Smith, Betty: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
(researched by Katharine Weidman)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Betty Smith. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A Novel by Betty Smith. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1943. Copyright, 1943, by Betty Smith.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First American edition published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
226 leaves, pp. [8]3-47[48-50]51-110[111-112]113-323[324-326]327-424[425-426]427-443[3]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
This first edition was not edited or introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Some of the leaves' edges were left uncut but most are smooth. The paper has faded and now has a yellowish tint around the edges, but the ink is still dark black and easy to read. Generous margins also contribute to ease of reading. The style type is serif. The novel was divided into five untitled "books," and within each book there are untitled chapters. The books are numbered with italicized letters spelled out in upper-case letters; the chapters are numbered with Roman numerals. The first line of each chapter contains all upper-case letters; the first letter of each chapter is larger (8 mm. in height) than the other letters (approximately 2.5 mm. in height.) 80R. Page size: 203 mm. by 140 mm.; Text size: 169 mm. by 106 mm.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book is on wove paper that has tinted yellow over time, especially around the edges of the leaves.
11 Description of binding(s)
The book has trade cloth binding with dotted-line grain and a dust jacket. The hue is greenish and the value modifier is medium. The title, author, and publisher were printed in black ink on a small piece of white paper that was glued to the upper part of the spine.
12 Transcription of title page
Title page recto transcription: A | Tree Grows in | Brooklyn | A Novel by | BETTY SMITH | Harper & Brothers Publishers | NEW YORK and LONDON Title page verso transcription: A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN | Copyright, 1943, by Betty Smith | Printed in the United States of America | All rights in this book are reserved. It may not | be used for dramatic, motion- or talking-picture | purposes without written authorization from the | holder of these rights. Nor may the book or part | thereof be reproduced in any manner whatsoever | without permission in writing except in the case | of brief quotations embodied in critical articles | and reviews. For information address: Harper & | Brothers, 49 East 33rd Street, New York, N.Y. | 8-43 | FIRST EDITION | D-S | This book is complete and unabridged | in contents, and in manufactured in strict | conformity with Government regulations | for saving paper.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The manuscripts of Betty Smith are held at the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Source: Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Southern Historical Collection #3837 Betty Smith Papers. http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/s/Smith,Betty.html
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Colophon: Set in Linotype Granjon | Format by A.W. Rushmore | Manufactured by the Haddon Craftsmen. Price: $2.95 An inscription by the author on the front flyleaf reads: "To Walter P. Eaton, my best-loved teacher. Betty Smith Yale Drama School February 14, 1944" Transcription of the dust jacket cover: A TREE | GROWS IN | BROOKLYN | A NOVEL | by BETTY SMITH | HARPER & BROTHERS - ESTABLISHED 1817 Transcription of the dust jacket spine: A | TREE | GROWS | in | BROOKLYN | Betty Smith | HARPER The cover of the dust jacket has a contemporary geometric-looking illustration of a residential Brooklyn street and "the tree" that grows there. The illustration also depicts rows of tenement apartment buildings, clothes drying on a clothesline, and the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. This bright and colorful illustration includes red, green, orange, blue, yellow, and gray hues against a black background. Yellow letters give the title, author, and publisher on both the cover and the spine of the dust jacket. The back cover of the dust jacket shows a photograph (presumably of Betty Smith) and a brief 20-line anecdote by the author about an old widow she knows who rents out her front room to factory girls and uses the profits to buy war bonds. The widow buys one war bond per month, to help fund her grandson's college tuition in 10 years. This heartfelt advertisement for war bonds concludes with Betty Smith's signature.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. [1st edition] New York and London: Harper & brothers, 1943. 443 p. 21cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper & brothers, 1943. 376 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper, 1943. 420 p. 20 cm. Boxed copy presented to Betty Smith in commemoration of the sale of 454,054 copies of the original edition up to December 31, 1945. A tree grows in Brooklyn; a novel. [2nd edition] New York: Harper, 1943. 443 p. 22 cm. Author's autograph inscription on flyleaf, with autograph of Lillian Prince. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel. [3rd edition] New York: Harper, 1943. 445 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. [4th edition] New York: Harper, 1943. 443 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. [5th edition] New York: Harper, 1943. 443 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. [6th edition] New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1943. 443 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. [8th edition] New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1943. 