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.” Continue reading

Advertisements

The 1944 Novel Decision

The same jury that recommended Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth the year before returned in its entirety for the 1944 selection. The jury was much more divided on their selection than even the year before, and so the report listed each jury member’s top four choices. The only two novels that appeared on both lists were John P. Marquand’s So Little Time and Martin Flavin’s Journey in the Dark. Christine Weston’s Indigo and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn were included on two of the judges lists, while the third judge thought John Dos Passos’s Number One and Ira Wolfert’s Tucker’s People more deserving.

The chair of the jury, John Chamberlain, writes, “it is perhaps unfair to try to make a mathematically determined choice,” but does his best to do just that, by awarding different points for the placement of each book on each juror’s list, determining that Journey in the Dark would be in first place, followed by Indigo, and then So Little Time. The jury report lists it’s concerns about Marquand’s So Little Time, stating that “Marquand has had the prize before. The Pulitzer committee may want to pass him over in favor of … some other candidate.” They wrote that Indigo, being set in India, by an American author who lived quite some time in India, leaves the question “whether her work is properly to be considered a part of American literature.”

About Martin Flavin’s novel, the jury writes, “Journey in the Dark is American to the bone, it has a reflective brooding richness. And it deals honestly with an average man’s experience that may be typical,” (despite the fact that this “average man” becomes a millionaire, among many other atypical things). John Hohenburg later called Journey in the Dark a “rather turgid tale of a millionaire who went to work in a defense plant during the war” and notes that the Pulitzer Prize committee was “severely criticized” for awarding it the prize.

Currently Reading: Colcorton by Edith Pope

The 1943 Novel Decision

After the fiasco in 1942, all three jurors on the novel jury for the Pulitzer Prizes resigned their positions, and an all-new trio of jurors was formed to consider the books eligible for the 1943 prize. The jury was headed by John R. Chamberlain, who was at the time a journalist for Time, and a professor of journalism at Colombia University. The jury was rounded out by journalist Lewis S. Gannett and author and literary critic Maxwell S. Geismar.

The jury report states, “the novel most worthy of the Pulitzer Prize is Upton Sinclair’s ‘Dragon’s Teeth.’” Chamberlain writes that Sinclair’s novel appeared first on the list of two of the members of the jury, and was the second choice of the third. Chamberlain writes that “The Lanny Budd sequence, of which ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ is an integral part, is Sinclair’s best fiction by far,” and attempts to soothe the advisory board by telling them that though Sinclair is “known as a socialist, he has, however, lost his old habits of the doctrinaire and pamphleteer. The subject of ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ is not anything so narrow or questionable as the Marxist class struggle, which Sinclair used to portray thirty years ago.” Continue reading

The 1942 Novel Decision

In 1942, Dorothy Fisher was replaced on the novel jury by Gilbert Highet, a Scottish born professor of Latin and Greek at Colombia University, and joined long time veterans of the jury Jefferson Fletcher and Joseph Krutch. The three of them did not pull any punches in their recommendation letter, stating, “none of the novels brought to its attention seemed of really outstanding merit or equal to many at least of those which have received the prize in the past.” They further exclaimed, “Had it not been for the fact that no prize was awarded last year it would probably have recommended that none be awarded this year.” However, understanding that two years in a row with no prize for novel would be poor form, they recommended, in no particular order, four novels that were the least bad choices in their opinion: Windswept by Mary Ellen Chase, The Great Big Doorstep by E. P. O’Donnell, Storm by George Stewart, and Green Centuries by Caroline Gordon.

Members of the advisory board, always more than willing to step in and make their own decision, produced at least two letters addressed to Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., son of the man who had established the Pulitzer Prizes, who was still closely connected to prizes. One letter, from novelist W. E. Woodward, extolled the virtues of Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth, third in a series of novels, which explores American, and world, history, from the Wall Street crash of 1929 through Hitler’s rise to power leading up to World War Two, from the eyes of an illegitimate son of an American arms manufacturer. However, Sinclair’s novel was not published in 1941, but in 1942 (and would, in fact, go on to win the prize the next year). The second letter, written by Julian LeRose Harris of the Chattanooga Times, heaped extravagant praise upon Ellen Glasgow, whose novel In This Our Life, was published in 1941. Harris goes on at length about the long and notable oeuvre of the author, quoting several journalist and reviews which spoke favorably about Miss Glasgow, going so far as to call her one of the most important novelists of the past twenty years. Harris goes on to state that the full work of Miss Glasgow was more than enough to warrant her consideration for the prize, which she had not yet even been considered for, with the statement that, as Miss Glasgow was now approaching 70, though “there has been no diminution in the quality of her work, there is no assuredness that it can continue.” Continue reading

