Monday, March 17, 2014

Authoress: Edna Ferber

In my list of Favorite Musicals, there is one that did not make the cut: Showboat (1951).
I do not like misery. I do not like it at all. To me, film (and most books, unless exquisitely written) should be about pleasant escapism. Bright colors, noble heroines, chivalrous men, gorgeous wardrobes. 

Showboat did not appease me that way. Sure, the movie ends with scraping violins and a soaring chorus as the reunited couple slowly walk off the scene, but Julie is abandoned to a tragic end. Ah, no, no, not watching this again. 

When Edna Ferber's name came up in my newspaper browsing, I made a note to take out a book of hers, as a trial run. I am constantly on the search for charming writers of historical fiction, but I must admit my expectations were modest. My library supplied a 663-page collection of three of her novels, the first being Showboat

Well! So it was she I could blame for that travesty of entertainment! Unless, perhaps the movie houses did what they always do, which is maul lofty works? I decided to grant her the benefit of the doubt.
As a reader, I am less concerned with plot lines, more obsessed with the quality of prose. While authors like, say, Ken Follet can provide a gripping story, I wince at his choice of words. The dialogue, oh dear me, and the characters . . . so vague.

The sheer beauty of Ferber's narrative made me believe again in the art of the written word; her craft is simply stunning. As I suspected, MGM had slashed through her masterpiece, removing all her poetic humor and character development. Even the song "Ol' Man River" is a defiance of her pen, since the Mississippi River is constantly referred to as "she," not "he," in the literary Showboat.

I continued on to the second book, So Big, which won the Pulitzer. I like neat conclusions tied up with a red bow; despite the dangling strings, I found it even more consuming than Showboat. This was a moral tale, that of Art vs. Artifice, Beauty vs. Big Money, Truth vs. Falsehood. 

Curious about this new woman in my life, I glanced at her Wikipedia profile. Not only was she Jewish, her father was Hungarian. No wonder this constant conversation over visual loveliness; her heritage probably involved avid awareness of aesthetics.

She did not mention Jews much, except in one autobiographical novel, Fanny Herself. That's next on my reading list.   

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