Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Edith H. Walton

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
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Critical Review by Edith H. Walton

SOURCE: "Edna Ferber's Volume of Short Stories," in The New York Times Book Review, May 14, 1933, p. 7.

In the following review of They Brought Their Women, Walton argues that while she has the talent to write realistic and exciting short stories, "depth, subtlety, intensity are beyond Miss Ferber."

In a somewhat unexpected preface to this volume of tales [They Brought Their Women] which is her first since Mother Knows Best—Edna Ferber makes several generalizations about the short story.

"By its very form and brevity," she says, "it is restricted from penetrating deeply into the fundamentals of life. Profound human emotion demands a larger canvas." Lest this sound disheartening, she has, however, something to add in defense.

"It may be," she says further, "that the terrific tempo of the past fifteen years will prove to have been too much for the wind and limb of the novelist—the short story, crowded into a handful of words, may be the form which has most truly caught the kaleidoscopic picture of our generation."

Provocative as they are, it is questionable whether these remarks apply to any and all short stories. Remembering Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Sherwood Anderson, one is inclined to be skeptical about the necessary absence of profound emotion. There is no doubt, however, that Miss Ferber has diagnosed her own work acutely, has pointed out its weakness and its strength. Warm, alive, observant, her short stories skim the cream from the surface of modern life and preserve it in all its richness. That is all they do. Depth, subtlety, intensity are beyond Miss Ferber—and with the possible exception of "Her Girls," that is as true of her novels as of her short stories.

To quote her own words, Miss Ferber's gift is, indeed, for the kaleidoscopic, for the shifting picture painted in quick, bold strokes. In They Brought Their Women she wisely gives this talent free play. There is the taxi-driver—"hard, tough, disillusioned, vital and engaging"—whose adventures throughout a typical Saturday one follows so absorbedly. There is the tragically lonely little country girl who attempts to fill her desolate New York Sundays with visits to the Metropolitan and the Aquarium. There is that biting account of a weary, breathless day in the life of a famous actress—who personifies glamour to an envious and admiring public. There is "Fräulein," with its admirable descriptions of nursemaids chattering in the park, and there is, less successfully, "Wall Street—'28."

Merely because her surfaces gleam so realistically, it would be a mistake to suppose that Miss Ferber lacks understanding, or is blind to the problem of social values. It is plain, for instance, that she has a healthy distaste for the vapid, coddled life of the rich and that she is aware of the deep malaise which has increasingly come to blight the more conscious and intelligent members of the upper classes. Particularly does she detest—as her title story proves—the smug, conventional, pampered woman who is determined that her man shall not stray toward any adventurous horizons. Unfortunately, Miss Ferber lacks the savage sting and insight of a Ring Lardner. Here is an immature and superficial protest, always too simplified, too explicit. That the protest is there at all is something—but it is not enough.

Considered from the point of view of technique, Miss Ferber's obviousness is equally apparent. She scores her hits with a sledge hammer, unmistakably, so that nobody of normal intelligence could miss them. Her taxi-driver, returning to his garage in a car running with blood, makes his commentary in the ironic manner popularized by Katherine Brush's "Night Club." "The West," said Ernie, dreamily…. "That's the place where I'd like to go…. That's the life. Nothing ever happens in this town." So, too, in the other stories. Miss Ferber knows an effective ironic device when she sees one, but she forgets that a large portion of her public is equally well trained—and growing a bit sated.

By this time one may take Miss Ferber's very real merits for granted. She is rarely boring—and certainly not in this volume. She is a born story-teller. She has a kind of human warmth and raciness which may, in the unpredictable end, win her a solider place than some of her contemporaries who are now regarded with greater critical solemnity. She is, in fact, so richly endowed a writer that one is always wishing she were a better one. Again to quote her own words, there seems no foreordained reason why she should have been restricted "from penetrating deeply into the fundamentals of life."

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This section contains 753 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Edith H. Walton
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Edith H. Walton from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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