1938: The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand

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From the Dust Jacket:

In telling the story of the late George Apley of Boston (1866-1933) Mr. Marquand has drawn through Bostonian eyes the portrait of a gentleman of the era and a picture as well of that preposterous facade of manners which a still powerful Puritan influence erected to protect itself from the insidious dangers of inherited wealth; a facade which placed family against humanity, companionship against passion and conventions against reality.

The novel takes the form of a memoir prepared “at the request of the family” by an old and sympathetic friend. At his disposal were placed all of Mr. Apley’s letters and papers. The letter from George Apley’s son making the request was not unusual. It ended, “My main preoccupation is that this thing should be real. You know, and I know, that father he guts.”

“The Late George Apley” is much more than just another move about Boston. Mr. Marquand has created a great character in Apley, and has painted an understanding picture of the short golden age of American security. And yet, by this tender method, Mr. Marquand has also achieved a powerful indictment of a misguided mind, and a bitter satire of a mentally decadent society-a fascinating, effective, and provocative book.

My Thoughts:

I made it about two thirds of the way through this book before things got busy and I’ll admit, it was a very easy book to put down and not pick back up again. Which is exactly what happened for 6 months. And much of the ease I found in putting this book aside can be attributed to the subtlety of the social critique in the book. In fact, it is not until the last third of the book (which I only arrived at after starting over again from the beginning recently), that this critique and satire becomes apparent to someone almost 80 years removed from the novel. And in hindsight, it is a much better book than I initially gave it credit for when I first put it down so many months ago. Continue reading

The 1938 Novel Decision

In 1938, for the first time since 1929, the Novel jury for the Pulitzer Prizes was shuffled around. A little bit. Albert B. Paine, Mark Twain’s biographer, died in April of 1937, and was replaced by Joseph W. Krutch, a critic for the weekly magazine, The Nation. Krutch was placed in the position of chairman, replacing Jefferson Fletcher, who was still retained for the jury, but in the downgraded role.

The jury unanimously nominated John P. Marquand’s The Late George Apley for the prize, calling it “a novel of unusual finish” and admiring the “broad, sympathetic understanding exhibited by the author, who is able to present his personages from their own, as well as from his point of view.

The jury recommended two further novels, “if for any reason this recommendation should be rejected”: The Sound of Running Feet by Josephine Lawrence, and Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts. The jury, in their recommendation letter, further stated they “would like to reiterate its own earnest hope that The Late George Apley will be chosen.”

The Pulitzer Prize Committee accepted the recommendation of the jury, and the Pulitzer Prize for Novel appears to have remained relatively free of controversy or criticism for 1938, at least.

Currently reading: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

1937: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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Plot Summary:

Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.

My Thoughts:

I’ll just start right off the bat by saying that I don’t like Scarlett O’Hara. Not really at all. I get that she’s a strong, independent, progressive woman who was pushing the boundaries of the societal norms within the time period of the novel, but she’s also just a terrible person. And though I enjoyed the book, and the history behind it, I had a hard time really getting into it because of my vehement dislike of the protagonist. She is insensitive and uncaring, and has the emotional maturity of a child long after she should have grown out of it. And she doesn’t ever grow past it. But I’ll come back to that. Continue reading

The 1937 Novel Decision

1937 marked the last of 8 consecutive years in the longest running unchanged Pulitzer Prize Novel Jury of Jefferson Fletcher, Robert Lovett, and Albert Paine. The jury seemed undecided on which book actually deserved the prize, and listed 6 novels with no distinction of which book or books they found most worthy. The first two novels on the list were Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and George Santayana’s The Last Puritan. The jury report states: “No comment on the first two novels seems called for. They have been too fully and widely discussed.” The jury report goes on to state that they recommend the two novels, “not as best sellers but as deservedly best sellers,” however, they also mention some reluctance in giving a money prize or more publicity to two novels that had already been given so much money and publicity on the market. This did not seem to bother the Advisory Board at all, as they awarded the prize to Mitchell for Gone With the Wind.

In another instance of the precarious nature of the Pulitzer Prize for Novel in public opinion, they could do no right. Despite the popularity of Mitchell’s novel in the public, John Hohenberg writes that “the critical buffeting of Gone With the Wind as a best-selling Pulitzer selection was strong and merciless.” Hohenberg goes on to state that, despite the critical response to the selection, the continued popularity and interest in the novel even decades later makes Gone With the Wind “an eminently defensible choice.”

Currently reading: The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand