Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)
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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).
The book naturally received plenty of positive reviews, including the one following:
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.
Giant by Edna Ferber on Amazon
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.
You may also enjoy: Show Boat by Edna Ferber (1926)
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.
See also: Edna Ferber Quotes on Writing and Living
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