Bishop was a particular connoisseur of the limerick, which is quite evident in The Widening Stain, where one of the professor characters composes limericks throughout the novel. Bishop included the following limerick in an inscribed copy of The Widening Stain, held at Cornell University Library, suggesting Fame found him out and that he rather tired of the association:
A cabin in northern Wisconsin
Is what I would be for the nonce in,
To be rid of the pain
Of The Widening Stain
And W. Bolingbroke Johnson
To be sure, the author bio for "W. Bolingbroke Johnson" laid quite the false trail for potential admirers, declaring that Johnson was a native of Rabbit Hash Landing, Kentucky, had been employed as Librarian at Okmulgee Agricultural and Mechanical Institute and the American Dairy Goat Association and had published one previous novel, The Jelly-Like Mass.
|1976 facsimile reprint by Cornell University Press|
However Bishop came to feel about the novel, one of the qualities which makes The Widening Stain such an enjoyable novel is the humor. While not a "screwball" American mystery in the sense of contemporary works by mystery writers Phoebe Atwood Taylor or Craig Rice, Stain has plenteous amusing satire directed at academic life, along with sharp writing and characterization and, last but not least, a most engaging and intriguing mystery plot.
painting by Alison Mason Kingsbury
see Cornell University Digital Library Collections
In type and function Gilda is far from American mystery fiction's dithering, romantically pining ingenue heroines familiar from the period in the works of Mignon Eberhart as well as the astringent, desexualized spinsters we find in crime novels by Mary Roberts Rinehart and her numerous imitators.
|"So he says."|
Morris Bishop's wife was Alison Mason Kingsbury (1898-1988), a Wellesley graduate and distinguished artist. Perhaps their close relationship enhanced his portrayal of the Gilda Gorham character. The husband and wife were professional collaborators as well, Kingsbury often illustrating Bishop's books, like Spilt Milk.
Stain was reprinted in 2007 by the excellent Rue Morgue Press, although oddly the plot description on the Amazon page declares that one of the male professors at the nameless university (presumably Cornell) is the novel's sleuth. This, unfortunately, simply is not accurate. (Indeed, this particular professor is one of Gilda's suspects in the two murders which take place in the novel.) Stain should be reprinted and the correct sleuth attribution made. It's now one of my favorite mid-century American mysteries and I plan on saying some more about it this week.