Gilbreth, Frank B., Jr. Edward Weeks - Essay

Edward Weeks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Cheaper by the Dozen] is a boisterous, breezy family chronicle, the true story—the more incredible for being true—of how an inventive and immensely capacious American engineer, Frank Bunker Gilbreth by name, and his game and surprisingly durable wife, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, raised their twelve children and kept unceasingly on the go….

I don't question the veracity of [the events in the book]; I just wish it sounded more like life. The story would be better were there more landmarks in it of time and place by which the reader could steer. Of them all, Mother alone has the identifying touch, and when Mother goes swimming at Nantucket, we see her and for a time are back in the land of the plausible.

Edward Weeks, "The Atlantic Bookshelf: 'Cheaper by the Dozen'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1949, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 183, No. 2, February, 1949, p. 84.

[Cheaper by the Dozen is] bland and amiable …, a sometimes hilarious, sometimes tiresome story of life in the first quarter of the century….

Perhaps because the co-authors collaborated by mail …, their product lacks unity and presents the reader with only the haziest notion about the chronology of the Gilbreth tribe's doings. Though father Gilbreth often sounds (and sounds off) like father Day [in Clarence Day's Life With Father], Cheaper by the Dozen lacks the literary merits of its wise, well-honed predecessor. Mother Gilbreth's firm character is made clear…. But the personalities of the twelve Gilbreth children are never created; they remain a vague, boisterous chorus. (p. 110)

"Let's have Twelve," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1949), Vol. LIII, No. 24, June 13, 1949, pp. 108, 110.

The domestic complications that arise [in "Belles on Their Toes"] aren't entirely unexpected, in view of such factors, now familiar to the public, as the size of the brood and the unorthodox nature of Mr. Gilbreth's educational theories, nor are they quite as funny as the previous ones, since the authors are apparently under the impression that humor, like bedmaking, is improved by the repetitive techniques advocated by efficiency experts, and that it can be both streamlined and mass-produced. (p. 135)

"Briefly Noted: 'Belles on Their Toes'," in The New Yorker (© 1950 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXVI, No. 32, October 7, 1950, pp. 134-35.