Ferber, Edna: Show Boat
(researched by Elizabeth Thompson)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Edna Ferber. Show Boat: A Novel by Edna Ferber. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926. Copyright, 1926, by Edna Ferber parallel first edition: Edna Ferber. Show Boat. London: W. Heinemann, 1926.
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
203 leaves, [8]pp.1-398
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
Introduction by Edna Ferber. There are no publisher advertisements.
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?)
90R Book size: 222mm x 150mm, although all pages differ in size. The average page size is 215mm, while text size is 146mm x 93mm, leaving nice large margins. Readability is excellent, type is clear and a good size. Chapters are numbered in roman numerals, with no title (except on the first one where it says Show Boat in capital letters), and the first word in capital letters. The first letter is extra large and bold. Pages are numbered in the top outside corner, except on chapter pages, where the number is in bottom center. Many of the pages are not cut, so as to be able to turn them, therefore, it seems that no one has ever read the book that I have now. [1] is in italics, the title page varies between capital letters and small capitals. The verso title page is in small capitals
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?)
Some pages, if held up to the light, show the stamp "De Coverly Rag Laid." Moreover on [1], the book is identified as using rag paper. The paper is ragged along the edges, soft, and otherwise in good condition. It seems very strong, excluding the raggedness along the edges.
11 Description of binding(s)
Trade cloth binding. Front and back covers are medium green. There is no identification on the front cover, just four gold leaf stamps at the four corners, with parallel line indentions connecting each stamp. The binding is light yellow with gold leaf stamps at the four corners with an indention in the form of a box around each stamp as well as around all four stamps together. The top of the leaves are gilt-edged. There is a slip-case made of cardboard and of the same medium green color in which the book in placed. Transcription of binding (in gilt print): SHOW | BOAT | by | EDNA | FERBER | DOUBLEDAY | PAGE & CO. Transcription of sticker on spine of slip case: SHOW | BOAT | by | EDNA | FERBER | [rule 4mm] | NO. 12
12 Transcription of title page
Transcription of recto title page: _SHOW_ | _BOAT_ | A NOVEL BY | EDNA FERBER | [design with anchor surrounded by two men and flowers 60mm x 55mm] | DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY | GARDEN CITY | NEW YORK | 1926 Transcription of verso title page: COPYRIGHT, 1926, BY EDNA FERBER. | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN | THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUN- | TRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N.Y. | FIRST EDITION
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
unavailable
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
On [1] is the inscription: Of this book: | 201 copies | have been printed by | Doubleday, Page, & Co. | on rag paper. This first | edition was issued on | August 19th, 1926. The | copies are signed by the | author and numbered from | I to 20I, of which this is | No. 12 The number 12 was hand-written into the space to designate what number book it was. Underneath this inscription is Edna Ferber's signature. There is also a dedication on [3]: To | Winthrop Ames | Who First Said Show Boat | to Me A sticker with two silhouettes, one of a woman sewing and one of a man reading with a pipe is on the reverse side of the binding. Underneath the woman is the name Lillian Gary Taylor and underneath the man is the name Robert Taylor. This sticker was probably added when the book came into Special Collections because other books have the same sticker. Call number at Alderman Special Collections: Taylor 1926 .F47 S5
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
Doubleday, Page, & Co. original edition printed in 1926. Doubleday also issued a pre-publication edition in 1926. In 1952, Doubleday & Co. issues Three Living Novels of American Life: Show Boat, So Big, Cimarron In 1958 and 1962, they issue Show Boat, So Big, Cimarron; Three Novels of American Life, most likely the same edition as in 1952. All three are 663 pages, 22 cm. 1935, 1936, 1941, 1945, 1951, 1953, 1955 editions do not appear to be unique editions, all having 398 pages, varying between 20 and 22cm, the same as the first edition. First Literary Guild edition, 1926 while subsequent 1936, 1938 editions do not appear to be unique editions.
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?
The first printing of the first edition had 201 copies. There appear to be at least seven other printings of the first edition: 1935, 1936, 1941, 1945, 1951, 1953, 1955.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Grosset & Dunlap, 1926 illustrated with scenes from the universal motion picture, 1928,1929 editions do not appear to be unique editions. Tom Stacey, Ltd., 1953, 1971 does not appear to be unique. Penguin Books, 1st Penguin edition, 1947. 1994 edition appears to be a unique edition. Pocket Books, Inc., 1936, 1939. 1943- "Pocket Book Edition" 1962 is the "Cardinal Edition." Grosset, 1964 Sphere (London), 1926, 1972 Macmillan, 1935 Hall, "Large type edition," 1954, 1981 W. Heinemann, 1926. 1928 edition does not appear to be unique edition. 1931 edition the "Popular edition." The "Cheap edition," 1936 Modern Library, 1926, 1935 International Collector's Library, 1926 Pan Books (London), 1953 World Distributors (London), 1964 Bernhard Tauchnitz, "copyright edition," 1927 Book League of America, 1926 Fawcett, 1926, 1954, 1971. P.F.Collier & Son, 1926 "By special arrangement with Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc." Macmillan Library Reference, 1993
