Illustrated Book Spotlight: Roast Beef, Medium, by Edna Ferber, illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg

For this new series of blog posts, I've decided to write about certain illustrated books I've read over the years, mainly to showcase the illustrations from each book, but also to discuss the book itself.

This is the first installment in the series, in which I will write about one of my personal favorites: Roast Beef, Medium, by Edna Ferber, illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg. Edna Ferber is today best known as the author of such iconic novels as Show Boat, Giant, and Saratoga Trunk, but in her early days she wrote quite a few books that are, in my opinion, grossly underrated. One of these is this fine gem, which is a daring (for its time) narrative of a divorced mother who works a job in a male-dominated field.

This book, along with its two sequels; Personality Plus, and Emma McChesney &Co.; were originally serialized in the American Magazine between 1911 and 1915. This was a time when it was considered scandalous for a mother to be divorced, and also when sales was seen as strictly "men's work." Such discriminatory biases would not fly today, and single working mothers are certainly nothing unusual, but it's helpful to see this book through the lens of that time period to really understand the statement that Ferber was making. Many have said that this book is very feminist and ahead of its time, all of which is true, but I think this book could also be seen as a direct challenge to the prevailing biases of the time. "If men discover how tough women actually are," Ferber once famously said, "they'll be scared to death."

But no matter how challenging the overall message was, the books themselves were very well received. Many people enjoyed them, (including Theodore Roosevelt himself,) and they were eventually made into a film. (Tragically, the film was destroyed in a fire.)

I had been debating with myself whether or not to include a caption with each image detailing pertinent parts of the plot, but, for fear of including spoilers, I've decided to show the pictures by themselves. This is one of many illustrated books from this time period I strongly encourage you to read, and hopefully this gallery of images will be enough to peak your interest.


1.) Frontispiece: "'And they call that thing a petticoat!'"

2.) "'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,' he announced, glibly"

3.) "'That was a married kiss--a two-year-old married kiss at least'"

4.) "'I won't ask you to forgive a hound like me'"

5.) "'You'll never grow up, Emma McChesney'"

6.) "'Well, s'long, then, Shrimp. See you at eight'"

7.) "'I'm still in a position to enforce that ordinance against pouting'"

8.) "'Son!' echoed the clerk, staring"

9.) "'Well!' gulped Jock, 'those two double-bedded, bloomin' blasted Bisons--'"

10.) "'Come on out of here, and I'll lick the shine off your shoes, you blue-eyed babe, you!'"

11.) "'You can't treat me with your life's history. I'm going in'"

12.) "'Now, Lillian Russell and cold cream is one; and new potatoes and brown crocks is another'"

13.) "'Why, girls, I couldn't hold down a job in a candy factory'"

14.) "'Honestly, I'd wear it myself!'" (Click here to purchase this as a print.)

15.) "'I've lived petticoats, I've talked petticoats, I've dreamed petticoats--why, I've even worn the darn things!'"

16.) "And found himself addressing the backs of the letters on the door marked 'Private'"

17.) "'Shut up, you blamed fool! Can't you see the lady's sick?'"

18.) "At his gaze that lady fled, sample-case banging at her knees"

19.) "In the exuberance of his young strength, he picked her up"

20.) "She read it again, dully, as though every selfish word had not already stamped itself on her brain and heart"

21.) "'Not that you look your age--not by ten years!'"

22.) "'Christmas isn't a season . . . it's a feeling; and, thank God, I've got it!'"

23.) "'No man will ever appreciate the fine points of this little garment, but the women--!'"

24.) "'Emma McChesney . . . I believe in you now! Dad and I both believe in you'"

25.) "It had been a whirlwind day"

26.) "'Emma,' he said, 'will you marry me?'"

27.) "'Welcome home!' she cried. 'Sketch in the furniture to suit yourself'"

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