So Big

So Big

by Edna Ferber

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061859984
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/15/2010
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 252
Sales rank: 145,688
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Edna Ferber (1885-1968) was a novelist, short-story writer, and playwright whose work served as the inspiration for numerous Broadway plays and Hollywood films, including Show Boat, Cimarron, Giant, Saratoga Trunk, and Ice Palace. She co-wrote the plays The Royal Family, Dinner at Eight, and Stage Door with George S. Kaufman and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel So Big.

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So Big

Chapter One

Until he was almost ten the name stuck to him. He had literally to fight his way free of it. From So Big (of fond and infantile derivation) it had been condensed into Sobig. And Sobig Dejong, in all its consonantal disharmony, he had remained until he was a ten-year-old schoolboy in that incredibly Dutch district southwest of Chicago known first as New Holland and later as High Prairie. At ten, by dint of fists, teeth, copper-toed boots and temper, he earned the right to be called by his real name, Dirk Dejong. Now and then, of course, the nickname bobbed up and had to be subdued in a brief and bitter skirmish. His mother, with whom the name had originated, was the worst offender. When she lapsed he did not, naturally, use schoolyard tactics on her. But he sulked and glowered portentously and refused to answer, though her tone, when she called him So Big, would have melted the heart of any but that natural savage, a boy of ten.

The nickname had sprung from the early and idiotic question invariably put to babies and answered by them, with infinite patience, through the years of their infancy.

Selina Dejong, darting expertly about her kitchen, from washtub to baking board, from stove to table, or, if at work in the fields of the truck farm, straightening the numbed back for a moment's respite from the close-set rows of carrots, turnips, spinach, or beets over which she was labouring, would wipe the sweat beads from nose and forehead with a quick duck of her head in the crook of her bent arm.

Those great fine dark eyes of hers would regard the child perched impermanently on a little heap of empty potato sacks, oneof which comprised his costume. He was constantly detaching himself from the parent sack heap to dig and burrow in the rich warm black loam of the truck garden. Selina Dejong had little time for the expression of affection. The work was always hot at her heels. You saw a young woman in a blue calico dress, faded and earth-grimed. Between her eyes was a driven look as of one who walks always a little ahead of herself in her haste. Her dark abundant hair was skewered into a utilitarian knob from which soft loops and strands were constantly escaping, to be pushed back by that same harried ducking gesture of head and bent arm. Her hands, for such use, were usually too crusted and inground with the soil into which she was delving. You saw a child of perhaps two years, dirt-streaked, sunburned, and generally otherwise defaced by those bumps, bites, scratches, and contusions that are the common lot of the farm child of a mother harried by work. Yet, in that moment, as the woman looked at the child there in the warm moist spring of the Illinois prairie land, or in the cluttered kitchen of the farmhouse, there quivered and vibrated between them and all about them an aura, a glow, that imparted to them and their surroundings a mystery, a beauty, a radiance.

"How big is baby?" Selina would demand, senselessly. "How big is my man?"

The child would momentarily cease to poke plump fingers into the rich black loam. He would smile a gummy though slightly weary smile and stretch wide his arms. She, too, would open her tired arms wide, wide. Then they would say in a duct, his mouth a puckered pink petal, hers quivering with tenderness and a certain amusement, "So-o -o big!" with the voice soaring on the prolonged vowel and dropping suddenly with the second word. Part of the game. The child became so habituated to this question that sometimes, if Selina happened to glance round at him suddenly in the midst of her task, he would take his cue without the familiar question being put and would squel his "So-o-o-o big!" rather absently, in dutiful solo. Then he would back his head and laugh a triumphant laugh, his open mouth, a coral orifice. She would run to him, and swoop down upon him, and bury her flushed face in the warm moist creases of his neck, and make as though to devour him. "So big!"

But of course he wasn't. He wasn't as big as that. In fact, he never became as big as the wide-stretched arms of her love and imagination would have had him. You would have thought she should have been satisfied when, in later years, he was the Dirk Dejong whose name you saw (engraved) at the top of heavy cream linen paper, so rich and thick and stiff as to have the effect of being starched and ironed by some costly American business process; whose clothes were made by Peter Peel, the English tailor; whose roadster ran on a French chassis; whose cabinet held mellow Italian vermouth and Spanish sherry; whose wants were served by a Japanese houseman; whose life, in short, was that of the successful citizen of the Republic. But she wasn't. Not only was she dissatisfied: she was at once remorseful and indignant, as though she, Selina Dejong, the vegetable peddler, had been partly to blame for this success of his, and partly cheated by it.

When Selina Dejong had been Selina Peake she had lived in Chicago with her father. They had lived in many other cities as well. In Denver during the rampant '80s. In New York when Selina was twelve. In Milwaukee briefly. There was even a San Francisco interlude which was always a little sketchy in Selina's mind and which had ended in a departure so hurried as to bewilder even Selina who had learned to accept sudden comings and abrupt goings without question. "Business," her father always said. "Little deal." She never knew until the day of his death how literally the word deal was applicable to his business transactions. Simeon Peake, travelling the country with his little daughter, was a gambler by profession, temperament, and natural talents. When in luck they lived royally, stopping at the best hotels, eating strange, succulent sea-viands, going to the play, driving in hired rigs (always with two horses. If Simeon Peake had not enough money for a two-horse equipage he walked). When fortune hid her face they lived in boarding houses, ate boarding-house meals, wore the clothes bought when Fortune's breath was balmy.

