History of Literature









American literature

 

CONTENTS:

The 17th century

The 18th century

Early 19th-century literature

From the Civil War to 1914

The 20th century. Writing from 1914 to 1945

The 20th century. After World War II




 

 


American literature
 

 


The 20th century. Writing from 1914 to 1945
 

 

Eugene O’Neill
Maxwell Anderson
Robert E. Sherwood
Marc Connelly
Elmer Rice
Lillian Hellman

Thornton Wilder
William Saroyan
Edwin Arlington Robinson

Robert Frost "Poems"

Vachel Lindsay
Carl Sandburg
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Ezra Pound

William Carlos Williams
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell
Sherwood Anderson
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sinclair Lewis
Ernest Hemingway
William Faulkner
John Steinbeck

Katherine Anne Porter
Jack Kerouac

Willa Cather
Pearl S. Buck
Mortimer Adler
Erich Fromm
Willard Van Orman Quine
Ayn Rand
Richard Rorty

 

 

 

 

 



The 20th century



Writing from 1914 to 1945


Important movements in drama, poetry, fiction, and criticism took shape in the years before, during, and after World War I. The eventful period that followed the war left its imprint upon books of all kinds. Literary forms of the period were extraordinarily varied, and in drama, poetry, and fiction the leading authors tended toward radical technical experiments.




Experiments in drama

Although drama had not been a major art form in the 19th century, no type of writing was more experimental than a new drama that arose in rebellion against the glib commercial stage. In the early years of the 20th century, Americans traveling in Europe encountered a vital, flourishing theatre; returning home, some of them became active in founding the Little Theatre movement throughout the country. Freed from commercial limitations, playwrights experimented with dramatic forms and methods of production, and in time producers, actors, and dramatists appeared who had been trained in college classrooms and community playhouses. Some Little Theatre groups became commercial producers—for example, the Washington Square Players, founded in 1915, which became the Theatre Guild (first production in 1919). The resulting drama was marked by a spirit of innovation and by a new seriousness and maturity.

Eugene O’Neill, the most admired dramatist of the period, was a product of this movement. He worked with the Provincetown Players before his plays were commercially produced. His dramas were remarkable for their range. Beyond the Horizon (first performed 1920), Anna Christie (1921), Desire Under the Elms (1924), and The Iceman Cometh (1946) were naturalistic works, while The Emperor Jones (1920) and The Hairy Ape (1922) made use of the Expressionistic techniques developed in German drama in the period 1914–24. He also employed a stream-of-consciousness form of psychological monologue in Strange Interlude (1928) and produced a work that combined myth, family drama, and psychological analysis in Mourning Becomes Electra (1931).

No other dramatist was as generally praised as O’Neill, but many others wrote plays that reflected the growth of a serious and varied drama, including Maxwell Anderson, whose verse dramas have dated badly, and Robert E. Sherwood, a Broadway professional who wrote both comedy (Reunion in Vienna [1931]) and tragedy (There Shall Be No Night [1940]). Marc Connelly wrote touching fantasy in an African American folk biblical play, The Green Pastures (1930). Like O’Neill, Elmer Rice made use of both Expressionistic techniques (The Adding Machine [1923]) and naturalism (Street Scene [1929]). Lillian Hellman wrote powerful, well-crafted melodramas in The Children’s Hour (1934) and The Little Foxes (1939). Radical theatre experiments included Marc Blitzstein’s savagely satiric musical The Cradle Will Rock (1937) and the work of Orson Welles and John Houseman for the government-sponsored Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Theatre Project.

The premier radical theatre of the decade was the Group Theatre (1931–41) under Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg, which became best known for presenting the work of Clifford Odets. In Waiting for Lefty (1935), a stirring plea for labour unionism, Odets roused the audience to an intense pitch of fervour, and in Awake and Sing (1935), perhaps the best play of the decade, he created a lyrical work of family conflict and youthful yearning.

Other important plays by Odets for the Group Theatre were Paradise Lost (1935), Golden Boy (1937), and Rocket to the Moon (1938). Thornton Wilder used stylized settings and poetic dialogue in Our Town (1938) and turned to fantasy in The Skin of Our Teeth (1942).

William Saroyan
shifted his lighthearted, anarchic vision from fiction to drama with My Heart’s in the Highlands and The Time of Your Life (both 1939).
 


Eugene O’Neill





 

American dramatist
in full Eugene Gladstone O’Neill

born Oct. 16, 1888, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Nov. 27, 1953, Boston, Mass.

Main
foremost American dramatist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936. His masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey into Night (produced posthumously 1956), is at the apex of a long string of great plays, including Beyond the Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928), Ah! Wilderness (1933), and The Iceman Cometh (1946).

Early life
O’Neill was born into the theatre. His father, James O’Neill, was a successful touring actor in the last quarter of the 19th century whose most famous role was that of the Count of Monte Cristo in a stage adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas père novel. His mother, Ella, accompanied her husband back and forth across the country, settling down only briefly for the birth of her first son, James, Jr., and of Eugene.

Eugene, who was born in a hotel, spent his early childhood in hotel rooms, on trains, and backstage. Although he later deplored the nightmare insecurity of his early years and blamed his father for the difficult, rough-and-tumble life the family led—a life that resulted in his mother’s drug addiction—Eugene had the theatre in his blood. He was also, as a child, steeped in the peasant Irish Catholicism of his father and the more genteel, mystical piety of his mother, two influences, often in dramatic conflict, which account for the high sense of drama and the struggle with God and religion that distinguish O’Neill’s plays.

O’Neill was educated at boarding schools—Mt. St. Vincent in the Bronx and Betts Academy in Stamford, Conn. His summers were spent at the family’s only permanent home, a modest house overlooking the Thames River in New London, Conn. He attended Princeton University for one year (1906–07), after which he left school to begin what he later regarded as his real education in “life experience.” The next six years very nearly ended his life. He shipped to sea, lived a derelict’s existence on the waterfronts of Buenos Aires, Liverpool, and New York City, submerged himself in alcohol, and attempted suicide. Recovering briefly at the age of 24, he held a job for a few months as a reporter and contributor to the poetry column of the New London Telegraph but soon came down with tuberculosis. Confined to the Gaylord Farm Sanitarium in Wallingford, Conn., for six months (1912–13), he confronted himself soberly and nakedly for the first time and seized the chance for what he later called his “rebirth.” He began to write plays.


Entry into theatre
O’Neill’s first efforts were awkward melodramas, but they were about people and subjects—prostitutes, derelicts, lonely sailors, God’s injustice to man—that had, up to that time, been in the province of serious novels and were not considered fit subjects for presentation on the American stage. A theatre critic persuaded his father to send him to Harvard to study with George Pierce Baker in his famous playwriting course. Although what O’Neill produced during that year (1914–15) owed little to Baker’s academic instruction, the chance to work steadily at writing set him firmly on his chosen path.