443 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel. [8th edition] New York: Literary Classics, Distributed by Harper, 1943. 443 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. [10th edition] New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1943. 443 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel. [16th edition] New York: Literary classics, inc., Distributed by Harper & brothers, 1943. 443 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn: a novel. [18th edition] New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943. 443 p. 20 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn: a novel. [19th edition] New York: Harper, 1943. 443 p. 20 cm A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. [21st edition] New York and London: Harper, 1943. 420 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn: a novel. [24th edition] New York: Harper, 1943. 420 p. 19 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn and Maggie-Now, two novels by Betty Smith. [Book club edition] New York: Harper & Row, c1943, 1947. 733 p. 22 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn: a novel. [Book club edition] New York: Harper & Row, 1947. 401 p. illus. 22 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel; with drawings by Richard Bergere. New York: Harper, 1947. 420 p. illus. 22 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. [Perennial Library edition] New York, Harper & Row, 1968 1947. 430 p. 19 cm. Sources: WorldCat and The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
According to Publishers' Weekly, as of September 4, 1943, there were five printings of the first edition, with a sixth one ordered. These included 30,000 copies in the advance printings, in addition to the Literary Guild printings.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
A tree grows in Brooklyn; a novel by Betty Smith. [Armed Services edition] New York: Council on Books in Wartime, c1943. 480 p. 12 x 17 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn; a novel. [Armed Services edition] New York: Editions for the Armed Services, 1943. 480 p. 11 x 17 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn; a novel. New York: Everybody's Vacation Pub. Co., distributed by the Literary Guild of America, 1943. 443 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn: a novel by Betty Smith. Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1943. 376 p. 20 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn; a novel. Philadelphia: Blakiston Co., 1944. 376 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Toronto: The Musson book company ltd., 1944. The tree in the yard, a novel by Betty Smith. London: William Heinemann, 1944. 368 p. 19 cm. Published by William Heinemann in 1947 under the title: A tree grows in Brooklyn. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. Stockholm: Jan Forlag, 1945. 467 p. 20 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: Popular Library, c1943, 1947. 430 p. 18 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith. London: William Heinemann, 1947. 368 p. 19 cm. First published by William Heinemann in 1944 under the title: The tree in the yard. A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: Bantam Books, 1947, c1943. 502 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Garden City, N.Y. : International Collectors Library, 1947. 368 p. illus. 22 cm A tree grows in Brooklyn. HarperCollins Publishers, Incorporated, 1947. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Louisville, K.Y.: American Printing House for the Blind, 1947. 5 v. 29 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Penguin Books in association with Heinemann, 1951. 412 p. 19 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. London: Landsborough Publications, 1958. 352 p. 19 cm. A four square book, 65. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Bowmar/Noble Publishers, 1967. A tree grows in Brooklyn. [Abridged edition] New York: Noble and Noble 1967. 218 p. 18 cm. Tree grows in Brooklyn. Demco Media, Limited, 1968. Reader's Digest best loved books for young readers. Pleasantville, NY.: Reader's Digest Association, 1968. Includes: Twenty thousand leagues under the sea by Jules Verne; Tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson; Beau Geste by Percival C. Wren. 591 p. 20 cm. illustrated. A tree grows in Brooklyn. London: Tandem, 1971 1943. 399 p. 18 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Cutchogue, N.Y.: Buccaneer Books, 1976. 420 p. 23 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Buccaneer Books, Incorporated, 1981. 321 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn. [A Trumpet Club special edition] New York: Trumpet Club, 1989 1947. 430 p. 18 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. London: Mandarin, 1992. 398 p. 18 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Macmillan Library Reference, 1993. 615 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Thorndike, Me.: G.K. Hall, 1993 1943. 682 p. (large print) 25 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. HarperCollins, 1993. 432 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn, a novel. Shelton, Conn.: First Edition Library, 1995 1943. 443 p. 22 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998. 496 p. A tree grows in Brooklyn. [1st Perennial Classics edition] New York: HarperPerennial, 1998 1989. 489 p. 21 cm. A tree grows in Brooklyn. Amereon, Limited. Date of publication not yet set. 424 p. Sources: The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, University of Virginia Books in Print with Book Reviews, RLIN, Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction: 1866-1918, WorldCat.