6 Last date in print?
As of Feb., 2000, it's still in print. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1999 Yestermorrow, Incorporated, 1998 NAL, 1994 (out of stock indefinitely) Buccaneer Books, Incorporated, 1992 AMS Press, Incorporated, 0000 (that's the date that was recorded, I assume that means 2000)
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
As reported in _A Peculiar Treasure_ in 1939, it had sold 320,000 copies in the U.S.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
1935 sold for $.95 by New Modern Library 1936 one of original 201 (210) sold for $22.50 1939 sold for $.25 by Pocket Books 1947 sold for $.25 by Penguin Books Sales peaked October 16, 1926 and remained at #1 for 12 weeks.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
SHOW BOAT | by Edna Ferber, No. 35 | November 25th -listed with A Tale of Two Cities, Buddenbrooks, The Amenities of Book Collecting, and The Possessed in column under New Modern Library Books $.95 each in Publisher's Weekly 1935.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
Listed in Publisher's Weekly Nov. 30, 1935, for $.95 by Modern Library. Show Boat listed to heighten advertising of Come and Get It by Edna Ferber for Doubleday, Doran, & Co. (Publisher's Weekly, 1935, pg. 4) In an advertisement to sell Pocket Books, Show Boat is listed as $.25. (Publisher's Weekly, 1939, pg. 626) It was listed as being published the week of Sept. 23, 1939 as a $.25 paperback. (Publisher's Weekly, pg. 1276) In 1947, it was listed as selling for $.25 by Penguin. Book Review, Aug. 22, 1926, in The New York Times by Louis Kronenberger: "Show Boat comes as a spirited, full-breasted, tireless story, romantic because it is too alive to be what the realists call real; because it bears within itself a spirit of life which we seek rather than have; because it makes a period and mode of existence live again, not actually different from what they were, but more alluring than they could have been...This is little else but an irresistable story; but that, surely, is enough." The book Show Boat is often referred to in reviews and stories of the musical and motion picture. There is a picture of the Pre-publication edition of Show Boat in the cover of 60 Years of Best Sellers.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Movies: 1929 "Show Boat" directed by Harry A. Pollard, writing credits Edna Ferber and Charles Kenyon, genre musical, runtime USA 147, black and white, sound mix silent/ Western Electric Sound System (talking and singing sequences) Tagline: "The Universal Super Talking Picture" 1936 "Show Boat" directed by James Whale, writing credits Edna Ferber, Genre drama/musical, black and white, Western Electric Noiseless Recording, runtime USA 113/ UK 112 Tagline: "HEAR the glorious new music and songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II" 1951 "Show Boat" directed by George Sidney II, writing credits Edna Ferber, Oscar Hammerstein II, technicolor, Western Electric Sound System Tagline: "It's New!" 1989 (TV) "Show Boat," "videotaped in front of a live audience at the Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey" Musicals: "Show Boat," music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, staging Florenz Ziegfeld and Zeke Cohan. Productions: opened Dec. 27, 1927 with 572 performances; May 19, 1932 with 180 performances; Jan. 5, 1946 with 418 performances; Sept. 9, 1948 with 15 performances at the NY City Center; April 9, 1954 by the New York City Opera Company; May 5, 1954 with 15 performances; April 12, 1961 with 14 performances; July 19, 1966 with 63 performances
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Ferber, Edna. Statek Komedjantow. Warszawa: Roj, 1929. [French] Ferber, Edna. Le Navire A Melos. Paris: A. Fayard et cie, 1931. [German] Ferber, Edna. Das Komodiantenschiff: Roman. Berlin: Verlag der Nation, 1963. [Dutch] Ferber, Edna. De Show-Boat. Amsterdam: Querido, 1959. [Norwegian] Ferber, Edna. Teaterbaten. Oslo: J.W. Cappelen, 1947. [German] Ferber, Edna. Das Komodiantenschiff, Roman. Wien: K. Desch, 1954. [German] Ferber, Edna. Das Komodiantenschiff, Roman. Wien: K. Desch, 1955. [German] Ferber, Edna. Divadelnilod: roman. Praha: J. Otto, 1929.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Published in the Woman's Home Companion by Gertrude Lane before book publication.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Edna Ferber, a prolific writer of the 20th century, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan "shortly before the turn of the nineteen hundreds" (Ferber, 14). According to the Edna Ferber Biography on the Appleton Public Library web page, the date of her birth was August 15, 1885, which is based upon census reports (http://www.apl.Org /pages/ ferber/edna.bio.html). However, she herself admitted, "I hate to give the date because I haven't yet become reconciled to being middle-aged," which would explain why there are so many ambiguities between texts of her actual birth date. Her parents were Hungarian-born Jacob Charles Ferber and big city girl Julia Neumann Ferber (Ferber, 15-16). She had one sister Fannie, who was three years older (Ferber, 15). Of being Jewish, Ferber stated, "I am perverse enough to like a hard life. I like a fighting life. I like overcoming things. Being a Jew makes it tougher to get on, and I like that" (Ferber, 9). Edna Ferber lived in several places as a young girl, two of which were Chicago and Ottumwa, Iowa, but she finally graduated from Ryan High in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1902 (Appleton Public Library). After graduation, Edna wanted to go to Northwestern University's School of Elocution, but family finances persuaded her to take the job offered her at the "Appleton Daily Crescent," the local newspaper from which she was later fired (Appleton Public Library). After leaving Appleton, Edna wrote for the "Milwaukee Journal" up until 1910, when Edna was twenty-five years old and "Everybody's Magazine" published "The Homely Heroine," her first short story (Appleton Public Library). After this first publication, Edna became a career writer. As compiled by the web page PAL: Perspectives in American Literature, her primary works include: 1910 "The Homely Heroine" in Everybody's Magazine; 1911 Dawn O'Hara; 1912 Buttered Side Down (short stories); 1913 Roast Beef, Medium, 1914 Personality Plus, 1915 Emma McChesney and Co. (all three of which are considered "The Emma McChesney Stories"); 1917 Fanny Herself; 1918 Cheerful-By Request (short stories); 1919 Half Portions (short stories); 1921 The Girls; 1922 Gigolo (short