O’Neill’s first appearance as a playwright came in the summer of 1916, in the quiet fishing village of Provincetown, Mass., where a group of young writers and painters had launched an experimental theatre. In their tiny, ramshackle playhouse on a wharf, they produced his one-act sea play Bound East for Cardiff. The talent inherent in the play was immediately evident to the group, which that fall formed the Playwrights’ Theater in Greenwich Village. Their first bill, on Nov. 3, 1916, included Bound East for Cardiff—O’Neill’s New York debut. Although he was only one of several writers whose plays were produced by the Playwrights’ Theater, his contribution within the next few years made the group’s reputation. Between 1916 and 1920, the group produced all of O’Neill’s one-act sea plays, along with a number of his lesser efforts. By the time his first full-length play, Beyond the Horizon, was produced on Broadway, Feb. 2, 1920, at the Morosco Theater, the young playwright already had a small reputation.

Beyond the Horizon impressed the critics with its tragic realism, won for O’Neill the first of four Pulitzer prizes in drama—others were for Anna Christie, Strange Interlude, and Long Day’s Journey into Night—and brought him to the attention of a wider theatre public. For the next 20 years his reputation grew steadily, both in the United States and abroad; after Shakespeare and Shaw, O’Neill became the most widely translated and produced dramatist.


Period of the major works
O’Neill’s capacity for and commitment to work were staggering. Between 1920 and 1943 he completed 20 long plays—several of them double and triple length—and a number of shorter ones. He wrote and rewrote many of his manuscripts half a dozen times before he was satisfied, and he filled shelves of notebooks with research notes, outlines, play ideas, and other memoranda. His most-distinguished short plays include the four early sea plays, Bound East for Cardiff, In the Zone, The Long Voyage Home, and The Moon of the Caribbees, which were written between 1913 and 1917 and produced in 1924 under the overall title S.S. Glencairn; The Emperor Jones (about the disintegration of a Pullman porter turned tropical-island dictator); and The Hairy Ape (about the disintegration of a displaced steamship coal stoker).

O’Neill’s plays were written from an intensely personal point of view, deriving directly from the scarring effects of his family’s tragic relationships—his mother and father, who loved and tormented each other; his older brother, who loved and corrupted him and died of alcoholism in middle age; and O’Neill himself, caught and torn between love for and rage at all three.

Among his most-celebrated long plays is Anna Christie, perhaps the classic American example of the ancient “harlot with a heart of gold” theme; it became an instant popular success. O’Neill’s serious, almost solemn treatment of the struggle of a poor Swedish-American girl to live down her early, enforced life of prostitution and to find happiness with a likable but unimaginative young sailor is his least-complicated tragedy. He himself disliked it from the moment he finished it, for, in his words, it had been “too easy.”

The first full-length play in which O’Neill successfully evoked the starkness and inevitability of Greek tragedy that he felt in his own life was Desire Under the Elms (1924). Drawing on Greek themes of incest, infanticide, and fateful retribution, he framed his story in the context of his own family’s conflicts. This story of a lustful father, a weak son, and an adulterous wife who murders her infant son was told with a fine disregard for the conventions of the contemporary Broadway theatre. Because of the sparseness of its style, its avoidance of melodrama, and its total honesty of emotion, the play was acclaimed immediately as a powerful tragedy and has continued to rank among the great American plays of the 20th century.

In The Great God Brown, O’Neill dealt with a major theme that he expressed more effectively in later plays—the conflict between idealism and materialism. Although the play was too metaphysically intricate to be staged successfully when it was first produced, in 1926, it was significant for its symbolic use of masks and for the experimentation with expressionistic dialogue and action—devices that since have become commonly accepted both on the stage and in motion pictures. In spite of its confusing structure, the play is rich in symbolism and poetry, as well as in daring technique, and it became a forerunner of avant-garde movements in American theatre.

O’Neill’s innovative writing continued with Strange Interlude. This play was revolutionary in style and length: when first produced, it opened in late afternoon, broke for a dinner intermission, and ended at the conventional hour. Techniques new to the modern theatre included spoken asides or soliloquies to express the characters’ hidden thoughts. The play is the saga of Everywoman, who ritualistically acts out her roles as daughter, wife, mistress, mother, and platonic friend. Although it was innovative and startling in 1928, its obvious Freudian overtones have rapidly dated the work.

One of O’Neill’s enduring masterpieces, Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), represents the playwright’s most complete use of Greek forms, themes, and characters. Based on the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus, it was itself three plays in one. To give the story contemporary credibility, O’Neill set the play in the New England of the Civil War period, yet he retained the forms and the conflicts of the Greek characters: the heroic leader returning from war; his adulterous wife, who murders him; his jealous, repressed daughter, who avenges him through the murder of her mother; and his weak, incestuous son, who is goaded by his sister first to matricide and then to suicide.

Following a long succession of tragic visions, O’Neill’s only comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, appeared on Broadway in 1933. Written in a lighthearted, nostalgic mood, the work was inspired in part by the playwright’s mischievous desire to demonstrate that he could portray the comic as well as the tragic side of life. Significantly, the play is set in the same place and period, a small New England town in the early 1900s, as his later tragic masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey into Night. Dealing with the growing pains of a sensitive, adolescent boy, Ah, Wilderness! was characterized by O’Neill as “the other side of the coin,” meaning that it represented his fantasy of what his own youth might have been, rather than what he believed it to have been (as dramatized later in Long Day’s Journey into Night).

The Iceman Cometh, the most complex and perhaps the finest of the O’Neill tragedies, followed in 1939, although it did not appear on Broadway until 1946. Laced with subtle religious symbolism, the play is a study of man’s need to cling to his hope for a better life, even if he must delude himself to do so.

Even in his last writings, O’Neill’s youth continued to absorb his attention. The posthumous production of Long Day’s Journey into Night brought to light an agonizingly autobiographical play, one of O’Neill’s greatest. It is straightforward in style but shattering in its depiction of the agonized relations between father, mother, and two sons. Spanning one day in the life of a family, the play strips away layer after layer from each of the four central figures, revealing the mother as a defeated drug addict, the father as a man frustrated in his career and failed as a husband and father, the older son as a bitter alcoholic, and the younger son as a tubercular, disillusioned youth with only the slenderest chance for physical and spiritual survival.

O’Neill’s tragic view of life was perpetuated in his relationships with the three women he married—two of whom he divorced—and with his three children. His elder son, Eugene O’Neill, Jr. (by his first wife, Kathleen Jenkins), committed suicide at 40, while his younger son, Shane (by his second wife, Agnes Boulton), drifted into a life of emotional instability. His daughter, Oona (also by Agnes Boulton), was cut out of his life when, at 18, she infuriated him by marrying Charlie Chaplin, who was O’Neill’s age.

Until some years after his death in 1953, O’Neill, although respected in the United States, was more highly regarded abroad. Sweden, in particular, always held him in high esteem, partly because of his publicly acknowledged debt to the influence of the Swedish playwright August Strindberg, whose tragic themes often echo in O’Neill’s plays. In 1936 the Swedish Academy gave O’Neill the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first time the award had been conferred on an American playwright.

