Edna Ferber | Critical Review by May Lamberton Becker

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 1,011 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by May Lamberton Becker

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 pillow and brought forth a scuffed and dogs-eared booklet, crudely bound in heavy yellow paper and fastened with clips.

Here it is Friday, the new play opens on Wednesday in Cleveland, with three performances yet to go in a part she has played for ten months, and she not only doesn't know her lines, but like every real actress in a leading role at this stage in rehearsal she is sure she never will. Through the crowding duties of a crashing day, exercising, catching a swift morning moment with her child, rehearsing intently at the theater and at home, trying on, undergoing the unwelcome repose of the new hair-do, the "seventy-three typewritten pages of her enormous and overwhelming part," and the ever-present necessity of the cueing process, weave in and out like the principal theme of a complicated fugue. But like a fugue, the day for all its rush and clatter is orderly as a house-wife's shopping list. Like Linda's morning exercises, so crazy to watch, all her doings are "stern antics, and the disjointed sentences wise, orderly and meaningful." Somehow, one feels, the play will open on time. Her husband really does know the right words, as well as the right words to say, when he repeats: "Say, you'll knock 'em cold. You always have. You always will…. Listen, if you were dead sure of yourself in a new part I'd know you were through."

All this is more than photographically, phonographically accurate. It is true. It is so true in every particular it makes a "retired" actress ache all over. But what makes it more than true is that it really is glamour. The story does actually create in some fashion transcending its facts, the special inexplicable charm that keeps not only the Lindas but every one else with the stage in the blood in what we soberly call the theatrical profession.

Four of the eight stories go round one working-day from sleep to sleep. These naturally make the better half of the book: such a method works best within such limits. All are sharply localized, for the most part in large cities. "Hey, Taxi!" goes round the clock with Ernie Stewig, a gifted New York hackman of the post-war school. "One Day in Wall Street, 1929" dates to such a degree that it is off the track of the rest of the book. "Keep It Holy" keeps to places open on Sunday to a small-town girl sick with solitude in New York; this is the only one reminding a reader that there is still a flap or two left in the dead fish of the O. Henry method. Otherwise the stories are distinctively Miss Ferber's own, her world and her way of taking it—though the taxi story could do without the heigh-ho ending, it being hard to use anything again that has once been used by Katharine Brush.

The aviation story—on the outskirts of Wichita—and the one about the faithful wife who trails her husband on a Mexican trip to see that he has all the comforts of home, are more conventional treatments of the general conspiracy of women, of what we like to think is the old school, to do men good in spite of themselves. In the one about the American girl married not only to a Frenchman but to the characteristic middle-class French vision of life and its responsibilities, returning widowed with her son to a post-smash America, there is the nearest to a definite, discernible "purpose." But though something the same feeling deepens the color in "Fraulein," this story, the pride of the collection, depends for its success on nothing less than the skill with which a single character, emerging from the background of a group, is brought into brilliant illumination.

It opens in a millionaire establishment to which the last necessary touch, two children, has been added. Along with this somewhat perfunctory item goes another item, the children's young German nurse—not that anybody thinks of her above-stairs as young, or thinks of her at all for six days in the week. For Fraulein functions as quietly as a perfect digestion—and on her afternoon out the household has what amounts to a community colic. On the stroke of two, Berta emerges from her uniform and steps firmly and competently into her own rich, real life. On the stroke of midnight she returns to bring magic calm to a frantic baby, to motion to a distraught mother. "Go to bed, Madam." "I wouldn't take her job if I were starving," moans the limp lady of the house. "What a life!"

It is more than a tag. What a life, indeed!

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This section contains 1,011 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by May Lamberton Becker
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