stories); 1924 So Big (the Pulitzer Prize winner); 1926 Show Boat; 1927 Mother Knows Best (short stories); 1929 Cimarron; 1930 "The Royal Family" (a play with George Kaufman); 1931 American Beauty; 1933 They Brought Their Women (short stories) and "Dinner at Eight" (with Kaufman); 1935 Come and Get It; 1938 Nobody's in Town (short stories) and "Stage Door" (with Kaufman); 1939 A Peculiar Treasure (autobiography); 1941 Saratoga Trunk and No Room at the Inn and "The Land is Bright" (with Kaufman); 1945 Great Son; 1949 One Basket (short stories) and "Bravo" (with Kaufman); 1952 Giant; 1958 Ice Palace; and 1963 A Kind of Magic (http:// www. csustan.edu /English /reuben/ pal/ chap8/ ferber.html). Two other plays not mentioned here are "Minick" written with Kaufman and "$1200 A Year" written with Newman Levy. The papers for many of these works are located at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and the Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa (National Union Catalog for Manuscript Collections). Edna Ferber had accurate descriptions of cultures and lifestyles in her books as demonstrated by her close attention to detail in Show Boat . She actually spent four days on a "show boat" in order to learn the lifestyles of its crew and actors and audiences (Ferber, 298). The boat was called the James Adams Floating Theater and was led by Charles Hunter (Ferber, 297). She would talk with Charles Hunter and "Incidents, characters, absurdities, drama, tragedies, river lore, theatrical wisdom poured forth in that quiet flexible voice" (Ferber, 301). After her four days on the river, Edna went to St.-Jean-de-Luz, a Basque seaside village in the Basses-Pyrenees and began to write her novel, which would take a year and also be written in Paris and New York (Ferber, 302-303). She herself wrote some commentary on her reasoning at this time period in her life: "I sometimes think that So Big, Show Boat, Cimarron and the rest were well-received partly because all America was sick of the war. Myself, I wrote them, I suppose, quite unconsciously, as an escape from the war . . . I seemed automatically to turn my thoughts away from this mad and meaningless hate and slaughter to a lovelier decenter day" (Ferber, 303). Ferber's novel was also made into a very successful Broadway musical with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II as, respectively, composer and lyricist, the music of which even Ferber thought was "the most beautiful and important light-opera music that has ever been written in America" (Ferber, 304). In terms of publishing, Ferber had a good relationship with Doubleday and Co. This relationship is illustrated by her quote on Nelson Doubleday at the time of his death, "He would rather have had ten million people read a book at fifty cents . . . than one million at five dollars. He was a genius at devising ways to put books into the hands of the unbookish" (Tebbel volume IV, 109). Ferber achieved success with Doubleday and with Show Boat, "Doubleday achieved the first major book-radio tie-in [and] it was the widest publicity ever given to a single book. More than 16 million listeners heard the program over a network of 15 stations, reaching from Boston to Minneapolis" (Tebbel volume III, 33). Ferber and Show Boat did have at least one legal problem, however, when Wayne Damron sued for $25,000 because one of the characters and he had the same name (Publisher's Weekly, 2196). Fortunately, however, on November 8, 1928, the court decided in favor of Ferber and Doubleday, Doran, & Co. (Publisher's Weekly, 2196). Overall, Show Boat came at a good time in Edna Ferber's career. It was published soon after her Pulitzer Prize winning So Big was published and helped to maintain her popularity, as she said, probably because it stayed so far away from all the gore and tragedy of war. It was number one on the bestseller lists for twelve weeks and inspired "more floating theaters along the Mississippi" as reported in "The New York Times" April 14, 1929. In a New York Times Book Review on August 22, 1926, Louis Kronenberger said, "Show Boat comes as a spirited, full-breasted, tireless story, romantic because it is too alive to be what the realists call real; because it bears within itself a spirit of life which we seek rather than have; because it makes a period and mode of existence live again, not actually different from what they were, but more alluring than they could have been." On April 16, 1968, Edna Ferber died of cancer in her Park Avenue, New York home (Appleton Public Library). Her New York Times obituary said, "Her books were not profound, but they were vivid and had a sound sociological basis. She was among the best-read novelists in the nation, and critics of the 1920's and '30's did not hesitate to call her the greatest American woman novelist of her day" (Appleton Public Library). Bibliography Appleton Public Library. http://www.apl.org/pages/ferber/edna.bio.html. Ferber, Edna. A Peculiar Treasure. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1939. National Union Catalog For Manuscript Collections. http:// lcweb.loc.gov/coll/nuc mc/nucmc.html PAL: Perspectives in American Literature. http://www.csustan.edu/English/reuben /pal/chap8/ferber.html. Publisher's Weekly, volume 114, pg. 2196. Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States: The Golden Age Between Two Wars 1920-1940 volume III. New York: R. R. Bowker Company, 1978. Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States: The Great Change 1940-1980 volume IV. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1981.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Show Boat, the story of Magnolia Hawks, Gaylord Ravenal, the other beloved characters aboard the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre as well as the colorful descriptions of Mississippi river boat life make this novel appealing to the American people. In fact, Donald Davidson affirmed outright in Nashville Tennessean that "Show Boat will please lots of people, and why shouldn't it? Doubtless it will be a bestseller, and who cares if it is?" (Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 93, pg. 149). R. M. Gay of the Atlantic's Bookshelf said, "As a picturesque and entertaining narrative, it will certainly have thousands of readers who will accept it uncritically as a readable story" (Book Review Digest, 230). This idea of popularity among the people seems to be the prevailing attitude in most of the contemporary reviews. Moreover, many of the reviewers found parallels in what they deemed praiseworthy. Most focus on the "local