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The Yearling, 1938

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Making of a Publishing Success

While Rawlings was revising her first novel, South Moon Under, her husband Chuck had suggested she edit it to be suitable for boys.  Soon afterwards, in June 1933, her editor Maxwell Perkins wrote with a similar idea:

I was simply going to suggest that you do a book about a child in the scrub, which would be designed for what we have come to call younger readers. . . . If you wrote about a child’s life, either a girl or a boy, or both, it would certainly be a fine publication.

Perkins’s suggestion was the germ of Rawlings’s first bestseller, The Yearling (1938), though it would be initially published as an adult novel, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, staying top of the bestseller lists for ninety-three weeks, and selling over 250,000 copies within its first year.  Only later would it be marketed primarily as a juvenile book. 

The multiple copies of The Yearling in the Middendorf Collection look superficially alike, but as the descriptions below indicate, the small differences between them constitute a physical record of the steps in the book’s extraordinary success.


First Edition, First Printing
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the yearling 1938
The Yearling.
 
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1938.  In dust-jacket.  Tarr A 3.  

This first version of the dust jacket simply describes Rawlings as “Author of South Moon Under.”   Rawlings had disliked the jackets of her earlier books, and she was very pleased when Scribner’s selected Edward Shenton (who had done similar illustrations for books by Fitzgerald and Hemingway) to do the jacket-illustration and chapter headpieces for The Yearling


the yearling original back-jacket blurp

The Original Back-Jacket Blurb

The first versions of the dust jacket, printed before reviews were available, printed this extensive description of the novel.  Even the copies of the first regular printing note that the book was a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection (the copies printed for the Club, the second printing of the Scribner’s edition, can be distinguished by the elimination of the ‘A’ on the title verso and of the price on the jacket flap).  


rawlings pulitzer preize

Scribner’s advertise the Pulitzer Prize

The jacket of this copy of the first printing has been overprinted (on the left of the vignette) to note Rawlings’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, announced at the beginning of May 1939; this Middendorf copy is the only example of this over-printed form of the jacket known to Rawlings’s bibliographer.


yearling reviews

Adding Reviews to the Jacket

Other copies of the first printing of the novel have the front of the jacket in its original form, but the back of the jacket has been altered to remove the publisher’s blurb and substitute extracts from the almost uniformly favorable reviews.  
 


the yearling - canadian edition

The Canadian Edition–and another jacket variant
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling.
Toronto: Reginald Saunders, 1940.  In dust-jacket.  

This Canadian edition is actually simply a variant issue of the American twenty-fifth printing, with a cancel (substitute) title-page and this variant jacket, showing Saunders, not Scribner, on the spine, and putting the Pulitzer Prize at the foot on the front. 


The Limited Signed Edition with Wyeth Illustrations the yearling - limited signed edition with wyeth illustrations
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939.  In box (not shown).  Tarr 3.3.

Even before the Pulitzer was announced, Scribner’s had commissioned N. C. Wyeth, long known as an illustrator of classic children’s books, to produce a new series ofillustrations in color, to be published first in this limited numbered edition, signed by both author and illustrator.  The limited edition also contains additional drawings by Wyeth.  After the prize announcement, but before publication, the edition was named  the “Pulitzer Prize Edition.” As late as 1952, over two hundred of the 770 copies remained unsold.


yearling rade edition

The Trade Edition of the Wyeth Yearling

This trade edition, in pictorial jacket, was much more successful, selling two printings (over 22,000 copies) between October 1939 and the end of the year, and going through sixteen printings in all. 


the yearling popular edition

Repackaging Shenton: the “Popular Edition”

In September 1940, perhaps influenced by the success of the Wyeth trade edition the previous fall, Scribner’s repackaged the original edition with its black-and-white Edward Shenton chapter headings in a new pictorial jacket, as  the “PopularEdition.”  The first printing of the “Popular Edition” (the 26th printing of the Shenton edition) was of 51,000 copies.


the yearling school edition

School Edition of The Yearling, 1941

For this third American edition (Tarr A 3.5), Rawlings provided an introductory essay, and the Shenton illustrations were supplemented by a colored frontispiece, a photo of Rawlings, and a map showing the location of the story.
 


the yearling armed services edition

Two Armed Services Editions of The Yearling
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling.
ASE B-55. New York: Council on Books in Wartime, 1943.  Original wrappers.  Shown with second ASE printing:  ASE S-33. New York: Editions for the Armed Services, 1945.  Original wrappers.   Tarr A 3.4.

Paradoxically, in light of its later reputation as a children’s book, The Yearlingwas the most widely-distributed of Rawlings’s books to servicemen during World War II.  50,000 copies were distributed of the first ASE printing, and 125,000 of the second printing.


the yearling in the modern library

The Yearling in the Modern Library
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling.
New York: Modern Library, 1946.  In dust-jacket.  Tarr A 3.5.

The Modern Library, published by Random House, produced hardback pocket editions of modern classics, and inclusion in the series by this rival publisher indicated critical unanimity as to Rawlings’s literary stature.


The Yearling as a Movie, 1946mgm 1946 - the yearling
Publicity stills from the original release of The Yearling (MGM, 1946).

The movie rights in The Yearling had been sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938, for $30,000.  Originally, it was to star Spencer Tracy as the father, Penny Baxter, production was delayed by the war, till 1946, when Gregory Peck replaced Tracy, Claude Jarman, Jr., played Jody, and Jane Wyman co-starred as Ma Baxter.   This movie version was re-released in 1956 (as an MGM Masterpiece), in 1973, in 1985 (as videotape), and in 1988 on disc.  A different version of the novel was made for CBS television in 1994, with sponsorship from Kraft General Foods.

Lobby card for the original release of The Yearling (MGM, 1946).


The Variations of Modern “Limited” Editionsyearling modern limited editionyearling modern limited editionyearling modern limited edition

These luxury ‘chocolate box’ reprints from the Franklin Library, with silk endpapers, gilt-stamped leather bindings, and all edges gilt, often despised by purist collectors, nonetheless attest to the classic status attributed to Rawlings’s novel in the wider culture.  Few libraries collect such reprints, and fewer still have variant issues such as those shown here, separately marketed as for subscribers to the Franklin Library, to the Collector’s Library of the World’s Best-Loved Books, and to the Franklin Library of Pulitzer Prize Classics (for which the Wyeth illustrations have been reworked as half-tones).


Family Values & The Yearling, 1994

Poster for The Yearling (CBS Television, 1994).yearling poster - cbs 1994

The continuing classic status of Rawlings’s novel as “America’s best-loved coming of age story” made it irresistible to TV sponsors in the 1990's.  As Peter Strauss (the new Penny Baxter) told an interviewer,  “This is a critical time, when it’s impossible to pay too much attention to the family.”  Billed as “the first time the story has been filmed for television,” this 1994 remake by CBS as a Kraft General Foods Premier Movie was accompanied by the distribution of “an extensive set of original classroom materials” to 35,000 junior high school English teachers, who were expected to make the movie required watching for 6 million students.

 

 

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