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)
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Critical Review by The New York Times Book Review

SOURCE: A review of Cheerful—By Request, in The New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1918, pp. 399, 408.

In the following favorable review of Cheerful—By Request, the critic discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the individual stories.

Edna Ferber's new book of short stories [Cheerful—By Request] is thoroughly and entirely—Edna Ferber. Which means that the tales are outwardly simple, inwardly complex stories of human nature, and especially feminine human nature. They differ in detail a good deal, these women, yet fundamentally they are all of one type—the small-town, essentially domestic type of woman, to whom mending and dishwashing and cooking and cleaning are customary and not at all distasteful tasks. And so they are in truth all akin—the lingerie buyer for the big Chicago firm, the woman who came from the sinister "House-with-the-Closed-Shutters," the hotel housekeeper, and the actress and the shopgirl—akin to one another, and also to a certain Mrs. Emma McChesney.

Yet one of the best stories in the book—perhaps the very best—is not a woman's story, but a man's, "The Gay Old Dog." The hero, Jo Hertz, is "a plump and lonely bachelor" of 50, and the story tells how the demands and claims of three selfish sisters made of a man who was naturally domestic, a man who would have found complete satisfaction in a wife and children and a home, one of the type known as a "Loophound." Miss Ferber has never done better work than in her description of this household, of the man at heart a dreamer of dreams, externally "the dull, gray, commonplace brother of three well-meaning sisters." And they were well meaning; they never intended to rob him of youth and love and happiness, of the wife who should have been his and the son who should have been his, yet they did just these very things. Their story would by itself suffice to make the volume worth while.

"Cheerful—By Request," the first story in the book, is not one of the best, though there is much that is good and much that is very real in this account of the lame little woman who reigned over the storage warehouse of Hahn & Lohman, the great theatrical producing firm, and had once hoped to be a star; and of Sarah Haddon, the beautiful and triumphant, who had everything she wanted—for a while. "The Tough Guy" shows what the war did to "Buzz" Werner, toughest of the tough in Chippewa, Wis., and then comes a tale which ranks only a very little way below "The Gay Old Dog," a woman's story, this time, the story of "The Eldest." There are few of us who have not met in town or country, small flat or cottage, or comfortable middle-class establishment, some one playing the part which fell to Rose's share. Her mother was ill, and so she, the eldest, took her mother's place and looked after the children and the household. Simple and commonplace enough, surely! The sort of thing girls are doing all the time. But the cost of it to the girl—that is what Miss Ferber shows us, very quietly and without sentimentality. The average writer, intent—often obliged to be intent—on filling the demand for a happy ending, would have given to this tale the obvious, rose-tinted, and entirely false conclusion. Not so Miss Ferber. She holds firmly to the truth, and so we leave Rose clearing the table and washing the dishes as she had done every night for years past, and as we know she will do every night for years to come. "That's Marriage," while entertaining, is distinctly inferior both to "The Eldest" and to the story which follows it, "The Woman Who Tried to Be Good." There is in this latter tale one dreadful moment when the reader fears that Miss Ferber is about to sink into that slough of bathos which has ingulfed so many writers; the moment passes quickly, and soon one sees how unnecessary the fear has been. Blanche Devine, known all over the town, renting a little white cottage in a thoroughly respectable street—to the intense indignation of the other residents—and striving to be herself respectable and "good," is quite as pathetic a figure as the forlorn drudge, Rose.

The great mass of ordinary, workaday people—it is from this that Miss Ferber selects her characters, characters she understands thoroughly, and so interprets as to win for them the reader's sympathy and liking. This new book of hers is by no means funny, though the author has not lost her gift for putting things humorously. In it one will find more tears than laughter, more tragedy than comedy—that tragedy of living on, which is often so much worse than simple dying; it is; however, far too brave a book to be in the least a lugubrious one.

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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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Critical Review by The New York Times Book Review from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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