From the 1910s to the 1950s, Edna Ferber (1885–1968) published a series of bestselling novels that made her one of Doubleday’s highest-paid authors, earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1925, and transformed her into a literary celebrity. She hosted dinner parties covered by the New York Times, lunched at the Algonquin Round Table with Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott, and collaborated with George S. Kaufman on hit plays such as Dinner at Eight and Stage Door. In Edna Ferber’s America, Eliza McGraw provides the first in-depth critical study of the author’s novels, exploring their innovative portrayals of characters from a diverse range of ethnicities and social classes.
Best remembered today for the movies and musicals adapted from her works—including classics like Giant and Show Boat—Ferber attracted a devoted readership during her lifetime with engaging storylines focused on strong-willed individuals reshaping their lives, set amid a panorama of regional landscapes. McGraw reveals that Ferber’s novels convey a broad, nuanced vision of the United States as a multiethnic country, with particular emphasis on Jewish American communities.
Framing her study with the theme of ethnic unease and insecurity, McGraw performs close readings of twelve Ferber novels: Dawn O’Hara (1911), Fanny Herself (1917), The Girls (1921), So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926), Cimarron (1929), American Beauty (1931), Come and Get It (1935), Saratoga Trunk (1941), Great Son (1945), Giant (1952), and Ice Palace (1958). McGraw emphasizes the entwined topics of racial mixing and class, as she argues that in Ferber’s America, ethnic and social mobility challenge the reigning order, creating places that foster vitality and promise hope for the future.
Eliza McGraw received her PhD in English from Vanderbilt University and is the author of Two Covenants: Representations of Twentieth-Century Jewishness. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.
Praise for Edna Ferber's America
“For scholars who are intrigued by but unfamiliar with Ferber’s fiction, McGraw’s book is a good place to turn for an overview of her career before delving into the novels themselves. McGraw makes a compelling case as to why Ferber deserves further consideration from scholars of American women’s writing and ethnic literature.”—Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature
“Edna Ferber is one of many American women whose importance to American culture has been downplayed or ignored. She has helped to shape our culture—our novel and short story writing, our playwriting and our filmmaking. Eliza McGraw has demanded Ferber be given her appropriate status. In particular, McGraw has examined Ferber using an intersectional model of Jewish and female identity, forcing readers to recognize Ferber and her contributions as complex and rich, simultaneously laudable and troubling. This is a book that scholars of 20th century American literature, filmmaking, Jewish identity, and women's studies must read.”— Alison Piepmeir, author of Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism
“Eliza McGraw’s insightful analysis introduces a new generation to the Pulitzer Prize–winning American novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, whose evocative works captured a country grappling with modernity and mythology through the lens of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and region. In her beautifully written, deep readings of twelve of Ferber’s novels, McGraw unveils the author’s complex identity, from her turn-of-the-century working-class, midwestern Jewish roots to her contested position in New York’s glittering literary scene of the early twentieth century.”—Marcie Cohen Ferris, coeditor of Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History
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