I wrongly assumed that I we already had this book on our list of 150 Best Minnesota Books because she was my nominee for inclusion into the MHS’s MN 150 exhibit. Let us rectify this now…
Margaret Culkin Banning. Mesabi. Harper and Row Publishers: New York, 1969.
The title of this blog is a quote from the local literary critic James Gray. I am not sure if he was tweaking her or praising her but since she wrote over 400 short stories and essays for magazines he clearly had a point. Over her sixty year career she also wrote, by my count, 36 novels. Many Minnesotans of her day considered Margaret Banning a much greater literary light than Sinclair Lewis.
Minnesota, Duluth in particular, was always Banning’s home base but she experienced a lot of life from Vasser [where she met Lady Gregory], to a settlement house in Chicago, to London during the Blitz, and to delegate to a Republican National Convention. Her experiences qualified her to write about women in society and how their roles were changing. She even tackled issues like birth control which many Catholic writers might have shied away from.
Mesabi, may not be her most typical book but it is a great one for our list. It is about the city she loved, Duluth, and “one of the men that matter” in that town, Hugh Champlain, the President of Greysolon, the major Iron Range mining company. In a holographic note on the half title of the MHS’s library copy, Banning says that in order to get the novel right it “took three years of research to feel that I was sure of my facts.” She goes on to write that these facts “have not been disputed by men in the mining industry, who like it almost with out exception”. One of those men surely was LeRoy Salsich the president of the Oliver mining company and Banning’s second husband!
Here is what we wanna know from you, dear readers… Have you read any of Banning’s books? Do you have a favorite? How does her work hold up? Was she an inspiration to the modern woman’s movement? Is she too prissy and prudish for today’s readers? Let us hear from you.