[In the following essay, which is a chapter from her book originally published in 1920, Williams discusses Ferber's short stories .]
Few critics have accused Miss Edna Ferber of preaching a doctrine. “Me'n George Cohan,” she wrote in 1912, “we jest aims to amuse.” But few would deny that her stories possess qualities sane and wholesome. And the philosophy on which they are built is Work, with a capital W—Carlylean Work.
It is not remarkable that the joy of work illuminated throughout her scintillant pages has been forgotten in the display itself, as the great cause of a Fifth Avenue night-parade may be a matter of indifference to the observer who “just loves pageants and processions, anyway.” The flying flags, the drum-beat of the march, the staccato tread, the calcium reds and yellows may obscure the slogan bearing banner. It is remarkable that the inciting force of Miss Ferber's triumphant march has been neglected by the student of underlying causes. There are those of us who believe it to be the significant word she has chanted to the sisters of her generation.
To one who has followed her stories from the beginning, Miss Ferber would seem to have undergone a silent communion with herself, and after asking, “What shall my writing stand for?” answered unhesitatingly, “Work!” In the Emma McChesney stories, which require three volumes—with one or two overflowing into succeeding collections, she emphasizes the beauty and joy and satisfaction that are the need of labor. And her second published story was an Emma story: “Representing T. A. Buck” (American, March, 1911). It succeeded “The Homely Heroine,”her first, published in Everybody's, November, 1910. This fact, again, may escape the reader of her first volume, Buttered Side Down (March, 1912), which although it groups a number of her representative “working” characters in “The Leading Lady,” “A Bush League Hero,”and “The Kitchen Side of the Door” yet presents variations of the main theme. As for example, the last-named cries aloud that the busy-folk on the kitchen side are more respectable than the tippling ladies and gentlemen (by courtesy) in front. But Roast Beef Medium (1913), including stories written and published before some of those in the first volume, essays to sound what becomes a trumpet call in Emma McChesney and Co. (1915).
Hortense of “Blue Serge” thinks:
“If you're not busy, you can't be happy very long.”
“No,” said Emma, “idleness, when you're not used to it, is misery.”
And Miss Smalley of the same story:
I've found out that work is a kind of self-oiler. If you're used to it, the minute you stop you begin to get rusty, and your hinges creak and you clog up, and the next thing you know you break down. Work that you like to do is a blessing. It keeps you young.
And the author herself (in “Sisters Under Their Skin”):
“In the face of the girl who works, whether she be a spindle-legged errand-girl or a ten thousand dollar a...