Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Alfred W. Lawson

My research travels, partially in support of the Distributive Passions project, have taken me back into the 20th century--or rather forward from the centuries that usually occupying my time. I'm working on a quick survey of utopian novels and proposals from the early decades of last century. (Don't worry. I'm also reading the 2-volume Library of America Debate on the Constitution set, which is marvelous relief from sappy romantic sub-plots.) These are waters I've travelled quite a bit before, but not in any systematic way.

A novel that I have owned for years, but had not read until this week, is Alfred W. Lawson's Born Again. It is not a great novel, but it is notable for having some of the wildest plot-twists ever, even in a genre notable for cases of reincarnation, mysterious decades-long comas, etc. Like a number of reform novels in the period, it appears to have been influenced by the health culture movement. Its approach to reform is centered in following the dictates of conscience and pursuing healthy lifestyles. But Alfred Lawson had a lot more irons in the fire.

Lawson was an aircraft pioneer, amateur philosopher, the founder of the Direct Credits Society, and originator of Lawsonomy. The Lawson's Progress site is a great introduction, and has what appears to be a very complete bibliography of Lawson's works, complete with links to the online editions of several at Lawsonomy.org (see particularly Direct Credits for Everybody and the three volumes of Lawsonomy.) The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has some nice photographs and document scans relating to Lawson's aircraft work, as well as pdfs version of A Two Thousand Mile Trip in the First Airliner and the first airmail contract ever granted.

I'll undoubtedly return to Lawson, the Direct Credits Society, and Born Again soon. For now, though I actually liked the book, cloying sentimentality and all. In general, I find something straightforward and likable in Lawson's work, even when I can't recommend it on other grounds.

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