Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Dorothy Van Doren

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 733 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Dorothy Van Doren

Critical Review by Dorothy Van Doren

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 than 100,000 persons. This is not to say that a fine novel will not be read by its many thousands; it is to say that most of the novels which command large sales have in them elements of vulgarity that make them acceptable to so many different kinds of people. Miss Ferber is not the ordinary large-sale novelist. If she were, one might cheerfully lump her with the Ethel M. Dells of her generation and let her count her royalties in peace. But she is plagued by that bitter worm that will give honest writers no rest: she wants to write a great novel, about a great subject, treated greatly. If one may judge merely by what she has written in the last few years, she is furiously ambitious, and in the highest sense. Nothing less than the best will please her.

She wrote Cimarron. It was a large canvas, the wild, sweeping, magnificent story of a conquering people. It read like a movie, and in the movies I have no doubt it fully justified its romantic plot. She has written American Beauty. It is about New England, where grow the twisted roots of the tree that is now America. It is about the New England house that was built out of the exuberance of the early settlers, proudly taking their land from the Indians, entirely self-sustaining, filling their house with warmth and color and life and many children; and about that house when the builders and their children were seized with a decay that left them dwarfed and broken and bitter; and about that house again when new blood, new foreign blood, this time from the south of Europe instead of the north, came to reclaim those acres but to let the house die of dirt and neglect, while their children, in turn, left for the hat factories of Danbury and Waterbury. This is the stuff of which to make a novel! Miss Ferber must have known it or she would not have worked up her material with such pains. There have been many novels written about New England, none from exactly this angle. There was every reason for the success of this one. Not its material but its artistic success.

Every reason, that is, except for Miss Ferber's curse. She was not content to let New England tell its own story, to take a house and family and let them change and decay as they have in truth done. She must needs introduce a romantic interest, a Chicago millionaire who returns to reclaim his lost acres, with a daughter—an architect, mind you!—who will not only remodel the house but marry the last survivor of the old New England family. It is all rather a pity. But it will undoubtedly sell. Even to those persons whose roots are in New England, who like a good, rousing story about their home land, and do not object to a bit of love interest thrown in.

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This section contains 733 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Dorothy Van Doren
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Dorothy Van Doren from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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