Annotated Charlotte's Web

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"Probably the most exciting article ever published [in The Horn Book]," announced that magazine's publicity release when, in 1982, Peter Neumeyer wrote his two-part series on the evolution of E. B. White's Charlotte's Web from manuscript to finished book.

Charlotte's Web may be America's best-loved children's book today, seamless in plot, poignant in its delineation of characters who will live in American children's literature forever, and ...
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Overview

"Probably the most exciting article ever published [in The Horn Book]," announced that magazine's publicity release when, in 1982, Peter Neumeyer wrote his two-part series on the evolution of E. B. White's Charlotte's Web from manuscript to finished book.

Charlotte's Web may be America's best-loved children's book today, seamless in plot, poignant in its delineation of characters who will live in American children's literature forever, and written with a seeming ease and fluency that make the reading as engrossing as it is effortless. In fact, E. B. White labored tirelessly over eight manuscript drafts, researched thoroughly the habits of spiders, and meditated on the habits of pigs. En route, he corresponded with editors, filmmakers, and friends, as well as fulfilling his role as a distinguished writer for The New Yorker.

The Annotated Charlotte's Web picks up these threads, opens the door to the creator's workshop, and allows the reader to glance over the shoulder of one of the most exacting and fastidious American writers, watching as he forms his masterpiece.

The Annotated Charlotte's Web sheds light on the book's origins, its allusions, its deliberate construction, as well as on the life of its sometimes elusive author. It sets the novel in the context of other books of its type. Included are information from White's eight manuscript drafts, cross-references to other writings by E. B. White, letters between White and his editors, documents from the critical reception of Charlotte's Web, and general literary-cultural commentary tying the book to its traditions.

For over forty years, this great American novel has thrived without annotation. Now, however, these selected insights can bring us closer to the book's author, enrich our reading of the book, and shed a measure of light on the artistic process itself.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060243876
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/1994
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 9.83 (w) x 9.79 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

E. B. White, the author of such beloved classics as Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He graduated from Cornell University in 1921 and, five or six years later, joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine, then in its infancy. He died on October 1, 1985, and was survived by his son and three grandchildren.

Mr. White's essays have appeared in Harper's magazine, and some of his other books are: One Man's Meat, The Second Tree from the Corner, Letters of E. B. White, Essays of E. B. White, and Poems and Sketches of E. B. White. He won countless awards, including the 1971 National Medal for Literature and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which commended him for making a "substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."

During his lifetime, many young readers asked Mr. White if his stories were true. In a letter written to be sent to his fans, he answered, "No, they are imaginary tales . . . But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination."

Garth Williams began his work on the pictures for the Little House books by meeting Laura Ingalls Wilder at her home in Missouri, and then he traveled to the sites of all the little houses. His charming art caused Laura to remark that she and her family "live again in these illustrations."

Biography

"Style is even more important in children's books than in those for adults,” said the New York Times reviewer of Stuart Little, E.B. White's first book for children, in 1954. White -- an essayist whose elegant, deceptively simple writings for Harper's and The New Yorker had garnered him national acclaim -- may have seemed an unlikely children’s book author, but Stuart Little proved that good writing (and style) could translate to any genre, even to books for readers too young to enjoy his Talk of the Town pieces.

White had in fact been writing ever since he was a child, growing up in the "leafy suburbs" of Mount Vernon, New York. "I fell in love with the sound of an early typewriter and have been stuck with it ever since," he said later. After graduating from Cornell University in 1921, he tried to turn his facility with words into some form of gainful employment, but found advertising too dull and news reporting too taxing. Finally the Seattle Times asked him to create a small daily column of brief anecdotes and light verse, and White joined Mark Twain in the pantheon of American newspaper humorists.

In 1926, a fledgling publication called The New Yorker offered him a job on its staff. There, he helped create the signature style of clear, elegant writing with which the magazine would thereafter be associated. In New York he befriended writers like James Thurber and Dorothy Parker, and met the woman who was to become his wife, the literary editor Katharine Sergeant Angell.

White's second literary career, as a writer of children's books, had its origins in a dream of a little boy like a mouse, "all complete, with his hat, his cane, and his brisk manner." He began to make up stories about this dapper character to please his nephews and nieces, and eventually organized the Stuart Little stories into a book, which was published to high acclaim in 1945, and made into a feature film in 1999.

The barn of White's farmhouse in Maine provided the inspiration for a second children's book, Charlotte's Web (1952). This fable about a heroic spider and her efforts to save a pig from slaughter was even more successful than Stuart Little. "As a piece of work it is just about perfect," wrote Eudora Welty in The New York Times, and millions of readers agreed. Charlotte's Web was still high on the bestseller lists in 1970, when it was joined by White's third and final book for children, The Trumpet of the Swan.