O’Neill’s most ambitious project for the theatre was one that he never completed. In the late 1930s he conceived of a cycle of 11 plays, to be performed on 11 consecutive nights, tracing the lives of an American family from the early 1800s to modern times. He wrote scenarios and outlines for several of the plays and drafts of others but completed only one in the cycle—A Touch of the Poet—before a crippling illness ended his ability to hold a pencil. An unfinished rough draft of another of the cycle plays, More Stately Mansions, was published in 1964 and produced three years later on Broadway, in spite of written instructions left by O’Neill that the incomplete manuscript be destroyed after his death.

O’Neill’s final years were spent in grim frustration. Unable to work, he longed for his death and sat waiting for it in a Boston hotel, seeing no one except his doctor, a nurse, and his third wife, Carlotta Monterey. O’Neill died as broken and tragic a figure as any he had created for the stage.


Assessment
O’Neill was the first American dramatist to regard the stage as a literary medium and the only American playwright ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Through his efforts, the American theatre grew up during the 1920s, developing into a cultural medium that could take its place with the best in American fiction, painting, and music. Until his Beyond the Horizon was produced, in 1920, Broadway theatrical fare, apart from musicals and an occasional European import of quality, had consisted largely of contrived melodrama and farce. O’Neill saw the theatre as a valid forum for the presentation of serious ideas. Imbued with the tragic sense of life, he aimed for a contemporary drama that had its roots in the most powerful of ancient Greek tragedies—a drama that could rise to the emotional heights of Shakespeare. For more than 20 years, both with such masterpieces as Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Electra, and The Iceman Cometh and by his inspiration to other serious dramatists, O’Neill set the pace for the blossoming of the Broadway theatre.

Barbara Gelb
Arthur Gelb

 

 


Maxwell Anderson





 

Maxwell Anderson, (b. Dec. 15, 1888, Atlantic, Pa., U.S.—d. Feb. 28, 1959, Stamford, Conn.), prolific playwright noted for his efforts to make verse tragedy a popular form.

Anderson was educated at the University of North Dakota and Stanford University. He collaborated with Laurence Stallings in the World War I comedy What Price Glory? (1924), his first hit, a realistically ribald and profane view of World War I. Saturday’s Children (1927), about the marital problems of a young couple, was also very successful. Anderson’s prestige was increased by two ambitious historical dramas in verse—Elizabeth the Queen (1930) and Mary of Scotland (1933)—and by a success of a very different nature, his humorous Pulitzer Prize-winning prose satire, Both Your Houses (1933), an attack on venality in the U.S. Congress. He reached the peak of his career with Winterset (1935), a poetic drama set in his own times. A tragedy inspired by the Sacco and Vanzetti case of the 1920s and set in the urban slums, it deals with the son of a man who has been unjustly condemned to death, who seeks revenge and vindication of his father’s name. High Tor (1936), a romantic comedy in verse, expressed the author’s displeasure with modern materialism. Collaborating with the German refugee composer Kurt Weill (1900–50), Anderson also wrote for the musical theatre a play based on early New York history, Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), and Lost in the Stars (1949), a dramatization of Alan Paton’s South African novel Cry, the Beloved Country. His last play, The Bad Seed (1954), was a dramatization of William March’s novel about an evil child.
 

 

 


Robert E. Sherwood



 

Robert E. Sherwood, in full Robert Emmet Sherwood (b. April 4, 1896, New Rochelle, N.Y., U.S.—d. Nov. 14, 1955, New York City), American playwright whose works reflect involvement in human problems, both social and political.

Sherwood was an indifferent student at Milton Academy and Harvard University, failing the freshman rhetoric course while performing well and happily on the Lampoon, the humour magazine, and with the Hasty Pudding club, which produced the annual college musical comedy. He left before graduation to enlist in 1917 in the Canadian Black Watch Battalion, served in France, was gassed, and was discharged in 1919.

Sherwood was drama editor of Vanity Fair (1919–20) and with his colleagues Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley found his way to the Algonquin Round Table, the centre of a New York literary coterie. Sherwood then worked as associate editor (1920–24) and editor (1924–28) of the humour magazine Life. His first play, The Road to Rome (1927), criticizes the pointlessness of war, a recurring theme in many of his dramas. The heroes of The Petrified Forest (1935) and Idiot’s Delight (1936) begin as detached cynics but recognize their own bankruptcy and sacrifice themselves for their fellowmen. In Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1939) and There Shall Be No Night (1941), in which his pacifist heroes decide to fight, Sherwood’s thesis is that only by losing his life for others can a man make his own life significant. In 1938 Sherwood formed, with Maxwell Anderson, Sidney Howard, Elmer Rice, and S.N. Behrman, the Playwrights’ Company, which became a major producing company.

The Lincoln play led to Sherwood’s introduction to Eleanor Roosevelt and ultimately to his working for President Franklin D. Roosevelt as speechwriter and adviser. Sherwood’s speechwriting did much to make ghostwriting for public figures a respectable practice. Between service as special assistant to the secretary of war (1940) and to the secretary of the navy (1945), Sherwood served as director of the overseas branch of the Office of War Information (1941–44). From his wartime association with Roosevelt came much of the material for Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History. Except for his Academy Award-winning film The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Sherwood’s theatrical work after World War II was negligible.
 

 

 


Marc Connelly



 

Marc Connelly, byname of Marcus Cook Connelly (b. Dec. 13, 1890, McKeesport, Pa., U.S.—d. Dec. 21, 1980, New York City), American playwright, journalist, teacher, actor, and director, best-known for Green Pastures (a folk version of the Old Testament dramatized through the lives of blacks of the southern United States) and for the comedies that he wrote with George S. Kaufman.

Connelly’s parents were touring actors who, a year before he was born, settled down in McKeesport to manage a hotel frequented by actors. After the death of his father, Connelly attended Trinity Hall, a boarding school in Washington, Pa., from 1902 to 1907. His family’s financial troubles ended his education. He worked as a reporter in Pittsburgh until 1917, when he joined the Morning Telegraph in New York City, covering theatrical news. He then began his collaboration with Kaufman, who worked for the drama section of The New York Times. Their first successful play, Dulcy (1921), written as a vehicle for the actress Lynn Fontanne, was followed by To the Ladies (1922), a vehicle for Helen Hayes. Beggar on Horseback (1924), in the style of German Expressionist drama, depicts the threat to art from a society dominated by bourgeois values.

While they collaborated in writing a satire on Hollywood, Merton of the Movies (1922), and two musicals, Helen of Troy, New York (1923) and Be Yourself (1924), Connelly and Kaufman were members of the Round Table of the Algonquin Hotel, a circle of New York City’s theatre people and writers. Connelly described this phase of his career in Voices Offstage: A Book of Memoirs (1968).

Green Pastures, based on Roark Bradford’s book Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun, was first performed in 1930 and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was extremely popular both on the stage and in its motion-picture version (1936), but when it was revived in 1951 it was criticized for perpetuating unacceptable stereotypes of blacks.

Connelly’s last Broadway success, The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934), written with Frank Elser, was a comedy about life along the Erie Canal in the 19th century; a film version of it was made in 1935. From 1946 to 1950 he taught playwriting at Yale University. His early plays Dulcy and Beggar on Horseback were revived on the New York City stage in the 1970s. His novel A Souvenir from Qam was published in 1965.
 

