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

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