Ferber, Edna (Vol. 93)
Edna Ferber 1887–1968
American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Ferber's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 18.
Ferber is best known for novels and short stories featuring typically American characters, romantic and melodramatic plots, detailed descriptive passages on historical and geographical settings, and an optimistic, celebratory belief in American history and mythology. Immensely popular with readers throughout the five decades of her career, many of her works—including Show Boat (1926), Cimarron (1930), and Giant (1952)—were made into successful movies. The author of two autobiographies, Ferber also collaborated with George S. Kaufman on several stage plays, notably The Royal Family (1927) and Dinner at Eight (1932). Critic W. J. Stuckey wrote that "whatever the final judgment about Ferber's work, there is no doubt that her finger was always on the pulse of what many American readers felt or wanted to feel about American life."
Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Ferber moved in 1890 with her parents and sister Fannie to Ottumwa, Iowa, where her father operated a general store. Impelled by that community's undisguised anti-Semitism, the Ferbers moved to the prosperous, liberal town of Appleton, Wisconsin. After graduating from high school, Ferber worked as a newspaper reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal. While a journalist, she began writing short stories; the first to be published was "The Homely Heroine," in Everybody's Magazine, November, 1910. After suffering what some commentators have called a nervous breakdown while working at the Milwaukee Journal, Ferber returned to her family's home in Appleton where, during her recuperation, she wrote her first novel, Dawn O'Hara (1911). Fully recovered, Ferber devoted all of her time to fiction writing, living a peripatetic life in which she maintained residences in New York and Chicago. Ferber first became famous for the short stories she published in such popular magazines as Everybody's and American Magazine. Her first collection, Buttered Side Down, was published in 1912. This was followed by collections of her very popular "Emma McChesney" stories: Roast Beef, Medium (1913), Personality Plus (1914), and Emma McChesney and Co. (1915). Following the critical success of her novel The Girls in 1921, Ferber began to concentrate on this genre and on her collaborations with Kaufman, which resulted in several successful Broadway productions. Ferber received the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1925 for her novel So Big, and went on to write many more popular works, including Show Boat, Cimarron, Saratoga Trunk (1941), and Giant, as well as two autobiographies, A Peculiar Treasure (1939) and A Kind of Magic (1963).
Dawn O'Hara, which Ferber always dismissed as an immature effort, is set in New York City and presents the life of a young woman who falls in love with and marries a man who eventually goes mad and has to be hospitalized permanently. Emotionally damaged by this turn of events, Dawn seeks medical attention and recovers with the help of a young German doctor. Ferber's stories about Emma McChesney, a character who represented what at the time was referred to as the "new woman" in American society, are set mainly in Chicago and focus on Emma's travails as a single mother with a burgeoning career selling "T. A. Buck's Featherloom Petticoats." The Girls, also set in Chicago, explores the lives of three generations of spinsters, whose lives reflect the destructive influence of possessive mothers on their children. Beginning in the 1920s, Ferber collaborated with Kaufman on several plays, including Minick (1924), The Royal Family, Dinner at Eight, Stage Door (1936), The Land is Bright (1941), and Bravo! (1949). These plays typically deal with the idiosyncracies and foibles of upper-class urban life and are often set in New York City. The novel So Big revolves around a strong female character, Selina DeJong, a teacher who marries a farmer but is soon widowed and must raise her son and tend the family farm with little help. Inspired by the mythology of nineteenth-century American riverboat life, Show Boat depicts life on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater and nightclub that travels along the Mississippi river. The story focuses on Magnolia Hawkes, daughter of Cotton Blossom's captain, and Gaylord Ravenal, a dashing gambler. Soon after Magnolia and Gaylord marry, Gaylord deserts his young wife, who then becomes a vaudeville star in Chicago in order to support her daughter Kim. Show Boat served as the basis for the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II musical as well as three movies, including the famous MGM musical version of 1951. Cimarron is set in the Oklahoma territory of the late nineteenth-century, at about the time of the land rush of 1889. The story focuses on the dashing, impractical, and irresponsible Yancy Cravat, his wife Sabra, and their children. After Yancy deserts his family, Sabra takes charge, transforming both the family and the farm into healthy, prosperous enterprises. Eventually Sabra becomes an important political and moral force in Oklahoma's campaign for statehood. In 1939 Ferber published the first of two autobiographies, A Peculiar Treasure, which chronicles her childhood and her early literary career before World War II; A Kind of Magic chronicles her rise to celebrity and fortune from the 1940s through the early 1960s, and includes her thoughts about her own literary style. Saratoga Trunk is set in Saratoga Springs, Texas, and concerns the romance between Clint Maroon, a Texas cowboy and adventurer, and Clio Dulaine, the illegitimate daughter of a New Orleans Creole family. Determined to marry for money and power, Clio eventually discovers that true love is always more important than money. Giant, which is also set in Texas, depicts life among the members of the Benedict family. The story unfolds on the Riatta Ranch and involves love relationships, oil interests, and the pursuit of money, power, and influence. In 1958 Ferber published her last novel Ice Palace, which is set in Alaska. Critics contend that Alaskan history and geography—rather than the characters—are the real focus of the story. Christine Storm is the bridge between her feuding grandfathers and their differing views on the future of Alaska. At one time they were pioneers and friends, now Czar Kennedy supports the economic exploitation of Alaska's natural resources, while Thor Storm fights to preserve Alaska's pristine wilderness. This personal struggle for control of Alaska's destiny occurs just as the territory embarks on its quest for American statehood.
Critical reception of Ferber's writings has generally been favorable. Most critics recognize the appeal of her romantic, nostalgic portrayal of American history and geography, and note her ability to create colorful characters. While many critics applaud Ferber's strong female characters—Emma McChesney, for example—most realize that her characters tend to be stereotypical, two-dimensional, and are uniquely suited to the melodramas in which they appear. Still, most critics agree that Ferber's novels and short stories are engaging and enjoyable, and are among the best examples of popular American story-telling. Stuckey has concluded: "Ferber's popularity and the critical attention she has received suggest that when the definitive study of popular taste in America is written, her novels, plays, and short stories will have to be reckoned with."
Dawn O'Hara: The Girl Who Laughed (novel) 1911
Buttered Side Down (short stories) 1912
Roast Beef, Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock (short stories) 1913
Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock (short stories) 1914
Emma McChesney and Co. (short stories) 1915
Our Mrs. McChesney [with George V. Hobart] (drama) 1915
Fanny Herself (novel) 1917
Cheerful By Request (short stories) 1918
∗A Gay Old Dog (screenplay) 1919
$1200 a Year [with Newman Levy] (drama) 1920
Half Portions (short stories) 1920
The Girls (novel) 1921
Gigolo (short stories) 1922; also published as Among Those Present, 1923
†Minick [with George S. Kaufman] (drama) 1924
So Big (novel) 1924
The Eldest: A Drama of American Life (drama) 1925
‡Show Boat (novel) 1926
Mother Knows Best: A Fiction Book (short stories) 1927
The Royal Family [with Kaufman] (drama) 1928; also produced as Theatre Royal, 1935
Cimarron (novel) 1930
American Beauty (novel) 1931
Dinner at Eight [with Kaufman] (drama) 1932
They Brought Their Women (short stories) 1933
Come and Get It (novel) 1935
Stage Door [with Kaufman] (drama) 1936
Nobody's In Town...
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SOURCE: A review of Dawn O'Hara, in The Bookman, New York, Vol. XXXIII, No. 5, July, 1911, p. 534.
[In the following slightly favorable review of Dawn O'Hara, Cooper praises Ferber's ability to convey her tragic story with "light-heartedness" and a "warm-hearted understanding of the things which go to make the essential joy of living."]
Dawn O'Hara, by Edna Ferber, is a book that [offers] a problem and in a certain sense answers it in its own subtitle. The problem is this: supposing a girl, after a few months of mad happiness, finds that she is bound for life to a man who has suddenly broken down and whom the doctors pronounce incurably insane. The sub-title of the book is "The Girl Who Laughed;" and that is not a bad answer to a good many of life's most trying problems. At the opening of the story, however, Dawn is very far from being in a mood for laughter. Ten years of unrelieved strain on a New York daily paper, with the driving necessity of paying her husband's hospital bills ever at her heels, at last breaks her down; and her sister and her fairly well-to-do brother-in-law pick her up bodily and transfer her to the peace and quiet of their home somewhere not many miles from Milwaukee. At this point it is not surprising for the reviewer to discover that he has a story before him which he is simply going to spoil if he tries to retell it. Supposing, for instance, he should say...
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SOURCE: "Everyday Folk," in The New York Times Book Review, April 20, 1913, p. 232.
[In the following favorable review of Roast Beef, Medium, Hawthorne praises Ferber's depiction of the modern American woman.]
"Roast beef, medium." A sane sensible order, pretty certain to result in something wholesome and satisfying. Not a food only, as Miss Ferber tells us, but a philosophy. Not a philosophy only, but an art, an art she makes delightful in this volume of stories [Roast Beef, Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock], telling not about the exceptional, the lurid, or the miraculous, but just about the everyday, regular, I've-met them-a-dozen-times sort of people.