color come to life again" as the critic of the Saturday Review suggested (CLC, vol. 93, 149). Louis Kronenberger in The New York Times Book Review August 22, 1926, admired, "Miss Ferber has chosen the brightest colors and let the dull ones go. She has avoided the contrasts by which the brightness would fade into the common light of day." This emphasis on the colorful seems to stem from the story telling, clear, easy aspect of the book including the rich description that is ever present. The review in The Spectator revealed that Show Boat "brings back the colorful past of the Southern States of America in the 'eighties and 'nineties" (CLC, 152). The Saturday Review also promoted the fact that "There is not much plot, for the author is interested in life not in plot" (CLC, 149). Therefore, critics must have found memorable the depiction of everyday life in a forgotten past. Louis Kronenberger entreated, "Let us accept the delightful lives these people lead. All in all, when you look back upon the story it is amazing how little that is exciting and complicated has happened; this is biography rather than plot . . . a long free-breathing story . . . never melancholy romance . . . This is little else but an irresistible story; but that, surely, is enough." Thus, reviewers embraced "the small scene, the memorable wave of the hand, the magnificent dress, the unforgettable gesture" as described in The Bookman (CLC, 152). It was a "glorification" of "the American scene that once existed and does no more" as Kronenberger aptly noted. The freshness and nostalgia for what once was drew people in to Show Boat. The Saturday Review stated, "We shall regret the loss of all that color" before going on to describe how Show Boat brought it back again (CLC, 149). Show Boat had the power to attract audiences just by being, as Kronenberger said, "a gorgeous thing to read for the readings sake alone." Many reviewers attributed the creation of this "colorful" scene to Ferber's use of language. Isabel Patterson of the New York Herald Tribune stated, "She has a rare sense of the color and taste and shape of words; her prose is pungent, graphic, sparkling" (Book Review Digest, 230) Moreover, Donald Davidson admired, "Edna Ferber writes vividly and deftly, never too much, always just a right amount . . . And her style has a richness and flexibility" (CLC, 150) Thus, Ferber's language, an interest "in life not in plot," and a nostalgia for what America was makes Show Boat endearing to readers. However, critics did not fail to find fault with Show Boat. On the whole, it received very favorable reviews, yet each had some criticism of it. For instance, many found faults with the length and ending of the book. In the review from Nation and Athenaeum on November 20, 1926, the critic stated, "Miss Ferber writes in shapeless, but lively American; and her book is so full of colour and movement that, were it just a little bit shorter, it would be entertaining to the end." In this statement, the critic praised Ferber's style, yet still criticized it for its length. Furthermore, other critics have problems with the end of the book. R. W. W. of the Springfield republican said, "It must be acknowledged however, that the character work is not so good in the latter portion of the story. It is in the presentation of the troupe and the river life that Miss Ferber has especially succeeded" (Book Review Digest, 230). The Saturday Review printed, "When Kim, the granddaughter, so to speak, of the Show Boat emerges as a stage success of the modern, sophisticated variety in New York, the fabric of the story weakens and pales. The "frail and brittle" life of current New York does not lend itself to local color" (CLC, 149). This passage not only illustrates the disappointment in the close of the book, but also emphasizes once again the importance of local color and the glorification of the past as compared with "the "frail and brittle" life of current New York." Another criticism set forth by Donald Davidson stated, "Edna Ferber's books, charming as they may be, have no . . . "innards,"" or, in other words, he believed Show Boat lacked the depth which he thought a man could have achieved (CLC, 151). Regardless of the criticisms, however, Show Boat became a bestseller and inspired several movies as well as an acclaimed Broadway musical. Its reviews highlighted more good than bad. The following review by Kronenberger in The New York Times seems to summarize most critics' feelings: Show Boat comes as a spirited, full-breasted, tireless story, romantic because it is too alive to be what the realists call real; because it bears within itself a spirit of life which we seek rather than have; because it makes a period and mode of existence live again, not actually different from what they were, but more alluring than they could have been." Sources: Book Review Digest Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 93 Nation and Athenaeum The New York Times
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Show Boat, the story of Magnolia Hawks, Gaylord Ravenal, the other beloved characters aboard the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre as well as the colorful descriptions of Mississippi river boat life make this novel appealing to the American people. In fact, Donald Davidson affirmed outright in Nashville Tennessean that "Show Boat will please lots of people, and why shouldn't it? Doubtless it will be a bestseller, and who cares if it is?" (Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 93, pg. 149). R. M. Gay of the Atlantic's Bookshelf said, "As a picturesque and entertaining narrative, it will certainly have thousands of readers who will accept it uncritically as a readable story" (Book Review Digest, 230). This idea of popularity among the people seems to be the prevailing attitude in most of the contemporary reviews. Moreover, many of the reviewers found parallels in what they deemed praiseworthy. Most focus on the "local color come to life again" as the critic of the Saturday Review suggested (CLC, vol. 93, 149). Louis Kronenberger in The New York Times Book Review August 22, 1926, admired, "Miss Ferber has chosen the brightest colors and let the dull ones go. She has avoided the contrasts by which the brightness would fade into the common light of day." This emphasis on the colorful seems to stem from the story telling, clear, easy aspect of the book including the rich description that is ever present. The review in The Spectator revealed that Show Boat "brings back the colorful past of the Southern States of America in the 'eighties