Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The Last Hurrah ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels (70)

    Everything's political.
        -Frank Skeffington, The Last Hurrah

I find it hard to be impartial about this book, which is one of my favorites, and is the basis for the great John Ford/Spencer Tracy film of the same name.  The main criticism of the novel appears to be that O'Connor was too benevolent in his portrayal of a big city political boss and of machine politics generally.  But I think that this complaint really misses the central insight of the story.  Whatever Frank Skeffington's faults may be--and it is at least implied that he is financially corrupt and is readily apparent that he has become morally corrupt in the pursuit of power--he is also undeniably an interesting and compelling personality.  As the Monsignor says at his funeral :

    The bigger the man is in public life, the bigger the praise or the blame--and we have to remember
    that Frank Skeffington was quite a big man.

What Edwin O'Connor discerned was that the modern, clean-cut, college-educated, television-age, politicians would be equally corrupt, but would be little men.  Like news anchormen, they would look well-polished and nicely groomed, but they would be empty suits. Marketed like household products, they would be chosen specifically because they were so colorless, so unlikely to put off the voter/consumer.  And so we are left with the worst of both worlds : the politicians are still power hungry crooks, but now they have no entertainment value to redeem them.

Skeffington's ultimate legacy is bookended between two other sentiments expressed after his death.  Nathaniel Gardiner, the old line WASP who sparred with but respected the Mayor, thinks to himself : "If only he had not been such a rogue..." but then realizes that had he been less a rogue, he would have been less of a figure.  But perhaps the final assessment belongs to the Cardinal who had battled him for so long :

    Whether you realize it or not now, you will later on. This man cheapened us forever at a time when
    we could have gained stature. I can never forgive him for that.

O'Connor, though he makes Skeffington an immensely entertaining and likable character, can hardly be accused of whitewashing the true nature of such men.  To say that someone "cheapened us" is, or used to be, a pretty serious indictment.


Grade: (A+)


Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO : Edwin O'Connor
    -ESSAY : GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT: THE RISE AND DEMISE OF IRISH AMERICA (Shaun O'Connell, New England Journal of Public Policy)
    -REVIEW : Apr 30, 1964 Julian Moynahan: Displaced Persons, NY Review of Books
       I Was Dancing by Edwin O'Connor
       The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy
       Love You Good, See You Later by Eugene Walter

    - BUY IT : The Last Hurrah (1958) DVD (
    - BUY IT : The Last Hurrah (1958) VHS (
    -INFO : The Last Hurrah (1958)(

    -Boston Irish
    -Irish Heritage Trail
    -ESSAY : Boston by the book : If you want to know the city, learn its literature (David Mehegan, Boston Globe Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Irish imprints tread across Boston's past and present (NANCY KELLEHER and ROBERT P. CONNOLLY, Boston Herald)
    -ESSAY : Urban Political Machines: Taking Stock  (Clarence N. Stone, University of Maryland)
    -ESSAY : Television and Political Speech : The medium exalts spectacle and slights words.  (Wilson Carey McWilliams, Media Studies Journal)
    -REVIEW : of THE RASCAL KING The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, 1874-1958. By Jack Beatty (Kevin Phillips, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Jan 28, 1993 Murray Kempton: His Honor, NY Review of Books
       The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, 1874-1958 by Jack Beatty
    -REVIEW : of RAINBOW'S END Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840-1985. By Steven P. Erie (Jack Beatty, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of O ALBANY! Improbable City of Political Wizards, Fearless Ethnics, Spectacular Aristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and Underrated Scoundrels. By William Kennedy (Thomas Flanagan, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY :  Where Have You Gone, Orrin Knox? The Decline of the Washington Novel (Terry Teachout, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : INVENTING OUR PROBABLE PAST (Thomas Fleming, NY Times Book Review)