by David Bratman
Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (1959) is the most detailed novel of any reputation to focus on the U.S. Senate, and is considered by many as the best novel ever written about the workings of the U.S. government. I wouldn't go that far -- in many respects it's a dreadful book -- but it is highly readable, and great fun for political junkies. Drury had been a political reporter before turning to fiction, and many of the events and characters in the book were drawn from real-life originals, but it is not a roman a clef with one-to-one references to be decoded. (See notes following the list on Drury's possible inspirations and bibliography and links.)
Drury gives no roster for his fictional Senate, but in the course of the book's text, 90 of the 100 senators are named, and a roster may be compiled from that, which follows with each name given in the fullest available form. For each state, the first name is the senior senator, unless an asterisk follows the state's name, indicating that the senators are not identified in the book as senior or junior. When only one name is given under a state, the other senator is not mentioned in the book. Names identified or strongly implied to be members of the Majority (Maj.) or Minority (min.) parties are followed by their party abbreviation. Senators not clearly identified by party are given no abbreviation. (See notes following the list for problems with party identification.) Senate offices and chairmanships are listed as given in the book.
Reverdy Johnson (Maj.)
In addition to the above, two senators' surnames given in roll call excerpts are not otherwise identified: these are Starr and Brittain.
Drury's fictional creation is not always consistent. Senator Hanson of North Dakota is occasionally referred to as being from South Dakota. Alphabetical roll calls always end with Wilson, yet there is a senator named Winthrop. Senator Parrish of Nevada is stated to be of the Minority party (p. 136, Doubleday 1959 hc), yet he is at home in the Majority party cloakroom (p. 93). Senator Eastwood of Colorado is stated to attend the Majority party conventions (p. 494), yet he gives his floor speaking requests to the Minority leader (p. 334). In other cases, clues such as these are enough to cause assignment to one party or the other on this roster. Despite differing views by some commentators, it is clear that the Majority are intended to be the Democrats and the Minority to be the Republicans. This is evident from the general spread of the parties in issues and geography, and specified in the background notes on Senator Cooley, a Majority party senator from South Carolina, a long-serving senator at a time when all such Southern senators were Democrats, and who is described as having been in earlier years "faithfully supporting [Woodrow Wilson] on every issue" (p. 154) and later to have been a loyal follower of Franklin D. Roosevelt (p. 161), both Democratic presidents. Also of note, though not strictly an inconsistency, is the sudden appearance of senators from Alaska and Hawaii near the end of part 3, as bills for the admission of these states proceeded through Congress as Drury was writing the novel.
The date of Advise and Consent is also not entirely clear. It is in the seventh year of office of the unnamed President. Some clues, notably Senator Anderson's background timeline (p. 281-91), point firmly to the book taking place in 1957, the year Drury began full-time work on writing it. (The opening had been drafted about 1951-52.) Other clues, especially most (p. 36, 280) but not all (p. 483) of the appraisals of the general political trends, suggest a near-future setting, perhaps five to ten years after the date of writing. Perhaps the President is to be Eisenhower's successor, which would set the date at 1967. Senator Cooley is said to have been aged 17 in 1908 (p. 150-51) and 26 in 1913 (p. 149, 154), which are not consistent; as he is now 75 (p. 156), the year by this count would be approximately 1962-1967. But he appears to have been elected to the Senate in 1920 and is now in his seventh term (p. 154-56), which would be 1957-1962. Thus, various pairs of the above may be reconciled, but not all of them, and this analysis has been long and self-indulgent enough already.
It is possible that the sequels to this book fill in the gaps and explain the inconsistencies, but I have never been able to finish reading any of them. Mike Cheyne has, however, and his summaries may be found below. (Thanks!)
Some possible inspirations for Advise and Consent
Some political novels, notably among recent books Primary Colors by Joe Klein, are romans a clef: that is, the principal characters are all real people under a light disguise, with the names and a few unimportant surface details changed. Advise and Consent is not quite like that. Many of the book's incidents are drawn directly from life, but Drury was careful to make his characters composites, drawn from more than one source or in significant ways differing from their sources, and the contexts of events are usually very different.