 

 

 
Elmer Rice



 

Elmer Rice, original name Elmer Reizenstein (b. Sept. 28, 1892, New York City—d. May 8, 1967, Southampton, Hampshire, Eng.), American playwright, director, and novelist noted for his innovative and polemical plays.

Rice graduated from the New York Law School in 1912 but soon turned to writing plays. His first work, the melodramatic On Trial (1914), was the first play to employ on stage the motion-picture technique of flashbacks, in this case to present the recollections of witnesses at a trial. In The Adding Machine (1923) Rice adapted techniques from German Expressionist theatre to depict the dehumanization of man in the 20th century. His most important play, Street Scene (1929), was a starkly realistic tragedy set outside a New York City slum tenement building. The play won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a highly popular musical (1947) with lyrics by Langston Hughes and music by Kurt Weill. Counsellor-at-Law (1931) was a rather critical look at the legal profession. In We, the People (1933), Judgment Day (1934), and several other polemical plays of the 1930s, Rice treated the evils of Nazism, the poverty of the Great Depression, and racism. He continued to write for the stage after 1945, but without much acclaim.

Rice was active in the WPA Federal Theatre Project for a short time in the mid-1930s. He also championed the American Civil Liberties Union and the cause of free speech, and in the 1950s he was an opponent of U.S. Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. Rice also wrote several novels and an autobiography, Minority Report (1963).
 

 

 


Lillian Hellman



 

Lillian Hellman, (b. June 20, 1905, New Orleans, La., U.S.—d. June 30, 1984, Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.), American playwright and motion-picture screenwriter whose dramas forcefully attacked injustice, exploitation, and selfishness.

Hellman attended New York public schools and New York University and Columbia University. Her marriage (1925–32) to the playwright Arthur Kober ended in divorce. She had already begun an intimate friendship with the novelist Dashiell Hammett that would continue until his death in 1961. In the 1930s, after working as book reviewer, press agent, play reader, and Hollywood scenarist, she began writing plays.

Her dramas exposed some of the various forms in which evil appears—a malicious child’s lies about two schoolteachers (The Children’s Hour, 1934); a ruthless family’s exploitation of fellow townspeople and of one another (The Little Foxes, 1939, and Another Part of the Forest, 1946); and the irresponsible selfishness of the Versailles-treaty generation (Watch on the Rhine, 1941, and The Searching Wind, 1944). Criticized at times for her doctrinaire views and characters, she nevertheless kept her characters from becoming merely social points of view by writing credible dialogue and creating a realistic intensity matched by few of her playwriting contemporaries. These plays exhibit the tight structure and occasional overcontrivance of what is known as the well-made play. In the 1950s she showed her skill in handling the more subtle structure of Chekhovian drama (The Autumn Garden, 1951) and in translating and adapting (Jean Anouilh’s The Lark, 1955, and Voltaire’s Candide, 1957, in a musical version). She returned to the well-made play with Toys in the Attic (1960), which was followed by another adaptation, My Mother, My Father, and Me (1963; from Burt Blechman’s novel How Much?). She also edited Anton Chekhov’s Selected Letters (1955) and a collection of stories and short novels, The Big Knockover (1966), by Hammett.

Her reminiscences, begun in An Unfinished Woman (1969), were continued in Pentimento (1973) and Maybe (1980). After their publication, certain fabrications were brought to light, notably her reporting in Pentimento of a personal relationship with a courageous woman she called Julia. The woman on whose actions Hellman’s story was based denied acquaintance with the author.

Hellman, a longtime supporter of leftist causes, detailed in Scoundrel Time (1976) her troubles and those of her friends with the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings during the 1950s. Hellman refused to give the committee the names of people who had associations with the Communist Party; she was subsequently blacklisted though not held in contempt of Congress.

Her collected plays, many of which continued to be performed at the turn of the 20th century, were published in 1972.
 

 

 


Thornton Wilder




 

Thornton Wilder, in full Thornton Niven Wilder (b. April 17, 1897, Madison, Wis., U.S.—d. Dec. 7, 1975, Hamden, Conn.), American writer, whose innovative novels and plays reflect his views of the universal truths in human nature. He is probably best known for his plays.

After graduating from Yale University in 1920, Wilder studied archaeology in Rome. From 1930 to 1937 he taught dramatic literature and the classics at the University of Chicago.

His first novel, The Cabala (1926), set in 20th-century Rome, is essentially a fantasy about the death of the pagan gods. His most popular novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927; Pulitzer Prize), which was adapted for film and television, examines the lives of five people who died in the collapse of a bridge in 18th-century Peru. The Woman of Andros (1930) is an interpretation of Terence’s Andria. Accused of being a “Greek” rather than an American writer, Wilder in Heaven’s My Destination (1934) wrote about a quixotically good hero in a contemporary setting. His later novels are The Ides of March (1948), The Eighth Day (1967), and Theophilus North (1973).

Wilder’s plays engage the audience in make-believe by having the actors address the spectators directly and by discarding props and scenery. The Stage Manager in Our Town (1938) talks to the audience, as do the characters in the farcical The Matchmaker (1954). Wilder won a Pulitzer Prize for Our Town, becoming the only person to receive the award in both the fiction and drama categories. The Matchmaker was made into a film in 1958 and adapted in 1964 into the immensely successful musical Hello, Dolly!, which was also made into a film.

Wilder’s other plays include The Skin of Our Teeth (1942; Pulitzer Prize), which employs deliberate anachronisms and the use of the same characters in various geological and historical periods to show that human experience is much the same whatever the time or place. Posthumous publications include The Journals of Thornton Wilder, 1939–1961, edited by Donald Gallup, and Wilder’s correspondence with Gertrude Stein, The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder (1996), edited by Edward Burns and Ulla E. Dydo.
 

 

 


William Saroyan



 

William Saroyan, (b. Aug. 31, 1908, Fresno, Calif., U.S.—d. May 18, 1981, Fresno), U.S. writer who made his initial impact during the Depression with a deluge of brash, original, and irreverent stories celebrating the joy of living in spite of poverty, hunger, and insecurity.

The son of an Armenian immigrant, Saroyan left school at 15 and educated himself by reading and writing. His first collection of stories, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934), was soon followed by another collection, Inhale and Exhale (1936). His first play, My Heart’s in the Highlands, was brilliantly produced by the Group Theatre in 1939. In 1940 Saroyan refused the Pulitzer Prize for his play The Time of Your Life (performed 1939) on the grounds that it was “no more great or good” than anything else he had written.

Saroyan was concerned with the basic goodness of all people, especially the obscure and naive, and the value of life. His mastery of the vernacular makes his characters vibrantly alive. Most of his stories are based on his childhood and family, notably the collection My Name Is Aram (1940) and the novel The Human Comedy (1943). His novels, such as Rock Wagram (1951) and The Laughing Matter (1953), were inspired by his own experiences of marriage, fatherhood, and divorce.