and 'nineties" (CLC, 152). The Saturday Review also promoted the fact that "There is not much plot, for the author is interested in life not in plot" (CLC, 149). Therefore, critics must have found memorable the depiction of everyday life in a forgotten past. Louis Kronenberger entreated, "Let us accept the delightful lives these people lead. All in all, when you look back upon the story it is amazing how little that is exciting and complicated has happened; this is biography rather than plot . . . a long free-breathing story . . . never melancholy romance . . . This is little else but an irresistible story; but that, surely, is enough." Thus, reviewers embraced "the small scene, the memorable wave of the hand, the magnificent dress, the unforgettable gesture" as described in The Bookman (CLC, 152). It was a "glorification" of "the American scene that once existed and does no more" as Kronenberger aptly noted. The freshness and nostalgia for what once was drew people in to Show Boat. The Saturday Review stated, "We shall regret the loss of all that color" before going on to describe how Show Boat brought it back again (CLC, 149). Show Boat had the power to attract audiences just by being, as Kronenberger said, "a gorgeous thing to read for the readings sake alone." Many reviewers attributed the creation of this "colorful" scene to Ferber's use of language. Isabel Patterson of the New York Herald Tribune stated, "She has a rare sense of the color and taste and shape of words; her prose is pungent, graphic, sparkling" (Book Review Digest, 230) Moreover, Donald Davidson admired, "Edna Ferber writes vividly and deftly, never too much, always just a right amount . . . And her style has a richness and flexibility" (CLC, 150) Thus, Ferber's language, an interest "in life not in plot," and a nostalgia for what America was makes Show Boat endearing to readers. However, critics did not fail to find fault with Show Boat. On the whole, it received very favorable reviews, yet each had some criticism of it. For instance, many found faults with the length and ending of the book. In the review from Nation and Athenaeum on November 20, 1926, the critic stated, "Miss Ferber writes in shapeless, but lively American; and her book is so full of colour and movement that, were it just a little bit shorter, it would be entertaining to the end." In this statement, the critic praised Ferber's style, yet still criticized it for its length. Furthermore, other critics have problems with the end of the book. R. W. W. of the Springfield republican said, "It must be acknowledged however, that the character work is not so good in the latter portion of the story. It is in the presentation of the troupe and the river life that Miss Ferber has especially succeeded" (Book Review Digest, 230). The Saturday Review printed, "When Kim, the granddaughter, so to speak, of the Show Boat emerges as a stage success of the modern, sophisticated variety in New York, the fabric of the story weakens and pales. The "frail and brittle" life of current New York does not lend itself to local color" (CLC, 149). This passage not only illustrates the disappointment in the close of the book, but also emphasizes once again the importance of local color and the glorification of the past as compared with "the "frail and brittle" life of current New York." Another criticism set forth by Donald Davidson stated, "Edna Ferber's books, charming as they may be, have no . . . "innards,"" or, in other words, he believed Show Boat lacked the depth which he thought a man could have achieved (CLC, 151). Regardless of the criticisms, however, Show Boat became a bestseller and inspired several movies as well as an acclaimed Broadway musical. Its reviews highlighted more good than bad. The following review by Kronenberger in The New York Times seems to summarize most critics' feelings: Show Boat comes as a spirited, full-breasted, tireless story, romantic because it is too alive to be what the realists call real; because it bears within itself a spirit of life which we seek rather than have; because it makes a period and mode of existence live again, not actually different from what they were, but more alluring than they could have been." Sources: Book Review Digest Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 93 Nation and Athenaeum The New York Times
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
In 1917, the United States entered the First World War, which ended one year later. Between 1916-1917, there were 124 lynchings across the South. Floods, the boll weevil, and plummeting cotton prices created constant headaches for rural farmers in the South. The women's suffrage movement raged until Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution providing long-awaited voting rights for women in 1920. Mill owners used violence instead of collective bargaining to deal with labor unrest on in to 1930, and in 1929, the stock market crashed hurling America into the Great Depression during which eleven million people lost their jobs and the Dust Bowl left Southerners without homes, food, or money. These dynamic, often violent, and devastating conditions, corresponded to the best-selling literature of the period. People read novels by such authors as Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, Booth Tarkington, and Edna Ferber. In fact, in 1922 and 1923 alone, Sinclair Lewis landed on the list with his novel Babbitt, which denounced significant issues of the period, such as modernism, industrialization, workers' rights, and the new mass market. Moreover, these authors frequently showed up on the best-seller lists year after year. For instance, Sinclair Lewis showed up on the best-seller lists eleven times between the years 1921 and 1947. Edna Ferber also was on the list numerous times, eight to be exact, between the years of 1924 and 1958. The sustained popularity of these authors illustrates that readers either bought the book for the author's name or the author had found the formula that guarantees a best-selling book. Most likely, though, it was the latter. Edna Ferber's novel, Show Boat, which was published and remained at number one on the bestseller lists for twelve weeks in 1926, may be used as a guide to understand what makes a book a best seller. With its relaxed, descriptive language and tone, and its nostalgic setting on a Mississippi river boat between the 1870's and 1920's, Show Boat appealed to the fundamentalists' desire to escape from popularized technology and materialism at the same time as it provided a commentary on the new fast-paced life of