6 Last date in print?
1998. Also note that the following edition is due for publication in the near future: A tree grows in Brooklyn. Amereon, Limited. Date of publication not yet set. 424 p.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
According to Hackett's 80 Years of Best Sellers, 2,487,740 copies of combined hardbound and paperbound were sold as of 1975. According to The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, 454,054 copies of the original edition were sold by the end of 1945.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
According to Publishers' Weekly, Betty Smith's book sold for $2.75 in 1943 and 1944. According to Mott's Golden Multitudes, in August of 1944, paper shortages forced Harper to put the novel in the hands of Doubleday & Company, which had recently purchasesd the Blakiston Company and thereby acquired a large paper supply. The advance sale in the reprint was merely 800,000. By the end of 1944 the book's sales amounted to approximately 500,000 in the Harper edition, another 500,000 of the Book Club edition, and 1 million in the reprint. Later, the grand total was increased to around 2.5 million printed copies.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
The following is a two-page spread ad that was placed in Publishers' Weekly, Volume 144, Number 3, July 1943. It is illustrated with a picture of a copy of a 1st edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with "This is what started it. Coming Aug. 18th" written below in a different font. I omitted certain parts so as not to take up too much space, but I left enough information for one to understand the gist of the ad. What would you do if you were in our place? A Memorandum to Booksellers Every now and then a new book comes along that threatens to run away with a publisher in spite of his best efforts to stay in the driver's seat. Joy rides are fun, but in these days they are also a problem. If you think we are fooling, just consider these hard facts: First Stage: A Book is Discovered. Up to May 18th, 1942, no one in Harper's office had ever heard of a very talented young woman named Betty Smith. On that day we made her acquaintance. She had written a novel. Did we want to look at it? Yes, we did, on general principles. So we got the manuscript, and glanced at the title page. A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, it was called. Not bad, thought the editor complacently, little knowing that what he held in his hands was just plain dynamiteÖ Second Stage: The News Gets Around. The Literary Guild quickly snapped up A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and made it their forthcoming selection for September. Two months before publication Twentieth Century-Fox bought the movie rights of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN for $55,000. All that money for a first novel by an author who was still completely unknown to the general public. (But just wait till August 18th!) Booksellers read advance copies of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and bombard us with letters like these: "Have enjoyed it better than any book so far this season. You have something big." - Polly Parrott, Fred Harvey, ClevelandÖ. Rich's in Atlanta was not the only bookstore to double its order. Advance orders came rolling in almost faster than we could tabulate them. (Actually, we haven't seen anything like it since Eric Knight's This Above All broke records all over the place.) Immediate result: an initial advertising appropriation of $10,000, just as a starter. (Mind you, this appropriation is based only on the advance sale up to the time these lines are written, five weeks before publicationÖ.) Third Stage: Where Do We- And You- Go From Here? If you think that's a rhetorical question, look at some more facts: As we say, we knew we had something big, so on April 6th we scheduled a whopping first printing- large enough to take care of the husky sales quota originally set, with, we thought, a comfortable margin left over for immediate reorders after publication. But we were wrong. By June 24th advance orders had exhausted the first printing, so we put through a second- 50% larger than the first. 'That'll hold 'em,' we thought, and sat back, rather pleased with ourselves. But we were wrong againÖ. Don't blame us if it runs away with you too. In that event, please remember that we are operating under war conditions. It is difficult to get paper, and it takes much longer than formerly to manufacture books, even in re-printings. What more can we do? What would you do if you were in our place?
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
In Publishers' Weekly, Volume 145, Number 11, March 11, 1944, The Chicago Sunday Sun used the fame of Betty Smith and her best-seller novel to advertise their Book Section, Book Week. Included in the ad are a photograph of Betty Smith, an illustration of a tree growing on Greenpoint Avenue, and mention of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It may be assumed that both Smith and Harper were paid for the appearance of the novel in this advertisement.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
According to The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, the novel was made into a series of 30 daily comics installments: A tree grows in Brooklyn; based on the great best-selling novel. Illustrated by William Meade Prince. King Features Syndicate, 1944. According to WorldCat, Tess Slesinger authored "A tree grows in Brooklyn: screenplay," based on the novel by Betty Smith, in 1944. According to The World Encyclopedia of the Film and WorldCat, the novel was made into a 128 minute black and white 35 mm film in 1945. The film was directed by Elia Kazan; cinematography was done by Leon Shamroy; the art director was Wheeler, and the music composed by Alfred Newman. Actors included Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, Lloyd Nolan, James Gleason, Ted Donaldson, Peggy Ann Garner. Twentieth Century-Fox paid $55,000 for the rights to this movie two months before its publication as a novel. According to The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, the novel was made into a musical play: A tree grows in Brooklyn, a musical play by Betty Smith and George Abbott, based on Betty Smith's novel. Lyrics by Dorothy Fields. New York: Harper, 1951. According to WorldCat, in 1974, the novel was made into a radio program. 