From 1958 on, Saroyan lived mostly in Paris for “tax purposes,” though he continued to maintain a home in Fresno, Calif., where he had been born and raised. The autobiographical element was strong in all his work, usually disguised as fiction; but some of his later memoirs, consisting of vignettes and brief essays written largely in Paris and Fresno, have their own enduring value. They include Here Comes, There Goes You Know Who (1961), Not Dying (1963), Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon (1971), and Places Where I’ve Done Time (1975).





The new poetry

Poetry ranged between traditional types of verse and experimental writing that departed radically from the established forms of the 19th century. Two New England poets, Edwin Arlington Robinson and Robert Frost, who were not noted for technical experimentation, won both critical and popular acclaim in this period. Robinson, whose first book appeared in 1896, did his best work in sonnets, ballad stanzas, and blank verse. In the 1920s he won three Pulitzer Prizes—for his Collected Poems (published 1921), The Man Who Died Twice (1925), and Tristram (1927). Like Robinson, Frost used traditional stanzas and blank verse in volumes such as A Boy’s Will (1913), his first book, and North of Boston (1914), New Hampshire (1923), A Further Range (1936), and A Masque of Reason (1945). The best-known poet of his generation, Frost, like Robinson, saw and commented upon the tragic aspects of life in poems such as Design, Directive, and Provide, Provide. Frost memorably crafted the language of common speech into traditional poetic form, with epigrammatic effect.

Just as modern American drama had its beginnings in little theatres, modern American poetry took form in little magazines. Particularly important was Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, founded by Harriet Monroe in Chicago in 1912. The surrounding region soon became prominent as the home of three poets: Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, and Edgar Lee Masters. Lindsay’s blend of legendary lore and native oratory in irregular odelike forms was well adapted to oral presentation, and his lively readings from his works contributed to the success of such books as General William Booth Enters into Heaven, and Other Poems (1913) and The Congo, and Other Poems (1914). Sandburg wrote of life on the prairies and in Midwestern cities in Whitmanesque free verse in such volumes as Chicago Poems (1916) and The People, Yes (1936). Masters’s very popular Spoon River Anthology (1915) consisted of free-verse monologues by village men and women, most of whom spoke bitterly of their frustrated lives.

Writing traditional sonnets and brief, personal lyrics, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sara Teasdale were innovative in being unusually frank (according to the standard of their time) for women poets. Amy Lowell, on the other hand, experimented with free verse and focused on the image and the descriptive detail. Three fine black poets—James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen—found old molds satisfactory for dealing with new subjects, specifically the problems of racism in America. The deceptively simple colloquial language of Hughes’s poetry has proved especially appealing to later readers. While Conrad Aiken experimented with poetical imitations of symphonic forms often mingled with stream-of-consciousness techniques, E.E. Cummings used typographical novelties to produce poems that had surprisingly fresh impact. Marianne Moore invented and brilliantly employed a kind of free verse that was marked by a wonderfully sharp and idiosyncratic focus on objects and details. Robinson Jeffers used violent imagery and modified free or blank verse to express perhaps the most bitter views voiced by a major poet in this period.

Except for a period after World War II, when he was confined in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., Ezra Pound lived outside the United States after 1908. He had, nevertheless, a profound influence on 20th-century writing in English, both as a practitioner of verse and as a patron and impresario of other writers. His most controversial work remained The Cantos, the first installment of which appeared in 1926 and the latest in 1959 (Thrones: 96–109 de los cantares), with a fragmentary addendum in 1968 (Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX–CXVII).

Like Pound, to whom he was much indebted, T.S. Eliot lived abroad most of his life, becoming a British subject in 1927. His first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917. In 1922 appeared The Waste Land, the poem by which he first became famous. Filled with fragments, competing voices, learned allusions, and deeply buried personal details, the poem was read as a dark diagnosis of a disillusioned generation and of the modern world. As a poet and critic, Eliot exercised a strong influence, especially in the period between World Wars I and II. In what some critics regard as his finest work, Four Quartets (1943), Eliot explored through images of great beauty and haunting power his own past, the past of the human race, and the meaning of human history.

Eliot was an acknowledged master of a varied group of poets whose work was indebted to 17th-century English Metaphysical poets, especially to John Donne. Eliot’s influence was clear in the writings of Archibald MacLeish, whose earlier poems showed resemblances to The Waste Land. A number of Southern poets (who were also critics) were influenced by Eliot—John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, and Allen Tate. Younger American Metaphysicals who emerged later included Louise Bogan, Léonie Adams, Muriel Rukeyser, Delmore Schwartz, and Karl Shapiro. But there were several major poets strongly opposed to Eliot’s influence. Their style and subjects tended to be romantic and visionary. These included Hart Crane, whose long poem The Bridge (1930) aimed to create a Whitmanesque American epic, and Wallace Stevens, a lush and sensuous writer who made an astonishing literary debut with the poems collected in Harmonium (1923). Another opponent of Eliot was William Carlos Williams, who invested his experimental prose and magically simple lyrics—in works such as Spring and All (1923)—with the mundane details of American life and wrote about American myth and cultural history with great sweep in In the American Grain (1925).
 


Edwin Arlington Robinson



 

Edwin Arlington Robinson, (b. Dec. 22, 1869, Head Tide, Maine, U.S.—d. April 6, 1935, New York, N.Y.), American poet who is best known for his short dramatic poems concerning the people in a small New England village, Tilbury Town, very much like the Gardiner, Maine, in which he grew up.

After his family suffered financial reverses, Robinson cut short his attendance at Harvard University (1891–93) and returned to Gardiner to stay with his family, whose fortunes were disintegrating. The lives of both his brothers ended in failure and early death, and Robinson’s poetry is much concerned with personal defeat and the tragic complexities of life. Robinson himself endured years of poverty and obscurity before his poetry began to attract notice.

His first book, The Torrent and the Night Before, was privately printed at his own expense. His subsequent collections, The Children of the Night (1897) and The Town Down the River (1910), fared little better, but the publication of The Man Against the Sky (1916) brought him critical acclaim. In these early works his best poetic form was the dramatic lyric, as exemplified in the title poem of The Man Against the Sky, which affirms life’s meaning despite its profoundly dark side. During these years Robinson perfected the poetic form for which he became so well known: a structure based firmly on stanzas, skillful rhyming patterns, and a precise and natural diction, combined with a dramatic examination of the human condition. Among the best poems of this period are “Richard Cory,” “Miniver Cheevy,” “For a Dead Lady,” “Flammonde,” and “Eros Turannos.” Robinson broke with the tradition of late Romanticism and introduced the preoccupations and plain style of naturalism into American poetry. His work attracted the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, who gave him a sinecure at the U.S. Customs House in New York (held from 1905 to 1909).

In the second phase of his career, Robinson wrote longer narrative poems that share the concern of his dramatic lyrics with psychological portraiture. Merlin (1917), the first of three long blank-verse narrative poems based on the King Arthur legends, was followed by Lancelot (1920) and Tristram (1927). Robinson’s Collected Poems appeared in 1921. The Man Who Died Twice (1924) and Amaranth (1934) are perhaps the most often acclaimed of his later narrative poems, though in general these works suffer in comparison to the early dramatic lyrics. Robinson’s later short poems include “Mr. Flood’s Party,” “Many Are Called,” and “The Sheaves.”

