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

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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