The 1941 Novel Decision

In 1941, Robert M. Lovett was replaced on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Novel by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, known for introducing the Montessori method of teaching to the United States, and also listed as a tertiary recommendation for the Pulitzer Prize the year before for her novel Seasoned Timber. According to a poll of book reviewers that year, the overwhelming choice by critics for 1941 was Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, although the jury had a different opinion altogether. The jury report lists two novels as being deserving of the award: The Trees by Joseph Conrad and The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and called the decision that year particularly difficult because “we find little to choose between the two.” However, they report states that one member of the jury preferred Richter’s The Trees and so they presented it as their primary recommendation.

They went on to list three more novels, stating they were “carefully considered” but found none of them were “as worthy of the prize” as their two primary recommendations. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls was on this list, alongside Native Son by Richard Wright and Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts. The report calls Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls “unquestionably vivid, picturesque, and interesting” but faults it for its “romantic sensationalism and a style so mannered and eccentric as to be frequently absurd.” Continue reading

The 1940 Novel Decision

The jury of Fletcher, Krutch, and Lovett returned for the third and final year in 1940, and by their opinion, had no trouble selecting their recommendation for the prize, writing in their report, “We are unanimously agreed to recommend as our first choice ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck,” calling it “the most powerful and significant of all the works submitted for our consideration.” As a second choice, they listed Escape by Ethel Vance, and in the case neither of those satisfied the committee, also provided To the End of the World by Helen White, Seasoned Timber by Dorothy Canfield, and Night Riders by Robert Penn Warren as tertiary recommendations.

While the jury had no problem recommending The Grapes of Wrath, some members of the Pulitzer Prize Advisory Board had problems with Steinbeck’s work being awarded the prize. In advance of their meeting, member Walter M. Harrison of the Oklahoma City paper Daily Oklahoman, wrote to the board trying to persuade them not to choose The Grapes of Wrath, stating that “such a decision would encourage more efforts in erotica by a host of authors writing for the market and promote a false sense of value with the immature reader which surely is neither enlightening nor constructive.” He went on to complain that while some of the migrants from his state may resemble the characters in the book, “there is another unit, clean in their habits and minds, decent in their living and speaking.” He further criticizes “the quarrel about the cause of the problem” faced by the migrants and “the lack of a solution.” Continue reading

The 1939 Novel Decision

The same three jurors, Fletcher, Krutch, and Lovett, came back in 1939 to judge the Pulitzer Prize for Novel and “unanimously agreed to recommend” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling for the prize. The jury report calls the book “an interesting and sensitive account of the coming of age of a poor boy in a remote part of Florida” and applauds the “psychological insight” as well as the “description of the life of a picturesque people.”

The jury also listed as secondary recommendations All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Field, Black is My True Love by Elizabeth Mattox Roberts, May Flavin by Myron Birnig, and Renown by Frank O. Hough, but the Pulitzer committee agreed with their first choice and awarded Rawlings the Pulitzer, although John Hohenburg states that at the choice, “the critics grumbled.”

Currently reading: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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

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

The 1936 Novel Decision

With the new wording for the prize criteria calling, not for “the best novel” but “a distinguished novel,” the same jury from the year before deliberated, and recommended Honey in the Horn by H. L. Davis for the prize, stating, “There is lively and varied action and exceedingly graphic description of a little known section of the country,” and comparing the “style and humor” of the novel to Mark Twain’s writing. The jury listed as lesser suggestions, This Body the Earth by Paul Green, Time Out of Mind by Rachel Field, Silas Crocket by Ellen Chase, Ollie Miss by George Wylie Henderson, Deep Dark River by Robert Ryles, and Blessed is the Man by Louis Zara.

The Advisory Board went ahead with the jury suggestion and awarded the prize to Davis for Honey in the Horn, although John Hohenberg notes that they “fully realized that criticism of the fiction award would continue. And it did. Changing the formula (prize criteria), as always, really changed nothing.”

Hohenberg writes of one further development that Hohenberg writes about in the aftermath of the award. He mentions that Sinclair Lewis was described by the New York Times as “a judge of the prize contest” and described the book as “full of raciness, of adventure, of color,” and said that Honey in the Horn is “one of those uncommon books that really express a land and an age and, by expressing them, really create them.” Hohenberg points out that Lewis was not included in any records as being part of the novel jury for the Pulitzer Prize, and mentions a correspondence he had with Lewis’ biographer, Mark Schorer, in which he calls Lewis’ “claim of jury membership ‘improbable’” and “a kind of joke.” Continue reading