Taylor Caldwell, 84, the best-selling author of more than 30 books, including "Dear and Glorious Physician," and "Captains and Kings," which have been translated into 11 languages, and whose historical novels may have been lightly regarded by some critics but were found entertaining by millions of readers, died Friday night in Greenwich, Conn.
She died of pulmonary failure caused by lung cancer. Miss Caldwell had been deaf since 1967 and seriously ill for the past five years. She had suffered two strokes, losing the ability to speak.
In addition to her novels, she had contributed pieces to popular national magazines and had been active in conservative political causes and organizations.
In recent years, attention on her focused more on legal battles surrounding the wealth she had gained as an author than on her writing. In 1980, following a stroke, Miss Caldwell and her fourth husband, Robert Prestie, engaged in lawsuits with a daughter of Miss Caldwell's by a previous marriage. In a $5 million suit, the daughter claimed that Miss Caldwell had been taken to Greenwich against her wishes. Following a countersuit and 18 months of legal battles, both sides dropped their suits.
Miss Caldwell's novels, most of them set in the dramatic past, dealt with epic personalities or times of enormous significance. Her books were intricately plotted and filled with suspense and vitality. When critics found fault, it was often with the credibility of her characterization.
Her first novel, "Dynasty of Death," published in 1938, began a saga concerning the lives and times of the Barbours and the Bouchards, wealthy families engaged in the manufacture of munitions. This story was continued in two sequels, "The Eagles Gather," published in 1940, and "The Final Hour," in 1944.
Others of her books published in the 1940s included "The Earth Is the Lord's," concerning the life of Genghis Khan, "Time No Longer," set in Nazi Germany, "The Arm and the Darkness," set in France in the 1500s, and "This Side of Innocence," set in New York's Gilded Age.
Books that she published in the 1950s included "The Devil's Advocate," "Never Victorious, Never Defeated," and "Dear and Glorious Physician." The 1960s saw her publish "A Testimony of Two Men," "A Pillar of Iron," which was a fictional biography of Cicero, and "Dialogues with the Devil," a book containing comments on the modern world and revealing her conservative political bent.
During the 1970s, her works included "Captains and Kings," which was adapted for a televison serialization, and "Great Lion of God." "Answer as a Man," published in 1981, told the rags-to-riches tale of an American at the beginning of the 20th century.
Her increasing illness did not cause her to abandon her craft. Prestie, who was his wife's manager before their 1978 marriage, said he remembered her sitting at a typewriter every evening. He told a reporter that she sometimes stayed up all night finishing a chapter or two. And in most cases, he said, except for a word or two, the final text would be identical to the first draft.
Janet Miriam Taylor Holland Caldwell was born on Sept. 7, 1900, in Manchester, England, and came to this country in 1907. She grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. It has been said that her father had a "strange antipathy for almost everyone but Scotsmen, Presbyterians, and Caldwells."
Miss Caldwell characterized hers as a violently conservative British home with "books, arguments, boiled beef, and cabbage."
She began to exhibit a literary talent at an early age. When she was 9 years old, she began to write and illustrate her own books. One of the first included a graphic love scene set in Nero's Rome and included illustrations that were as numerous as they were anatomically accurate.
Miss Caldwell said that she wrote about 10 books a year and gave them to her parents. Her father, she once recalled, "frequently disappeared furnaceward with armfuls" of her work.
She attended night school and in 1931 earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Buffalo. She was a Navy yeomanette during World War I. Between the early 1920s and early 1930s, she worked in Buffalo for the New York State Department of Labor and then the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, as a stenographer and court reporter.
She began writing seriously during her years with the government, finally geting her first work published in 1938. She began publishing under the name "Taylor Caldwell" after her editor, the legendary Maxwell Perkins, said her writing was too "forceful" and "masculine" to be published under an obviously female name.
Be that as it may, she had some rather forceful views on women and modern times. As early as 1940, she said that both politics and the professional world had enough women, questioned their intelligence in general, and said education for women had become too universal.
During the 1960s, she served on the board of the Liberty Lobby and contributed articles to "American Opinion," a John Birch Society publication. She also served as president of the National Coordinating Committee for Friends of Rhodesian Independence, a group supporting the all-white, breakaway regime of Ian Smith.
Miss Caldwell told one interviewer that her life lacked excitement and that her fondest wish was to enter a convent. She said that another ambition, with which she was having no luck, was to produce an absolutely pink petunia using Mendelian laws.
Her first marriage, to William Fairfax Combs, ended in divorce. Her second husband, Marcus Reback, whom she married in 1931, died in 1970. Her third husband was William Everett Stancell.
In addition to her fourth husband, survivors include two daughters from previous marriages.