recess radio program

4/06/04
The Yearling
    by Rita Smith

The Yearling is the best known book to have come from the pen of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and letters between Rawlings and her editor at Scribner's, Max Perkins, indicate that what began as a story for children about a boy in the Florida scrub, evolved over the course of years into a full length novel aimed primarily at the adult reader.

The first suggestion for the book came in a letter from Perkins in June 1933: "I was going to suggest that you do a book about a child in the scrub, which would be designed for what we...call younger readers...Such a book would require very little plot. It's interest would simply be that of character and...of the peculiar and adventurous life." (116)

Rawlings liked the idea. The writing and publication of her first novel, South Moon Under, had proved to be a physically and mentally draining experience for her. A juvenile book would be a challenge but not an exhausting one. "It really would be interesting," she wrote back, "to see if I could capture whatever quality it is that gives glamour to stories for the young mind." (118) Later that year when Perkins suggested that the book might be "one that men would read as well as boys," (127) Rawlings fired back: "I will not consider anything but an out and out boy's juvenile...If you promise to publish it only as a juvenile, I'll go ahead with it." (127)

But another adult novel, Golden Apples, intervened, and Rawlings didn't get back to the boy's story until late 1935. "The feeling for the boy's book came to me," she wrote to Perkins in November. "....It will be a story about a boy - a brief and tragic idyll of boyhood." (233) As she worked on the story, she realized, contrary to her earlier inclination, that it was not going to be a "child's story about a boy in the scrub" after all, but a full length novel aimed at the adult audience, and she wanted to be sure Perkins understood the change: "What I am concerned about, is that the forthcoming book should not be labeled a "juvenile" because I think it will only incidentally be a book for boys...The adventure and simplicity, will carry it, quite secondarily for boys' use. But it is important that no announcement ever be made, anywhere, that the book is a juvenile."(278)

Perkins shared her concern. He wanted a lot of advance publicity and reviews so people would become acquainted with the book before it became available for purchase. "This will be important with The Yearling because there will be that dreadful inclination to think a book about a boy is a book for "young readers" only. That we must overcome." (293)

The Yearling was published in March, 1938, to much acclaim. Adults loved the book, but children did as well, and as important as it was to her that it not be labeled juvenile, she told Perkins that the nicest compliment she got about the book came from a 12 year old boy who read the book and said simply, "She expresses so good the way I feel." (343)

Sources:
Tarr, Rodger L., editor. Max & Marjorie: The Correspondence between Maxwell E. Perkins and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1999.

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Copyright 2004 Rita Smith

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