First of all, the book is human, ever so human and ever so real. The heroine, Emma McChesney, is a living creature, some one we get to know well and can't afterward do without. Even if we've only met her once, we would know her the instant we set eyes on her, and though her name might have slipped our memory, we should feel sure we weren't making a mistake in going up and recalling ourself to her notice: "I never could remember a name," we should announce, "but I know I've met you somewhere around, and I'm not going to let you get away like this."
Really, it's hard to recall that it's a book I'm writing about. And yet, with what enjoyment one returns to it, grinning a...
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SOURCE: A review of Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock, in The New York Times Book Review, September 20, 1914, p. 386.
[In the following favorable review of Personality Plus, the critic discusses the "fine human quality in these stories."]
All those who know and love Emma McChesney—to know her and to love her being one and the same thing—will be interested in the career of the son Jock whose "yellow streak," inherited from a worthless father, caused his plucky mother so many, anxious moments. In the five stories gathered together in this volume under the title of one of them, Personality Plus, Miss Ferber tells us what happened to Jock—and his mother—when that self-confident young man graduated from college and went into the advertising business. Jock has his ups and downs, his failures and successes, but always that sunniest and bravest of women. Mrs. McChesney, secretary of the T. A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, stands behind him, as big hearted and shrewd as in the days when we first met her "representing T. A. Buck." In truth, Jock's various haps and mishaps are of interest to us principally as they affect that splendid example of the modern business woman, his mother.
As in all Miss Ferber's work there is a certain fine, human quality in these stories which makes a swift and irresistible appeal. They are all so...
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SOURCE: A review of Emma McChesney & Company, in The New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1915, pp. 390, 396.
[In the following favorable review of Emma McChesney & Company, the critic praises Ferber's realistic characterization of her protagonist.]
According to all the rules of precedent, one should by now be thoroughly tired of Emma McChesney. Miss Edna Ferber should be especially tired of her, and Emma herself should be tired of life.
But Emma has always been a defier of precedent. She was, you remember, the pioneer among traveling saleswomen, and the travelers for rival firms shook their heads gravely and prophesied a sudden termination to the career of the Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company's charming young agent. Woman's place, they said, was the home—this woman's place, especially.
Her historian has told us, however, that Emma's ingenuity and perseverance brought her victory over all her rivals, including Fat Ed Meyers. Also it has been revealed to us that her undomestic occupation did not hinder her success in an operation peculiarly domestic—that of making a man out of that somewhat unpromising subject, her son Jock.
But now [in Emma McChesney & Company] comes her greatest exploit. She appears, more vivacious and attractive than ever, as the heroine of a new book—the third in which she has figured. We...
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SOURCE: A review of Fanny Herself, in The New York Times Book Review, October 7, 1917, p. 380.
[In the following mixed review of Fanny Herself, the critic applauds the realism of the characters and story in the first half of the novel, but faults the concluding chapters for losing the narrative's momentum.]
In the amusing preface to her new novel, Miss Ferber declares that she would not be at all surprised if Molly Brandeis should turn out to be the real heroine of the book, instead of Fanny Herself. And this is precisely what happens, although the portion of the book in which Mrs. Brandeis appears is to a great extent but an introduction to the main story, and she is presently removed from the scene, leaving the centre of the stage to Fanny. With her exit the interest of the novel sags noticeably, and from that moment steadily declines, growing less and less as the tale approaches its conclusion. For Fanny, too, is a far more attractive person in what may be fairly called the first half of the story, as the emotional little girl and the devoted daughter, than she is as the "super-woman" who galvanized into life the half-dead infants' wear department of the great Chicago mail-order house, and was able to draw cartoons so extraordinarily well that "there wasn't a woman cartoonist in the country—or man either, for that matter—who could touch" this remarkable Fanny Brandeis....
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SOURCE: A review of Cheerful—By Request, in The New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1918, pp. 399, 408.
[In the following favorable review of Cheerful—By Request, the critic discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the individual stories.]
Edna Ferber's new book of short stories [Cheerful—By Request] is thoroughly and entirely—Edna Ferber. Which means that the tales are outwardly simple, inwardly complex stories of human nature, and especially feminine human nature. They differ in detail a good deal, these women, yet fundamentally they are all of one type—the small-town, essentially domestic type of woman, to whom mending and dishwashing and cooking and cleaning are customary and not at all distasteful tasks. And so they are in truth all akin—the lingerie buyer for the big Chicago firm, the woman who came from the sinister "House-with-the-Closed-Shutters," the hotel housekeeper, and the actress and the shopgirl—akin to one another, and also to a certain Mrs. Emma McChesney.
Yet one of the best stories in the book—perhaps the very best—is not a woman's story, but a man's, "The Gay Old Dog." The hero, Jo Hertz, is "a plump and lonely bachelor" of 50, and the story tells how the demands and claims of three selfish sisters made of a man who was naturally domestic, a man who would have found complete satisfaction in a wife and children and a...
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SOURCE: A review of Half Portions, in The New York Times Book Review, May 9, 1920, p. 236.
[In the following favorable review of Half Portions, the critic notes that Ferber's characters are similar to those of O'Henry.]
There are times while reading Edna Ferber's stories that one thinks of O. Henry. It is not the O. Henry plot with its surprising conclusion, its snap at the end, but the O. Henry characterizations that come to mind. Miss Ferber picks her people from among the everyday persons, the man in the street, the shop girl, the farmer who is strangely out his element in the city, just the types that O. Henry found ready-made to his hand around practically every corner in New York. Half Portions, Miss Ferber's latest collection of short stories, emphasizes the impression she has already made. It is a book that is thoroughly enjoyable and laughable from beginning to end.
Nine stories are included in the book and each one of them, in its own way, possesses the true Ferber spirit. If one were to look for a philosophy in Miss Ferber's work one would probably reach the conclusion that all things, good and bad, should be viewed through a generous sense of humor. Miss Ferber can be serious when she chooses, but her serious moments have always a bit of humor lurking about the corner to lighten the more drab aspects. Certainly some of the characters in her stories have...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber," in her Our Short Story Writers, Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc., 1941, pp. 146-59.
[In the following essay, which is a chapter from her book originally published in 1920, Williams discusses Ferber's short stories.]
Few critics have accused Miss Edna Ferber of preaching a doctrine. "Me'n George Cohan," she wrote in 1912, "we jest aims to amuse." But few would deny that her stories possess qualities sane and wholesome. And the philosophy on which they are built is Work, with a capital W—Carlylean Work.
It is not remarkable that the joy of work illuminated throughout her scintillant pages has been forgotten in the display itself, as the great cause of a Fifth Avenue night-parade may be a matter of indifference to the observer who "just loves pageants and processions, anyway." The flying flags, the drum-beat of the march, the staccato tread, the calcium reds and yellows may obscure the slogan bearing banner. It is remarkable that the inciting force of Miss Ferber's triumphant march has been neglected by the student of underlying causes. There are those of us who believe it to be the significant word she has chanted to the sisters of her generation.
To one who has followed her stories from the beginning, Miss Ferber would seem to have undergone a silent communion with herself, and after asking, "What shall my writing stand for?" answered...
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SOURCE: A review of The Girls, in The New York Times, October 30, 1921, p. 16.
[In the following favorable review of The Girls, Field praises Ferber's sense of realism.]
Congratulations to Edna Ferber! For her new novel, The Girls, is not only the best, and very much the best, book she has as yet written, but it is also one of the best that has so far been produced upon its particular subject. It has a realism, a fairness, a sanity not often found, and especially rare in stories which portray, or profess to portray, the "flapper" of the present day. Those who have contended that sweeping condemnation of that young person is unfair will rejoice in the picture of "Charley"—otherwise Charlotte—Kemp, aged something over 18 and intensely modern, "who loathed cheapness, and bobbed hair, and wriggling ways, and the whole new breed of her contemporaries who were of the hard-drinking, stairway-kissing, country-club petting class." But frank-spoken Charley is neither the most notable nor the central figure in the novel.
Miss Ferber has sketched the lives of three unmarried women of different generations. First, there is Charlotte Thrift, 18 at the time of the Civil War, a woman of seventy-odd in the year 1916, when the action of the tale begins. But in going back to the lavender-scented romance of Charlotte Thrift, spinster, we go back to the Chicago of the seventies, and...
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SOURCE: A review of The Girls, in The New Republic, Vol. XXIX, No. 370, January 4, 1922, pp. 158-59.
[In the following mixed review of The Girls, Hackett applauds the realistic details of the plot and characters, but faults Ferber's "underlying sentimentalism and snappy technique."]
At one time it looked as if nothing could drag Chicago into the focus of the novelist. It wasn't simply that Chicago didn't want to sit, in all its sprawling horror: it was also that the artist shrank from touching Chicago. Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, H. B. Fuller, Robert Herrick, Edith Wyatt—each of them roped the beast and yanked him forward, but there was a felt resistance and a not quite happy conquest. The sitter and the artist both remained, if not uncomfortable, certainly heroically strained.
