Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Elizabeth Janeway

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 672 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Elizabeth Janeway

Critical Review by Elizabeth Janeway

SOURCE: "Strong Men Face to Face," in The New York Times Book Review, March 30, 1958, p. 4.

Janeway, whose husband was the noted economist Eliot Janeway, is an American novelist, educator, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following mixed review of Ice Palace, she applauds the nonfictional, historical aspects of the novel, arguing that the plot is "absent-minded to the point of being ramshackle."

It was a maxim of my father's, quoted from a source I have unhappily forgotten, that the purpose of local color in writing is "to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative" [in a footnote, Janeway adds that the line was "spoken by Pooh Bah in W. S. Gilbert's The Mikado"]. Whether Edna Ferber is familiar with this quotation I don't know, but her new novel, Ice Palace, is one of the most forceful illustrations of its validity that I have ever come across. A plot which is absentminded to the point of being ramshackle, and smudged lay figures who have served as characters from the days of Robert W. Chambers if not of Ouida, are here combined with quite interesting bits of Alaskan history and atmosphere. The result is a hybrid form in which the fictional element has nearly succumbed to the nonfictional.

Actually, the local color is quite amusing, though not amusing enough to achieve its desired end. The narrative remains uncompromisingly bald. But it is evident that Miss Ferber has worked very hard. She has certainly been to Alaska, and flown all over it, and talked to hundreds of its inhabitants, and read many books on the subject. Having thus labored, she has brought forth a sort of movie script married to a survey of geography, industry and politics in our largest territorial possession. Readers, asked what Ice Palace is about, will reply that it is about Alaska and so it is, much more than it is about any of the characters who nominally animate its pages.

We begin with two strong men meeting face to face aboard a boat plying north from Seattle in Gold Rush days. One is good and one is bad, and one is rich and one is poor, and one is liberal and one is not. Since Miss Ferber is a passionate devotee of the "flashback," we meet them first in the present, but are soon swept off in the author's time-machine for a look at the past twenty chapters long.

The good, poor, liberal old man, Thor Storm, is the owner of a crusading newspaper. He is also (a proper Ouida touch) the descendant of Norwegian kings who fled to the new world because he did not wish to lead the artificial life required of kings' descendants. The rest of the plot, however, is more Lanny-Budding than Graustarkian, for the bad, rich, reactionary but charming old man, Czar Kennedy, is working closely with Seattle millionaires who are exploiting Alaska and preventing it from becoming a state. The two old men share a granddaughter, Christine, a black-eyed blonde and our heroine. Two young men are competing for Christine's hand—the indolent son of one of the millionaires, and a poor, good, liberal, half-Eskimo airline pilot.

Miss Ferber seems definitely more interested in the facts that her research has turned up than in the perfunctory structure she has thrown together to hang them on, for when she is faced with a choice between romance and a description of the Alaskan canned-fish industry, the cannery wins every time. A wedding breakfast is followed by no honeymoon scene, but by a survey of the housing shortage in the city the author has named Baranof.

The volume of instruction covered by a sugar-coating of fiction to make it palatable has been with us for a long time. Miss Ferber, however, has now carried the process so far that she has produced a pill of fiction with a sugar-coating of good honest research. A few old-fashioned readers with an anachronistic affection for fiction will regret that such a production should be billed as a novel.

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This section contains 672 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Elizabeth Janeway
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