So Big. Copyright (c) by Edna Ferber . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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So Big 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
So Big is seamlessly, beautifully written. One chapter flows into another. No book has ever held my attention span quite like So Big. However, the ending definitely left something to be desired. I even thought I might be missing a chapter! Be warned. If you must have a happy ending or an ending with definite finality, then this book is not for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I ever read, and I don't say that lightly!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought the book had a really good message. Good required reading for high school students today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a book about the different types of people in life...what you are living life for? the beauty of everyday life. seeing beauty in the earth. a strong woman-figure. this book is definitely one of my favorites.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a story about a mother having a rough time on a farm south of chicago a 100 or so years ago is not the type of book i am attracted to. but edna ferber tells this story so beautifully that i can say it was one of the best books i have read in the last few years. the lead character selena is one of my favorite female portraits and some of the scenes, particularly when she runs into an old friend in a elegant part of chicago are magnificent. i loved this book
rapikk on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
Orphaned at age 19 in the late 1800¿s, Selina accepts a job as a school teacher in the community of New Holland. Even though New Holland is only a few hours drive by wagon to her former life in Chicago, Selina is not prepared for the shock of living in the tiny, conservative truck-farming community. The grinding work and poverty take a toll on even the hardiest of souls. Determined to continue finding beauty in life and learning, Selina throws herself into her teaching, and later into her family farm. When her son, Dirk, ¿SoBig¿ DeJong is born, Selina promises herself that he will not be bound to the farm, and that he will have every opportunity that she herself lost. This is a rich novel, with much to discuss and analyze. I was most struck by how Selina lost every privilege, and yet didn¿t lose hope, either for herself or her child. Dirk¿s response at being given every opportunity would also be worthy of discussing.
mikedraper on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
The story follows Selina DeJong whose father was a gambler and killed by mistake. Selina was only nineteen at the time and surprised her friends by not moving to Vermont to live with her aunts. Instead, she shows her independence and determination to succeed on her own. She gets a job as a teacher in the Dutch school in High Plains, ten miles outside of Chicago.At her first social event, she prepares a basket and places it in a box, tied by a ribbon. Most of the Dutch women make harty meals and the idea is the men bid on the item and get to eat it with the woman who prepared the food.The auctioneer ridicules Selina's small item but the men start bidding and one farmer wins with an exorbitant price. Pervus DeJong tells her that he felt badly when the others began laughing. He also admits that he has no schooling. Selina offers to teach him.During these lessons, Purvis receives book learning and Selina learns about the farm life. They develop feelings toward each other and these very different people marry the next May.The author details the hardships of farming before the turn of the century when there were no tractors or automobiles to get farm goods to markets or no telephones in emergencies.When Selina's son, Dirk, is born, she wants to make sure he will grow up in a world of books and literature and have more from his life.The author also describes the progress and improvements as the new century comes in. Dirk grows older and maintains a loving relationship with Selina and fits into the soceity in Chicago.This is a well written novel in the realistic literary style and deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1924.
curls_99 on LibraryThing 21 hours ago
So Big is the story of Selina Peake DeJong, a city girl who, after being orphaned, moves to the country south of Chicago to be a school teacher. Selina has a high sense of adventure and beauty in the world, and the running joke among the farmers for a good part of the books is how Selina pronounced, upon seeing their produce in the fields, the beauty of their cabbages. Selina teaches until she meets and marries Pervus DeJong and gives birth to their son, Dirk. The title of the book comes from a game that Selina and Dirk played when he was a baby where she would say, "How big is baby?" and he would reply "Soooooooooo Big!" That became his pet name - used only by his mother. Selina becomes fascinated with the process of farming and progress in farming, and, when Pervus dies several years into their marriage, she takes pulls herself up by her bootstraps and takes control of the farm herself. Along the way Selina determines that Dirk will not be stuck on the farm like the other sons of farmers. She pushes him to seek knowledge and beauty. She wants him to know things, but she also wants him to appreciate the beauty in the world. The story continues with Dirk getting an education, moving to the city, and becoming wildly successful, all the while forgetting his mother's encouragement to appreciate the beauty in life.I loved this book and read through it so quickly. I enjoyed the idea of a woman being stranded on a farm, forced to make her own way, and not sitting around feeling sorry for herself but making success and never losing her sense of adventure and beauty in the world. She is industrious, innovative, and wise. The story is also an interesting study in the way we raise children. How does one impart the ideas that one cherishes and loves into one's children without pushing them away from those exact things? In this Selina seems to fail, but the reader is left wondering if Dirk might have possibly caught on. Again, we find that the acclaimed writers of fiction in the 1920s seem to all have a fascination with the development of the Midwest in common. It seems like it might become monotonous, but it hasn't yet for me.