Miss Ferber marks a difference. She is not in the least strained. Chicago to her is one of the richest, most natural, most established of themes. She doesn't feel it necessary to get the whole thing in: she knows precisely what slice of the bourgeois community she wishes to cut. At the same time she is aware of all Chicago. The city permeates her book [The Girls]. Not only that, it permeates the three generations of Chicagoans with whom she so buoyantly and glowingly deals. She abounds in her sense of a living community whose origins are not hidden under the innumerable transfers and...
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SOURCE: A review of Gigolo, in The New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1922, p. 10.
[In the following mixed review of Gigolo, the critic contends that while the plots and characters of the stories are realistic, Ferber at times undercuts this quality with excessive melodrama or lack of narrative pacing.]
Every one who is at all conversant with the current magazines has by this time become well acquainted with the typical Edna Ferber short story. Eight of these short stories have been collected in the present volume, to which the least worthwhile of them gives its title, "Gigolo." Of the eight "Old Man Minick" is perhaps the best, with "Home Girl" and "The Sudden Sixties" as formidable contestants for the honor of first place. The scenes are laid in various places—Chicago, of course, New York, Hollywood, Paris, Winnebago, Wisconsin and Okoochee, Oklahoma—but the characters invariably belong to what we know as "the plain people." Some of them have a good deal of money, and others very little, but, rich or poor, they always, or almost always, are members of the same general order—that vast order of the commonplace.
"The Afternoon of a Faun," which has the place of honor in the forefront of the book, is the not very credible tale of a young mechanic, working in a garage, adored by all the girls of his acquaintance, and very much bored thereby. "Fella don't like to...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber," in The Literary Spotlight, George H. Doran Company, 1924, pp. 135-45.
[Farrar, an American journalist, editor, and critic, founded the publishing companies Farrar and Rinehart and Farrar, Straus and Company, now known as Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In the following anecdotal essay, he discusses Ferber's evolution from journalist to short story writer and novelist.]
At one time, Edna Ferber was in the gravest danger of letting her cleverness run away with her. It might have been her artistic undoing. She would start a short story so brilliantly that one gasped, fearful for the climax of anything so sparklingly begun. But she got over that, and she got over the O. Henry influence. There may be many who will contradict this; certainly there is justification for the opinion that she was an imitator. But she has learned to write her stories backward. She once told an editor who had praised a certain piece of work of hers, that she was certain it was going to turn out a good story because she was able to put down the last sentence before she wrote the first.
I imagine she writes all her stories that way. Turn to "The Maternal Feminine" in a recent collection. I would wager anything that the process she employed was the one I have uncovered. But don't spoil a great short story by reading it backward. Then look up "The Gay Old Dog," if you are a man, and wince at the...
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SOURCE: "Showing America," in Saturday Review, New York, Vol. 111, No. 4, August 21, 1926, pp. 49, 54.
[In the following largely favorable review of Show Boat, the critic, lamenting his modern culture's lack of what he calls "local color," suggests that while Ferber's novel captures much of the feel of life on the Mississippi in the 1890s, it is perhaps too self-consciously nostalgic, "got up," to be fully satisfying.]
Who speaks a good word for the 'nineties now? What critic celebrated the exquisite low reliefs of Mary Wilkins Freeman's short stories when last year the American Academy awarded her its gold medal a decade (as usual) too late? Who spoke a fitting word at the death of James Lane Allen, recalling that pearl of Southern sentiment, "The Kentucky Cardinal—(the toes, were they really cut off!)?" Who forgets, but who speaks, of Colonel Carter of Cartersville and his rugged cuffs, or Amos Judd, or Monsieur Beaucaire, or the whimsical creoles of George Washington Cable, or Van Bibber, or Dr. Lavendar? Outmoded now the humors of sentimental hearts and alien to the city life of an America that finds "nize" babies and hotel women and night clubs more amusing than country life, which, according to present convention, is sordid, or the small town, which exists now only to be satirized. And yet, though lacking our sophisticated superiority, what a gift that generation had! They were not writers...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber," in The Spyglass: Views and Reviews, 1924–1930, edited by John Tyree Fain, Vanderbilt University Press, 1963, pp. 70-4.
[An American poet, literary critic, social commentator, and historian, Davidson is best known as a member of the Fugitive poets—a group of southern American writers that included John Crowe Ranson, Robert Penn Warren, and Alan Tate—and as a member of the Agrarians—a group that included many of the Fugitives and promoted the idea of agrarianism (as opposed to industrialism) in their writings on politics, social criticism, and economic theory. In the following review, originally published in the Nashville Tennessean on August 22, 1926, he praises the descriptive, panoramic elements of Show Boat, but concludes that the novel, like all of Ferber's work and, indeed, "most novels by women," lack depth.]
Edna Ferber explained in So Big that cabbages are beautiful, and a multitude of readers, including the Pulitzer Prize committee, agreed with considerable exhibitions of pleasure. In Showboat, her new book, she tells us that the Mississippi and Ohio rivers are beautiful, or were beautiful in the days of the 1870's when floating theaters went leisurely up and down Southern rivers; that the life of people moving on or around these rivers was beautiful; that Chicago was at least partly beautiful in the bad, mad days of Gambler's Alley, and...
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SOURCE: "Show Boat Is High Romance," in The New York Times Book Review, August 22, 1926, p. 5.
[Kronenberger was an American essayist, biographer, novelist, and educator. In the following favorable review of Show Boat, a portion of which was excerpted in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 18, he describes the novel as "little else but an irresistible story," largely due to its self-consciously romantic and nostalgic tone at a time when most "serious" literature strove for realism.]
We need not be sentimentalists to regard the past with a romantic eye. It is the normal way of regarding it. The past is, at first hand, romantic. Disenchantment comes only when we reconstruct it laboriously with the aid of history books and contemporary documents, or when we treat it in terms of the present. Flaubert pored for many years over source-material, and Salammbo is not romantic. John Erskine brought Helen up to date, and The Private Life of Helen of Troy is not romantic. But in general the realists have considered their own age and the romanticists an earlier one.
At a time when realism is all but monopolizing literature, one experiences a sensation of delighted relief in encountering Show Boat. It is gorgeously romantic—not in the flamboyant and artificial manner of the historical romance which twenty-five years ago, under the titles of Janice...
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SOURCE: A review of Show Boat, in The Bookman, New York, September, 1926, pp. 91-2.
[In the following review, the critic favorably assesses Show Boat.]
Show Boat is magnificent. It is a definite advance in minor characterization and in atmospheric writing over So Big. The main characters are fine, too, although it is difficult to rival a Selina De Jong even with a Magnolia Ravenal, with whom Selina would have had much in common. Miss Ferber's documentation of her story of theatre days down the rivers of mid-America is admirable. This is a book particularly notable for the small scene, the memorable wave of the hand, the magnificent dress, the unforgetable gesture. Edna Ferber builds now like Dickens. Her rarest moments are still, however, her own. There will be much discussion, I fancy, of the manners of this novel, which will probably be called mannerisms. The time scheme, for one thing, is puzzling to me, but that is part of the story and it may be that Miss Ferber would not gain her effect so splendidly did she not make use of motion picture placing of scenes. The other trick is more annoying to me than to most people. She mentions by name so many living people I don't like that I am brought up against the fact that perhaps in life I shouldn't like her imaginary characters as much as she's making me like them. It would take much more than Edna Ferber's art to make Woollcott a hero...
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SOURCE: A review of Show Boat, in The Spectator, Vol. 137, No. 5132, November 6, 1926, p. 824.
[In the following review, the critic favorably assesses the plot and characters of Show Boat.]
Richly romantic, packed with incident and sentiment, this new book Show Boat by Edna Ferber brings back the colourful past of the Southern States of America in the 'eighties and the 'nineties. The principal characters live the varied life of the little stock theatrical companies which went up and down the big rivers and played East Lynne and other vanished delights to the populations of the small riverside towns and villages. Parthenia Ann Hawks—grim consort of merry Captain Andy Hawks, owner of the "Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre"—rules the troop of actors, actresses, darkies, engineers and what not that make up the personnel of this wandering home of melodrama. Their daughter, Magnolia, is treated more strictly than any seminary Miss: her childhood, nevertheless, is one long pageantry which changes little, at first, when she weds an impecunious, handsome young actor who looks a gentleman and behaves like one consistently. His real profession, however, is not actor, but gambler. Magnolia and he (Gaylord Ravenal) break away at last from the iron rule of the acid old Mrs. Hawks and taste all the glories of life in Chicago. Often when his luck at faro failed, Ravenal swiftly removed his...
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SOURCE: "Salt and Gusto in New Tales by Edna Ferber," in The New York Times Book Review, April 17, 1927, p. 2.
[In the following mixed review of Mother Knows Best, Kronenberger contends that all of the short stories are enjoyable, but some lack originality and realism.]