1 sound tape reel : 7.5 ips, mono. 7 in, 1/4 in tape. Hallmark playhouse production with James Hilton, James Dunne and Connie Marshal. According to WorldCat, the novel (originally released as a motion picture in 1945 by Twentieth Century Fox) was made into 2 black and white videodiscs, 133 minutes, 12 inches. Publication information: New York: CBS/Fox Video, 1989 1945. Closed-captioned for the hearing impaired. According to WorldCat, the novel was made into 12 sound cassettes (18 hrs.): analog. Publication info: Charlotte Hall, MD : Recorded Books, 1989. Narration by and personal author: Barbara Rosenblat. According to WorldCat, the novel was used by author Victoria Palisin to write a book on literature study and secondary education teaching. The book's title and publication information: A tree grows in Brooklyn: Betty Smith: curriculum unit. Rocky River, OH: Center for Learning, 1993. According to WorldCat, the novel was made in 11 sound cassettes (16 hrs., 30 min.): analog. Publication information: Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio Books, 1996. An unabridged recording of the novel in a 24 cm. container, read by Anna Fields. Personal author: Anna Fields.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Der vokser et trae i Brooklyn. Copenhagen: Branner Og Korch, 1946. Danish. Der vokser et trae i Brooklyn. Kobenhavn: P. Branner, 1947. Danish. Det vokser et tre i Brooklyn. Oslo: Ashehoug, 1946. Norwegian. Un albero cresce a Brooklyn; romanzo. Milano: Jandi Sapi, 1944. 540 p. 19 cm. Translated by Sergio Mengarelli. Italian. Un albero cresce a Brooklyn; romanzo. Milano: Mondadori, 1947. 488 p. 20 cm. Italian. Un albero cresce a Brooklyn; romanzo di Betty Smith. Verona: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1949 483 p. 20 cm. Translated by Giacomo Cicconardi. Italian. Un ·rbol crece en Brooklyn, por Betty Smith. Buenos Aires: Periplo, 1945. 535 p. 21 cm. Translated by Sidney Williams Dineen and Manuel A. DomÌnguez. Spanish. Un ·rbol crece en Brooklyn. Buenos Aires: Periplo, 1955. 334 p. 25 cm. Translated by Sidney Williams Dineen and Manuel A. DomÌnguez. Spanish. Ein baum wachst in Brooklyn; roman. Berlin: Weiss, no date. 528 p. German. Ein baum wachst in Brooklyn; roman von Betty Smith. Zurich: Buchergilde Gutenberg, 1944. 424 p. 20.5 cm. German. Ein baum wachst in Brooklyn, roman. 440 S. S. Frankfurt am Main: Buchergilde Gutenberg, 1952, c1944. German. Ena dentro megalÛnie sto Brouklin. Athens: Philoi tou bibliou, 1948. Greek. Er groeit een boom in Brooklyn, roman. Amsterdam: Qerido, 1948. 470 p. Dutch. Jedno drvo raste u Bruklinu. Beograd: Izdavacko Preduzece "Rad," 1954. 458 p. 20 cm. Translated by Milica Simeonovic. Albanian. Le lys de Brooklyn par Betty Smith. Paris: Haschette, 1946. 431 p. 22.5 cm. Translated by Maurice Beerblock. French. FelhîokarcolÛk ·rnyÈk·ban regÈny. Budapest: Szikra, 1947. 23 cm. Translated by KilÈnyi M·ria. Hungarian. Puu kasvaa Brooklynissa. Helsinki: Werner Soderstrom Osakeyhtio, 1948. 459 p. 21 cm. Translated by Liisa Vesikansa-Saarinen. Finnish. Puu kasvaa Brooklynissa. [4th edition] Helsinki: Werner Soderstrom Osakeyhtio, 1956. 459 p. 21 cm. Finnish. Un ·rbol crece en Brooklyn: novela. Barcelona: Editorial Mateu, 1963. 397 p. 19 cm. Spanish. V Brooklynu roste strom. Praha: Pr·ce, 1970. 417 p. 21 cm. Czech. Na rul itkehan modun k*ottul. Seoul: Arumduri, 1996. 365 p. 23 cm. Korean. Source: The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, WorldCat.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Searches in Publishers' Weekly did not indicate that this novel was serialized.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Searches in Publishers' Weekly and the National Union Catalog pre-1956 Imprints did not indicate that this novel had any sequels or prequels.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Betty Smith was born as Elizabeth Wehner near the turn of the century in Brooklyn, New York. There is a discrepancy concerning the exact date of her birth. According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, she was born on December 15th, 1896. According to the Dictionary of American Biography, she was born 4 days later on December 19th. According to the Library of Congress' records, Betty was born 8 years later in 1904, although her daughters claim the earlier year, which is inscribed on her tombstone, is the correct one. Betty was the oldest child of German immigrants John and Catherine Hummel Wehner. Her father died when she was twelve, and her mother later married an Irish immigrant named Michael Keogh. Desperate household economic conditions forced Betty to quit school and join the work force shortly after her father's death. As a fourteen-year-old with merely an eighth grade education, she found herself working at factory, office, and retail jobs in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In addition to learning to cook, sew, and dance at the Jackson Street settlement house, Betty developed an avid interest in the theater. In her spare time, she acted in several plays at the Williamsburg YMCA and she composed about seventy short dramatic plays. The date of Betty's first marriage is also uncertain. In either 1913 or 1914, she married her childhood friend George H. E. Smith. The couple moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where George studied law at the University of Michigan. Permission was granted for Betty to enroll in the University as a special student between 1921 and 1922, and also between 1927 and 1931. During this time, Betty gave birth to two daughters named Nancy and Mary. She took every writing course offered at the University, but never earned a degree. In either 1930 or 1931 (the date is once again uncertain), Betty won the University's