New York Times: “Fannie”


New York Times


September 19, 1999

By Catherine Saint Louis

n 1910 Fannie Hurst published her first short story about her characteristic subject: young women working as sales clerks. She went on to write 18 novels, including ”Back Street” (1931) and ”Imitation of Life” (1933), both of which were filmed more than once. Hurst (1885-1968) was as famous for her sympathetic portraits of downtrodden shop girls and immigrants as for her unconventional marriage to the pianist Jacques Danielson, during which they often lived in separate apartments. Brooke Kroeger’s ”Fannie” is a fast-paced account of Hurst’s life as a celebrity author, though it aspires to be a high-minded biography. Kroeger, who teaches journalism at New York University, contends that Hurst was ”deadly serious” about her art despite her remarkable commercial success. But because Kroeger offers only rudimentary criticism of Hurst’s work, she never persuasively demonstrates why it deserves our attention. Instead, Kroeger likens Hurst to a factory. After some disappointing reviews, Kroeger writes, Hurst’s ”one-woman shop was back in production immediately with the energy and diversity of a major industrial complex.” It is difficult to take Hurst seriously as a ”vocal, consistent and pioneering crusader for women’s advancement” when Kroeger herself admits that Hurst was best at lending her ”celebrated name to a cause” rather than working doggedly on its behalf. To hear Kroeger tell it, Hurst was never proud to be the writer she was, always hankering after the critical success that eluded her.

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