For sheer readability few writers can equal Edna Ferber. She writes so smoothly and brightly, with so much gusto, with so wide-awake a style and so clever a selection of detail that she routs all that is commonplace and casts out all that is dull. Her variety is remarkable, as any one must agree who reads the eight short stories in Mother Knows Best. Either she or her publishers, by the way, choose to call these stories "novelettes." It is true that most of them contain sufficient material for novelettes and even novels, but it is inescapably true also that all of them are constructed upon pure short-story principles, and three or four of them on that principle of ironic surprise which Maupassant inspired with "The Necklace" and "The Jewels" and O. Henry made popular with dozens upon dozens of his stories. Novelettes do not end as "Our Very Best People" and "Blue Blood" end: theirs is the ending of the modern American magazine story.
But naturally it is not what they are called but what they are which makes these stories important. Though all are interesting, though all are clever, though all are Edna...
(The entire section is 970 words.)
SOURCE: "Miss Ferber's Myth," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. VI, No. 35, March 22, 1930, p. 841.
[In the following mixed review of Cimarron, Vestal suggests that while the novel is historically inaccurate, it is nonetheless true to the "spirit" of the region.]
We have long since become accustomed to the habit of English novelists, who come to this country for a brief visit and then go home and write a book about the States. But for an American novelist to apply the same methods in writing about an unfamiliar region within the States is something of a novelty. Miss Ferber has done this in her new book on Oklahoma [Cimarron], and done it daringly, adding American efficiency to the tried technique of her British exemplars. For she spent far less time in Oklahoma than the Englishman commonly spends in the States, and the resulting book is vastly more interesting than most which have been produced by others in this kind. Indeed, it is probable that Miss Ferber's success is due in no small degree to the shortness of her sojourn in the West, for she could hardly have remained much longer without suspecting that she was being made the victim of extravagant Western humor. Her coming was well advertised in advance, and the hospitable natives provided her with a good show. But Miss Ferber may take comfort, if not exult, in the ire which her book has aroused in the breasts of indignant...
(The entire section is 929 words.)
SOURCE: "Miss Ferber's Vivid Tale of Oklahoma's Salting," in The New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1930, p. 4.
[In the following favorable review of Cimarron, the critic explores the character of Yancy Cravat and applauds the portrayal of pioneer life in the Oklahoma territory.]
The exuberance and gusto, the robust romanticism of Miss Ferber's Cimarron are so compelling that they almost insensitize the reader against its artistic deficiencies. For this is a tale in the same vein as Miss Ferber's Showboat, frankly glamourous, headlong in its story-telling fervor. She has filled in with the boldest of strokes a canvas even more colorful, more animated, than her picture of troupers' life in the old days on the Mississippi. The scene of Cimarron is Oklahoma, and the story is traced against one of the most spectacular backgrounds in American life. The opening up of that great territory, its overnight settlement in the Run of '89, the raw days of its mushroom growth, the fantastic scramble when oil was discovered—these are the materials upon which Miss Ferber has drawn. "Only the more fantastic and improbable events contained in this book," she says in her foreword, "are true…. In many cases material entirely true was discarded as unfit for use because it was so melodramatic, so absurd as to be too strange for the realm of fiction."
The story is told...
(The entire section is 1060 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Cimarron, in The Bookman, New York, Vol. LXXI, No. 4, July, 1930, p. 440.
[In the following review, the critic favorably assesses the characters and themes of Cimarron.]
In 1889 Sabra Cravat, dressed in gray cheviot braided with elaborate curlycues, wearing a bonnet with a bird on it, and high button boots, mounted the seat of a covered wagon and drove from the comparative civilization of Wichita, Kansas, to the red wastes of the newly opened Oklahoma. In the wagon ahead was her Peer Gynt of a husband, the picturesque, mysterious Yancey Cravat. She took with her her silver spoons and cake dish, monogrammed linen, her principles and her traditions. He took with him his printing press, the six shooters that were already notched, his hatred of settled, humdrum life.
It was freedom and newness that the man wanted; the woman wanted the old order replanted upon the new soil. Together they came to the nightmare of Osage—a "city" of shanties and tents, filled with scum and heroes, with grim pioneer women and harlots. Here the man and woman started a newspaper and raised two children. But slowly Osage grew respectable, a little stale. The man could not endure it and went on to newer lands. The woman, left alone most of the time, ran the social life, the newspaper, the city, and then went to Congress. In the end Yancey dies. His life has been wandering, heroic,...
(The entire section is 694 words.)
SOURCE: "Gusto vs. Art," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. VIII, No. 13, October 17, 1931, p. 201.
[Canby was an American editor, educator, biographer, and literary critic. In the following review, he contends that while. American Beauty is well-constructed and realistic in its surface details, it lacks the subtlety and depth of a great novel.]
The Poles came in. They tore up the brush-grown fields of old Connecticut and forced new yield from them. They settled in those loveliest of American landscapes and, utterly oblivious of their dim beauty, saw them only as land, unused land, cheap land. They brought a peasantry on a soil that had never known a peasantry before, clucked heartily to hearty women and beat them when they needed it, gawked at the faded New Englanders who first hired and then sold to them, grasped drunkenly at the new vulgarisms of the towns, and in the second generation ran hungrily to the mills and the movies, the peasant starch in them turning sour at the first touch of industrialism. They had energy instead of a code; they were hot for undiscriminated experience, and rushed on change.
Their New England hosts, who lived in the clapboarded, green-shuttered houses, with moulding about the eave's line, remembering what they had been, looked at the present with sardonic resignation. Poverty, disorder, and drink were powerless to touch their inmost being,...
(The entire section is 1251 words.)
SOURCE: "A Brilliant Pageant," in New York Herald Tribune Books, October 18, 1931, p. 3.
[In the following review, Ross favorably assesses American Beauty.]
Miss Ferber's title is cryptic. This story is not, as one might expect, of hothouse America, of cities and show girls and night clubs, but of the green upper valleys of Connecticut. There in the seventeenth century passed a gay procession of Cavaliers.
You saw women a-horseback through the wild grandeur of the Connecticut landscape in fine shoes of flowered russet or red Morocco; silks and velvets and brocades fashioning the gowns under their favorite cloaks of scarlet. The men, too, in cloaks of fine red cloth, with long vests of plush in gay colors, and plush breeches.
They went onward, the more adventurous, where Western lands were richer; later the cities drained the land of its most adventurous. Behind them they left Oakes House, set proudly among the acres that Captain Orrange Oakes had bought of the Indians. As time rolled past there were left only embittered women watching the land, their lives sinking into neglect. Then there came a new race of immigrants, sunburned, broadfisted men whose wives and children plodded beside them in the tobacco fields, Polish peasants intent on the land to be had for working. The new mingled with the remnants of the old—and the country...
(The entire section is 779 words.)
SOURCE: "A Connecticut Pageant by Miss Ferber," in The New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1931, p. 7.
[In the following mixed review, Wallace applauds the vivid characters in American Beauty, but faults Ferber for emphasizing pageantry over plot.]
In her newest novel, American Beauty, Edna Ferber has made yet another and more ambitious excursion into the annals of American history. The pageant of Colonial settlement she attempts to portray here in the life of a single family involves the founding and growth of a civilization and its decay and replacement by a new order.
The story is told in four deftly related panels. The first, set in 1930, depicts the return of the New England farm boy, True Baldwin, to the rocky fields he had deserted years before to make his fortune in the West. The second, a flashback to 1700, is centred upon the resplendent cavalier figure of Captain Orrange Oakes, who founded his manorial estate in Connecticut upon a thousand acres—a thousand beautiful, wild, fertile acres—purchased by barter from old Chief Waramaug himself. The third opens in 1890, when the Oakes family has already entered upon a slow but relentless process of disintegration, and when the State itself is divided in unequal conflict between the thin, watery, emasculate descendants of pioneer American families, and the coarse, vigorous, thrifty, land-loving and prosperous...
(The entire section is 757 words.)
SOURCE: "American Beauty Shoppe," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 133, No. 3460, October 28, 1931, pp. 462-63.
[Van Doren was an esteemed American novelist, critic, and autobiographer; her husband was poet Mark Van Doren. In the following largely negative review of American Beauty, she laments Ferber's reliance on melodrama, a "curse," she argues, that detracts from the potential of the novel.]
Imagine a finely designed, sturdily built New England house. There are many such in New England. Imagine the bricks neatly turned and strongly laid, the small-paned windows giving off the mauve and pale rose of old glass, the fan-light over the door a thing of delicately patterned beauty, the chimneys numerous and promising many fires within; imagine the oaks placed justly, the slope from the house covered with turf. Think of the oak sills, as firm as the day they were laid two hundred years ago, the whiteoak rafters, the paneling in the great kitchen, of chestnut two feet wide; think of the brick ovens, made to receive bread laid in on an iron shovel, the cranes to swing the soup kettle on, the iron hooks for the skillets, the brass fenders, the bed-warmer for winter nights…. Think of such a house filled to the doors, upstairs and down, with the grossest and shiniest of Grand Rapids furniture. And weep.
