Edna Ferber's America
Publication Year: 2014
From the 1910s to the 1950s, Edna Ferber (1885--1968) published a series of bestselling novels that made her one of Doubleday's highest-paid authors, earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1925, and transformed her into a literary celebrity. She hosted dinner parties covered by the New York Times, lunched at the Algonquin Round Table with Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott, and collaborated with George S. Kaufman on hit plays such as Dinner at Eight and Stage Door. In Edna Ferber's America, Eliza McGraw provides the first in-depth critical study of the author's novels, exploring their innovative portrayals of characters from a diverse range of ethnicities and social classes.
Best remembered today for the movies and musicals adapted from her works -- including classics like Giant and Show Boat -- Ferber attracted a devoted readership during her lifetime with engaging storylines focused on strong-willed individuals reshaping their lives, set amid a panorama of regional landscapes. McGraw reveals that Ferber's novels convey a broad, nuanced vision of the United States as a multiethnic country.
Framing her study with the theme of ethnic unease and insecurity, McGraw performs close readings of twelve Ferber novels: Dawn O'Hara (1911), Fanny Herself (1917), The Girls (1921), So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926), Cimarron (1929), American Beauty (1931), Come and Get It (1935), Saratoga Trunk (1941), Great Son (1945), Giant (1952), and Ice Palace (1958). McGraw explores the entwined topics of racial mixing and class as she argues that in Ferber's America, ethnic and social mobility challenge the reigning order, creating places that foster vitality and promise hope for the future.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Writing Edna Ferber’s America has been a very long process, and I truly
appreciate all of the help I received along the way.
Cassie Young undertook much of the archival research and sent me sheaves of Ferber correspondence and materials from archives I couldn’t visit. She read pages and pages of Ferber material and found many things...
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Whenever I’m asked who Edna Ferber was, I often find the quickest way to identify her is to say, “She wrote Giant,” or “She wrote Show Boat”; I only name her novels that have been made into famous movies or adapted for the stage. This conversational shortcut, however, presents its own problem: many people remember James Dean slouching through...
1. The Girls: Dawn O’Hara and Fanny Herself
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Dauntless traveling saleswoman Emma McChesney made Edna Ferber famous. She appeared in books such as the 1913 Roast Beef, Medium, the 1914 Personality Plus, and the 1915 Emma McChesney and Co. as well as onstage in the 1915 play Our Ms. McChesney. She traveled the country, doling out lingerie samples and advice in equal portions. Emma was...
2. Wheat and Emeralds: The Girls and So Big
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The city of Chicago, where Ferber lived from 1909 to 1922, houses some of her diversifying ethnic portrayals as the original homes of the protagonists of the 1921 The Girls and of So Big, published in 1924. This city, an appropriately sprawling and heterogeneous place for Ferber’s enmeshed, overlapping plotlines, becomes both a framing device and a representative...
3. A Pinprick of Blood: Show Boat
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Of all of Ferber’s novels, the 1926 novel Show Boat may be the most difficult to separate from the subsequent artistic works that have come to be associated with it, from the iconic ballad “Ol’ Man River” to the elaborate dance numbers in the 1951 film version to the unceasing restagings at community theaters and summer stocks across the country. The...
4. The Cowboys, the Indians, and the Jew: Cimarron
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Not long before she died in 1968, Ferber considered writing a book about American Indians.1 She visited schools and families in tribal communities from Florida to Arizona, taking her usual, copious notes on her experiences. She considered different protagonists: a young anthropologist, a historian, and a worker on the reservation. But Ferber never...
5. Coloring the Blue Bloods: American Beauty and Come and Get It
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Ferber’s depiction of the effects of ethnic mixture comes under increasingly complicated and directed scrutiny in the 1931 American Beauty and the 1934 Come and Get It. Set respectively in New England and the woods of Wisconsin, both novels examine the stressors on Anglo- American hegemony that occur when white immigrants, in these cases...
6. Passing Fancy: Saratoga Trunk
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Grave topics were on Ferber’s mind as she wrote her 1941 novel Saratoga Trunk. Although its Gilded Age New Orleans and Saratoga settings are worlds away from the troubles of the Second World War, the book followed on the heels of A Peculiar Treasure, a soul-searching study investigating Ferber’s Jewishness and its effect on her writing. Ferber dedicated...
7. Big Spaces, Big Problems: Giant
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Besides Show Boat, the 1952 novel Giant is probably the most famous of Ferber’s works, largely because of the James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor movie made from the novel. As one of her later and most noted works, Giant also takes an important place within the Ferber library. In Giant, Ferber explores the ways in which the dynastic nature of American families, at...
Conclusion: The Great White North: Great Son and Ice Palace
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Bookending Giant chronologically, the 1945 novel Great Son and the 1948 Ice Palace share the well-worn Ferber themes of race and class in America. Both works, however, deal with a wider range of ethnicities than Giant, and return to the hectic recitations of Swede-Basque-Jewish-Dutch people of the earlier novels. Also, both evince a concern...
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Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2014