The 1946 Novel Decision

The same jury that had been split the year before returned in 1946, and once again had trouble finding any common ground to recommend one novel over another. Unfortunately, the jury report from 1946 was missing in the Pulitzer Prize office when Heinz-Dietrich Fischer and Erica Fischer were compiling their multi-volume work, The Pulitzer Prize Archive, and I have been unable to find any indication online of what may have happened to the report, or whether it has in fact been located in the years since the Fischer’s work was published, so I am unable to reference the jury’s own statements on which books they preferred and why.

Thus, I must refer to John Hohenberg’s The Pulitzer Prizes for what little information I am able to find about the 1946 decision. Hohenburg claims the jury “was in even less agreement over the 1946 prize” than they had been the year before, and lists three books as being the top contenders: Apartment in Athens by Glenway Wescott, The Wayfarers, by Dan Wickenden, and Black Boy, by Richard Wright. Hohenberg goes on to claim that jury member Orville Prescott was particularly against recommending Black Boy, which he “refused to consider as a novel.”

While I have been unable to discover any further details behind the juror’s recommendations, the end result was the same: the Advisory Board voted to award no prize in the Novel category due to the indecision of the jury.

Currently Reading: Apartment in Athens by Glenway Wescott

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1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey

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From the Dust Jacket:

This is a novel by the young war correspondent who wrote Into the Valley. It is a novel, but it is also the truth. It is about Americans in Italy. It tells of the Italian-American major who tried to rebuild an occupied town along the lines of his own good instincts and democratic upbringing. He understood the wonderful, simple people of the town-the fishermen, the officials, the cartmen, the children who ran in the streets shouting to American soldiers to throw them caramels-and he knew how much they wanted to carry on the customs of their homeland but also how much they wanted and needed a new freedom. He found that an ancient bell which the town had loved had been taken away by the Fascists to make gun barrels and he did something about it. He discovered that there were pretty girls in Italian towns just are there are in American towns. And he and his new friends ran into some crippling difficulties-red tape and prejudice which revealed themselves in astonishing quarters.

Mr. Hersey spent three months of the summer of 1943 in the Mediterranean theater, covered the Sicilian campaign, and lived for some time in a village like the Adano of his story. His novel has the kind of truth that could come only from first-hand knowledge coupled with profound understanding and feeling. But the story also has rich meaning for the future, for it deals with men who are already facing problems that will follow in the wake of the war. It makes startlingly clear the fact that charters and agreements are only as effective as the men who are sent to implement them. Continue reading

1945 Near Miss: The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters by Joseph Stanley Pennell

From the Dust Jacket:

For dramatic impact, imaginative power, vividness of characterization and emotional intensity, there are few American novels that compare with this remarkable story in which the American past and present are so brilliantly blended.

This big strange book is the record of young Lee Harrington’s ancestors—chief among them his heroic great-grandfather Rome Hanks—as recreated by Lee from what he saw and was told. The characters are men and women of both North and South who lived and fought through the Civil War and then struggled for a livelihood in the impoverished South or the little towns of the West. Lee began to brood about the lives of these people when nettled by the beautiful Christa Schell’s bored responses to his reminiscences—“I am sure your grandfather must have been a fine old Southern gentleman!”

All the memories of the Civil War and of the years afterward up to Lee’s birth, gathered largely from a loyal friend and admirer of Rome Hanks, Thomas Wagnal, formerly surgeon in the 117th Iowa, and from others who fought, are sifted through Lee’s mind and given a new quality by it, and are set down as they come, without chronology. They are chiefly about the heroic Romulus Hanks, Captain in the 117th, cheated of advancement by the politician, Clint Belton, who, though he groveled under the bluff at Pittsburg Landing while the Battle of Shiloh raged, became Colonel and ended a Brigadier.

Another main source of Lee’s information was the old North Carolinian, his great-uncle Pinkney Harrington, “Uncle Pink,” who began his account of that blazing walk across the field of Gettysburg with the words, “We ate roast pig the morning before Pickett’s Charge.” And another was his grandfather, Tom Beckham, of the Zouaves, who fought in the Seven Days and was photographed by Brady as he lay among the wounded outside a field hospital. But no less impressive than the Civil War years are the pictures and episodes of Midwestern America, especially Kansas, up to 1900 or so. Continue reading

1945 Near Miss: Colcorton by Edith Pope

From the Dust Jacket:

In “Colcorton” Edith Pope introduces one of the really great characters of fiction-Abby Clanghearne. Growing up with a dreadful secret locked in her heart, striving always, through her brother Jared, to overcome the poverty and decay that have been her environment, Abby remains undaunted. Courageously, as she becomes adjusted to the situation, she accepts the ruin of her plans for Jared and, after his death, she takes on the responsibility of his widow and unborn child, and, at last, overcomes the horror of her secret by tremendous sacrifice, gaining an almost proportionate release from that horror.

The beauty of the Florida coast line comes alive in “Colcorton.” Whether it is the clean etched line of the great pine trees, the vast sparkling entity of the Atlantic, or the muted mysterious world of the swamp, Edith Pope makes you really see, hear, smell and feel the grandeur, the heartbreaking loveliness of this region. She transmits, without sentimentality, Abby’s love for this land that has been her whole life as well as her livelihood.

