Study Guide

Booth Tarkington Biography

Newton Booth Tarkington was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 29, 1869. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Purdue University and graduated from Princeton University. Primarily interested in art, he had hoped to make drawing his career, but financial necessity turned him to writing. He was a prolific writer, with successful ventures in the short story and the drama, but it is chiefly as a novelist that he is remembered. After an inauspicious beginning he gradually achieved popularity among readers and considerable acclaim from critics. His first popular success in fiction was Monsieur Beaucaire, a romantic novella that helped call attention to his first novel, The Gentleman from Indiana, which had appeared a year before, in 1899. Today Tarkington is perhaps most widely known for his stories of youth and teenagers: Penrod, Penrod and Sam, Penrod Jashber, and Seventeen. These are “American boy” stories, comic but human and appealing. The Penrod books, extremely popular and financially rewarding for Tarkington, were among the first contemporary novels to be adapted to film. His most critically acclaimed novel, Alice Adams, appeared in 1921 and won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1922. The Magnificent Ambersons had earlier won the same prize. In 1933 Tarkington was awarded the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Tarkington was twice married, to Laurel Louisa Fletcher in 1902 and to Susannah Robinson in 1912.

Tarkington suffered difficulties with his eyesight for years and became totally blind in 1930, but his sight was partially restored by a series of operations. For the last thirty-five years of his life he divided his time between his family home in Indianapolis and the summer resort in Kennebunkport, Maine, that he called “the house that Penrod built.”