the 1920's. Moreover, the careless and indolent attitude as well as the historical setting, which it presents to readers, allowed an escape from the social and economic chaos of the outside world. However, another ingredient in this particular formula for a best seller is relevance to current trends. Throughout Show Boat, Ferber manages to weave issues and trends of the 1920's into her story. This relevance to the lives or readers, or at least, the readers' ability to empathize with the story, seems to be a characteristic of many best sellers. Furthermore, the language and style of the writing affects who will read the book. Thus Show Boat exemplifies the characteristics of a best seller and provides a formula on which to base best seller status; it demonstrates that best sellers reflect as well as influence the trends and issues of the day while it also provides an easily-read source of entertainment to the malcontent reader. One of the ingredients in Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat that makes up the formula for a best seller is her language and tone. Most of her contemporary critics, although not always satisfied with the depth of the novel, praised its descriptive language and story-telling nature. Isabel Patterson of the New York Herald Tribune said Ferber "has a rare sense of the color and taste and shape of words; her prose is pungent, graphic, sparkling" (Book Review Digest, 230). Moreover, a critic in The London Times said, "The atmosphere of the book is impregnated with life," implying that a sense of energy in the text aids a book's popularity (230). Furthermore, critics often labeled Ferber's style as "story-telling;" Louis Kronenberger of The New York Times stated, "With Show Boat Miss Ferber establishes herself not as one of those who are inaugurating first-rate literature, but as one of those who are reviving first-rate story-telling" (Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 93, 152). This straightforward story-telling ability undeniably stems from Ferber's experience as a journalist before she began writing fiction. Its popularity among the masses, however, most likely results from increased literacy rates and the recent boom in journalism. As Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster relate in The Century, "With the literacy rates rising rapidly, newspaper and magazine reading became a favorite 1920's activity. Tabloids appeared in the big cities for the first time, combing a liberal use of photography with a breezy writing style and an eye for the lurid" (Jennings, 129). This "breezy," easily read style of the journalists applies to the style of Ferber's novel. Katherine Woods observed in Edna Ferber and Her America that "Newspaper work had taught [Ferber] to write, years of omnivorous reading had given her a vocabulary" (CLC, 171). Thus, this ability to write descriptively and simply, catching the readers' attention and emotion as "Show Boat seizes and holds interest throughout that part which is foreshadowed by the title," draws a large readership, large enough to produce best-selling status. In fact, not only does this style predict bestseller status for Ferber's book, but it applies to other books vying for that coveted position as well. In 1936, Margaret Mitchell published Gone with the Wind and within six months it had sold one million copies (Dodd, assignment five). The reception for this novel is unmistakably similar to that of Show Boat. J. D. Adams of The New York Times called it "a superb piece of story-telling which nobody who finds pleasure in the art of fiction can afford to neglect" while Holmes Alexander argued, "Mitchell is a gifted storyteller. She can create characters to set tongues wagging, she can swing a plot and make it crackle..." (Dodd, assignment four). Although written ten years after Doubleday, Page &Company published Show Boat, critics clearly praised Gone with the Wind for some of the same characteristics that are evident in Ferber's novel. In addition, James Boatwrigt believes that Mitchell's style is like that of a "good journalist," which thereby proves readers still clung to the "breezy" style of writing also present in Ferber's work. (Dodd, assignment four). This ingredient of best sellers does not disappear over the years, though. In 1974, R.A. Dave reviews Harper Lee's 1960 work, To Kill a Mockingbird and praises its broad spectrum of emotions evoked by such a seemingly simple story-telling style: "[Lee] is a remarkable story-teller. The reader just glides through the novel abounding in humor and pathos, hopes and fears, love and hatred, humanity and brutality-all affording him a memorable experience of journeying through sunshine and rain at once" (Luckey, assignment four). Furthermore, The Listener actually criticizes John Fowles, author of the 1969 The French Lieutenant's Woman, for being a "seductive story-teller who wants to be a major novelist" (Johnson, assignment four). While this critic may not respect Fowles' literary contribution, the fact that this book became a best seller illustrates that popular culture enjoyed this novel with its readable language and style. Thus, Show Boat teaches readers that there are certain aspects of books that make up a formula for best-selling status, one of these being story-telling style combined with descriptive language. Show Boat exhibits these traits, which other novelists use as well to ensure their book will be as highly acclaimed as earlier publications like Ferber's. Besides the language, critics also often praised Ferber's way of creating an escape for the reader. Donald Davidson spoke of this ability in the 1963 The Spy Glass: Views and Reviews, 1924-1930: "Here again Miss Ferber's people (and shall we say Miss Ferber herself) flee from dullness. They escape to the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre and are removed from the boredom of a stationary existence?they have a colorful world of their own" (CLC, vol. 93, 149). Davidson here complimented Ferber's way of taking readers out of their own worlds and bringing them into a new, exhilarating one. In this passage also, there is another allusion to the colorful descriptions Ferber utilizes, which actually help create the world to which readers escape. Ellen Serlen Uffen says in Edna Ferber and the 'Theatricalization' of American Mythology, "We can enter Ferber's books completely; our own reality never threatens, now does it even beckon. Her enticements are not of our world and that is exactly why they are enticing" (CLC, 188). This escapist attitude could have been popular in the 1920's for