first annual Avery Hopwood Award and received $1000 for her play "Francie Nolan." Shortly thereafter, the four members of the Smith family moved to New Haven, Connecticut. Betty continued to study playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, where for three years she studied under George P. Baker, Walter P. Eaton, and John Mason Brown and participated in Federal Theater projects. In 1934, the family moved to Detroit where Betty wrote features for the Detroit Free Press. After divorce ended her marriage in 1938, Betty and her daughters moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While studying at the University of North Carolina, she earned a meager income by writing and acting for small local plays. In her spare time, Betty wrote an autobiographical manuscript roughly based on her own childhood experiences. She entered this 1000-page manuscript in a Harper and Brothers writing contest. The publishing company coerced Betty to condense the manuscript into a 400-page novel that she decided to title A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Published in 1943, the novel sold 300,000 copies in its first six weeks and immediately found itself at the top of bestseller lists everywhere. During the first month of publication, Betty married the assistant editor of the Chapel Hill Weekly, Joseph Piper Jones. Betty wrote three other novels, none of which achieved similar success to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though her second novel, Tomorrow Will Be Better, was a bestseller for 1948. Her third novel, Maggie-Now was published in 1958, seven years after she divorced her second husband, and one year after she married her third and final husband, Robert Finch, an old friend. Her last novel, Joy in the Morning, was written in 1963, two years after Finch's death. Secluded from the public, Betty passed away on January 17th, 1972 in Shelton, Connecticut. She left behind an unfinished autobiography that was never published. These and other manuscripts remain at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
While the majority of critics of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn indulgently praised Betty Smith's first novel, others expressed only reluctant approval or no approval at all. What little conflict existed among 1943 reviews primarily dealt with doubts about the book's literary value. Skepticism was partially founded on the fact that Smith, a novice novelist, had yet to be established as a writer or literary fiction. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn suffered from accusations of following a predictable pattern of events that were woven together in an overly sentimental fashion. The vague sexual incidents in the novel also stirred up mild controversy among the more conservative critical minds of mid-20th-century America. Margaret Winning in Commonwealth summed up popular opinion of the book by describing it as "Beauty, wholesome philosophy, and honesty intermingled with stark realism, poverty, and continued struggle." Favorable, almost doting descriptions such as these were nearly ubiquitous. Meyer Berger in New Republic called the book "a faithful picture of a part of Brooklyn that was mostly slums and misery. The picture is softened by almost poetic handling." The manner in which Smith gently yet truthfully exposed the poverty of her characters won her acclaim from the political arena as well. An anonymously authored excerpt from The New York Times called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn "a remarkably good first novel," and inferred that it was a revolutionary advance in the literary world. "The author sees the misery, squalor, and cruelty of slum life but sees them with understanding, pity, and sometimes with hilarious humor. A welcome relief from the latter-day fashion of writing about slum folk as if they were all brutalized morons." Interspersed with this positive feedback were statements of doubt concerning the morality and literary merit of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Some reviewers such as Margaret Winning in Commonwealth worried that the novel's "stark realism" was perhaps too stark, meaning that Smith's "wholesome philosophy" was accompanied by rather unwholesome sexual "incidents" that "may be too realistic for some readers." In critique of the novel's literary qualities, an anonymous article in Booklist reluctantly conceded that "as literary genre the book is interesting" but went on to say "the progress of the family from rags to riches could stand considerable blue pencilling." Rosemary Dawson in The New Yorker offered considerable praise of the beginning part of the novel, going so far as to call it "a beautiful and moving piece of work." Her disappointment with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a work of literature was found in the end of the novel, where she accused it of taking on "more the mechanics of the usual popular piece of fiction." The most scathing criticism by far came from Diana Trilling in Library Journal: "I am a little bewildered by so much response to so conventional a little book? I have seen 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' compared to the novels of James Farrell, and all to the credit of Miss Smith's novel. This makes me very sad both for the condition of fiction reviewing and for Mr. Farrell, whatever his faults as a novelist of stature. Of course Francie Nolan's story is more cheerful than Danny O'Neill's and a more popular commodity, but surely popular taste should be allowed to find its emotional level without being encouraged to believe that a 'heart-warming' experience is a serious literary experience." Cumulative Reviews: Diana Trilling, Library Journal, May 1, 1943 New York Times, August 22, 1943 Book Week, August 22, 1943 Weekly Book Review, August 22, 1943 Rosemary Dawson, New Yorker, August 24, 1943 Springfield Republican, August 29, 1943 F.H. Bullock, Time, September 6, 1943 Meyer Berger, New Republic, September 6, 1943 Katharine Jocher, Saturday Review of Literature, September 11, 1943 Booklist, September 1943 Margaret Winning, Commonwealth, September 17, 1943 America Chapel, Atlantic, October 1943 New Yorker, October 9, 1943 Saturday Review of Literature, October 16, 1943 E.M.B., Social Forces, December 1943 Orville Prescott, Wisconsin Library Bulletin, October 1943 Yale Review, Autumn 1943 New York Times Magazine, December 12, 1943 New York Times Magazine, October 1, 1944 New York Times Magazine, May 28, 1944 New York Times Magazine, July 9, 1944 Publishers Weekly, May 27, 1944 Collier's, March 10, 1945 Sources: Book Review Digest. 