1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller

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From the Dust Jacket:

This is the story of the Carver family of Georgia. At the center of the book is Cean Carver, whose life is described in astonishing detail, from the day of her marriage when she leaves her family to establish a new home, to the time when she welcomes her second husband back from the Civil War.

The Carvers are simple enough people, living close to the soil, as much a part of the natural scene as the changing seasons and the ripening of the crops.

Caroline Miller tells of them with raw insight, humor and drama–in a prose of such rich quality that many times it approaches genuine poetry.

My Thoughts:

Lamb in His Bosom is the story of what may be the unluckiest family in Georgia before the Civil War. Whether it’s illness, stillbirth, gangrene, fire (twice), or even panther attack, it seems like everything that could go wrong, does. Following Caen Carver, the novel chronicles several decades of rural farming life before and through the Civil War, giving what feels like an overly-dramatized look at these character’s lives. Having not lived through that time period or lifestyle, I’m in no way qualified to remark on how realistic Miller’s depiction is, but as the novel progressed, I found myself wondering how many more things would go wrong for this family, which I suppose also made the little victories in the novel all the more surprising.

Other than that, I found the novel a fascinating counterpoint to the previous year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Store, and T. S. Stribling’s previous novel, The Forge. Whereas The Store and The Forge looked at the life of a slave owning family in Alabama in the decades before and after the Civil War, Lamb in His Bosom takes a look at the poor farming class in the years before the war, who were almost hidden in the swamps and forests of Georgia, far from any town or settlement or store, and could not even dream of owning slaves. Miller’s depiction of the Carver family in the first half of the 19th Century reminds me of the lifestyle that is often associated with the Appalachian region in literature and film. It is a lifestyle centered around the land and the home that seems very isolated on first impression, but one in which neighbors, despite the distance between houses, play an important role in each other’s lives. Continue reading

The 1934 Novel Decision

The jury recommendation letter in 1934 was fairly straightforward: they did not come to a unanimous decision, but recommended as most deserving the prize A Watch in the Night by Helen C. White, as a close second Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller, and in third place, No More Sea by Wilson Follett. The jury stated that “A Watch in the Night is an historical novel of accurate background, sharply etched characters, and highly dramatic plot.”

The decision by the Pulitzer Prize Committee was a little less straightforward. By which I mean they didn’t go with the jury’s first recommendation and chose Lamb in His Bosom instead. After the Advisory Board ruled against both the Drama and Fiction category jurors, Fackenthal, the secretary of Columbia, was anxious about the public response, and wrote a letter to the president of Colombia stating, “I am pretty sure we are in for a storm over the Pulitzer Prizes.” As John Hohenburg writes, however, the Fiction jury made no public complaints over the final choice of the committee, however the jury for the Drama prize “reacted violently” and much of the public uproar involving the Pulitzer Prizes in 1934 was concentrated on the Drama category.

In the aftermath of the Pulitzer Prize announcements, President Butler suggested that they limit the power of the juries to make any firm recommendations, and instead present a list of eligible books. His secretary, Fackenthal, lamented that this may make it more difficult to convince people to be a part of the Pulitzer Prize juries, although they had no trouble convincing the three Fiction jury members to return the next year. Butler’s suggestion was not enforced on the juries in the following years, although Hohenburg writes that the idea “echoed through the years at Colombia almost every time a major controversy erupted over the Pulitzer Prizes.”

Currently reading: A Watch in the Night by Helen C. White

Prelude to Pulitzer: The Forge by T. S. Stribling

When I started reading The Store, I didn’t realize it was the sequel to T. S. Stribling’s previous novel, The Forge, and found that the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel worked well on its own, without having read The Forge, but I decided to go back and read the first novel, to see how it interacted with its sequel and whether or not Stribling had anything more or different to say. And the short version is that he did.

The Forge follows the Vaiden family in a much more general sense, instead of focusing primarily on Miltiades, the protagonist of The Store. And perhaps the most fascinating thing about it is that it seems to work just as well reading it after The Store as I could imagine it would work reading it before. There are hints of unresolved mysteries in The Store, such as the murder of Polycarp Vaiden, Miltiades’ brother, which, instead of staying mysteries within The Forge, are actually resolved, but the characters who discover the truth are either not present in The Store, or are minor characters, and the mysteries, since they were resolved in the first novel, are only mysteries to the various narrators. Additionally, The Forge focuses on a completely different era, looking at the years before, during, and immediately after the Civil War, when things were confused and falling apart and anything but neat and tidy. Allegiances and loyalties are tested and strained, and Stribling isn’t afraid to show the darknesses on both sides of the war.

What is interesting about reading The Forge second, however, is wondering how things are going to end up the way they do in the later book. Though Miltiades’ love of one woman but marriage to another are spoken of at length in The Store, it is a different matter altogether to see it happen in real time, and the storyline that really takes its time developing is Miltiades’ sister Marcia’s. Jerry Catlin is her son who comes to town early in The Store and becomes one of the primary characters, but for most of The Forge, Marcia is engaged to another man, and Jerry Catlin’s father is an abolitionist from Tennessee, making any sort of interaction with Marcia strained, especially during the war when her family’s property is raided by Union soldiers during the war, soldiers in the same company as Jerry Catlin Sr. Continue reading