 

 


Robert Frost

"Poems"





 

Robert Frost, in full Robert Lee Frost (b. March 26, 1874, San Francisco, California, U.S.—d. January 29, 1963, Boston, Massachusetts), American poet who was much admired for his depictions of the rural life of New England, his command of American colloquial speech, and his realistic verse portraying ordinary people in everyday situations.

Life
Frost’s father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist with ambitions of establishing a career in California, and in 1873 he and his wife moved to San Francisco. Her husband’s untimely death from tuberculosis in 1885 prompted Isabelle Moodie Frost to take her two children, Robert and Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they were taken in by the children’s paternal grandparents. While their mother taught at a variety of schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Robert and Jeanie grew up in Lawrence, and Robert graduated from high school in 1892. A top student in his class, he shared valedictorian honours with Elinor White, with whom he had already fallen in love.

Robert and Elinor shared a deep interest in poetry, but their continued education sent Robert to Dartmouth College and Elinor to St. Lawrence University. Meanwhile, Robert continued to labour on the poetic career he had begun in a small way during high school; he first achieved professional publication in 1894 when The Independent, a weekly literary journal, printed his poem “My Butterfly: An Elegy.” Impatient with academic routine, Frost left Dartmouth after less than a year. He and Elinor married in 1895 but found life difficult, and the young poet supported them by teaching school and farming, neither with notable success. During the next dozen years, six children were born, two of whom died early, leaving a family of one son and three daughters. Frost resumed his college education at Harvard University in 1897 but left after two years’ study there. From 1900 to 1909 the family raised poultry on a farm near Derry, New Hampshire, and for a time Frost also taught at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry. Frost became an enthusiastic botanist and acquired his poetic persona of a New England rural sage during the years he and his family spent at Derry. All this while he was writing poems, but publishing outlets showed little interest in them.

By 1911 Frost was fighting against discouragement. Poetry had always been considered a young person’s game, but Frost, who was nearly 40 years old, had not published a single book of poems and had seen just a handful appear in magazines. In 1911 ownership of the Derry farm passed to Frost. A momentous decision was made: to sell the farm and use the proceeds to make a radical new start in London, where publishers were perceived to be more receptive to new talent. Accordingly, in August 1912 the Frost family sailed across the Atlantic to England. Frost carried with him sheaves of verses he had written but not gotten into print. English publishers in London did indeed prove more receptive to innovative verse, and, through his own vigorous efforts and those of the expatriate American poet Ezra Pound, Frost within a year had published A Boy’s Will (1913). From this first book, such poems as “Storm Fear,” “Mowing,” and “The Tuft of Flowers” have remained standard anthology pieces.

A Boy’s Will was followed in 1914 by a second collection, North of Boston, that introduced some of the most popular poems in all of Frost’s work, among them “Mending Wall,” “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Home Burial,” and “After Apple-Picking.” In London, Frost’s name was frequently mentioned by those who followed the course of modern literature, and soon American visitors were returning home with news of this unknown poet who was causing a sensation abroad. The Boston poet Amy Lowell traveled to England in 1914, and in the bookstores there she encountered Frost’s work. Taking his books home to America, Lowell then began a campaign to locate an American publisher for them, meanwhile writing her own laudatory review of North of Boston.

Without his being fully aware of it, Frost was on his way to fame. The outbreak of World War I brought the Frosts back to the United States in 1915. By then Amy Lowell’s review had already appeared in The New Republic, and writers and publishers throughout the Northeast were aware that a writer of unusual abilities stood in their midst. The American publishing house of Henry Holt had brought out its edition of North of Boston in 1914. It became a best-seller, and, by the time the Frost family landed in Boston, Holt was adding the American edition of A Boy’s Will. Frost soon found himself besieged by magazines seeking to publish his poems. Never before had an American poet achieved such rapid fame after such a disheartening delay. From this moment his career rose on an ascending curve.

Frost bought a small farm at Franconia, New Hampshire, in 1915, but his income from both poetry and farming proved inadequate to support his family, and so he lectured and taught part-time at Amherst College and at the University of Michigan from 1916 to 1938. Any remaining doubt about his poetic abilities was dispelled by the collection Mountain Interval (1916), which continued the high level established by his first books. His reputation was further enhanced by New Hampshire (1923), which received the Pulitzer Prize. That prize was also awarded to Frost’s Collected Poems (1930) and to the collections A Further Range (1936) and A Witness Tree (1942). His other poetry volumes include West-Running Brook (1928), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962). Frost served as a poet-in-residence at Harvard (1939–43), Dartmouth (1943–49), and Amherst College (1949–63), and in his old age he gathered honours and awards from every quarter. He was the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (1958–59; the post is now styled poet laureate consultant in poetry), and his recital of his poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 was a memorable occasion.


Works
The poems in Frost’s early books, especially North of Boston, differ radically from late 19th-century Romantic verse with its ever-benign view of nature, its didactic emphasis, and its slavish conformity to established verse forms and themes. Lowell called North of Boston a “sad” book, referring to its portraits of inbred, isolated, and psychologically troubled rural New Englanders. These off-mainstream portraits signaled Frost’s departure from the old tradition and his own fresh interest in delineating New England characters and their formative background. Among these psychological investigations are the alienated life of Silas in “The Death of the Hired Man,” the inability of Amy in “Home Burial” to walk the difficult path from grief back to normality, the rigid mindset of the neighbour in “Mending Wall,” and the paralyzing fear that twists the personality of Doctor Magoon in “A Hundred Collars.”

The natural world, for Frost, wore two faces. Early on he overturned the Emersonian concept of nature as healer and mentor in a poem in A Boy’s Will entitled “Storm Fear,” a grim picture of a blizzard as a raging beast that dares the inhabitants of an isolated house to come outside and be killed. In such later poems as “The Hill Wife” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the benign surface of nature cloaks potential dangers, and death itself lurks behind dark, mysterious trees. Nature’s frolicsome aspect predominates in other poems such as “Birches,” where a destructive ice storm is recalled as a thing of memorable beauty. Although Frost is known to many as essentially a “happy” poet, the tragic elements in life continued to mark his poems, from “‘Out, Out—’” (1916), in which a lad’s hand is severed and life ended, to a fine verse entitled “The Fear of Man” from Steeple Bush, in which human release from pervading fear is contained in the image of a breathless dash through the nighttime city from the security of one faint street lamp to another just as faint. Even in his final volume, In the Clearing, so filled with the stubborn courage of old age, Frost portrays human security as a rather tiny and quite vulnerable opening in a thickly grown forest, a pinpoint of light against which the encroaching trees cast their very real threat of darkness.

