Edna Ferber

American novelist, short story writer and playwright

Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 – April 16, 1968) was a Jewish-American novelist, short story writer and playwright.

Edna Ferber

Quotes edit

  • It is a pattern of self-immolation familiar to any writer worth reading. The writer does not even remotely look upon this as a hardship. It is a way of life; a necessary an chosen way of life. Witty conversation, purposely dull dialogue, love, murder, marriage, birth, violence, triumph, failure, death—anything can happen in that room.
    • A Kind of Magic (1963)

One basket (1947) edit

Selected short stories

  • "It's just something that only luck or an accident can mend," said the nerve specialist. "Time may do it but I doubt it. Sometimes just a word-the right word-will set the thing in motion again. Does he get any letters?"
    • "Long Distance" [1919]
  • It marked an epoch in Chet's life-that letter. It reached out across the Atlantic Ocean from the Chester Ball of his Chicago days, before he had
    • "Long Distance" [1919]
  • The persecution, torture, and death of six million European Jews had actually brought little or no protest from a Christian world whose religion was based on the teachings of a Jew.
    • Author's note before "No Room at the Inn" [ 1939]

Introduction edit

  • All the way from Maugham and de Maupassant and Chekhov to Ring Lardner the short story has served to portray the characteristics, the habits, the manners, the morals, the emotions of a nation, a whole people. Certainly I knew no such highfalutin arguments as these when first I began to write short stories. I wrote short stories for the same reason that a child has who begins to walk after he has learned to stand up and to balance himself. It was for me the next natural step following newspaper reporting. I still think it is one of the most exhilarating and the most difficult forms of the writing art. When a reader says, "Oh, only a short story!" he has me to fight. There is something about the pace of the short story that catches the tempo of this country. If it is written with sincerity and skill it portrays a mood, a character, a background, or a situation. Sometimes it is not only typically American, it is universal in its feeling; sometimes its inherent truth is not a thing of the month, but of the years. When this is true, that short story is as genuinely a classic as any novel or play or piece of music.
  • The writer given to rereading his or her past work is a writer in danger. Once you begin to mumble among your souvenirs you're through. Any writer who is properly a writer is working as long as he is alive or awake. It is virtually impossible for a writer to ride in the subway or on a bus, walk on the street or down a country road, telephone, read a book, talk, listen, breathe, without consciously or unconsciously sustaining the act of writing, in his mind at least. The analytical creative mind goes click-click-click while it is awake-and sometimes while it is asleep. It makes the writer's life interesting but somewhat feverish. Frequently one wishes it were possible to turn off the machinery that is eternally registering, collecting, discarding, filing. Writers are a tired lot, for the most part; and no wonder. It would be pleasant to know that these stories, some born long ago, others still young, have the strength and vitality to make new friends and even to renew old friendships. The writer herself is fond of them, or they would not be here. But the feeling is much that of a parent whose sons and daughters have married and gone off into the world. There they are, on their own at last, sink or swim, live or die. The author is finished with them, everything she can do for them has been done. And a new infant, not yet strong enough to walk alone, waits to be shown a way of life.
  • During World War I and World War II, I wrote few short stories. I wrote, in fact, little of anything other than propaganda, and for ordered propaganda writing I have scant ability. Thousands of fictional so-called war stories were written. Few possessed the slightest value. The best, in my opinion, were those published in The New Yorker during World War II. Some of these were brilliant, courageous, and carried a terrific impact.
  • All my writing life I have written to please first myself. Never, except wartime, have I written to order on a theme or subject definitely requested or suggested. But war, to me, is not life at all. It is an excrescence, a cancer on the body of civilization.
  • It is difficult to write a really good short story because it must be a complete and finished reflection of life with only a few words to use as tools. There isn't time for bad writing in a short story. In a novel one can be dull for pages and still get away with it. It is, to me, an interesting and baffling fact that today, more than thirty years after The Homely Heroine was written, it still is as difficult for me to write a short story (or anything, for that matter) as it was when first I began. A single short story may take a month, six weeks, two months to write. Usually, the easier they are to read the harder they are to write. Often a short story theme may take a year of conscious and subconscious thinking before it is ripe for writing. Sometimes a possible short story seems too tough to be worth the fight. But it stays around, taunting you, daring you to come on, and finally you write it to be rid of it...In some cases the reader may feel, after reading a short story, approximately the sensation he has experienced after having too hastily eaten a heavy meal. He has treated a dinner as a snack and his digestion rebels.
  • Early in my short-story career I hit upon the character of a traveling saleswoman named Mrs. Emma McChesney. I never had met or seen a traveling saleswoman and I don't know why I named her Emma McChesney, but she became enormously popular and very nearly turned out to be my undoing. The first story, entitled Representing T. A. Buck, was published in the American Magazine in 1911. I hadn't meant to write a series, but at the urging of the editors I tried a second, called Roast Beef Medium. Well, that did it. The American businesswoman, inexplicably enough, had not been presented in fiction. This now seems incredible, but it was so. The magazine-reading public took Emma to its heart...Emma was hearty, salty, good as gold (better), and oh, so courageous. She was fine in her day, but this is not it; she is as dated as the Featherloom Petticoats she sold...