39th Annual Cumulation. The H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1944. Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Vol. 14. The H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1945. Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Vol. 15. The H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1947.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
While the majority of critics of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn indulgently praised Betty Smith's first novel, others expressed only reluctant approval or no approval at all. What little conflict existed among 1943 reviews primarily dealt with doubts about the book's literary value. Skepticism was partially founded on the fact that Smith, a novice novelist, had yet to be established as a writer or literary fiction. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn suffered from accusations of following a predictable pattern of events that were woven together in an overly sentimental fashion. The vague sexual incidents in the novel also stirred up mild controversy among the more conservative critical minds of mid-20th-century America. Margaret Winning in Commonwealth summed up popular opinion of the book by describing it as "Beauty, wholesome philosophy, and honesty intermingled with stark realism, poverty, and continued struggle." Favorable, almost doting descriptions such as these were nearly ubiquitous. Meyer Berger in New Republic called the book "a faithful picture of a part of Brooklyn that was mostly slums and misery. The picture is softened by almost poetic handling." The manner in which Smith gently yet truthfully exposed the poverty of her characters won her acclaim from the political arena as well. An anonymously authored excerpt from The New York Times called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn "a remarkably good first novel," and inferred that it was a revolutionary advance in the literary world. "The author sees the misery, squalor, and cruelty of slum life but sees them with understanding, pity, and sometimes with hilarious humor. A welcome relief from the latter-day fashion of writing about slum folk as if they were all brutalized morons." Interspersed with this positive feedback were statements of doubt concerning the morality and literary merit of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Some reviewers such as Margaret Winning in Commonwealth worried that the novel's "stark realism" was perhaps too stark, meaning that Smith's "wholesome philosophy" was accompanied by rather unwholesome sexual "incidents" that "may be too realistic for some readers." In critique of the novel's literary qualities, an anonymous article in Booklist reluctantly conceded that "as literary genre the book is interesting" but went on to say "the progress of the family from rags to riches could stand considerable blue pencilling." Rosemary Dawson in The New Yorker offered considerable praise of the beginning part of the novel, going so far as to call it "a beautiful and moving piece of work." Her disappointment with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a work of literature was found in the end of the novel, where she accused it of taking on "more the mechanics of the usual popular piece of fiction." The most scathing criticism by far came from Diana Trilling in Library Journal: "I am a little bewildered by so much response to so conventional a little book? I have seen 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' compared to the novels of James Farrell, and all to the credit of Miss Smith's novel. This makes me very sad both for the condition of fiction reviewing and for Mr. Farrell, whatever his faults as a novelist of stature. Of course Francie Nolan's story is more cheerful than Danny O'Neill's and a more popular commodity, but surely popular taste should be allowed to find its emotional level without being encouraged to believe that a 'heart-warming' experience is a serious literary experience." Cumulative Reviews: Diana Trilling, Library Journal, May 1, 1943 New York Times, August 22, 1943 Book Week, August 22, 1943 Weekly Book Review, August 22, 1943 Rosemary Dawson, New Yorker, August 24, 1943 Springfield Republican, August 29, 1943 F.H. Bullock, Time, September 6, 1943 Meyer Berger, New Republic, September 6, 1943 Katharine Jocher, Saturday Review of Literature, September 11, 1943 Booklist, September 1943 Margaret Winning, Commonwealth, September 17, 1943 America Chapel, Atlantic, October 1943 New Yorker, October 9, 1943 Saturday Review of Literature, October 16, 1943 E.M.B., Social Forces, December 1943 Orville Prescott, Wisconsin Library Bulletin, October 1943 Yale Review, Autumn 1943 New York Times Magazine, December 12, 1943 New York Times Magazine, October 1, 1944 New York Times Magazine, May 28, 1944 New York Times Magazine, July 9, 1944 Publishers Weekly, May 27, 1944 Collier's, March 10, 1945 Sources: Book Review Digest. 39th Annual Cumulation. The H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1944. Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Vol. 14. The H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1945. Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Vol. 15. The H.W. Wilson Company: New York, 1947.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