Frost demonstrated an enviable versatility of theme, but he most commonly investigated human contacts with the natural world in small encounters that serve as metaphors for larger aspects of the human condition. He often portrayed the human ability to turn even the slightest incident or natural detail to emotional profit, seen at its most economical form in “Dust of Snow”:

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

Other poems are portraits of the introspective mind possessed by its own private demons, as in “Desert Places,” which could serve to illustrate Frost’s celebrated definition of poetry as a “momentary stay against confusion”:

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars—on stars where no human race

is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

Frost was widely admired for his mastery of metrical form, which he often set against the natural rhythms of everyday, unadorned speech. In this way the traditional stanza and metrical line achieved new vigour in his hands. Frost’s command of traditional metrics is evident in the tight, older, prescribed patterns of such sonnets as “Design” and “The Silken Tent.” His strongest allegiance probably was to the quatrain with simple rhymes such as abab and abcb, and within its restrictions he was able to achieve an infinite variety, as in the aforementioned “Dust of Snow” and “Desert Places.” Frost was never an enthusiast of free verse and regarded its looseness as something less than ideal, similar to playing tennis without a net. His determination to be “new” but to employ “old ways to be new” set him aside from the radical experimentalism of the advocates of vers libre in the early 20th century. On occasion Frost did employ free verse to advantage, one outstanding example being “After Apple-Picking,” with its random pattern of long and short lines and its nontraditional use of rhyme. Here he shows his power to stand as a transitional figure between the old and the new in poetry. Frost mastered blank verse (i.e., unrhymed verse in iambic pentameter) for use in such dramatic narratives as “Mending Wall” and “Home Burial,” becoming one of the few modern poets to use it both appropriately and well. His chief technical innovation in these dramatic-dialogue poems was to unify the regular pentameter line with the irregular rhythms of conversational speech. Frost’s blank verse has the same terseness and concision that mark his poetry in general.


Assessment
Frost was the most widely admired and highly honoured American poet of the 20th century. Amy Lowell thought he had overstressed the dark aspects of New England life, but Frost’s later flood of more uniformly optimistic verses made that view seem antiquated. Louis Untermeyer’s judgment that the dramatic poems in North of Boston were the most authentic and powerful of their kind ever produced by an American has only been confirmed by later opinions. Gradually, Frost’s name ceased to be linked solely with New England, and he gained broad acceptance as a national poet.

It is true that certain criticisms of Frost have never been wholly refuted, one being that he was overly interested in the past, another that he was too little concerned with the present and future of American society. Those who criticize Frost’s detachment from the “modern” emphasize the undeniable absence in his poems of meaningful references to the modern realities of industrialization, urbanization, and the concentration of wealth, or to such familiar items as radios, motion pictures, automobiles, factories, or skyscrapers. The poet has been viewed as a singer of sweet nostalgia and a social and political conservative who was content to sigh for the good things of the past.

Such views have failed to gain general acceptance, however, in the face of the universality of Frost’s themes, the emotional authenticity of his voice, and the austere technical brilliance of his verse. Frost was often able to endow his rural imagery with a larger symbolic or metaphysical significance, and his best poems transcend the immediate realities of their subject matter to illuminate the unique blend of tragic endurance, stoicism, and tenacious affirmation that marked his outlook on life. Over his long career Frost succeeded in lodging more than a few poems where, as he put it, they would be “hard to get rid of,” and he can be said to have lodged himself just as solidly in the affections of his fellow Americans. For thousands he remains the only recent poet worth reading and the only one who matters.

Philip L. Gerber
 

 

 


Vachel Lindsay



 

Vachel Lindsay, in full Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (b. Nov. 10, 1879, Springfield, Ill., U.S.—d. Dec. 5, 1931, Springfield), American poet who—in an attempt to revive poetry as an oral art form of the common people—wrote and read to audiences compositions with powerful rhythms that had an immediate appeal.

After three years at Hiram College, Hiram, Ohio, Lindsay left in 1900 to study art in Chicago and New York City. He supported himself in part by lecturing for the YMCA and the Anti-Saloon League. Having begun to write poetry, he wandered for several summers throughout the country reciting his poems in return for food and shelter.

He first received recognition in 1913, when Poetry magazine published his poem on William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. His poems of this kind are studded with vivid imagery and express both his ardent patriotism and his romantic appreciation of nature. Lindsay’s poetry depicted with evocative clarity such leaders of American cults and causes as Alexander Campbell (a founder of the Disciples of Christ), Johnny Appleseed, John Peter Altgeld, and William Jennings Bryan. Lindsay recited his poetry in a highly rhythmic and syncopated manner that was accompanied by dramatic gestures in an attempt to achieve contact with his audience. Among the 20 or so poems that audiences demanded to hear—so often that Lindsay grew weary of reciting them—were “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” “The Congo,” and “The Santa Fe Trail.” His best volumes of verse include Rhymes To Be Traded for Bread (1912), General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems (1913), The Congo and Other Poems (1914), and The Chinese Nightingale and Other Poems (1917). Both Lindsay’s poetic powers and his faculty of self-criticism steadily declined during the 1920s, and he lost his popularity. He committed suicide by drinking poison.
 

 

 


Carl Sandburg





 

Carl Sandburg, (b. Jan. 6, 1878, Galesburg, Ill., U.S.—d. July 22, 1967, Flat Rock, N.C.), American poet, historian, novelist, and folklorist.

From the age of 11, Sandburg worked in various occupations—as a barbershop porter, a milk truck driver, a brickyard hand, and a harvester in the Kansas wheat fields. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he enlisted in the 6th Illinois Infantry. These early years he later described in his autobiography Always the Young Strangers (1953).

From 1910 to 1912 he acted as an organizer for the Social Democratic Party and secretary to the mayor of Milwaukee. Moving to Chicago in 1913, he became an editor of System, a business magazine, and later joined the staff of the Chicago Daily News.

In 1914 a group of his Chicago Poems appeared in Poetry magazine (issued in book form in 1916). In his most famous poem, “Chicago,” he depicted the city as the laughing, lusty, heedless “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.” Sandburg’s poetry made an instant and favourable impression. In Whitmanesque free verse, he eulogized workers: “Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Gary, they make their steel with men” (Smoke and Steel, 1920).

In Good Morning, America (1928) Sandburg seemed to have lost some of his faith in democracy, but from the depths of the Great Depression he wrote a poetic testament to the power of the people to go forward, The People, Yes (1936). The folk songs he sang before delighted audiences were issued in two collections, The American Songbag (1927) and New American Songbag (1950). He wrote the popular biography Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, 2 vol. (1926), and Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 4 vol. (1939; Pulitzer Prize in history, 1940).

Another biography, Steichen the Photographer, the life of his famous brother-in-law, Edward Steichen, appeared in 1929. In 1948 Sandburg published a long novel, Remembrance Rock, which recapitulates the American experience from Plymouth Rock to World War II. Complete Poems appeared in 1950. He wrote four books for children—Rootabaga Stories (1922); Rootabaga Pigeons (1923); Rootabaga Country (1929); and Potato Face (1930).
 

 

 


Edna St. Vincent Millay




 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, (b. Feb. 22, 1892, Rockland, Maine, U.S.—d. Oct. 19, 1950, Austerlitz, N.Y.), American poet and dramatist who came to personify romantic rebellion and bravado in the 1920s.