James E. Lessenger, who interviewed Drury near the end of his life, writes about the inspirations for Advise and Consent:
"Drury wrote about Power. He told me that all novels -- all fiction -- are about emotions and his are about power. Having said that, he was also a personal friend of Joe McCarthy, but was not an apologist for him. Certainly, the Hiss case and the McCarthy hearings were on his mind. Most importantly, he told me that Advise and Consent was a first draft. Yes, he wrote multiple drafts of the first three chapters, but the later chapters were written in first draft after the novel was accepted for publication. Once he sold the book, he realized he had to write it and completed it within a few months. His favorite character was Seab Cooley, the old senator played by Charles Laughton in the motion picture. Ironically, Allen and Laughton became good friends after the film was made. The names for his characters came from the men and woman in his church and in his father's business as he was growing up in Porterville, California. Leffingwell was the name of a big man in citrus in his home town. A tall, elegant man. A man known for being vain. In Allen's childhood friends will you find the prototypes of his heroes. But yes, the story is about the Senate and Drury did a great job."
Evan Stansbury suggests that, in the later books of the series, Orrin Knox and Harley M. Hudson contain elements of Richard M. Nixon and Harry S. Truman respectively, though there is little evidence of such identification in Advise and Consent itself. He further suggests an resemblance between Ted Jason, a character who does not appear in Advise and Consent, and Nelson A. Rockefeller.
A Note on the Otto Preminger Film: The plot of the film follows the book very closely. According to my count, fifteen senators appear, however briefly, as named identifiable characters. They are all taken from the book, although some changes are made. The membership of the subcommittee considering the Leffingwell nomination is different; Senator Lafe Smith has been moved from Iowa to Rhode Island; and Senator Orrin Knox appears to have been moved from the Majority to the Minority side of the chamber. Names in one roll call sometimes fill in gaps left in another, perhaps due to film cutting. Adding all audible names together from roll calls and from a vote-counting discussion by the Majority party leaders, there are 90 names, the same number Drury gives in the book. However, besides the fifteen senators who are actual characters, only six names overlap with the book's names, possibly by coincidence.
Bibliography and Links
Some non-fiction books on the Senate of the 1940s and 1950s:
Notable among the film's minor characters is a Senator McCafferty. In the book he is an aged (83) but still bright senator who once falls asleep during debate. In the film he is always asleep, and when awakened calls out "Opposed, sir! I'm opposed!" regardless of what is happening. What's interesting is that he is played by an actual ex-senator, Henry F. Ashurst (D-AZ), 87 at the time the film was made.
Bibliography and Links
Some non-fiction books on the Senate of the 1940s and 1950s:
The Sequels to Advise and Consent
summarized by Mike Cheyne
("spoiler alert" is too mild a term)
Simply put, with the exception of A Shade of Difference and elements of Capable of Honor, they're pure and simple crap, of which Come Nineveh, Come Tyre is probably the worst offender. Here's a little description of what happens in each.
A Shade of Difference (1962): This is a good book, but the problem is that it is more about the U.N. than about the Senate, meaning it is much different in tone. Also, there is a certain amount of whining in the book, some of which not unfounded, about how the United States is treated. The basic plot is about the shakeup that arises when a controversial African leader, "Terrible Terry," makes trouble in America. There's also a shifty Panamanian and another Governor of California who's a mite suspicious and wants the Presidency. Senator Fry has a beefed-up role, but dies at the end, after making a touching speech that is the best part of the book. Seab Cooley dies too. The ending of this is a classic right up there with any of the best scenes from Advise and Consent.
