The Outward Room
Publication Date: October 19, 2010
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The Outward Room is a book about a young woman’s journey from madness to self-discovery. It created a sensation when it was first published in 1937, and has lost none of its immediacy or its power to move the reader.
Having suffered a nervous breakdown after her brother’s death in a car accident, Harriet Demuth is committed to a mental hospital, but her doctor’s Freudian nostrums do little to make her well. Convinced that she and she alone can refashion her life, Harriet makes a daring escape from the hospital—hopping a train by night and riding the rails into the vastness of New York City in the light of the rising sun. It is the middle of the Great Depression, and at first Harriet is lost among the city’s anonymous multitudes. She pawns her jewelry and lives an increasingly hand-to-mouth existence until she meets John, a machine-shop worker. Slowly Harriet begins to recover her sense of self; slowly she and John begin to fall in love. The story of that emerging love, told with the lyricism of Virginia Woolf and the realism of Theodore Dreiser, is the heart of Millen Brand’s remarkable book.
Millen Brand (1906–1980) was born in Jersey city, New Jersey, into a working-class family and was of Pennsylvania German descent on his mother’s side. Following graduation from Columbia University in 1929, he worked briefly as a psychiatric aide and for several years as a copywriter for the New York Telephone company before taking up faculty posts at the University of New Hampshire and New York University. The Outward Room, Brand’s first and most acclaimed novel, appeared in 1937, and was adapted for Broadway in 1939 as The World We Make. in 1948, with Frank Partos, he received an academy award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of Mary Jane Ward’s novel The Snake Pit. Brand’s association with members of the Hollywood Ten led to his questioning by the House Unamerican activities committee; he refused to cooperate, invoking the Fifth amendment. From the early 1950s to the early 1970s, Brand was an editor at crown Publishers. His other novels include The Heroes; Albert Sears; Some Love, Some Hunger; and Savage Sleep. He was also the author of Local Lives, a book of poems about the Pennsylvania Dutch; a posthumously published account of his participation in the 1977 Peace March from Nagasaki to Hiroshima; and the text to Fields of Peace, a book of photographs by George Tice.
Peter Cameron is the author of several novels, including Andorra, The Weekend, and most recently, Coral Glynn. He lives in New York City.
“Millen Brand has that rare empathetic ability to love all his characters. . . . And so the reader comes to feel, and fear, for the characters in a way that is almost unbearably tender. An odd glow of love permeates every aspect of this book.” —Peter Cameron, from the introduction
“A fine book. It is one of those firmly painted, exquisite miniatures of life, rare among modern books, that contrive to be unsparing and honest, and at the same time refreshing and lovely.” –Theodore Dreiser
“…a quiet little miracle of a book…. a beautiful work.” —Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions
“…a strange and often beautiful book, an adventure story and a love story and, at its best, a kaleidoscopic glimpse of New York City during the worst moments of the Depression…. Brand’s imagery and detail still dazzle.” —The New Republic
“The Outward Room is original and fascinating. This author will not only bear watching, but warrants immediate and exuberant criticism. The book roams into the most intricate and obscure recesses of human experience; does it brilliantly and emerges into the sunlight.” –Fannie Hurst
“Opening with an escape from a mental hospital, this book, by following the efforts of a sensitive girl to accept normal living again, creates an understanding of a patient's problems ‘on the outside.’” –The Disability History Museum
“Story of a girl who cured herself of manic depressive insanity, with a happy ending that is plausible if not probable. A distinguished first novel.” –Time Magazine
“A brave novel about a woman who escaped from the fogs of today’s misery into the sun of normality and happiness; a story as devoid of sentimentality as a blizzard, and yet a great love story–a real love story. I don’t know when I have ever seen a more exciting first novel.” –Sinclair Lewis
“Millen Brand is like an English major who minored in psychology and never feels quite sure that it shouldn't have been the other way around. Author of The Outward Room and coauthor of the screenplay for The Snake Pit, he has served long enough as a psychiatric aide to become vocationally confused about his main role as a journeyman novelist.” –Time Magazine