a variety of reasons. For one, as Jennings and Brewster write, "those who lived through this time of transformation watched more things change more rapidly than they have changed in all the years since?In the twenties, all laws (and principles, and conventions, and traditions) seemed to be up for grabs " (Jennings, 102). With all the new technology and challenged conventions, it is easy to surmise that people would long for a means by which to forget about these stressful conditions, which also include those mentioned at the beginning of the paper, such as racial tensions, poverty, and union loyalties. In fact, Show Boat is not the only example of the praise-worthy escape. Erica Bauermeister affirmed in 500 Great Books by Women that The Enchanted April published in 1923 by Mary Beauchamp is "for anyone who feels stiff, unloved, or used up- a restful, funny, sumptuous, and invigorating vacation for the mind and soul" (McElwain, assignment four). Furthermore, some of the speculations critics have made concerning why Show Boat offers an escape point to its setting in the late nineteenth century. Kronen-berger stated, "We need not be sentimentalists to regard the past with a romantic eye" (CLC, 151). This observation illustrates that people viewed the past with a nostalgic remembrance, as "a part of the American scene that once existed and does no more" (CLC, 151). Kronenberger continued, saying that Show Boat "is a glorification of that scene, a heightening, an expression of its full romantic possibilities" (CLC, 151). Surrounded by all the turmoil of the Roaring Twenties, readers enjoyed "escaping" to an era made even more beautiful by Ferber's imagination, language, and style. The Spectator offered a notable review: "Show Boat by Edna Ferber brings back the colorful past of the Southern States of America in the 'eighties and 'nineties?It is cordially recommended for an utterly readable, rather touching and ably-managed story, all the more effective because it does succeed in recapturing something of the vanished glamour of the days of the bustle" (CLC, 152). This reviewer spoke of Show Boat being "effective," and although it does not say so specifically, one may safely assume that "effective" refers to the novel's ability to provide an escape to the "vanished glamour of the days of the bustle." Thus, escapism is another ingredient in the formula for a best seller. As The Nation and Athenaeum printed, "Americans are a sentimental people, who love to clothe their past in roseate taffeta, and can idealize it the more easily for having left it behind so fast and surely" (Nation, 274). Therefore, as in Show Boat, often the escape results from an earlier setting of America that the author, once again, "colorfully" describes in a tone that makes the past seem happier than it was. Show Boat, in fact, may be used as a lesson in what a best seller contains. Other best sellers also use the past to offer, either intentionally or not, an escape to their readers. Ferber even admits in A Peculiar Treasure that
Myself, I wrote [books], I suppose, quite unconsciously, as an escape from the war. Unless the writer went back to another day he found himself confronted with the blood and hate and horror of the years between 1914 and 1918. I had never deliberately figured this out; I seemed automatically to turn my thoughts away from this mad and meaningless hate and slaughter to a lovelier decenter day. In doing that I quite unconsciously followed the inclination of the reading world. (Ferber, 303)
Readers of the 'twenties felt trapped in the new consumer driven market and, as evidenced by the popularity of Show Boat, desired some time away from that constant rush. In 1926, they turned to Show Boat, among others. In 1938, readers turned to Rawlings' The Yearling. Set in the years after the Civil War, The Yearling offered a retreat and "is an education in life that is far removed from our dreary urban formulas" as William Soskin of the New York Herald Book Review stated (Nista, assignment four). Yet another best seller set decades earlier than it was published is The Age of Innocence. Published in 1920, Edmund Wilson praised this novel by Edith Wharton, saying, "New York society and customs in the seventies are described with an accuracy that is almost uncanny; to read these pages is to live again" (Muir, assignment four). Clearly, this critic enjoyed reading and becoming a part of a previous culture in America's history. Thus, Show Boat is not the only best seller with the ingredient of "escapism." The novel may be used to identify the formula for a best seller which includes this aspect, however. Edward Wagenknect probably summed up the importance of this aspect in his review of Gone with the Wind: "The need to escape from an America which seemed, during the years of the Great Depression, inexplicably to have failed to fulfill all its golden promises must, in the nature of the case, have encouraged many readers to retreat to the past" (Dodd, assignment five). While readers seem to want to escape to the past, however, the historical journey of Show Boat from the 1870's to the 1920's also depicts an issue prevalent in 1926. A portrayal of and identification with important issues of the time when a book gets published also constitute reasons a book may become a best seller. Jennings and Brewster relate,
If there was one persistent attitude to match the excitement for the new in the 1920's, it was nostalgia for the old, for a time when truth seemed absolute and one's worldview was shared by one's neighbor. In America, this took the form of a yearning for the simple, agrarian image that had come to be identified with the country in the nineteenth century?Like most nostalgia, it tended to idealize, to remember a perfect past that never was? (Jennings, 117)
