Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)

Giant by Edna Ferber

When Giant by Edna Ferber was published in 1952, some critics, especially those in the Southern U.S., weren’t impressed. In fact, the book made them hopping mad. Ferber’s books, considered by some as dramatic pot-boilers, often managed to weave in themes of racism and injustice and that didn’t sit too well in areas where racism was prevalent.

A 2011 re-evaluation of the novel in The Texas Observer had this to say:

“Though it now boggles the mind, when Edna Ferber’s classic potboiler Giant was first published in 1952, it scandalized Texans from the Pecos to the Sabine. Critics ripped the novel, a hard-nosed satire of Lone Star mores, and Ferber herself to shreds in papers across the state. 

The Houston Press suggested she be lynched. And The Dallas Morning News headline on Lon Tinkle’s review read ‘Ferber Goes Both Native and Berserk: Parody, Not Portrait, of Texas Life.’ Reviewers outside the state also thought she’d been a trifle tough on Texas.”

It was nevertheless a huge bestseller (as were most of Ferber’s books) and in 1956 became a blockbuster film. Giant was as big and sprawling as a film as it was as a book. The saga of a wealthy Texas ranching family starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean (in his final film role before his untimely death).

Despite some of the initial controversy from some quarters, the book naturally received plenty of positive reviews, including the one following:


A 1952 review of Giant by Edna Ferber

From the original review by W. W. Baker of Giant by Edna Ferber in The Kansas City Times, September 1952: Since her first novel was published in 1911, Edna Ferber has turned her attention to such typically American matters at the show boat, small-town and farm life, and the traveling saleswoman.

Now, tongue in cheek and pen in hand, she goes beyond matters American and delves into the modern-day folklore of that strange land to the south known as Texas.

The result is Giant, a title aptly applied to the subject and to the length of the book. It tells the story of a Virginia girl (by way of Ohio) who marries a Texas ranch overlord, proprietor of a modest estate of some 2.5 million acres.

It is a well-drawn plot, with the usual Ferber niceties; the characters, though mostly of the race known as Texan, emerge as essentially human beings, as lovable or unlikable as Miss Ferber’s people usually are.

The only real quarrel might be with the style of writing, about as smooth as a jeep ride over one of those Texas ranch roads. But perhaps that merely adds to the overall effect of an essentially penetrating and understanding novel of a country made up of geographic sprawl and, on occasion, human pettiness.

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Giant by Edna Ferber

Giant by Edna Ferber on* and Amazon*
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A Ranch Bride

Leslie Benedict arrives at Reata ranch, a bride of only a few days. There is the fifty-room house in the midst of rain and heat; the filth of the Mexican dwellings; the herds of cattle, much better cared for than their Mexican cowboys. There are the neighbors, the nearest one ninety miles away, and there is Luz Benedict, her husbands unmarried sister, betrothed to the ranch and mistress of the big house.

The enormity of it all, and the conflict with Luz, stun this bookish girl from the east. Two children are born to the Benedicts, a boy as un-Texan as it is possible to be, and a girl who rides with the best of them yet is of a different and more modern generation of Texans.

Slowly the mystery of Texas penetrates Leslie’s mind, as she watches her children grow and the ranch shrink, threatened by the new get-rich-quick catalyst, oil. Her love for her husband lasts through it all, the one permanent, sustaining thing she found in this strange world.

In time Leslie begins to understand Texas and Texans, a place where all is described in superlatives and counted in the millions, obsessed with size, not quality. In time, too, she realizes what seems to happen to the human mind and spirit; they, too, seem to shrink with the ranch land.

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Show Boat by Edna Ferber

You may also enjoy: Show Boat by Edna Ferber (1926)
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Fly a DC-6

Giant opens as the Benedicts and their friends (including an unemployed king and queen) head, in their private DC-6, for the fabulous opening-day celebration of the fabulous new Hermoso airport, built by the fabulous Jett Rink.

Jett is of the new rich, a wildcatting oil baron whose story is strangely tied in with the of the Benedicts. Even here there is a last vicious triumph by Jett, who, as a penniless ranch laborer, had sworn her would get the Benedicts. Then the story flashes back to Leslie’s arrival in Texas, and the events leading up to the night in Hermoso.

The characters are created as masterfully as would be expected of the writer of Show Boat, So Big, Cimarron, and the Emma McChesney stories.

Leslie herself is the inquiring intellectual, unable to accepts things on the surface as Benedict would want her to. Her husband is the blustering rancher, good at heart, yet callous to the feudal state of his Mexicans who never will earn the right to be called Texans, although their labor had done much to create Texas.

The other Benedicts – Luz, Uncle Bawley (a cattleman allergic to cattle), and the two children – are as real as a touch of Ferber irony allows to be. And there are the neighbors, ranchers described most aptly as Texans all.

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Edna Ferber Quotes

See also: Edna Ferber Quotes on Writing and Living 

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5 Responses to “Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)”

  1. Edna Ferber wrote GIANT based on little research and a ton of stereotypes. She seems unaware that much of the anti-hispanic vibe amongst Texans is based on several wars with, and a half dozen invasions of Texas by, the Mexican army. And the Mexican soldiers weren’t there to pick flowers, they murdered and burned their way across the state until repelled.

    Texas was formed when the Mexican government decided they wouldn’t mind letting some gringos soak up the the arrows being launched by rampaging Comanches. Texan settlers soon tired of the heavy-handed Mexican authorities who refused to protect them, revolted against Mexico, won independence, and had an uneasy existence with an angry neighbor thereafter. Native Texans never got over the fact that Mexican soldiers raped Grandma and murdered Grandpa.
    Ferber is oblivious.

    Ferber’s book is excellent reading, her characters outstanding, but GIANT isn’t history, it’s entertainment.

  2. This article featured a great and favorite book and author but PLEASE edit spelling and grammar before publishing as a literary website. I’ve not read such a messy piece on Literary Ladies before and hope it will be revised. Thank you.

    • Connie, thanks for the comment, and our apologies. This original review from 1952 may not have been the best choice in hindsight, but we forgot to put it through the editing process and some typos came through from the transcription. Hopefully I’ve caught all or most of the errors. Thanks again, and thanks for being a Literary Ladies reader!

      • I’m so glad you were able to catch the typos. It was a good reading- speaking as a Texan – for the example of how things have changed and not changed in the past 60+ years.

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