Capable of Honor (1966): Drury raises a machine gun, and blasts the press to pieces in this one. This is about how Harley Hudson, now President, is opposed for nomination in the election year by Governor Ted Jason of California. Orrin Knox must decide what to do, as does Bob Leffingwell, torn between supporting Hudson (who helped him) and Jason (who he agrees with). This is more or less tripe, especially in the way several characters appear--Walter Dobius, the snide political columnist; Frankly Unctuous, a political commentator who has elements of Brinkley and Cronkite; LeGage Shelby, who is Malcolm X on speed; Rufus Kleinfert, an underachiever KKK Grand Wizard; Fred Van Ackerman in a beefed-up stereotypical role; and many other annoying characters. The good parts of the book, such as the fascinating character of Ted Jason, the nice depiction of Leffingwell, and the suspenseful convention are all erased in a horde of obnoxious characters and speeches. Important events? Well, Hudson is nominated, and picks Knox over Jason as Vice-President. Crystal Danta Knox is beaten up, and I believe she loses her baby in the assault. Mabel Anderson makes a return appearance! I'd chalk it a nice try, but then came the next book.
Preserve and Protect (1968): This starts off immediately wrong, and then fumbles its way. This is arguably the worst book as it has no beginning and no ending...but at least it's fun to read. President Hudson, nominated with Knox, is immediately killed in the first chapter or so in a plane crash (a suspicious plane crash). The question in the Majority party is who will be the new nominee--Knox or Jason? And we go through a repetitious, endlessly dull "convention two" in which the same things as in Capable of Honor happen again. This also makes the third President in less than a single term, as the Speaker (William Abbott) becomes President. At the end, Knox is nominated as President, but placates Jason by making him Vice-President in one of those Knoxian decisions that leads to a lot of stream-of-consciousness. But then the ending happens, which is a pure Drury piece of crap. A shooter pops out of nowhere, and fires shots at Knox, Jason, and their wives--Beth and Ceil. To Be Continued...
Come Nineveh, Come Tyre (1973): This book says that Orrin and Ceil were the ones to die. Jason is now the Presidential candidate, and picks past-book regular Roger P. Croy (a pompous Agnew type) as his Veep. Jason has BIG BOLD ideas, and he easily thrashes Warren Strickland for the Presidency (nice to see Warren back). Fred suddenly pops up, armed with a horde of young naive people who believe in Fred's COMFORT message elected to the Senate. Arly Richardson, played as an utterly obnoxious twit now, seizes the Majority leadership from Bob Munson. The Minority is now down to less than twenty Senators. Vasily Tashikov becomes the head of the Soviet Union, and rips Ted Jason a new one at a conference. Fred becomes President Pro Tempore after he forces Lacey Pollard out due to medical reasons. In a scene out of 1984 or something, various regulars from past books are killed, such as Beth Knox (kidnapped and slain by mysterious Soviet forces) and a female columnist character from Capable of Honor (shot by a laser gun!). Walter Dobius and the journalists are rounded up, and placed in a concentration camp like thing. The book becomes unreadable for a number of chapters. At the end, Jason and Croy shoot themselves, and that leaves Speaker of the House Jawbone Swarthman as the President (Jawbone is an annoying Seab Cooley-like character introduced in A Shade of Difference). The last scene features Jawbone, Fred, and Tashikov at a conference, in which Fred plots to become President, and the book ends with the U.S. falling to the Soviet Union. It comes off as a Rush Limbaugh nightmare.
A Promise of Joy (1975): This book has Beth Knox and Ted Jason killed. One of the better later Drury novels, it has Knox elected President (I forget right now who turns out to be Veep). Bob Leffingwell becomes TAH-DAH Secretary of State finally. Knox edges Warren Strickland for the Presidency, and in this timeline, things proceed at least with a head of sanity. However, Knox is confronted with a crisis in Asia--the Soviet Union and China are coming to blows. The book is about Knox's attempts to handle the situation and win some respect; also various characters have plots. Fred Van Ackerman is finally killed (along with Rufus Kleinfert) by the infuriated LeGage Shelby, after their uneasy alliance falls apart. At the end, Knox must choose whether to aid the Soviet Union or China in the war. The book doesn't tell us, leading one to believe Drury had two more sequels in mind. Thankfully, this didn't happen.
Also, the book doesn't help the continuity at all. While Ike is mentioned in Advise and Consent, JFK and LBJ are mentioned as Presidents in the other novels, and what seems to happen is that the date of setting is continually moved down as the novels are released. The simple pleasures of the first novel are destroyed in the ever-conservative yelling that follows.
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