Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Mary Ross

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 780 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Mary Ross

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 saw their hybrid sons and daughters.

Miss Ferber's American Beauty, if I am not mistaken, is not merely the beauty of the old house for which Christopher Wren sent the drawings or the wooded hills and stone-rimmed fields about it, but of the self-renewing cycles of life whereby Briton followed Indian, and the Slav the Briton, each destroying and building, yet leaving the imprint of living on the places through which they passed. She has taken a curious form for her story. Exiled from the cities because of his health, old True Baldwin in 1930 left the business of being a Chicago millionaire to go back with his daughter to the Connecticut farm of his boyhood, and especially to see if there still lived in the great house nearby the proud Judith Oakes who had scorned a poor boy. Judith had long since died, a tyrannical spinster; the man who lived in the lovely old house now was named Olzak. Then for an interlude which occupies most of the book there follows the story of the house through two centuries of its proud founders and their waning descendants. Miss Ferber is at her happiest when she is drawing people of action, and Orrange Oakes and his kinsmen give her a gorgeous sweep. Even in the wilderness splendor was their way of life. Even their later generations of degeneracy could not be commonplace. In the end the story again comes forward to True Baldwin and his daughter and to Orrange Oakes Olzak, the son of a Polish peasant and of Tamar, who recreated in feature and spirit the Tamar Oakes of two centuries before. Once again we are left believing the Oakes acres are to know care; the old house to be restored in its beauty; Cavalier, Pole and the humble blood (and dollars!) of millionaires will carry the cycle on the ascendant.

The first Tamar died of exhaustion when as a wayward child of fifteen she wandered from the great house on the eve of its housewarming to visit the Indians. His father could not bear the separation from his darling. Her slim body was cremated in the kiln where the bricks for the house had been burnt from the land's own clay, and her ashes were laid to rest in a jade box under the great hearthstone of the dining room of Oakes House. The last Tamar of the story, her granddaughter generations removed, lived to feel the weight of the crumbling family hanging about her and bearing her down as she slaved to keep the acres intact and to hand them and the Oakes pride down to her son, who had the features and bearing of the first Orrange. Yet that legacy of pride must have perished with her but for the crude peasant who fathered her child and the upstart Baldwin riches that kept the place from the auction block.

Whether or not features and characters will pop up unmistakably in successive generations is a problem which for present purposes we may leave to the biologists. Miss Ferber makes a glowingly credible tale of it, as vivid in the undoing of the family as in the days of its greatness. Her book is a pageant, arresting in the unashamed brilliancy of its colors, its pleasure in spirited action, and its affirmation of human vitality.

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This section contains 780 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Mary Ross
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Mary Ross from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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