White produced another bestseller in 1959, when he revised and expanded a little handbook of grammar and usage written by his late teacher at Cornell, William Strunk, Jr. Now familiar to generations of college students as Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, the book made a wise and witty case for what White called "clearness, accuracy and brevity in the use of English."

White's assessment of his own writing was a characteristic mix of humility and grandeur: "All that I ever hope to say in books is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around."

Good To Know

Galleys of Stuart Little were sent to Anne Carroll Moore, who was head of children's books at the New York Public Library. Moore hated it. "To her it was nonaffirmative, inconclusive, unfit for children, and she felt it would harm its author if published," said White's editor, Ursula Nordstrom. She fired off a letter to White’s wife, and then made her case to Nordstrom -- who went ahead and published anyway.

After Stuart Little was released, White received a great deal of praise for the book, as well as some unusual criticism: "Then three fellows turned up claiming that their name was Stuart Little, and what was I going to do about that?" he wrote. "One of them told me he had begun work on a children's story: The hero was a rat and the rat's name was E. B. White."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Elwyn Brooks White (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 11, 1899
    2. Place of Birth:
      Mount Vernon, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      October 1, 1985
    2. Place of Death:
      North Brooklin, Maine

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Before Breakfast

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."

"I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight.

"Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it."

"Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?"

Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell, Fern!" she said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway."

Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping by the time she caught up with her father.

"Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."

Mr. Arable stopped walking.

"Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself."

"Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and you talk about controlling myself." Tears ran down her cheeks and she took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.

"Fern," said Mr. Arable, "I know more about raising a litter of pigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"

"But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"

Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at his daughter with love. "But this is different. A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another."

"I see nodifference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of."

A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.

"All right," he said. "You go back to the house and I will bring the runt when I come in. I'll let you start it on a bottle, like a baby. Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be."

When Mr. Arable returned to the house half an hour later, he carried a carton under his arm. Fern was upstairs changing her sneakers. The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and the room smelled of coffee, bacon, damp plaster, and wood smoke from the stove.

"Put it on her chair!" said Mrs. Arable. Mr. Arable set the carton down at Fern's place. Then he walked to the sink and washed his hands and dried them on the roller towel.

Fern came slowly down the stairs. Her eyes were red from crying. As she approached her chair, the carton wobbled, and there was a scratching noise. Fern looked at her father. Then she lifted the lid of the carton. There, inside, looking up at her, was the newborn pig. It was a white one. The morning light shone through its ears, turning them pink.

"He's yours," said Mr. Arable. "Saved from an untimely death. And may the good Lord forgive me for this foolishness."

Fern couldn't take her eyes off the tiny pig. "Oh," she whispered. "Oh, look at him! He's absolutely perfect."

She closed the carton carefully. First she kissed her father, then she kissed her mother. Then she opened the lid again, lifted the pig out, and held it against her cheek. At this moment her brother Avery came into the room. Avery was ten. He was heavily armed-an air rifle in one hand, a wooden dagger in the other.

"What's that?" he demanded. "What's Fern got?"

"She's got a guest for breakfast," said Mrs. Arable. "Wash your hands and face, Avery!"

"Let's see it!" said Avery, setting his gun down.

"You call that miserable thing a pig? That's a fine specimen of a pig-it's no bigger than a white rat."

"Wash up and eat your breakfast, Avery!" said his mother. "The school bus will be along in half an hour."

"Can I have a pig, too, Pop?" asked Avery.

"No, I only distribute pigs to early risers," said Mr. Arable. "Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig. A small one, to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly. Let's eat!"

But Fern couldn't eat until her pig had had a drink of milk. Mrs. Arable found a baby's nursing bottle and a rubber nipple. She poured warm milk into the bottle, fitted the nipple over the top, and handed it to Fern. "Give him his breakfast!" she said.

A minute later, Fern was seated on the floor in the corner of the kitchen with her infant between her knees, teaching it to suck from the bottle. The pig, although tiny, had a good appetite and caught on quickly.

The school bus honked from the road.

"Run!" commanded Mrs. Arable, taking the pig from Fern and slipping a doughnut into her hand. Avery grabbed his gun and another doughnut.

The children ran out to the road and climbed into the bus. Fern took no notice of the others in the bus. She just sat and stared out of the window, thinking what a blissful world it was and how lucky she was to have entire charge of a pig. By the time the bus reached school, Fern had named her pet, selecting the most beautiful name she could think of.

"Its name is Wilbur," she whispered to herself.

She was still thinking about the pig when the teacher said: "Fern, what is the capital of Pennsylvania?"

"Wilbur," replied Fern, dreamily. The pupils giggled. Fern blushed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2000

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    this book was the best book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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