September 1, 1999
By Phoebe-Lou Adams
Fannie Hurst habitually lied about her age, but probably was born in 1885 and lived to be eighty-two. Her home town was St. Louis, and her parents, comfortably assimilated German Jews, expected her to stay there and marry a prosperous man of their own class and kind. She escaped to New York and by 1914 had been published in Cosmopolitan and was on the way to a long career as a highly popular and lavishly paid writer of fiction. Her work was often disparaged as “women’s fiction,” and she was reproached for overwriting and sentimentality, but readers loved it, and with good reason. She wrote about the concerns of ordinary young women — jobs, money, ambitions, social status, overbearing parents, unsuitable men — and if her language was sometimes overblown, she kept the problems real and the plots intriguing. She did a number of things besides write, becoming a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and of Rebecca West, lending a hand in political campaigns, and offering opinions on practically everything in sight. Ms. Kroeger reconstructs Hurst’s life in great detail, along with the plots of stories and the casts of the films based on them, and, more interesting, gives a thorough explanation of the rivalries and piracies of magazine editors in the days when reading was the only entertainment regularly and widely available.