Betty Smith Diana Trilling - Essay

Diana Trilling

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Like the heroine of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"], Miss Smith was born and raised in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, but even without knowing this fact we could guess that the story was autobiographical. Women authors, especially, always regard their own childhoods as if the process of growing up were an experience reserved for people who will one day have the sensibility to write a book about it, and Miss Smith even falls into the common error of forgetting that it takes time to learn the language of literary sensibility: at sixteen, even at eleven, her Francie Nolan thinks with the mind of the mature Betty Smith….

Because Francie Nolan is very poor, Irish, a Catholic, and I suppose because a member of her family drinks, I have seen "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" compared to the novels of James Farrell, and all to the credit of Miss Smith's novel. This makes me very sad both for the condition of fiction reviewing and for Mr. Farrell, whatever his faults as a novelist of stature. Of course Francie Nolan's story is more cheerful than Danny O'Neill's and a more popular commodity, but surely popular taste should be allowed to find its emotional level without being encouraged to believe that a "heart-warming" experience is a serious literary experience.

Diana Trilling, "Fiction in Review: 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'," in The Nation (copyright 1943 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 157, No. 10, September 4, 1943, p. 274.