Edna Ferber | Critical Review by The New York Times Book Review

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 807 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by The New York Times Book Review

Critical Review by The New York Times Book Review

SOURCE: A review of Fanny Herself, in The New York Times Book Review, October 7, 1917, p. 380.

In the following mixed review of Fanny Herself, the critic applauds the realism of the characters and story in the first half of the novel, but faults the concluding chapters for losing the narrative's momentum.

In the amusing preface to her new novel, Miss Ferber declares that she would not be at all surprised if Molly Brandeis should turn out to be the real heroine of the book, instead of Fanny Herself. And this is precisely what happens, although the portion of the book in which Mrs. Brandeis appears is to a great extent but an introduction to the main story, and she is presently removed from the scene, leaving the centre of the stage to Fanny. With her exit the interest of the novel sags noticeably, and from that moment steadily declines, growing less and less as the tale approaches its conclusion. For Fanny, too, is a far more attractive person in what may be fairly called the first half of the story, as the emotional little girl and the devoted daughter, than she is as the "super-woman" who galvanized into life the half-dead infants' wear department of the great Chicago mail-order house, and was able to draw cartoons so extraordinarily well that "there wasn't a woman cartoonist in the country—or man either, for that matter—who could touch" this remarkable Fanny Brandeis.

The first part of this new book is as human, as delightful, and as vividly real as anything Miss Ferber has ever done. The scene is laid in the little town of Winnebago, Wis. There Molly Brandeis came, with her incompetent husband and two children, some years before the story begins, and there he opened the general store called "Brandeis' Bazaar." It was during these years of her husband's lifetime that Molly Brandeis learned "the things one should not do in business, from watching Ferdinand Brandeis do them all." And when he died and she found herself obliged to take hold she did it vigorously, determined to wrest a living for herself and her two children out of the store that was losing money, not making it. She succeeded—succeeded by dint of the hardest kind of hard work, at a cost of nerves and energy that exhausted her before she was really old. A brave, shrewd, tolerant, intelligent woman, as big-hearted and humor-loving as her dear friend, Mrs. Emma McChesney, she quickly wins the reader's affection and respect and never loses either of them. From the moment when, with one drastic action, she settles the fate of the green-and-blue plush album, she has all our attention, and it is with a thrill of eager anxiety that we go with her on that first, all-important buying trip. The relations between the mother and the emotional, clever daughter, and of both with the small town in which they lived, are drawn deftly and with a real understanding. In the little Jewish community of Wisconsin, Molly Brandeis lost caste when she took up her husband's business. That did not worry her much, but Fanny resented it for her—resented that and a good many other things. The little Jewish community, the small town itself, are made entirely actual to us; with a touch here and a touch there we are given the very essence and flavor of Winnebago, but always the central figure is dear Molly Brandeis.

In what can be called the second part of the book, Fanny goes to Chicago, and there is an interesting account of the big Haynes-Cooper mail order establishment. Fanny has decided to live her life on a very different basis from her mother's, and begins by denying her Jewish origin. But she has the instinctive understanding of suffering and sympathy with it which she owes to her inheritance from persecuted generations, and these interfere greatly with her plans. Of course, a love affair is presently introduced; and after a regrettable bit of melodrama we leave Fanny enlightened and happy. Apart from the account of the Haynes-Cooper business, this section of the book is not any too interesting. There are several extremely long descriptions of Chicago and New York, and the hero indulges in more than one lecture. But Molly Brandeis, a woman near akin to the well-known Mrs. Emma McChesney, is at once thoroughly good and thoroughly likable. We see her dealing tactfully with her many trying customers, hearing confidences of every possible description by the big stove in her little store, reading Balzac and Zola in her few spare moments, watching with understanding eyes Fanny's struggle during the memorable Day of Atonement. A very real, not easily forgotten person, it is she who, with the little town of Winnebago, Wis., makes this story of Fanny Herself worth while.

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This section contains 807 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by The New York Times Book Review
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