Edna Ferber | Critical Review by Louise Maunsell Field

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Edna Ferber.
This section contains 1,111 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Louise Maunsell Field

Critical Review by Louise Maunsell Field

SOURCE: A review of The Girls, in The New York Times, October 30, 1921, p. 16.

In the following favorable review of The Girls, Field praises Ferber's sense of realism.

Congratulations to Edna Ferber! For her new novel, The Girls, is not only the best, and very much the best, book she has as yet written, but it is also one of the best that has so far been produced upon its particular subject. It has a realism, a fairness, a sanity not often found, and especially rare in stories which portray, or profess to portray, the "flapper" of the present day. Those who have contended that sweeping condemnation of that young person is unfair will rejoice in the picture of "Charley"—otherwise Charlotte—Kemp, aged something over 18 and intensely modern, "who loathed cheapness, and bobbed hair, and wriggling ways, and the whole new breed of her contemporaries who were of the hard-drinking, stairway-kissing, country-club petting class." But frank-spoken Charley is neither the most notable nor the central figure in the novel.

Miss Ferber has sketched the lives of three unmarried women of different generations. First, there is Charlotte Thrift, 18 at the time of the Civil War, a woman of seventy-odd in the year 1916, when the action of the tale begins. But in going back to the lavender-scented romance of Charlotte Thrift, spinster, we go back to the Chicago of the seventies, and even a little earlier, to the days when "Chicago sidewalks were crazy wooden affairs, raised high on rickety stilts," and merino dresses and green velvet bonnets were the height of fashion. Then there comes Lottie Payson, Charlotte's namesake, the only daughter of Charlotte Thrift's only sister, Carrie. Lottie is 32 in 1916, fun-loving, intelligent, with a "fine, straight back," and an "elfish interior." She often felt 16 and irresponsible, and did not find it easy to be always well-balanced and matter-of-fact. Third and last is Charley Kemp, Lottie's niece and namesake, the only daughter of Lottie's older sister Belle. It is Lottie who is the central figure of the book, Lottie, in whom many a spinster of 32—or thereabout—will see herself and her own life reflected. "Lottie was the kind of girl who 'is needed at home,'" and Lottie had a conscience, and a strong sense of duty. "For ten years or more she had been so fully occupied in doing her duty—or what she considered her obvious duty—that she had scarcely thought of her obligations toward herself." But the years slipped swiftly by, and presently the day came when she admitted: "It seems to me I've just been running errands for the last ten years or more. Running errands up and down, while the world has gone by."

Charlotte Thrift's parents had tyrannized over her consciously and conscientiously with the best possible intentions. With the best possible intentions, and quite unconsciously, Lottie's mother tyrannized over her, ruling her through her conscience and her affections. She is a wonderfully well-drawn character, this Mrs. Carrie Payson, who in time of emergency had taken a man's place, who was so level-headed in business matters, so competent and so indomitable. "Mrs. Payson did not dream that she had blocked her daughter's chances for a career or for marital happiness. Neither did she know that she looked down upon that daughter for having failed to marry." Yet, after all, Charley the modern, Charley who had been permitted to mold her life as she chose and without parental interference, is left, when the novel comes to an end, with as little of success as Lottie, looking forward bravely enough, avowing herself "the kind that goes on," but looking forward to, at best, a marriage that will be only a makeshift, a kind of compromise. She had taken up the most modern of careers after an expensive training, only to abandon it when the pinch came and try something different, to find that also less than satisfactory. But though very much at loose ends, she is only a little over 20 when we leave her, and the future may have much that is worth while in store for her. The war had changed Lottie's life, but she is, one feels, only on the threshold of new difficulties when the book closes, difficulties that her "brave lie" is all but certain to entail. "The Thrift Girls"—that was what people called the three Charlottes—had not worked things out. Neither Charlotte of the long-skirted riding habit and the rose, nor Lottie of the trim, sensible tailor-mades, nor Charley of the "white woolly sweater and gym pants … clear-eyed, remorseless, honest, fearless, terrifying."

The novel is inconclusive; for the situation, the woman's problem it presents, no conclusion has as yet been found. Charlotte, submissive and brow-beaten; Lottie, made defenseless by her sense of duty; Charley, who maintained that "There is no higher duty than that of self-expression," and who would not have tolerated for a moment that ransacking of her private papers against which her grandaunt had not even dreamed of protesting—each represents a type and a generation, and each is a fine example of her type and generation. But it is Lottie who is the foremost figure, and her story which predominates. There are many vivid scenes in that story, scenes which linger in one's memory. The Friday night dinners, for example, to which Mrs. Payson's married daughter Belle was expected to bring her good-natured husband and rather less good-natured daughter, whether any of them wanted to come or not; Lottie's brief rebellion when Mrs. Payson's obstinacy brought on a condition of affairs which caused Lottie to reproach herself "grimly, unsparingly"; the evenings during which Lottie sat alone on the piazza of the little cottage at the Michigan lake resort, those evenings which were "terrible beyond words"; the meeting of the Reading Club, from which Lottie is "striding home" when first we see her, are all of them completely real, fragments of everyday life so placed before us that we see all their underlying drama. There are of course weaknesses in the book; the Jeannette episode, genuine enough in its beginning, loses its convincingness from the moment Jeannette enters the Payson home, while Ben Gartz, though a true enough type, is used by the author in a decidedly "fictiony" way, both with Lottie and Charley. Toward the close the book drags a little, and Mrs. Payson is put out of the way a trifle too conveniently. The Mrs. Paysons of this world live long. But these are, after all, small blots upon a truthful, broad-minded and very interesting narrative, a book upon which its author, as was said in the beginning, is to be heartily congratulated.

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This section contains 1,111 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Louise Maunsell Field
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