sjmccreary on LibraryThing 21 hours ago
This book tells the story of Selina Peake DeJong who was orphaned at age 19 when her father (a professional gambler) died in Chicago in 1888. He had taught her that all of life's experiences, even the bad ones, are part of a grand adventure, so she bravely faced her future by first heading off to become a teacher in a rural Illinois school, and was enchanted by the beauty she saw in the place. She became disillusioned by the adventure when, years later, she was still there, married to a Dutch truck farmer and living on a poor and unproductive farm. Her husband had refused to take any suggestions for improvements from her, so after he died she began implementing some of her ideas. She managed to support herself and her son, Dirk. The farm flourished and she was even able to send Dirk to college in Chicago and then to Cornell to study architecture - pleased that he seemed to be developing an appreciation for things of beauty. Construction projects dried up after WWI and Dirk got a job at an investment firm selling bonds, where he thrived and began to become modestly wealthy. Selina, however, wanted him to return to architecture - a profession with a soul. In the way of all young adults, Dirk believed that his mother didn't understand what was important in the modern world and ignored her. Not until later, when he met and fell in love with an artist, did he begin to reconsider his opinion on the subject. But was he too late?This book won the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1924. It deserves it. I read most of it in a singe day because I was unable to keep myself from picking it up just to read a few more lines. This would be a great book club book.
Joycepa on LibraryThing 21 hours ago
Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction for 1925.In 1889, Selina Peake, orphaned daughter of a sophisticated gambler who loves books, the theater, art, and life, takes up a teaching post in the Dutch farming country town of High Prairie, Illinois, 10 miles outside of Chicago. As the farmer with whose family she is to stay drives her out to the farm, Selina looks at the rows and rows of vegetables and exclaims "How beautiful the cabbages are!" Klas Poole, the stolid Dutch farmer, thinks she's crazy--cabbages are just cabbages, after all. But Selina responds to beauty wherever she finds it, and both the newness of her experience and what she sees in it soon charms almost all of the practical people among whom she lives and teaches. She is especially fond of Roelf Poole, Klas's sullen son, who responds eagerly to Selina's encouragement of his dreams of something different and to her little library. It isn't long before Selina falls in love with a young farmer, Pervus De Joong, marries him, moves on to his poor farm, and has a son, Dirk, whom she nicknames So Big. It's a hardscrabble farm but Pervus stubbornly refuses to adapt any method of farming other than those he learned from his father. Pervus dies suddenly, and Selina is left with a young son and a farm to run.That's the plot of the first part of the book, which really is the back story, so to speak, for Selina's journey--her initial struggle to make the farm pay, her hopes for Sobig, and her continuing cheerful determination to take life as it comes and make the best out of it. The latter part of the book center around Dirk, who is not a bad sort, but who is caught up in both the pre-and post-WWI feverish pursuit of money and the social status it brings. Always in the background is Selina, who combines both practicality and the insistence that success is not defined in terms of money but rather in fulfillment of one's abilities.So Big echoes the major theme of another Pulitzer, winner, The Magnificent Ambersons, which follows the third generation of a wealthy family, and whose protagonist is caught up in the same period and with Dirk's same lack of understanding and shallow standards. The difference between the two is that Dirk really knows better, but makes the choice in favor of popularity and a woman he can not have but who lures him into a life that is basically meaningless.Ferber is not alone, therefore, in her choice of themes--the emptiness of a life devoted purely to the pursuit of money and status, but she treats it somewhat differently from Tarkington. Whereas George Amberson was "to the manor borne", Selina's story is always there in rich detail--her life as a truck farmer's wife and then her struggle as owner; Dirk, who genuinely loves his mothr, almost but never quite cuts his ties with the solid Dutch tradition, rooted in the earth, from which he came. George Amberson didn't know better, and had to learn the hard way; Dirk does know better, but still has to learn in his own way, and in reality, in a more devastating manner than does George.Ferber's prose is not sophisticated, consisting mainly of simple, declarative sentences but ones that are rich in detail from astute observation. Ferber writes convincingly of whole stratum of Illinois society--from shop girls and clerks, whose dialogue she captures convincingly, to Dutch farmers (again, with what certainly seems to be an accurate portrayal of speech patterns) to Haymarket traders to self-made millionaires to empty socialites to artists. The entire period of time--and her characters--come alive brillianttly; her finest prose, however, is reserved for Selina, who comes across as a cheerful but determined, strong woman, who, by her intelligence and willingness to meet all challenges head on, lives a fulfilled and satisfying life. A magnificent example of American literature. Highly recommended.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing 21 hours ago