It is Miss Ferber's curse that she cannot write a novel that will be read by fewer...
(The entire section is 730 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Dinner at Eight, in Sociology and Social Research, Vol. XVII, January, 1933, p. 297.
[In the following review, Nickel favorably assesses the characters and plot of Dinner at Eight.]
George S. Kaufman will get you if you don't watch out. He has a discerning eye that quickly penetrates the veneer of politeness and convention, and a sharp pen that delights in scratching this surface to reveal the selfish struggle within. Among his victims have been the theater in his Royal Family, Hollywood in Once in a Lifetime, national politics in Of Thee I Sing, and now with the aid of Edna Ferber is added the upper quartile of New York society in Dinner at Eight.
The theme with modification might be any dinner party. A cross section is taken of every one involved from the kitchen help to the guests of honor. On the surface all is harmony and remains so where the dinner party is concerned; fashion and convention decree it thus. But beneath the polite notes and telephone calls, beneath the genial conversation are exposed a galaxy of strains and stresses, pent up feelings, and conflicting emotions.
The doctor fights against falling in love with the wife of his friend the business giant while he clutches the secret that a patient, his host, has but a few days to live. The business giant has a threefold task. He must: (1) assist his...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
SOURCE: "Excitement, Satire, Speed," in The New Statesman and Nation, Vol. V, No. 99, January 14, 1933, pp. 41-2.
[MacCarthy was an English essayist and critic. In the following review, he favorably assesses Dinner at Eight, noting its fast pace and well-drawn characters.]
Dinner at Eight, at the Palace Theatre, by George Kaufman and Edna Ferber, both gifted authors (her novel, Show Boat was very superior to the popular play made from it), is an exceptionally animated performance: violent, unintermitted animation—that is the outcome and the aim of this ingenious mixture of ingredients, each of which is pungent enough to flavour for some palates the whole play. I can well imagine one playgoer declaring afterwards that Dinner at Eight is excruciatingly funny, and another, that it is excruciatingly painful. The fact is Dinner at Eight is both; it is extremely amusing and thoroughly remorseless; which of these aspects will predominate in your own retrospect depends upon whether you happen to be tender or tough; but while you are in the theatre, in either case, you will be swept along by its vivacious velocity.
One important point at which the transatlantic stage differs from ours is tempo: their pace is double ours. (Of course, I am only speaking of the tip-top American play of the moment, not of such deep plays as Eugene O'Neil's...
(The entire section is 1585 words.)
SOURCE: "For Everybody Is a Story," in The New York Herald Tribune Books, May 7, 1933, p. 6.
[Becker was an American journalist, critic, and author of books for children. In the following review, she favorably assesses They Brought Their Women.]
Everybody has a story: that has been said since autobiographical novels began. Miss Ferber's new book [They Brought Their Women] seems based upon a sounder principal: everybody is a story. If it creates a person, a short story need do no more. If it reveals him in his everyday action, picked out in his group by the spotlight of creative understanding, it will do much more. If it chooses to turn on this light at a crucial moment or in some period of stress, it may have amazing possibilities in the hands of one experienced in life and in the handling of literary material.
This is why the opening "Glamour" is so good a story: Like most of the eight titles in the collection, this one should be pronounced with a rising inflection. To Miss Frayne, the "glamourous" actress, the word has a sardonic ring.
Linda awoke now, not drowsily, deliciously, as one who has been deep sunk in refreshing slumber, but suddenly, with a look very like terror on her face, as though she had yielded unwillingly to sleep and resented the hours spent in its embrace. The instant she awoke her hand reached quickly under her...
(The entire section is 1016 words.)
SOURCE: "Edna Ferber's Volume of Short Stories," in The New York Times Book Review, May 14, 1933, p. 7.
[In the following review of They Brought Their Women, Walton argues that while she has the talent to write realistic and exciting short stories, "depth, subtlety, intensity are beyond Miss Ferber."]
In a somewhat unexpected preface to this volume of tales [They Brought Their Women] which is her first since Mother Knows Best—Edna Ferber makes several generalizations about the short story.
"By its very form and brevity," she says, "it is restricted from penetrating deeply into the fundamentals of life. Profound human emotion demands a larger canvas." Lest this sound disheartening, she has, however, something to add in defense.
"It may be," she says further, "that the terrific tempo of the past fifteen years will prove to have been too much for the wind and limb of the novelist—the short story, crowded into a handful of words, may be the form which has most truly caught the kaleidoscopic picture of our generation."
Provocative as they are, it is questionable whether these remarks apply to any and all short stories. Remembering Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Sherwood Anderson, one is inclined to be skeptical about the necessary absence of profound emotion. There is no doubt, however, that Miss Ferber has diagnosed her own work...
(The entire section is 767 words.)
SOURCE: "Edna Ferber's Roaring North Woods Tale," in New York Herald Tribune Books, February 24, 1935, p. 3.
[Gale was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American dramatist, novelist, essayist, and critic. In the following favorable review of Come and Get It, she applauds the unrelenting pace of the novel.]
There are two ways, there are many ways of writing fiction from fact. One is to use the method which Henry Adams employed not for writing fiction, but for imposing a mood. For permitting the reader not so much exercises in shared factual observation as in opening a door, offering a threshold. In San Christobal de la Habana Joseph Hergesheimer employs, again not for fiction, the same method—giving the reader no record, no sequence, but catching him up into the very air and levels of that which he has to communicate. Virginia Woolf is able to use these channels to a mood, and indeed to a record, in fiction itself; and some of the younger fiction writers are employing these ways, experimentally, or else simply and with no thought that there is any other way to write.
Such handling of material which is based on some moment of the past, may have all the fabric of tapestry, of anything woven and colored and dim. It may be like needle-point, all leafy and shadowy, with certain sudden detail of faces, etched out in petit point clear, telling, small vignettes of the chief actors in high...
(The entire section is 1015 words.)
SOURCE: "Edna Ferber's Come and Get It," in The New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1935, p. 6.
[In the following mixed review of Come and Get It, Marsh applauds Ferber's eye for evocative detail, but contends that the novel loses its appeal and effectiveness in the closing chapters.]
To that great army of the American fiction-reading public who liked The Girls (1921), So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926), Cimarron (1930), American Beauty (1931), the short stories and the plays (with George S. Kaufman) of Edna Ferber, her new novel, Come and Get It, is recommended. It is of a piece with the rest.
Her publishers say of Edna Ferber that she is boxing the compass for America. She has written of New England, the old South, the Middle West and the Southwest, the cities and the farms, the past and the present in American life with equal virtuosity. Now she trains her sharp eyes and agile mind on the great Northwest country, particularly on the Wisconsin forests and paper mills, more especially on a wood pulp millionaire and his family.
The novel opens in 1907 with Barney Glasgow already the richest man in the State, one of the big millionaires of the country—the wood pulp king. Outside there is a panic; it is the era of Roosevelt, trust-busting, muckrakers. But the robber baron of the north woods is very comfortably...
(The entire section is 1053 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Stage Door, in The Commonweal, Vol. XXV, No. 2, November 6, 1936, p. 51.
[In the following review of Stage Door, the critic applauds all aspects of the production, but notes that the characters are "mere types."]
Stage Door, though it is not George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber at their best, is an amusing, well acted and skilfully staged little comedy. It has to do with the rivalry between stage and screen, and the brave fight made by Terry Randall to become a legitimate actress. Terry sees her pretty but brainless roommate become a successful Hollywood star, and her chance comes only at the end, when her roommate has failed in rehearsals for a Broadway play, and Terry gets the opportunity to take her place. But it is not the story that counts in Stage Door; it is the local color of the Footlights Club for girls, Mr. Kaufman's wisecracks, his direction, and the acting. We might wish that the characters were less mere types and the story had a little more importance, because we know what Mr. Kaufman and Miss Ferber accomplished in The Royal Family and in Dinner at Eight; but there is no doubt that as a good show Stage Door rings the bell. And the Kaufman touch in the direction is everywhere apparent. Who but Mr. Kaufman would ever have invented that delicious scene in the girls' bedroom, when they put black masks over their eyes, and then...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
SOURCE: "Too Good Not to Be Better," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 143, No. 19, November 7, 1936, pp. 557-58.
[Krutch was an American drama, literary, and social critic who wrote esteemed studies of Samuel Johnson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau. In the following review of Stage Door, he attributes both the strengths and weaknesses of the play to George S. Kaufman, and laments the fact that the play itself is far less intelligent than its many witty lines and gags.]
It is unfair, of course, but anyone as good as George S. Kaufman must pay the penalty for not being a great deal better. He has paid it before and he will have to pay it again in connection with Stage Door which he has written in conjunction with Edna Ferber. Since the penalty generally includes an extremely profitable run, it is perhaps not too severe, and yet Mr. Kaufman must have heard "It's enormously amusing but—" too often not to entertain very melancholy convictions on the subject of human ingratitude. The scene is a boarding-house for aspiring young actresses somewhere in the fifties, and all of the play's very good best is strictly topical in nature. Underneath is a sentimental story and a familiar sentimental moral—that the real actor would rather starve in the theater than live in luxury anywhere else, even in Hollywood—but what really counts is the succession of what would have been called in the...
