Heralded by one reviewer as "the most serious, extended and dignified of [Edna] Ferber's books," "Fanny Herself" is the intensely personal chronicle of a young girl growing up Jewish in a small midwestern town. Packed with the warmth and the wry, sidelong wit that made Ferber one of the best-loved writers of her time, the novel charts Fanny's emotional growth through her relationship with her mother, the shrewd, sympathetic Molly Brandeis." You could not have lived a week in Winnebago without being aware of Mrs. Brandeis," Ferber begins, and likewise the story of Fanny Brandeis is inextricable from that of her vigorous, enterprising mother. Molly Brandeis is the owner and operator of Brandeis' Bazaar, a modest general store left to her by her idealistic, commercially inept late husband. As Fanny strives to carve out her own sense of herself, Molly becomes the standard by which she measures her intellectual and spiritual progress. Fanny's ambivalent feelings about being Jewish, her self-deprecating attitude toward her gift for sketching and drawing, and her inspired success as a businesswoman all contribute to the flesh-and-blood complexity of Ferber's youthful, eminently believable protagonist. She is accompanied on her journey by impeccably drawn characters such as Father Fitzpatrick, the Catholic priest in Winnebago; Ella Monahan, buyer for the glove department of the Haynes-Cooper mail order house; Fanny's brother, Theodore, a gifted violinist for whose musical education Molly sacrifices Fanny's future; and Clarence Heyl, the scrappy columnist who never forgot how Fanny rescued him from the school bullies. Ferber's only work of fiction with a strong autobiographical element, "Fanny Herself" showcases the author's enduring interest in the capacity of strong women to transcend the limitations of their environment and control their own circumstances. Through Fanny's honest struggle with conflicting values-financial security and corporate success versus altruism and artistic integrity-Ferber grapples with some of the most deeply embedded contradictions of the American spirit.
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