Before the 1931 judges began going over the novels, the secretary of Columbia, Frank D. Fackenthal, wrote a letter to Columbia’s president, Nicholas Butler, in which he brought up concerns from the novel jury over the wording of the terms of the award, and suggested that they amend it to award the prize “for the best novel published during the year by an American author.”
While the Pulitzer Prize Committee was still considering the wording change, the jury selected three novels for their recommendation: Margaret Ayer Barnes’ Years of Grace, Elizabeth Maddox Robert’s The Great Meadow, and Dorothy Canfield’s The Deepening Stream. The recommendation letter said they put Barnes’ Years of Grace in “first place because of its vivid and interesting presentation of the change in character and mores throughout three generations of an American family.” They went on to prod the advisory board into changing the wording of the terms of the prize by stating, “So long as the announced conditions of this award indicate a novel of social criticism, the Committee feel bound to give weight to this factor.”
The jury went on to praise The Great Meadow for “its distinction of substance and style” and The Deepening Stream for “the greatness of its theme and the intensity of the experience portrayed.” The Pulitzer Prize Committee went on to select their first choice of Years of Grace for the prize, and chose to change the wording of the terms to those laid out in Fackenthal’s letter. But John Hohenberg writes, “there were not too many critical cheers for the fiction choice.”
According to Hohenberg, President Butler was “too much the realist to believe that the mere juggling of words in the Plan of the Award would solve any problems [in the public opinion of the Novel Prize].” In a letter to Fackenthal, he considers “whether, in view of the sharp criticism of the Pulitzer literary awards in recent years, particularly this year, we ought not to make some altercations in our juries.” Butler apparently did not pursue this line of thought much further, though, because the novel jury remained unchanged until 1938.
Currently reading: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck