The 1945 Novel Decision

In 1945, Orville Prescott of the New York Times replaced Lewis Gannett of the New York Herald Tribune, and the three jury members, if anything, had even more trouble coming to a consensus than before. Orville Prescott championed John Hersey’s World War II novel, A Bell for Adano, while Maxwell Geismar preferred Joseph Pennell’s The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters, and the chairman, John Chamberlain, argued for Edith Pope’s Colcorton. Like the year before, the jury report provided a list of each member’s preferences, this time ten books long apiece, and gave numerical values to the first five spots on each jury member’s list. The resulting tally found Pope’s Colcorton in first with 13 points, Hersey in second with 9 points, but Prescott just behind in third with 8 points. Each of the jury members went on to explain their thoughts on their choices in individual paragraphs.

Chamberlain writes that Colcorton is “the best novel of the year” for its “sheer ability to maintain a mood of mounting terror throughout a long novel in which the characters are fully created.” Though Geismar placed The History of Rome Hanks at the top of his list, he goes on to explain that “in some ways I like Colcorton better, though it is more limited, and flattens out in the end. And Prescott writes that the novel “transcends mere local color and achieves a note of psychological tragedy of almost Grecian grandeur.”

Prescott calls A Bell for Adano “a truly remarkable book” and praises the “expert story-telling, brilliant characterization and vital message.” Chamberlain agrees that it has “deft, topical, warm writing,” but believes that the “real moral problem is dodged” because in the dichotomy of democracy and authoritarianism, democracy “is imposed by the invaders, not an organic outgrowth of the Sicilian character.” Geismar says the novel has “real talent of writing [but] very little grasp of experience under it.”

Geismar, who preferred The History of Rome Hanks writes that it “has the most talent of the bunch,” but acknowledges that it is “a little fancy and literary.” Orville Prescott makes no mention of his thoughts on the book in his own comments, and Chamberlain says it “has brilliant passages but is rather like a long Whitman poem in which the excellent lines are drowned in mediocre filler.”

In conclusion, Chamberlain writes that “Mr. Geismar is definitely against A Bell for Adano for top honors; Mr. Prescott is equally against Rome Hanks. All three judges, however, agree upon the worth of Colcorton.” Chamberlain goes on to note that, between A Bell for Adano and The History of Rome Hanks, he “prefers A Bell for Adano by a slight margin.”

The split decision came to the Advisory Board, where John Hohenburg notes that A Bell for Adano had its own issues when “one of the members, in an outburst of patriotic wrath, denounced the novel because he didn’t like the way Hersey depicted General George S. Patton Jr.” Despite this outburst, and despite the jury’s preference of Pope’s Colcorton, the Advisory Board awarded the prize in 1945 to John Hersey for his novel, A Bell for Adano.

Currently Reading: The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters by Joseph Pennell


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