pass into the hands of corporation lawyers and bored Scott cousins. It is also Claire who expands the story to Eastern Europe, where, as an international journalist, she brings the horrifying events leading to World War II to the attention of an impassive America.
But the central character in the Scott family saga is Mary Rafferty, an Irish maid who, as the novel opens, enters the Scott household at the age of sixteen. Her sixty-eight years of service to the Scotts span the growth of the family’s mills and the vicissitudes of individual family members. Mary is an advisor and trusted equal of the younger generations of Scotts, particularly Paul, for whom she is a driving force and lifelong love. Mary sees beyond her station, perceptive in ways the wealthy Scotts are not. Her unswerving loyalty to them, and her fierce independence from them, make her the core and the conscience of the family and of the book.
In a preface written for the University of Pittsburgh Press edition of The Valley of Decision, Marcia Davenport tells how she wrote her Pittsburgh novel.