(The entire section is 662 words.)
SOURCE: "Go-Getters," in The School of Femininity, Kennikat Press, 1966, pp. 183-209.
[In the following excerpt from a book originally published in 1936, Lawrence focuses on the role of women in Ferber's writings, discussing the historical context in which Ferber's work first appeared and noting how she reflected and promoted women's new status in society.]
Behind the war generation and the post-war youth lay long centuries of feminine silence and economic helplessness. The ghost of it still haunted the race. Emancipation was so recent, it was confusing. The ghost appeared in the confusion. When the emotionalism of the war faded, and the excitement of the new emancipation gave way before the necessity of making some program for women, a very real problem came up. There was a generation of women left over from the war. When the war casualties were counted, and the war-wrecked men were admittedly of terrifying numbers, it was seen that a whole generation of women would have to go through the remainder of their lives without any kind of what had been previously considered normal relations to men and to family. Two possibilities faced these women. They could take the place of the men who had died, or who were shattered. If they did not, the old men would carry on far beyond their time, and the world would be worse off than ever. Or they could look upon themselves as already dead along with their male...
(The entire section is 3768 words.)
SOURCE: "Manhattan Summer Music," in New York Herald Tribune Books, February 13, 1938, p. 5.
[In the following review, Currier favorably assesses the characterizations and plotlines of "Nobody's In Town" and "Trees Die at the Top," the two novellas in Nobody's In Town.]
"Everybody who is anybody" leaves New York in the summertime, seeking escape from the heat. After they have gone "The Little People … claim the New York that is rightfully theirs." Anonymously, they continue the routine of their days to keep the city of the world fed and thirst-free and clean. The great machinery of massed life never stops, and those who keep it running are unaware that "Nobody's In Town." They are unaware, too, of the intergrooving of their lives to form the arteries and veins of the urban heart of America.
You see them function in the complete human circuit that is modern New York through a series of vignettes forming one of two short novels in Edna Ferber's new book [Nobody's In Town]. A successful young man in Wall Street is left alone in his East Side apartment when his wife goes to Europe. The individuals who insure his summer comfort appear, as in a kaleidoscope, in control of the reservoir providing water for his shower, the Washington Market in which a retailer shrewdly maneuvers to procure raspberries for his dinner, the incinerator disposing of his garbage. The links binding their...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
SOURCE: "Edna Ferber and Her America," in The New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1939, pp. 1, 30.
[In the following review of A Peculiar Treasure, Woods favorably assesses Ferber's first autobiography.]
It was a lovable country town in Wisconsin, in the early years of the century: tree-shaded, prosperous, civilized, and stimulating as such a town is bound to be if one has the keenness and imagination really to look at it. "Just to sit on the front porch and watch the town go by is something of an education" in an open-living American community like this. And the formal education of the remarkably progressive high school offered extracurricular attractions as well: plays, debates, dances, the weekly "forum" with its sociability that was so urgently important to its participants. At 14 one sang in one's church choir. But almost every one of the girls had a beau in the male choir at the fashionable Congregational Church (where the local drayman was nevertheless one of the ushers and passed the collection box). In the "stinging cold white Winters" one skated on the river, caught bobs for rides on snowpacked roads. There was a lot of fudge made, and corn popped, in the evenings. There were elocution contests—one's heart's delight. And one always somehow found time to read, anything and everything, a book a day, In one's home there might be anxieties and sometimes sadness, but such affectionate...
(The entire section is 1538 words.)
SOURCE: "Impressions of a Best-Seller," in The New Statesman and Nation, Vol. XVII, No. 435, June 24, 1939, pp. 998, 1000.
[Quennell was an American essayist, novelist, and critic. In the following review of A Peculiar Treasure, he praises Ferber as a keen observer and an honest and enthusiastic writer, rather than as a particularly accomplished novelist or insightful autobiographer.]
From several points of view A Peculiar Treasure is an engaging book. It gives us a vivid sketch of an active and successful woman: it traces the outline of a busy and exciting career: it helps to explain the methods and psychology of a modern best-seller. It is readable, diffuse, slipshod, enthusiastic, entertaining, naive. Miss Ferber is not fatuously self-complacent. On the other hand, she is neither unduly self-critical nor exaggeratedly introspective and, looking back across her life, she can afford to feel satisfied. She is modestly pleased with her present position and proud of her ancestry. The peculiar treasure mentioned on the title page is the Jewish blood to which she attributes the strain of devoted diligence so apparent in her personal and literary dealings. From the same source, no doubt, she inherits her vitality, her somewhat exuberant sentimentality—relieved by a considerable degree of shrewdness—the touch of humility that appears in the narrative of her greatest triumphs. No reader is...
(The entire section is 1105 words.)
SOURCE: "Saratoga and New Orleans—and Edna Ferber," in New York Herald Tribune Books, November 2, 1941, p. 5.
[Feld was a Rumanian-born American critic and journalist. In the following favorable review, she praises the characterizations and plotline of Saratoga Trunk.]
Again Edna Ferber has taken a slice out of America's past and made it come alive. In Saratoga Trunk, her new novel, she has gone back to the '80's of New Orleans and Saratoga, two cities which at different poles represented the lustiness, the vitality and the romance of the period. Both scenes are admirably suited to her abilities. She has a feeling for the color and the sparkle of the robust, a relish for honesty of emotions and actions, however rooted in dishonesty; a kinship with a generation which had a deep respect for good food. Saratoga Trunk is certain to take its place beside her Show Boat which for mood and feeling it closely resembles. Not for nothing have the movies snatched up this story, written with her rare instinct for theater and her tremendous gift for investing characters with glamour.
Miss Ferber opens her story in the present when eighty-nine-year-old Clint Maroon, picturesque millionaire, with his wife, Clio Maroon, is meeting the members of the press to give them a statement about the gifts he is making to national institutions. The reporters have come to ask questions about...
(The entire section is 1196 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Saratoga Trunk, in The New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1941, p. 4.
[In the following excerpt, Wallace favorably assesses the characters and the pictorial style of Saratoga Trunk.]
The most cautious reviewer can predict skyrocket success for Saratoga Trunk—and not feel that he is getting out on a limb, either. Few of Edna Ferber's vastly popular novels of the past decade have arrived on the book counters with more fanfare. In abridged form it has been serialized by a national magazine, and it will be seen on stage and screen as soon as the ponderous machinery for producing an A spectacle can begin grinding it out. Saratoga Trunk is what is known in a field of human endeavor only slightly less hazardous than the publishing business as a natural.
One can see without difficulty why this should be so. The pictorial qualities of Edna Ferber's costume novels are built-in. Others may write with a fuller knowledge of history or a keener sense of character analysis. But Edna Ferber is almost alone—almost, because Gone With the Wind has something of the same quality—in giving her reader the impression that she is actually writing in technicolor. As fundamentally dramatic as Cimarron, with all the lavish and eye-filling qualities of Show Boat, this new novel may well outstrip either of them in enduring popularity....
(The entire section is 870 words.)
SOURCE: "Ferber …," in The Saturday Review of Literature, New York, Vol. XXIV, No. 31, November 22, 1941, p. 18.
[Downey was an American journalist, poet, and critic. In the following review, he favorably assesses Saratoga Trunk.]
"Hi, wait a minute, fellas," broke in the tabloid reporter. "Something tells me Mr. Maroon isn't kidding. Are you, Mr. Maroon? Say listen, maybe we're missing the real story."…
They did miss the real story, that group of newspaper men and women interviewing Clint and Clio Maroon in their rooms in the United States Hotel, Saratoga. Of course they already had a big story: the old Colonel's announcement that he was giving away his many millions. Also they had a deadline to meet. Furthermore there was dynamite in the sensational confession the old-timer from Texas was trying so hard to make. Add to press of time and chance of libel the fact that any reporter prefers to cover one yarn at a time.
So they missed it. No matter. Miss Ferber, who was a reporter when she was seventeen, covered it for them, and did she do a job on it! The story within the "frame," the fabulous career of Clint and Clio, is her new novel, Saratoga Trunk. Unpacking it is absorbing entertainment. There's everything in it but the kitchen stove—no, that's in, too, and the New Orleans and Saratoga dishes cooked on it will make your mouth water. The author could...
(The entire section is 623 words.)
SOURCE: "Love-Letter to Seattle," in The Saturday Review of Literature, New York, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, January 27, 1945, p. 24.
[In the following review of Great Son, Rothman praises Ferber's skill as a novelist but laments the fact that she did not fully develop her story in this novel.]