"The Woman Who Tried to Be Good" [1913] edit

  • On his face was a queer look-the look of one who is embarrassed because he is about to say something honest.
  • She seized hungrily upon the stray crumbs of conversation that fell to her.
  • It takes a determined woman to make tea biscuit for no one but herself.
  • She seemed to put an enormous amount of energy into those cleanings-as if they were a sort of safety valve.
  • the habit of years is not easily overcome.

A Peculiar Treasure (1939) edit

  • This is certain: I never have written a line except to please myself. I never have written with an eye to what is called the public or the market or the trend or the editor or the reviewer. Good or bad, popular or unpopular, lasting or ephemeral, the words I have put down on paper were the best words I could summon at the time to express the thing I wanted more than anything else to say.
  • I am not so naïve as to be oblivious of evil and ugliness, but I thought that the bulk of the human race wanted, deep down, to be good if only they could, somehow. A childish belief, perhaps. But I shrink from relinquishing it. I am not astonished at brutality, nor at the weak yielding to it. I know that man belongs to the animal kingdom. But I know, too, that he is superior to other animals through the possession of that intangible something called the spirit. Just as I believe that God is Good and that Good is God, so I believe that Good (and therefore God) lives within each of us. Each one of us is not only an animal, but a spirit. And for that reason alone (though there are a thousand others) I marvel that every decent human being does not reject the spiritual murder which accompanies the scourge of Fascism, Nazism and Communism. Of the three, the Nazi plan will perish first, not because of the Nazi brutality, but because of the Nazi vulgarity and insolence. As in 1914 (and always) the German nation now reckons mathematically without considering the human equation. A mistake.
    • Chapter 22