Selina DeJong spent her childhood traveling the US with her father, who made his living as a gambler in the late 1800s. He instilled in her a sense of independence so strong that after his death Selina decided to make her way as an independent woman, finding work as a teacher in a Dutch farming community on the Illinois prairie. She boarded with a family, and despite being a fish out of water she gradually drew closer to the family and especially their oldest son, Roelf. Eventually Selina married a local man, Purvis DeJong and had a son, Dirk (known by his nickname, "Sobig," taken from a game Selina often played with him as a baby). Over the years Selina transformed from city girl to farm wife, and exerted strong influence over the development of both the farm and her son. The pursuit of beauty is a prominent theme in this book:"It's beauty!" Selina said then, almost passionately ... "Yes. All the worth-while things in life. All mixed up. Rooms in candle-light. Leisure. Colour. Travel. Books. Music. Pictures. People -- all kinds of people. Work that you love. And growth -- growth and watching people grow. Feeling very strongly about things and then developing that feeling to - to make something fine come of it." ... She threw out her hands in a futile gesture. "That's what I mean by beauty. I want Dirk to have it." (p. 146).On arrival in High Prairie, Selina is struck by the beauty of cabbages and other produce, much to the amusement of the hard-working local farmers. She finds beauty in most aspects of her life, and works hard to instill in Dirk that same appreciation of, and wonder for, beauty. Most of the time Dirk respectfully tolerates her chatter, seeing it as old-fashioned but endearing. But it's clear to the reader that Dirk is on his own journey to discover beauty through education, work, and relationships. So Big won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 and it's easy to see why. On one level, Selina's story is a compelling portrait of farm life at the turn of the 20th century, and Selina is an unusually strong woman for that era. Then Ferber weaves in additional characters and subplots to create a beautiful tapestry. Add to that the search for beauty in its many forms, and So Big becomes infused with meaning not found in many books. Highly recommended.
sschriefer on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I have read several books by Edna Ferber this year and this is my favorite. Interesting relationship between mother and son. I also enjoy books about changing cultural values and the clashes that occur.
writestuff on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Edna Ferber's Pulitzer Prize winning novel - So Big - is a superbly crafted novel and one I could not put down for long.When Selina Peake's father is murdered, the teenager is faced with fleeing from the bustling streets of Chicago to Vermont to live with her stuffy aunts; or to strike out on her own to seek a life of adventure. She chooses a life of her own which takes her into the insulated farm country south of Chicago to live with Dutch farmer, his wife and three children. There she discovers the simplicity of farm life while teaching the young children of the community. Selina is brilliantly portrayed - a delicately boned, strong willed woman with sparkling eyes who sees beauty in everything - including the purple and green cabbages which provide sustenance for the hard-working farmers and their families. Even after marrying the solid and reliable Pervus DeLong and finding herself working long and difficult days as a farmer's wife, Selina never loses her vision of beauty.Ferber's novel is not just about Selina's voyage through life - her struggles and dreams, challenges and triumphs - but it encompasses a larger theme...namely that of living a life of beauty and joy vs. a life of material success. Selina's enduring spirit and vision of life never fails her throughout the story. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Selina is widowed and facing the failure of her farm. She does what a woman of her community had never done - she drives a team of horses to market on the streets of Chicago.Selina's son, Dirk (aka: Sobig) represents the flip side to the life she has chosen. By all definitions, he becomes successful - holding down a high paying job and living among the wealthy. But, Ferber carefully and succinctly shows the reader why this kind of success does not necessarily lead to happiness.Ferber's novel has rich characterizations and a strong sense of place. Exquisitely crafted and lovingly plotted, it is story that is worthy of the Pulitzer. I will be reading more of this amazing author's work in the future.Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book. I learned about the growth of Chicago and the people, customs and thoughts of the time. This is a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wonderfully written...wish we had this quality of story telling today...seems to be a lost art... it taught a lesson on several levels, one of which is do no confuse success with happiness
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Edna Ferber, a celebrated author, is well worth reading. So Big is well written, with a very believable plot, setting and cast of characters. She captures the human spirit well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"So Big" is filled with simple windom. It is beyond the rural life of farmers  in Chicago at the turn of century, which is only part of what the book is about. The messages Ferber was trying to convey left me in deep thinking for days. A good number of people is annoyed by the ending but I think that is what Ferber wanted the readers to fill in the shoes themselves by doing some critical thinking of our own. I think this book is deep and philosophical. In another words, not a light or fun read but a serious one instead. i enjoyed it. The plot is nothing "wow," but it is meaningful. The languages used, the solid plot, strong and positive  messages are something I find most of the new releases lack. 
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This book was ok, didn't enjoy it as much as "Giant"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best stories I've read. Timeless and thoughtful. Amazing book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book without reservations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, I reread it once a year
Anonymous More than 1 year ago