Miss Ferber is a swell writer, gifted, fertile, and imaginative. And she is unfair to book reviewers. Here she has written a lively contemporary American romance, with certain inadequacies plain upon the face of it. We are prepared to speak to her in pained and loving accents. But right before us, in nice large type, is a two-page introduction in which she has ticked off these very inadequacies, neatly, clinically, and without omission. Absolutely unfair. We hope this is not the signal for a new trend of self-reviewed novels. Probably few novelists could give so accurate an account of their own work. "This book," she says, "should have been a trilogy …" but the vast dimensions of her subject so baffled her that she decided to "… attack with a slingshot…. Here, in capsule form, is that which should have been a lavish and prodigal feast." This, in essence, is her own analysis of it, and it is very, very true.
Seattle is her subject, the Northwest region of which it is the hub, Rainier looming over it, the lumber and the mines, the whole sprawling history between the gold strike and the two...
(The entire section is 642 words.)
SOURCE: "Tintypes by Ferber," in The New York Times Book Review, January 28, 1945, p. 5.
[Du Bois was an American educator, novelist, poet, playwright, and critic. In the following review of Great Son, he argues that Ferber has failed to provide her potentially interesting characters with a suitably compelling plot.]
First there's Exact Melendy—a great-grandame complete with Godey-book silks, medicinal rye, toy railroad, and the finest view in all Seattle. Then there's her son Vaughan—a two-fisted taker in his day. There's Emmy, his pneumatic wife, whose mother was a Mercer girl. There's his son Klondike, born of Pansy, his violet-eyed Alaskan mistress, and offered to the world as his legal off-spring. Dike, despite a crumbling fullback facade, is soft at forty-odd. Could he be otherwise, after such American luxury items as "Harvard and good scotch and third-row seats and four-rib roasts and sixteen-cylinder cars?"
There's Lina, his wife—an actress and a full-time cat. There's Cliff, who writes her plays and spends his spare time burlesquing the ghost of Woollcott. There's a clutch of Japanese servants, who behave very oddly indeed as Pearl Harbor Sunday begins to rumble in the plot. Last, and most voluble, are the Young People, the Heirs of Tomorrow: great-grandson Mike (a flying fool, who knows there's nowhere to go but up), and Reggie, the simonpure—and...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
SOURCE: "A Rich Lusty Story of a Family and a City," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, January 28, 1945, p. 3.
[In the following mixed review of Great Son, Feld applauds the plotline as "a lavish and prodigious feast," but contends that the characters are not well-defined.]
In a two-page introduction to her novel Great Son, Edna Ferber makes what she calls "an inadequate excuse for a slim book on a Gargantuan subject." No excuses, no apologies are necessary for this volume for, however lacking it may be in its creator's eyes, this story of Seattle comes alive with the spirit of its intention. The strokes are broad, but never wasteful; the story sprawls but never without radius from a central core.
One paragraph from Miss Ferber's foreword might well be quoted as an ideological review of the book. Here it is: "Everything in and about Seattle—its people, its scenery, its spirit, its politics, its energy, its past, its future—is larger than life. Curiously enough, there is, too, about the region a dreamlike quality baffling to the outsider. This quality, misty as Rainier itself, imparts an unreality to the whole. Romantic, robust, the people and the city have an incredible past and a future beyond imagination. The present completely escapes the chronicler. It is so vast that one cannot see it in perspective and must be content with a worm's-eye view."...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber," in his On Second Thought, University of Minnesota Press, 1946, pp. 154-64.
[In the following review, Gray examines A Peculiar Treasure, contending that it is a forthright autobiography and reveals the particulars of Ferber's literary success.]
Edna Ferber is an enormously gifted person. She is also a thoughtful analyst of human experience. This aspect of her intelligence she has seldom revealed in her fiction, which habitually takes a firm, possessive hold upon a heroine and leads her resolutely through a series of highly contrived incidents in a standardized siege against the citadel of success. Ironically, it is in Miss Ferber's autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure, that she fully reveals her talent for offering a detached and impersonal comment on the mixture of perils and pleasures in human life. Here she has made a carefully critical examination of the assets she brought to the task of writing fiction and of the high-handed use she has made of them.
"What there is to see, I'll see," was Edna Ferber's battle cry almost from the moment she was born. As a little Jewish girl she saw what there was to see in Ottumwa, Iowa, and that was plenty. It included a lynching performed at a street corner of the tough mining town in broad daylight. As a girl reporter in Appleton, Wisconsin, and in Milwaukee she saw what there was to see. And that was plenty, too,...
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SOURCE: "An Interview with Edna Ferber," in his Writers and Writing, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946, pp. 360-65.
[In the following essay, based on a 1945 interview, Gelder examines Ferber's views on the writing process.]
Edna Ferber waited for the publication of her new novel, Great Son. Her hands and her talk were restless. The talk ranged over the hard drinking of some American writers and their wives: "She was like a little girl, a child, but after the cocktails and wine at dinner, she filled a whole tumbler full of Scotch and drank it down as I'd drink water; before long she looked like an old hag." The talk reached to Russia and Communism: "It's a good system for them; sure, it is. I visited there as a tourist and I know what they want. They want oranges and shoes and wrist watches and fountain pens and little cars to drive in. We have those things. What we want is here," said Miss Ferber, pointing to her heart, "and here," pointing to her head. Speaking of hearts, said Miss Ferber, she had recently come from Washington, where she had taken the "two-step," a physical test designed for young Navy fliers. The person being tested runs up and down two steps "about forty times, and the chart that they make afterward should be," said Miss Ferber wistfully, "all regular little cones." But hadn't the test been designed for the pick of the nation, the youngest, strongest, physically most perfect? "Yes,...
(The entire section is 1940 words.)
SOURCE: "Thirty-One by Ferber," in The New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1947, p. 3.
[In the following review of One Basket, MacBride praises the collection as representing Ferber "at her best."]
Miss Ferber's short stories (her blurbist informs us solemnly) are required reading in schools and colleges. For once, it is pleasant to agree with the publicity department. Selected by the author herself from over a hundred published items, the stories in this volume will repay the closest study of the fledgling who would go and do likewise. For the confirmed novel-reader who shuns slick paper, they are vigorous examples of an author at the top of her form—a virtuoso lightness of phrasing, a shrewd ear for dialogue, plus real understanding of the standard problems Americans have faced in the past and must go on facing. Those who have found Miss Ferber's full-length output a bit cine-colored of late should take pleasure in rediscovering her at her best.
The first story in the collection was published in 1913 ("The Woman Who Tried to Be Good"); the last, a rather-too-sand-papered study of a career girl's heart-throbs ("The Barn Cuts Off the View") appeared in 1940. Most of the well-remembered, much-anthologized, well-loved yarns are in between: "Every Other Thursday," "The Gay Old Dog," "Mother Knows Best," "Trees Die at the Top," "The Afternoon of a Faun," "No Room at the Inn,"...
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SOURCE: A review of Bravol, in his The Theatre Book of the Year: 1948–1949, Alfred A. Knopf, 1949, pp. 153-62.
[Nathan was an esteemed American journalist, playwright, author, and critic. In the following review of the 11 November 1948 Broadway production of Bravo!, he argues that while the play has technical, structural problems, "it contains much of the stuff on which good plays are made."]
The advance out-of-town reports on the play [Bravo!] were so fiercely grim that, having often after long experience become rather cynical in such cases, I went to the New York opening in a somewhat optimistic mood and learned, as sometimes in the past, that it was not entirely ill-founded. That rewriting had been done during the tryout period and even directly afterward was more or less apparent, but there was not enough of it to keep one from speculating why it is that plays which are condemned out-right on the road frequently, when we get a look at them, are discovered to be not without some commendable qualities.
The reason is not altogether elusive. Plays like this are designed primarily for metropolitan showing and find themselves astray in other surroundings. The people they deal with are people with whom many New Yorkers are familiar yet who are recognized very faintly, if at all, in the thitherward communities. The humor, as well, is what for want of a more exact...
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SOURCE: "Where It's the Biggest and Bestest," in The New York Times Book Review, September 28, 1952, pp. 4-5.
[In the following favorable review of Giant, Barkham argues that the novel presents a scathing view of Texas, one that Texans will probably resent.]
If you haven't read Edna Ferber's name on any new novel lately, it isn't (as you might have suspected) because she was relaxing on the royalties from Show Boat, Cimarron, Saratoga Trunk and other movie masterpieces made from her books. On the contrary, it was because Miss Ferber was brewing the biggest witch's broth of a book to hit the great Commonwealth of Texas since the revered Spindle blew its top. Miss Ferber makes it very clear that she doesn't like the Texas she writes about, and it's a cinch that when Texans read what she has written about them they won't like Miss Ferber either. Almost everyone else is going to revel in these pages.
For unsophisticated Easterners, Giant is going to be a guided tour to an incredible land unlike any they have ever seen before. (Texans, of course, have diligently fostered such a legend for years.) It outdoes anything our material culture has ever produced. Miss Ferber's Texas is the apotheosis of the grandiose, the culmination of that biggest-and-bestest cult peculiar to this side of the Atlantic. Whether it is recognizable to anyone inside of Texas is something else...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber Tells a Big-as-Life Story of Oil-and-Cattle Texas," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, September 28, 1952, p. 1.