The tenement-dwellers of Betty Smith's best-selling novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were convinced that they lived in a "free country." When the novel was published almost half-a-century later in 1943, the United States was involved in a war effort to preserve its "free country" status. Readers were drawn to the novel because it shocked popular opinion. It exposed the ignorance of the racism that lingered in America, and it reminded the public that the ironic struggle for freedom in a "free country" was, and continued to be, a reality for many people. Francie Nolan and her neighbors clung to the privilege of living in a "free country." They wore the phrase like armor, knowing that in most circumstances its very utterance would shield them against the criticisms and complaints of their adversaries. They also believed that it entitled them to copious benefits. Living in a "free country" entitled Francie to follow her brother Neeley and his gang down the street whether they liked it or not. "It's a free country," she reminded them, and "they took no notice of Francie after that" (16). Living in a "free country" gave Katie Nolan the right to steal her best friend's beau (58) and to anoint Francie's head with kerosene before sending her off to school every morning (159). Living in a "free country" gave Frank the right to wash his horse in peace (27) and it guaranteed Joanna the liberty to proudly walk down the street with her illegitimate baby in open defiance of her self-righteous neighbors (230). More often than not, when the offender reminded his accuser that he lived in a "free country," he was quickly pardoned. This phrase spoke powerfully to Brooklyn's poorest members of society whose families for countless generations had known nothing but the oppression of European feudal societies. Freedom, although vague, was such a new thing to them no one dared challenge it. The meaning of a "free country" had philosophical significance to the tenement-dwellers as well. Johnny Nolan, who was "carried away by his personal dream of Democracy," believed that America was a "free country" because anybody could do anything as long as he had enough money (189). Ironically, the possibility of having enough money to truly exercise the kinds of freedom he imagined was literally nothing more than a dream for Johnny and most of his fellow tenement-dwellers. Johnny was like a benchwarmer that neither contributed to nor subtracted from his team's success. He was just happy to be considered a member of the team and he unrealistically hoped that one day he too would get a chance to play. Johnny shared his ivory-towered hope with his mother-in-law Mary Rommely. She believed that a "free country" offered her children what the old country could not- hope. "In the old country" she mused, "a man is given to the past. Here he belongs to the future" (81). She continued by saying that in a "free country," a man "may be what he will, if he has the good heart and the way of working honestly at the right things" (81). Like Johnny, Mary's situation was ironic because her hope had accomplished very little for her children. Katie bitterly reminded her mother of this fact when she said "your children have not done better than you" (81). Mary Rommely blamed herself for her children's shortcomings when in fact the blame belonged to the "free country" in which she lived. Too often a poor immigrant was not educated about some of the better benefits of the "free country" before it was too late to take advantage. Feeling blessed with the meager offerings of the New World, since those of the Old paled in comparison, they were too proud to ask for more. It was because of this combination of ignorance and pride that Mary did not know to send her eldest daughter to school. She lamented "I was ignorant and did not know at first that the children of folk like us were allowed the free education of this land" (81). The free education provided by the "free country" was also an occasional victim of the ignorance of first and second generation Americans. Unaware of the rights that their children were entitled to, the parents of children in Brooklyn's tenement districts gladly embraced the public schools. They did not concern themselves with the corporal punishment and other injustices that were surreptitiously inflicted on their children within the school's walls. The parents of children with longer American ancestry "were too American, too aware of the rights granted them by their Constitution to accept injustices meekly. They could not be bulldozed and exploited as could the immigrants and the second generation Americans" (172). Betty Smith denied having intended to write a book of "social significance." She claimed that she simply wrote about "the kind of people I know and the kind of people I like." Even so, many people were attracted to the "unapologetic compassion for the poor" contained in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (447-448). Many bestsellers are characterized by the way they shock the public, and this novel was not an exception. Smith called into question America's claim to be a "free country" by exposing unfair treatment of the poor. The majority of Americans believed that they lived in a "free country," as evidenced by the painful sacrifices that they made to preserve their freedom during the World War II era. They were blind to the fact that their "free country" had not ceased its practice of making victims of certain groups of people. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was propelled to the tops of best-seller lists because it shocked the public by arguing that their "free country" was not truly free for all people. There was more than one way in which this "free country" had continued its tradition of limiting freedom since the turn-of-the century. Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe faced a highly restrictive U.S. immigration policy during World War II. Also during this time, a man who was considered a zealous anti-Semite was appointed to oversee America's refugee policy. Unfounded suspicions of Japanese-Americans were aroused, and as a result they were robbed of their lives and forced into cramped internment camps. Thus, the "free country" once again ignored its Constitution and arbitrarily inflicted injustices on its people. The tenement-dwellers of the early 1900s were not only victims of government injustice, but also of the hatred and stereotypes that were brewed among the various ethnic groups. This fact was illustrated in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by the loathing expressed by Germans, Austrians, Irish, Jews, Italians, and Sicilians for one another. These strained race relations blossomed into various global conflicts during the early 1940s. In turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, it was uncommon for two people of different races to befriend each other. Smith emphasized this when she wrote "they got along well although Hildy was Irish and Katie came from parents who had been born in Austria" (55). Francie's own existence as the daughter of an Irish father and an Austrian mother represented small-scale racial reconciliation. But most first and second generation Americans were not nearly as open-minded as Johnny and Katie Nolan. For example, Francie's own grandfather was convinced that "marriage between two of alien race would result in mongrel children" (80). Such influences created an environment that encouraged Francie and her fellow tenement-dwellers to accept racial stereotypes as concrete facts. Their observations about Jews, Germans, Italians, Russians, and how they interacted with each other reflected the tensions that characterized America and the world during the World War II era in which the novel was published. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made it clear that the Italian race did not find favor with the "free country" around the turn of the century. Aunt Sissy, who adopted an Italian baby, "had a theory that if the child absorbed [American] food before birth, it wouldn't be so much of an Italian" (262). Francie had her own anti-Italian theory that "all the world knew that Sicilians belonged to the Black Hand and that the Black Hand Society always kidnapped little children and held them for ransom" (114). Likewise, Italians were not popular in America during the early 1940s, largely because the United States and Italy were engaged in a war against each other. Although the USSR was an ally of the United States during World War II, animosity arose from the fact that Russian communism clearly contradicted American democracy. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn illustrated the "free country's" prejudice against communism and a similar political ideology- socialism- when Johnny explained to Francie that "we don't want [socialism] over here? because we got Democracy and that's the best thing there is" (189). Such sentiment did not fade over time, but only increased and eventually developed into the Cold War a few years after the novel's publication. Animosity also existed between Russia and Austria, for the two countries were enemies during World War II. The roots of this hostility were exposed in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn through the blatant racism of German-speaking Austrian immigrant Thomas Rommely. "When very angry, he'd call the object of his temper, Du Russe! This he considered his most obscene expletive. He hated Austria. He hated America. Most of all he hated Russia" (59). Having grown up in such an environment that discouraged racial harmony from almost every angle, Francie was also guilty of using racially insensitive language. She called Jewish pickles "sheeny" pickles, oblivious to the fact that this commonly used foreign term, which "was applied to something alien, yet beloved," was a racist insult (43). She had a habit of describing "the bargaining, emotional Jews" with unflattering adjectives: "small and fierce" and "tortured and fiery" (9, 43). Francie's ingenuous curiosity of the Jewish race was tainted by words that condemned the race more than they complemented it. Her candid observations insinuated a more widespread suspicion of Jews that was shared among Brooklyn's Gentile population. The suspicion, which had been carried over from the Old World, often manifested itself in the form of local urban legends. "Francie had been told that [the Jewish pickle merchant] had one vat from which he sold only to Gentiles. It was said that he spat or did worse in this vat once a day. That was his revenge" (43.) Anti-Semitism, like a stubborn weed, did not quickly depart from the "free country." Polls taken during the World War II era indicated that over half of all Americans "identified Jews with negative stereotypes." The age-old German animosity towards the Jew, transported to the "free country" from Europe, was revealed in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when Francie observed that "most Brooklyn Germans had a habit of calling everyone who annoyed them a Jew" (112). This annoyance grew into a hatred that manifested itself in a gruesome climax- the Jewish Holocaust. Most Americans living in the 1940s realized to some extent that racial hostility existed in their generation, as its effects were evident both in their "free country" and around the world. Betty Smith boldly brought these concerns to the average American reader when she wrote about a diverse community whose ignorance about each other paralleled the ignorance of warring nations. By exposing the ignorance of racism, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn followed the pattern of many bestsellers in that it dared to offend popular opinions. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn gained bestseller status because it challenged traditional thinking. Vivid descriptions of life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn portrayed the persistence and the ignorance of racism. Betty Smith revealed that America, the "free country," had not been a haven for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Sources "ADL publication examines lingering questions about America during the Roosevelt Era." http://www.adl.org/presrele/ASUS_12/2740_12.html. 1 December 1999. Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1998.
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