There are other unforgettable characters in this warm, deeply-moving book of people and the land they live on. Danny Strikeleather is one-wise and kind with eyes that make it impossible for anyone to lie to him. Beth Clanghearne is another-Beth, whose fragile appearance and quiet manner make people think of her as weak and stupid, but who becomes aware of a deep, almost animal, wisdom and strength within herself. And there is Clement Johnson, perpetually running from himself, weary, disillusioned, selfish, who finds a peace of short duration with the selfless, instinctively understanding Abby.

With its beauty of setting, its inevitability of outcome, and above all its brilliantly conceived and completely realized characters, “Colcorton” is a deeply satisfying book.

My Thoughts:

We return back to Florida in Edith Pope’s Colcorton, and while it shares some of the character and feel of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, Pope’s novel is one with much larger themes and much more complex characters. Instead of focusing on a young boy coming of age in the wilds of Florida, Colcorton follows the third generation of Floridians, Abby and Jared Clanghearne, whose grandfather was a slave and plantation owner on the Florida coast, and whose past wealth and land holdings are now but the faintest shadow of what they once were, due not only to the end of slavery, but also because of a dark secret that has kept Abby mostly isolated on the ruins of the old plantation house: her grandmother was black, and thus her family’s bloodline, according to the general white public, is “tainted,” and Abby and her brother Jared are at risk to be treated as black themselves, losing their friends, their livelihoods, and potentially even what little is left of their family’s property and money. Continue reading

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

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

1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow

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Plot Summary:

In This Our Life must at once be called the impressive culmination of the creative life work of one of the few major American novelists. Ellen Glasgow’s philosophy of life is implicit in all her books-that character is destiny. Never before has it been revealed so inevitably, so passionately, as it is in In This Our Life.

Here is a model of modern times, ending a few days before the outbreak of the war in Europe. The scene is a Virginia Tidewater city. The members of the Timberlake family-mother, father, and the two young women who are their daughters-are the central characters of an intensely dramatic story, dramatic not simply for its happenings, but for the people who cause them. They are true, vital creations, these characters, and they make the action precipitate toward the concluding events of In This Our Life. Then, too (as an eminent American critic has said of Miss Glasgow, ‘She has not been merely a transcriber of life but an interpreter as well’), the book gathers in special intensity as the chief theme grows through the story. The fascinated reader sees unfolding before him an analysis of the modern mind and temper as exhibited in this family and their community. Realism informed with understanding, wit tempered with compassion, these are the qualities which have always distinguished Ellen Glasgow’s work; never have they been displayed more powerfully. And, as always, the story marches to the rhythm of that closewoven, epigrammatic, polished prose, one of the great styles of our time.

My Thoughts:

In This Our Life is a novel that looks at the differences in values between generations, and whether or not people are better or worse off with those values. The chief character in the novel is Asa Timberlake, a father of three, whose own father committed suicide after he lost everything, and who was forced, at a young age, to work long hours in his father’s old factory, under its new owner, to provide first for his mother, then his wife and children. His traditional values throughout the novel leave him tied to a wife he’s not sure he has ever loved, and who doesn’t love him back, working to provide what he can for a family that is often ungrateful. 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

1941 Near Miss: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

From the Dust Jacket:

Into this great new novel­­‑nearly twice as long as “A Farewell to Arms”-Ernest Hemingway has poured the fullness of his experience, the perfection of his art. A novel of wartime Spain, in which a young American and a Spanish girl live a lifetime of love and courage in four momentous days, it speaks with final and unforgettable power about the truth-the truth of war and life in our time.

With Robert Jordan already behind enemy lines on his dangerous mission-to join forces with a band of Spanish men and women hidden in the mountains, and blow up a bridge that is essential to the great attack-the story begins in the midst of the action. It moves forward with rushing swiftness and a compelling sense of reality to the moment when he must blow up the bridge-the bridge on which the whole future of the human race can turn.

Before this crucial action Robert Jordan enters into the life of the men and women whose destiny he shares, who, living at the edge of danger, come vibrantly alive, intimately known. There is Pilar, a great woman who has lived long and fully, brave, barbarously outspoken, yet warm-hearted; and Pablo, her husband, a strong man at the start of the movement but now dangerously undependable. And there is Maria, a tawny, lovely Spanish girl who escaped the fascists to find healing in her love for Robert Jordan. Their story becomes one of the most tender, passionately moving love stories ever written.

In these superbly real men and women-sharing days of heightened excitement, deeper and richer experiences than most lifetimes hold-Hemingway seems to have embraced all human experience, the conflict of life itself, not only martial but spiritual and emotional. All that he has written before, including some of the greatest novels of our generation-points toward the achievement of this work of art, a novel that carries the rare, perfected shine of enduring greatness.

My Thoughts:

The ostensibly simple plot of For Whom the Bell Tolls-an American explosives expert teams up with Spanish guerrillas in the mountains to blow up a bridge-while compelling, serves more in the book as a vehicle to explore a number of other themes. The protagonist Robert Jordan thinks several times that he has loved more in the four days of the novel than many people love in their whole lives, but this does not hold true only for love. Hemingway uses the tensions and stresses and the sense of impending doom among the characters to provide a condensed look at many aspects of life and humanity over the course of four days: love, war, death, religion, politics, courage, fear. The characters are complex and nuanced, providing different aspects that play off each other, sometimes in conflict, and sometimes in congruence. It is a long and at times laborious novel, intercut often by long trains of thought and mental monologues, exploring the characters’ motivations and fears and ideologies as the action moves slowly forward, tension building slowly throughout most of the novel until it erupts in brief violence. Continue reading