Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Century Project: Fiction, 1900-1999, Pt. 4: The 1930s

--by Hanje Richards

The Century Project: Part 4, Fiction from the 1930s

The Copper Queen Library is the oldest library in Arizona. I often tell visitors this fact, and it got me thinking… We have intentionally kept a lot of old books here in our lovely old building. We have a lot of books that were published in the early years of the 1900s, as well as mid century and all the way to the end of the century still on our shelves.

Here are some of the books from our collection published in the 1930s that have become classics.

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) – Published in 1932 and set in the London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embodiment of the ideals that form the basis of futurology. Although the novel is set in the future, it contains contemporary issues of the early 20th century. The Industrial Revolution had transformed the world. Mass production had made cars, telephones, and radios relatively cheap and widely available throughout the developed world. The political, cultural, economic and sociological upheavals of the then-recent Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War (1914–1918) were resonating throughout the world as a whole and the individual lives of most people. Accordingly, many of the novel's characters are named after widely recognized, influential and, in many cases, contemporary people.

Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) – This novel (the second favorite book of Americans, just behind the Bible, according to a 2008 Harris Poll), won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Set in Clayton County, Georgia and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the novel depicts the experiences of Scarlett O'Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty that she finds herself in after Sherman's March to the Sea.

The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck) –Published in 1931, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1932, and best selling novel in the US in both 1931 and 1932, this novel was an influential factor in Buck’s selection for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. The story begins on Wang Lung's wedding day and follows the rise and fall of his fortunes. The House of Hwang, a family of wealthy landowners, lives in the nearby town, where Wang Lung's future wife, O-Lan, lives as a slave. As the House of Hwang slowly declines due to opium use, frequent spending, and uncontrolled borrowing, Wang Lung, through his own hard work and the skill of his wife, O-Lan, slowly earns enough money to buy land from the Hwang family.

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) – This novel was published in 1939, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940, and helped Steinbeck win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of sharecroppers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies," they sought jobs, land, dignity and a future.

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) – The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, better known by its abbreviated title The Hobbit, is a fantasy novel and children's book by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published in 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children's literature. Set in a time "Between the Dawn of Færie and the Dominion of Men," The Hobbit follows the quest of home-loving Hobbit Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. Bilbo's journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into darker, deeper territory…

Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder) – The “Little House” series was originally published between 1932 and 1943 and is based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's decades-old memories of her childhood in the American Midwest during the late 19th century. Laura Ingalls acts as the central character and protagonist. The books have remained continuously in print since their initial publication by Harper & Brothers in the 1930s and 1940s, are considered classics of American children's literature, and today remain widely read.

The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett) – This 1930 detective novel’s main character, Sam Spade, appears only in this novel and in three lesser known short stories, yet is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre. Spade combined several features of previous detectives, most notably his cold detachment, keen eye for detail, and unflinching determination to achieve his own justice. He is the man who has seen the wretched, the corrupt, the tawdry side of life but still retains his "tarnished idealism."

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) – This novella, published in 1937, tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. Milton, an intelligent and cynical man, and Small, an ironically-named man of large stature and immense strength but limited mental abilities, are on their way to a ranch to "work up a stake." They hope one day to attain their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie's part of the dream is merely to tend to (and touch) soft rabbits on the farm. This dream is one of Lennie's favorite stories, which George constantly retells. Required reading in many schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.

Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier) – Published in 1938, this novel tells the story of an unnamed narrator who, while working as the companion to a rich American woman vacationing on the French Riviera, becomes acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, Maximilian de Winter. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him and accompanies him to his mansion, the beautiful West Country estate, Manderley. Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper profoundly devoted to Maximilian’s late first wife Rebecca, tries to undermine the second Mrs. de Winter, suggesting to her that she will never attain the urbanity and charm that Rebecca possessed.…

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neal Hurston) – Hurston’s best-known work, published in 1937, is set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century. The novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication and has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African American literature and women's literature. The main character, an African American woman in her early forties named Janie Crawford, tells the story of her life and journey via an extended flashback to her best friend, Pheoby, so that Pheoby can tell Janie's story to the nosy community on her behalf. Her life has three major periods corresponding to her marriages to three very different men…

Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller) – First published in Paris in 1934 and in the US in 1961, Tropic… is set in France (primarily Paris) during the 1930s and tells the tale of Miller's life as a struggling writer. Combining fiction and autobiography, some chapters follow a strict narrative and refer to Miller's actual friends, colleagues, and workplaces; others are written as stream-of-consciousness reflections. It is written in the first person, as are many of Miller's other novels, and often fluctuates between past and present tense. There are many passages explicitly describing the narrator's sexual encounters, but the book does not solely focus on this subject. While famous for its frank and often graphic depictions of sex, the book is also widely regarded as an important masterpiece of 20th century literature.

The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) – This 1938 novel won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1939. Rawlings' editor was Maxwell Perkins, who also worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and other literary luminaries. She had submitted several projects to Perkins for his review, and he rejected them all. He instructed her to write about what she knew from her own life, and the result was The Yearling, the story of the Baxter family and their wild, hard, and satisfying life in remote central Florida. A rich and varied tale – tender in its understanding of boyhood, crowded with the excitement of the backwoods hunt, with vivid descriptions of the primitive, beautiful hammock country, and written with humor and earthy philosophy.