[In the following favorable review of Giant, Bullock examines Ferber's themes, characterizations, and portrayal of contemporary Texas life.]
Edna Ferber does best with a big story: Chicago in its burgeoning youth, the rugged Southwest, life on the Mississippi in show boat days, New England in her period of decline—and now, in Giant, she gives us this big, reluctantly loving portrait of the fabulously rich outsize state of Texas, and the Texians (as Miss Ferber's quick ear hears them calling themselves). Caught up in this very satisfying personal story is all contemporary Texas, with some of its romantic past thrown in to show what lies back of the vigorous, generous, brassily arrogant present and the good and rather different future that Miss Ferber foresees on the way.
In the foreground of Giant is the great Riata Ranch, growing for a hundred years to its present three and a half million acres, improving its breed, building up a more than regal hereditary empire. (In the course of Giant it develops that a few of the big ranches are even now in process of being cut down to common-man size.) And alongside Riata in recent years, and much too close for comfort, are the rich new oil wells pouring their molten gold into the...
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SOURCE: "At War with Texas," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 190, No. 4, October, 1952, pp. 100-01.
[Adams is an American writer and critic. In the following review of Giant, she favorably assesses its plot, themes, and characterizations.]
The state of Texas is hero, heroine, villain, and supporting cast in Edna Ferber's new novel, Giant and at that, Miss Ferber doesn't pretend to deal with the whole state. She has settled for that portion of Texas with more than ten millions, plus its Mexican retainers. That adds up to a large number of people, but Texas overshadows all of them.
Although Miss Ferber writes to entertain, and never fails to do it with an expert mixture of action, sentiment, humor, and melodrama, two themes not usually classed as entertainment have appeared in most of her novels. One is the corrosive effect of money, and the other is the evil of group prejudices. Texas, rich and frankly anti-Mexican, was made to order as a showcase for these topics, and at times Miss Ferber seems on the verge of forgetting her plot altogether in order to pursue them. She never quite does it, though.
The plot in question has to do with Leslie Lynnton, more or less of Virginia, who marries Jordan Benedict, very decidedly of Reata Ranch, and begins a war with Texas that will last as long as she lives, to say nothing of the length of a novel. She dislikes the...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber's Novel of Alaska's Dreams and Dramas," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, March 30, 1958, p. 1.
[Gruening, who served as governor of Alaska from 1939 to 1953 and senator from 1958 to 1969, was also a critic and author of several books about Alaska. In the following favorable review, he examines the plot, characters, and themes of Ice Palace.]
A painting of Alaska influenced by modern abstractional tendencies would be large, sparkling, brilliant with blues—of sky and sea—gleaming with whites of mammoth glaciers and towering peaks, vivid with the warm greens of virgin forest and tundra, crowned with the gold of the Midnight Sun, shimmering with the yellows and purples of long twilights or of the wavering aurora, and flashed with the crimson and pink that suggest the bustle of vibrant human life.
Such is the arresting picture, though not abstract, that Edna Ferber, great word painter, has splashed on her book-length canvas, Ice Palace. The title will give Alaskans a shudder—since for ninety-one years they have sought to refute the myth that "Seward's Folly" is a scarcely habitable land of snow and ice—until they discover that the Ice Palace of the novel is not Alaska, but a fourteen-story apartment-hotel, housing every modern convenience: a super-market, shops, restaurant, beauty parlor, etc., a city under one roof. Its official name is the Kennedy...
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SOURCE: "Strong Men Face to Face," in The New York Times Book Review, March 30, 1958, p. 4.
[Janeway, whose husband was the noted economist Eliot Janeway, is an American novelist, educator, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following mixed review of Ice Palace, she applauds the nonfictional, historical aspects of the novel, arguing that the plot is "absent-minded to the point of being ramshackle."]
It was a maxim of my father's, quoted from a source I have unhappily forgotten, that the purpose of local color in writing is "to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative" [in a footnote, Janeway adds that the line was "spoken by Pooh Bah in W. S. Gilbert's The Mikado"]. Whether Edna Ferber is familiar with this quotation I don't know, but her new novel, Ice Palace, is one of the most forceful illustrations of its validity that I have ever come across. A plot which is absentminded to the point of being ramshackle, and smudged lay figures who have served as characters from the days of Robert W. Chambers if not of Ouida, are here combined with quite interesting bits of Alaskan history and atmosphere. The result is a hybrid form in which the fictional element has nearly succumbed to the nonfictional.
Actually, the local color is quite amusing, though not amusing enough to achieve its desired end. The narrative remains uncompromisingly...
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SOURCE: "Where Men are the Men," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 201, No. 5, May, 1958, pp. 78, 80.
[In the following mixed review, Weeks applauds the geographical and historical scope of Ice Palace, but contends that the believability of the characters and plot are compromised by Ferber's "theatricality."]
In The Emma McChesney Stories, Edna Ferber staked out her claim as a delineator of American character; and in Show Boat she gave us one of the most appealing romances of the stage. Thereafter, in novels like Cimarron and Giant, she has written of the big operator, the limitless and often unscrupulous development of our natural resources, and the corrupting effect of power and wealth upon the individual. In Ice Palace she has moved her setting to Alaska, our last frontier, and again she is writing about big strapping men: Thor Storm and Czar Kennedy (the very names spell strength), Thor with his Norwegian heritage and Henry George philosophy, Czar with his Yankee shrewdness and his greed to own the whole place. They came over on the same boat, pioneered together, and for fifty years have rivaled each other. Now, as Miss Ferber puts it, they are waging "a silent persistent battle for the welfare—as they saw it—of the girl Christine." Chris is their solitary grandchild, born in the carcass of a caribou in a howling blizzard; she is twenty-five when the story...
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SOURCE: "In the Moonlight and Magnolia the Protest Was Lost," in The New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1963, p. 6.
[Rogers was an American journalist and critic. In the following review of A Kind of Magic, he suggests that while "Miss Ferber bares no soul" in this autobiography, she provides insights into her career and the times in which she lived and worked.]
Edna Ferber again, we ask ourselves? When hasn't there been Edna Ferber? About 40 years ago she gave us the Pulitzer winner, So Big followed by Show Boat and Cimarron. Her public, she says, extends over four generations. She keeps on like "Ol' Man River," and we're glad of it, and we're lucky.
She's lucky, too, in her parentage, in what she describes as her "declarative and purposeful" self, in her health, her drive, even her name, which is a clipped and catchy run of four syllables, easy to remember, short enough to fit the spine of a book or, in bright lights, a theater entrance.
Over the years there have been a lot of theaters, and there still are, she doesn't hesitate to remind us. She has done six plays, five in collaboration with George S. Kaufman, and also written 25 books, including this one [A Kind of Magic].
Her life divides roughly in three quarter-century stretches. She refers to herself as old and gray, without really meaning it, no doubt;...
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SOURCE: "Edna Ferber and the 'Theatricalization' of American Mythology," in Midwestern Miscellany, Vol. VII, 1980, pp. 82-93.
[In the following essay, Uffen explores the mythical aspects of Ferber's novels, focusing on her use of "larger-than-life" characters, the differences between her heroes and heroines, and the ways in which she uses American geography to reflect the essence of her protagonists.]
The enormous popularity of Edna Ferber's novels lay in her ability to create a consistent fictional universe based in popularly known and accepted American mythology: plucky, self-reliant boys and girls gain success and fame in colorful settings ranging from the old Wild West to the new wilds of Alaska. All aspects of Ferber's work—plot, character, setting, style—partake of the myth. Other writers, of course, have also used myth, but more narrowly, as allusion, as metaphor, as extended literary motif and, often, as thematic contrast to the reality of the events being depicted. Fitzgerald, for one, mourned its loss in The Great Gatsby; Faulkner satirized it in Old Man; and "popular" authors have often played on its surefire ability to strike chords of longing in the reader. All of these writers, however, no matter what the relative merits of their work, implicitly view myth as just that—unreal, a product of literature, of historic tradition, as stories inextricably interwoven into the...
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Gilbert, Julie Goldsmith. Ferber: A Biography of Edna Ferber and Her Circle. New York: Doubleday, 1978, 445 p.
Focuses on Ferber's personal life and her associations with such artists, writers, and public personalities as George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, and Alexander Woollcott. Gilbert presents Ferber's life in reverse chronological order, beginning with her last years and the writing of her major works, and proceeding through to her childhood.
Banning, Margaret Culkin. "Edna Ferber's America." The Saturday Review of Literature XIX, No. 15 (4 February 1939): 5-6.
Favorably reviews Ferber's autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure.
Bromfield, Louis. "Edna Ferber." The Saturday Review of Literature XII, No. 7 (15 June 1935): 10-12.
Overview of Ferber's early life and its influence on the formation of her literary career.
Butcher, Fanny. "Ferber's Latest in Pace with Other Works." Chicago Daily Tribune (9 March 1935): 14.
Mixed review of Come and Get It.
Colby, Nathalie Sedgwick. "Simultaneous Differences." The Saturday Review of Literature III, No. 42 (14 May...
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