Cox, Carolyn. Stand By. New York: Harper, 1925.

We have recently been researching an author often claimed by Canada—Corolyn Cox—to determine both her antecedents and her list of publications. It soon became obvious to us why her nationality was so elusive.

Corolyn Cox was born Corolyn Bulley in 1892 in Ohio. Her family eventually moved to Syracuse, New York, where Corolyn became a journalist. Sent to Canada to interview her maternal first cousin, John Raffles Cox, she fell in love and the two were married in 1919.

John Raffles Cox was an explorer—hence a subject for newspaper articles—who spent 3 years in the Canadian arctic then 14 months fighting in the First World War. Although British by birth, his family had immigrated to Canada in 1890, when he was 3 years old.  The family retained strong British connections, and by 1911, his parents and sister Katherine had returned to England.

After marriage, Corolyn and John spent about 6 months in Vancouver, BC—where John worked for the Canadian Geological Survey—before heading to India, where their two daughters, Jane and Penelope were born: Jane in Kashmir in 1920, and Penelope in Lahore in 1922. Despite returning to the United States for a brief period, the family listed Ottawa as their place of permanent residence on travel documents.

The family moved repeatedly, living for a period in Peru, and for about 5 years in Nairobi, Kenya. In December of 1929, their son John Raffles Junior was born in Philadelphia; in July of 1930 they had returned to Syracuse for a visit to Corolyn’s sister, Rachel. (The Syracuse Herald notes on 16 July 1930 that “after 11 years of adventure in South America, Africa, India,” the young family was “now to ‘settle down'” in America.) By the time of the 1930 US census, they were resident in Florida. They did seem to have settled in the USA at this point, but the Second World War somehow found them living in Canada, with Corolyn again working as a journalist, publishing articles in the Montreal Herald, Saturday Night, and Canadian Homes and Gardens.
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All this is known: verified through census and travel documents. What is not known is whether or not sometime-journalist Corolyn Cox is the same personal as the author Carolyn Cox, whose Stand By was published by Harper (New York & London) in 1925. The book itself sheds no light on the subject, being a mass-market novel on cheap paper with only the bare minimum of publishing details. Therefore, I said to myself, quoting Sam Gamgee, “there’s nothing for it” but to read the novel and see if there are any clues embedded in the prose. Very little luck there, either, but having read all 351 pages, I felt compelled to share it with you.

Stand By (1925)

The time is 1917; the United States has just entered the War; and Rosemary Lee is young, naïve, and aching to contribute in some way to the war effort. Knitting is all she feels able to do, but hoping to cheer some lonely soldier somewhere, she places a snapshot of herself, with her name and address on the back, into the toe of one of the socks she sends off. A reply comes from Jack Harlow of the US Navy. The two arrange to meet in Baltimore on one of his shore leaves, in which he determines the level of her naïveté, and leaves her with an almost-chaste kiss. On their second meeting, his desire knows no limits, but is obstructed by her innocence. He marries her to have her, and then leaves, angry at himself and her for the predicament he finds himself in. The story thus fluctuates between Rosemary’s faithful rationalization of Jack’s lack of communication—and her development of skills, maturity, and eventually self-respect—and Jack’s prowess in the Navy, parallelled only by his derision of women in general and Rosemary—who “tricked” him—in the specific.

When the war is over, and “the boys come home,” Jack is not among them. Rosemary now has no reason to misunderstand Jack’s intentions, and yet she faithfully stands by her husband in her heart. When he eventually does come home, having been injured and suffering from TB, she finally accepts the truth of their marriage: that he never did love her, and returned only because he had nowhere else to go and needed care. There follow pages of incidents in which he shows over and over his lack of respect and her faithful perseverance. Finally, to the relief of the pained reader, she has had enough, and threatens to leave; Jack then has an attack and coughs up blood, and so she stays. Three times. Finally finally, she does run off to Washington, where she had worked as a clerk before Jack’s return and where another ex-soldier who loves her works as a journalist. Jack, meanwhile, has (of course) realized the error of his ways, and come to love her, now that he has killed her love completely. He leaves; she returns; they meet on a train trestle just as the Western Express is arriving. She falls; he jumps in and saves her, dying in the attempt. Curtain. Thankfully.

Significantly, no mention of Canada, or India, where Corolyn Cox was resident from 1919 through 1922… just a mediocre love story capitalizing on the emotional undertow following World War One. Still, there is no obvious evidence that Corolyn Cox did not write it.  The content is totally American, as was Cox at this point in her life. The style replicates a number of other women’s novels of the time: American, British, Canadian, Anglo-Indian… there is no clue there. So the mystery remains. If anyone out there has more information, we would love to hear. At the moment, Corolyn Cox will be entered as a “snapshot” in our database, for her journalism activities in Canada during the early 1940s, but we do not believe that she was sufficiently invested in Canada to warrant a complete entry.

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