Vardis Fisher : biography
Vardis Alvero Fisher (March 31, 1895 – July 9, 1968) was a writer best known for his popular historical novels of the Old West. He also wrote the monumental 12-volume Testament of Man (1943–1960) series of novels, depicting the history of humans from cave to civilization. It was considered controversial because of his portrayal of religion, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition, emphasis on sexuality, and conclusions about anthropology.
Life and works
Vardis Fisher was born in Annis, Idaho, near present-day Rigby, of a Mormon family and descent. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1920, Fisher earned a Master of Arts degree (1922) and a Ph.D. (1925) at the University of Chicago.
Fisher was an assistant professor of English at the University of Utah (1925–1928) and at New York University (1928–1931), where he became friends with Thomas Wolfe. Fisher also taught as a summer professor at Montana State University (1932–1933) in Bozeman. Academic jobs were sharply reduced during the Great Depression.
Between 1935 and 1939, he worked as the director of the Idaho Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. He wrote several books about Idaho. He was also a newspaper columnist for the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Statewide (which later became the Intermountain Observer).
One of his hobbies was house construction, and he built his own home in the Thousand Springs area near Hagerman, Idaho. Fisher did the wiring, masonry, carpentry and plumbing himself.
Marriage and family
Vardis Fisher married in 1917 after his second year in college, to Leona McMurtrey, whom he had courted since their childhood. They had difficulties in their marriage; he enlisted in the army in 1918. Later he became involved with another woman, Margaret Trusler, who was a fellow graduate student. Leona committed suicide on September 8, 1924.
He married Trusler in 1928. They had two sons, Grant and T. Roberts Fisher. They divorced in 1937, at her insistence.
He married his third wife, Opal Laurel Holmes, in 1940. She was his co-author on Gold Rushes and Mining Camps of the Early American West (1968). Opal Fisher died in 1995, leaving $237,000 from her estate to the University of Idaho for the creation of a humanities professorship.
Fisher died in 1968, at the age of 73, in Hagerman, Idaho.
To write the Testament of Man (1943–1960) series, Vardis Fisher read more than 2,000 books on anthropology, history, psychology, theology and comparative religion. When the series was reprinted by Pyramid Books as mass-market paperbacks in 1960, it inspired the DC Comics editor Joe Orlando and the comic book Anthro, written and drawn by Howard Post and edited by Orlando.
His historical novel, Children of God, tracing the history of the Mormons, won the 1939 Harper Prize in Fiction. His novel Mountain Man (1965) was adapted for Sydney Pollack's film, Jeremiah Johnson (1972). The Mothers: An American Saga of Courage told the story of the Donner Party tragedy. Tale of Valor is a novel recounting the Lewis and Clark Expedition. God or Caesar? is his non-fiction book on how to write.
He was suspicious of all politicians and favored smaller, less-intrusive government. Grateful for work during the Depression, his opinion of the New Deal soured and he became a staunch critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he favored an America First stance, hoping to keep the U.S. out of World War II. Following the attack, he accepted the inevitability of war. He generally criticized U.S. foreign policy and opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam as early as the administration of John F. Kennedy.
Vardis Fisher bibliography
Vardis Fisher novels
- The Mothers: An American Saga of Courage (1943)
- Pemmican: A Novel of the Hudson's Bay Company (1956)
- Children of God
- Mountain Man: A Novel of Male and Female in the Early American West (1965)
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