Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Rose Feld

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 935 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Rose Feld

SOURCE: "A Rich Lusty Story of a Family and a City," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, January 28, 1945, p. 3.

In the following mixed review of Great Son, Feld applauds the plotline as "a lavish and prodigious feast," but contends that the characters are not well-defined.

In a two-page introduction to her novel Great Son, Edna Ferber makes what she calls "an inadequate excuse for a slim book on a Gargantuan subject." No excuses, no apologies are necessary for this volume for, however lacking it may be in its creator's eyes, this story of Seattle comes alive with the spirit of its intention. The strokes are broad, but never wasteful; the story sprawls but never without radius from a central core.

One paragraph from Miss Ferber's foreword might well be quoted as an ideological review of the book. Here it is: "Everything in and about Seattle—its people, its scenery, its spirit, its politics, its energy, its past, its future—is larger than life. Curiously enough, there is, too, about the region a dreamlike quality baffling to the outsider. This quality, misty as Rainier itself, imparts an unreality to the whole. Romantic, robust, the people and the city have an incredible past and a future beyond imagination. The present completely escapes the chronicler. It is so vast that one cannot see it in perspective and must be content with a worm's-eye view."

Great Son is, in a way, the elaboration of the above, both in terms of a city and terms of a family. The book goes back to 1851 and it holds the present. Exact Melendy, robust, domineering nonogenarian is the matriarch of the family: Mike Melendy, her great-grandson, more at home in his airplane than in his father's house, is representative of the present generation. The years spanning the lives of these two hold the story of a city's fabulous growth.

Seattle was a wilderness when the infant Exact, named after the boat which brought her, was carried in her mother's arms to meet the father who had never seen her. Ninety-two years later, Madam Melendy looked down from her lavish home upon a city that her father would never have recognized. "It was fantastic, it was thrilling, it was absurd, it was majestic. It could have been the most beautiful city in the world—it might yet be, one day." Madam Melendy took pride in her city and in the fact that men like her husband and her son had built it.

The story of the city and the Melendys is closely interwoven. Jotham Melendy came from Illinois to the Northwest for land and got it, grabbed it and grew rich and powerful with it. His son, Vaughan, made land poor by a panic which swept the country, heard the call of Alaska and rebuilt the family's name, and power, but young Mike, his son, was alive with the unrest of a generation that has the detached social perspective of winged creatures.

The early growth of the city was fabulous, a giant, naive and rich, stretching his limbs, adorning himself, living by his own rules. So was the early saga of the Melendys. Miss Ferber devotes the major part of her book to the story of Vaughan Melendy who, like the city, knew few rules outside of his own making.

Vaughan Melendy was married to Emmy, daughter of a Mercer girl when he set out for Alaska. In New York, in 1866, one hundred New England virgins set sail for Seattle for the purpose of acquiring husbands. The leader of this highly respectable group was a serious-minded young pioneer of the Northwest, Asa Mercer, who knew that a land without wives and mothers was a land without a future. In Seattle today, descendants of the Mercer girls are as socially important as Boston's Mayflower families.

In Alaska, Vaughan Melendy, sober and ambitious, a little confused over the staleness of his marriage with Emmy, met Pansy Derleath, daughter of a broken-down singer. The romance between these two is told in the best Ferber tradition. It is alive, honest, earthy and real. Their son, Dike, was adopted by Vaughan and house-proud Emmy, their wealth symbolized by two bags of gold. Pansy came to Seattle shortly after and Vaughan built a house for her a short distance from his own. In telling their story, Miss Ferber catches the breath and the heart-beat of the extravagant period peopled by extravagant human beings.

The other characters in the book, with the exception of Madam Melendy, are less clearly defined. Or rather, in contrast to the lusty stock that came before them, they seem soft and colorless. Much of this is deliberate, for in writing of them Miss Ferber indicates that their ineffectuality lies in their being products of a past rather than actors in a present. There is an implicit accusation against those who make no return of service to a land which had been extravagantly generous to them. She points this up in the introduction of Reggie Dresden, an eighteen-year-old German refugee girl, who knows how wonderful it is to live in this country. In Mike, also, the youngest Melendy, she sees the germination of a deep-sense of human responsibility that goes beyond the security of a family or an individual.

Going back again to Miss Ferber's introduction, she says that Great Son is "in capsule form … that which should have been a lavish and prodigious feast." Perhaps she is right but the capsule is a potent one and should drive the individual to the sources that make a feast. A novelist who achieves that achieves something to be proud of.

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This section contains 935 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Rose Feld
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