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Top 25 American Novelists in 1929


An interesting article from Commentary Magazine yesterday.

In 1929, two psychologists proposed a plan to survey literary critics, having them answer a questionnaire and rank living American novelists according to various points of merit. 65 critics took part, and the results were ranked and compiled, based on how many of the critics listed each name, and how strongly the critics agreed on them.

From my chair here in 2012, I’m surprised by a number of factors, but what I notice most (with chagrin) is how few I’ve even heard of. Not actually read, mind you – that number would be a dismal ONE – but I’ve only even HEARD of eight of them. I know 1929 was a long time ago, but there were the most prominent and respected novelists of the time,a ccording to the critics, and I’d have expected to be at least familiar with most of the names.

The list is as follows:

( 1.) Willa Cather
( 2.) Edith Wharton
( 3.) Theodore Dreiser
( 4.) James Branch Cabell
( 5.) Sherwood Anderson
( 6.) Sinclair Lewis
( 7.) Thornton Wilder
( 8.) Glenway Wescott
( 9.) Joseph Hergesheimer
(10.) Zona Gale
(11.) Booth Tarkington
(12.) Ellen Glasgow
(13.) Elizabeth Madox Roberts
(14.) Ruth Suckow
(15.) William McFee
(16.) Robert Welch Herrick
(17.) Thomas Beer
(18.) Elinor Wylie
(19.) Louis Bromfield
(20.) Edna Ferber
(21.) DuBose Heyward
(22.) Hamlin Garland
(23.) F. Scott Fitzgerald
(24.) Mary Austin
(25.) John Dos Passos

Some other bits worth noting:

-nine of those names are women, including the top two! Go 1929!

-many of the critics surveyed left off Hemingway, because he was primarily a short storywriter, not a novelist. They all agreed on his brilliance, however.

-They also all agreed that Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame) was not worth reading.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

One Response to “Top 25 American Novelists in 1929”

  1. I’m delighted to see fantasist James Branch Cabell on the list at all, let alone at #4! Years ago, when Lin Carter and Ballantine Books were re-publishing out-of-print fantasy, I picked up everything I could find by Cabell. What a writer! I am also astonished to see Hamlin Garland on that list; I am the only person I know who has read him. what I find odd is how Fitzgerald wound up so far from the top…