People in 1926 had conflicting views. Even "advertisements in the 1920's regularly combined the excitement of the future with the certainty of the past" (Jennings, 112). The lifestyles of Americans changed so quickly that they did not know how to cope sometimes: "The clash between the forces of old and new, country and city, puritan and hedonist, would animate life for the better part of a dynamic decade" (Jennings, 102). Show Boat exemplified the new verses old dichotomy through Magnolia and her daughter, Kim. Magnolia grows up in the late nineteenth century and acts on a river show boat, while Kim becomes an actress on the New York stage in the 1920's. The differing views of Magnolia and Kim parallel the old verses new saga. Magnolia thinks, "The new-school actresses?were, in short, figures as glamorous and romantic as a pint of milk. Everything they did on the stage was right. Intelligent, well thought out, and right?As right as an engineering blue-print. Your pulses, as you sat in the theatre, were normal" (Ferber, 391-392). Concurrently, modern Kim cannot comprehend why her mother would want to remain on the show boat at the end of the novel. Magnolia, therefore, represents the traditionalists, while Kim represents the progressives. Readers, while they may not consciously realize the relevance this conflict has to their own lives, nevertheless have a sense of empathy. Ferber makes sure that she produces characters to whom either group is able to relate. Thus, more people are likely to read Show Boat. Yet another issue to make Show Boat relevant to the public is its attention to race relations. While Ferber often uses colloquial terms that fit the Reconstruction era, such as "darkie" and "nigger" when referring to black people, she also creates a controversy as well as a commentary on race when Julie, always thought to be a white actress on the show boat, turns out to be black and is, therefore, forced to leave. The reader, having become attached to Julie for her strength and careless lifestyle while also sympathizing with Magnolia's great love for her, probably feels great remorse at the turn out. The parting of Magnolia and Julie also probably causes sentiment in the reader: "And when they finally came together, the woman dropped on her knees in the dust of the road and gathered the weeping child to her and held her close, so that as you saw them sharply outlined against the sunset the black of the woman's dress and the white of the child's frock were as one" (Ferber, 153). This passage clearly advocates unity and equality and provides a commentary on race relations during a decade in which there were four million members of the Ku Klux Klan by 1924 (Jennings, 117). Thus, readers are able to identify with another aspect of Show Boat. Identification with social trends and issues in other best-selling novels illustrates the importance of relevance to readers' lives and demonstrates that this identification is part of the formula for best sellers that Show Boat exemplifies. Published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, details an account of poor migrant workers. Peter Lisca says, "The Grapes of Wrath was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens; it was debated on national radio hook-ups; but above all it was read" (Cordyack, assignment four). The novel created a controversy after its publication, and hence, people bought and read it. This fact exhibits that a book is more likely to be read if readers identify with its contents or message. Furthermore, as Gary Richards states, Lillian Smith "stridently condemned the forced separation of races and demanded its immediate end, often much to the irritation of fellow white southerners" in her novel, Strange Fruit (Nagle, assignment four). In addition, Book Week called Strange Fruit
One of the finest, most sensitive novels of the season. [Smith's] theme is a startling and controversial one. Her aim is to shed light not only on the problems of the South as they revolve around the race question, but also on one phase of it which has never been fully treated before, which has remained an illicit, regional dirty joke: the relations of Negro women and white men. (Nagle, assignment four)
As evidenced by the sale of 19,000 copies per week in 1944, people read this novel. Thus, including controversial issues in a novel is one of the most important ingredients in the formula for a best seller. Hence, Show Boat gives readers a glimpse into what makes a book sell. There are certain ingredients which compile Show Boat that readers may also see in subsequent and even previous novels. These are a "colorful" and descriptive language, easily read and story-like in quality; escapism, often through settings in earlier decades, and finally current trends or sparked controversies. Comparing Show Boat to other best sellers, one may see that each quality alone could not produce a best seller, but that the ingredients must play off each other, thereby creating the formula which readers view in Ferber's novel. For instance, the soothing language helps the person relax and escape to the setting of the book, which usually allows for a less blatant, more subtle commentary on current issues. Regardless, the best seller is easy to read and relevant to readers' lives. This aspect may in fact explain why so many best sellers drop out of existence after the first few years as society's priorities are constantly evolving. It appears that the only best sellers that become part of the literary canon are those that won the Pulitzer or some other such prize, like The Grapes of Wrath or To Kill a Mockingbird. Nevertheless, even those that appeal to literary critics as well as the masses, do not always stay well known. So Big by Edna Ferber is one such example. Thus, to become a classic in American literature, there must be a different formula, yet Show Boat effectively teaches readers what they must look for to predict at least best-seller status. Often, once writers figure out the best seller formula, their names begin to appear continuously on the lists. Stephen King is one modern author who has obviously, by his continued appearance on the lists, figured out what readers crave. While his name may be a great way to advertise, readers would not continue to buy and read his books if they did not continue to be entertaining. Edna Ferber had this success in the two decades spanning the 'twenties to the 'forties. Readers continuously bought her books and while the pop culture of today does not continue to read them extensively, at least Show Boat illustrates what makes a best seller as well as being a treasure to historians as it displays what was important to people of that time. Sources: Book Review Digest, 1926 Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 93 The Century, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster The best-sellers database: Dodd, Luckey, McElwain, Nista, Muir, Cordyack, Nagle-- http://www.engl.virginia.edu:8000/courses/bestsellers/picked.books.cgi Show Boat by Edna Ferber A Peculiar Treasure by Edna Ferber
Supplemental Material
Edna Ferber in 1936
Kalamazoo, Michigan, birthplace
Pre-publication edition title page
A cartoon of a dress rehearsal for <u>Show Boat</u> from <u>A Peculiar Treasure</u>
A picture of <u>Show Boat</u> as appears in <u>A Peculiar Treasure</u>
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