Chapter 23 edit

  • I have lived in the best of all possible worlds; the only world, so far as we know, on which human beings can live and have their being; it has been my privilege to be a human being on the planet Earth. There is, for me, something fantastic in the idea of being here at all. Always I have felt a little incredulous of the whole business.
  • New life must come from within. As for contentment-I don't even want it.
  • Perhaps the dreaded moment has come now to call it a failure. Or perhaps the pulse that still beats here in these United States will save the body of the Earth from the death that hovers so close. This new world, vast, rich, brilliant, electric, is sick too with the other organs and members of the whole planet. A continent to which, for centuries, the persecuted, the frightened, the poor, the courageous, the ambitious, the unafraid could come by the millions to find freedom and a new life is now contaminated by the old-world sickness so that it cries, in its delirium, "Down with the rich, down with the poor! Down with the Jews, down with the Catholics! Down with the freedom of the press, down with freedom of speech, down with freedom of worship!" Down, then, with everything that brought to this country the Huguenots, the Pilgrims, the Quakers; the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Catholics, the Jews; the Irish, Italian, Turkish, English, Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Rumanian, Hungarian, Russian, Greek, German, Bohemian, Austrian people. The North American continent they had for the taking; a vast world on which they were free to have such land as pleased them, where they might worship as they pleased, where they might walk, talk, laugh, sing, play, work as they pleased. I sometimes think, with pain, of what it might mean to the persecuted minorities of Europe today if suddenly, out of the Atlantic, there should rise a vast and gleaming virgin continent to which they, like our own ancestors here in America-yours and mine-could go for safety and healing. But there is no Columbus now, and no new land for refuge. And laughter has gone out of the world. A lovely sound, laughter. It has been banished by a madman with a comic mustache, himself subject for laughter. So perhaps millions will perish again for the lack of one spirit to revive the inner spirit of all. Sometimes, as I have listened to the wise and humane words of the man Franklin Roosevelt, I have thought that he alone, in these past five hideous years, has had the courage and the vision and the skill to try to devise a cure for a sick and dying world. But the measures he is taking require almost super-human effort, for he must fight the virulent hatred of the very rich, and the inertia caused by the white blood corpuscles of the very poor, and the curious indifference of the vast American middle class.
  • It is monstrous that a single pathological madman should, in a world we thought civilized, bring down indescribable agony, humiliation and death upon hundreds of thousands of people of one religion; a religion which, persecuted through the centuries, has welded its followers into something akin to a race. As though under some evil spell the countries of the world have stood by while this latest savagery has gone on. Of course the German Jew belongs in Germany as long as he cares to remain there, just as the Italian Jew belongs in Italy, the English Protestant belongs in England, the Swedish Lutheran belongs in Sweden. Suppose that the United States were dictator ruled (which is unthinkable). And suppose that that dictator were to announce to an amazed world that the Presbyterians or the Episcopalians or the Baptists or the Lutherans or the Catholics were the cause of all the ills that had come upon America; that they were swine, dogs, thieves, impure of blood-all that is vile; and that they must leave the country forthwith, penniless and homeless, to wander until they died. This would be as reasonable, as just, as sane as that which has come upon the Jews of Germany, and which may well be visited upon the Jews of other European countries if this barbarism is permitted to go on. It is a world I do not recognize.
  • I am like a disappointed in love woman-in her love of the human race. For myself it does not matter, for I have seen another world; the world that was before the year 1914. All my life I have lived, walked, talked, worked as I wished. I should refuse to live in a world in which I could no longer say this. Since 1933 the whole German people have been slaves. And in those years not a line of beautiful poetry, not a page of stirring or important imaginative writing, not a piece of great or even good music, not a single fine painting has come out of the German nation. At the thought there floods over one an overwhelming gratitude for freedom of the spirit, freedom of the mind, freedom of the soul, freedom of the body. It has been my privilege, then, to have been a human being on the planet Earth; and to have been an American, a writer, a Jew. A lovely life I have found it, and thank you, Sir. So come Revolution! Come Hitler! Come Death! Even though you win-you lose.

Interview (Nov 9, 1924) edit

  • Short stories are the form of youth. You must have a plot, a situation, and distinctive characters. You take this and throw it away in a few thousand words when it could be made into a novel. That is very unthrifty, and it is not fair to the characters. They need more space.
  • Of course I can’t write all the time. Some days I sit and sit and SIT at my machines and not a word will come. But I sit there and if it is possible I write something, it doesn’t matter what. The next day I may have to tear it up, but often what I think is very poor the first day turns out to be usable in spots.
  • I loved the newspaper work, but I like fiction better. Newspaper writing is fine but it doesn’t do to stay at it too long.
  • Writing is lonely work but the creative writer is rarely alone. The room in which one works is peopled with the men and women and children of the writer’s imagination … Often they are so much more fascinating to the writer than the living people one actually encounters that to go to a party, a dinner, even to the company of chosen people created by oneself.

Quotes about edit

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