So Big by Edna Ferber (1924)
This was the biggest selling novel in 1924 and won its author a Pulitzer Prize a year later. Set in Chicago, So Big tells the story of the life of gambler’s daughter Selina as she navigates the many huge challenges life throws in her face – challenges to her dignity, to her family, and to her mental health.
But what truly makes her one of the 20th century’s great literary characters is her inextinguishable ability to find joy in the most unlikely of places. She is a flawed delight. But more than just a larger-than-life story of a go-getting ‘modern woman’, what makes it stand out as a timeless work of literature is the vivid snapshot it provides of a vanished time in history, through the high life and low life of 1920s Chicago society. ‘Critics of the 1920s and 1930s,’ wrote the New York Times, ‘did not hesitate to call [Ferber] the greatest American woman novelist of her day.’ This was her masterpiece.