Millay was reared in Camden, Maine, by her divorced mother, who recognized and encouraged her talent in writing poetry. Her first published poem appeared in the St. Nicholas Magazine for children in October 1906. She remained at home after her graduation from high school in 1909, and in four years she published five more poems in St. Nicholas. Her first acclaim came when “Renascence” was included in The Lyric Year in 1912; the poem brought Millay to the attention of a benefactor who made it possible for her to attend Vassar College. She graduated in 1917.

In that year Millay published her first book, Renascence and Other Poems, and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. There she became a lively and admired figure among the avant garde and radical literary set. To support herself Millay, under the pseudonym “Nancy Boyd,” submitted hackwork verse and short stories to magazines, and while her ambition to go on the stage was short-lived, she worked with the Provincetown Players for a time and later wrote the one-act Aria da Capo (1920) for them. The same year she published the verse collection A Few Figs from Thistles, from which the line “My candle burns at both ends” derives. The poem was taken up as the watchword of the “flaming youth” of that era and brought her a renown that she came to despise. In 1921 she published Second April and two more plays, Two Slatterns and a King and The Lamp and the Bell. She also began a two-year European sojourn, during which she was a correspondent for Vanity Fair.

Millay won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (1922) and married Eugen Jan Boissevain, a Dutch businessman with whom from 1925 she lived in a large, isolated house in the Berkshire foothills near Austerlitz, New York. In 1925 the Metropolitan Opera Company commissioned her to write an opera with Deems Taylor. The resulting work, The King’s Henchman, first produced in 1927, became the most popular American opera up to its time and, published in book form, sold out four printings in 20 days.

Millay’s youthful appearance, the independent, almost petulant tone of her poetry, and her political and social ideals made her a symbol of the youth of her time. In 1927 she donated the proceeds from her poem “Justice Denied in Massachusetts” to the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti and personally appealed to the governor of the state for their lives. Her major later works include The Buck in the Snow (1928), which introduced a more somber tone to her poetry; Fatal Interview (1931), a highly acclaimed sonnet sequence; and Wine from These Grapes (1934). Her letters were edited by A.R. Macdougall in 1952.

The bravado and stylish cynicism of much of Millay’s early work gave way in later years to more personal and mature writing, and she produced, particularly in her sonnets and other short poems, a considerable body of intensely lyrical verse. A final collection of her verse appeared posthumously as Mine the Harvest in 1954.

 

 


Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound, in full Ezra Loomis Pound (b. Oct. 30, 1885, Hailey, Idaho, U.S.—d. Nov. 1, 1972, Venice, Italy), American poet and critic, a supremely discerning and energetic entrepreneur of the arts who did more than any other single figure to advance a “modern” movement in English and American literature. Pound promoted, and also occasionally helped to shape, the work of such widely different poets and novelists as William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot. His pro-Fascist broadcasts in Italy during World War II led to his postwar arrest and confinement until 1958.

Early life and career
Pound was born in a small mining town in Idaho, the only child of a Federal Land Office official, Homer Loomis Pound of Wisconsin, and Isabel Weston of New York City. About 1887 the family moved to the eastern states, and in June 1889, following Homer Pound’s appointment to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, they settled in nearby Wyncote, where Pound lived a normal middle-class childhood.

After two years at Cheltenham Military Academy, which he left without graduating, he attended a local high school. From there he went for two years (1901–03) to the University of Pennsylvania, where he met his lifelong friend, the poet William Carlos Williams. He took a Ph.B. (bachelor of philosophy) degree at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., in 1905 and returned to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate work. He received his M.A. in June 1906 but withdrew from the university after working one more year toward his doctorate. He left with a knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Provençal, and Anglo-Saxon, as well as of English literature and grammar.

In the autumn of 1907, Pound became professor of Romance languages at Wabash Presbyterian College, Crawfordsville, Ind. Although his general behaviour fairly reflected his Presbyterian upbringing, he was already writing poetry and was affecting a bohemian manner. His career came quickly to an end, and in February 1908, with light luggage and the manuscript of a book of poems that had been rejected by at least one American publisher, he set sail for Europe.

He had been to Europe three times before, the third time alone in the summer of 1906, when he had gathered the material for his first three published articles: Raphaelite Latin, concerning the Latin poets of the Renaissance, and Interesting French Publications, concerning the troubadours (both published in the Book News Monthly, Philadelphia, September 1906), and Burgos, a Dream City of Old Castile (October issue).

Now, with little money, he sailed to Gibraltar and southern Spain, then on to Venice, where in June 1908 he published, at his own expense, his first book of poems, A lume spento. About September 1908 he went to London, where he was befriended by the writer and editor Ford Madox Ford (who published him in his English Review), entered William Butler Yeats’s circle, and joined the “school of images,” a modern group presided over by the philosopher T.E. Hulme.


Success abroad
In England, success came quickly to Pound. A book of poems, Personae, was published in April 1909; a second book, Exultations, followed in October; and a third book, The Spirit of Romance, based on lectures delivered in London (1909–10), was published in 1910.

After a trip home—a last desperate and unsuccessful attempt to make a literary life for himself in Philadelphia or New York City—he returned to Europe in February 1911, visiting Italy, Germany, and France. Toward the end of 1911 he met an English journalist, Alfred R. Orage, editor of the socialist weekly New Age, who opened its pages to him and provided him with a small but regular income during the next nine years.

In 1912 Pound became London correspondent for the small magazine Poetry (Chicago); he did much to enhance the magazine’s importance and was soon a dominant figure in Anglo-American verse. He was among the first to recognize and review the poetry of Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence and to praise the sculpture of the modernists Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. As leader of the Imagist movement of 1912–14, successor of the “school of images,” he drew up the first Imagist manifesto, with its emphasis on direct and sparse language and precise images in poetry, and he edited the first Imagist anthology, Des Imagistes (1914).


A shaper of modern literature
Though his friend Yeats had already become famous, Pound succeeded in persuading him to adopt a new, leaner style of poetic composition. In 1914, the year of his marriage to Dorothy Shakespear, daughter of Yeats’s friend Olivia Shakespear, he began a collaboration with the then-unknown James Joyce. As unofficial editor of The Egoist (London) and later as London editor of The Little Review (New York City), he saw to the publication of Joyce’s novels Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, thus spreading Joyce’s name and securing financial assistance for him. In that same year he gave T.S. Eliot a similar start in his career as poet and critic.

He continued to publish his own poetry (Ripostes, 1912; Lustra, 1916) and prose criticism (Pavannes and Divisions, 1918). From the literary remains of the great Orientalist Ernest Fenollosa, which had been presented to Pound in 1913, he succeeded in publishing highly acclaimed English versions of early Chinese poetry, Cathay (1915), and two volumes of Japanese Noh plays (1916–17) as well.


Development as a poet
Unsettled by the slaughter of World War I and the spirit of hopelessness he felt was pervading England after its conclusion, Pound decided to move to Paris, publishing before he left two of his most important poetical works, “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” in the book Quia Pauper Amavi (1919), and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920). “Propertius” is a comment on the British Empire in 1917, by way of Propertius and the Roman Empire. Mauberley, a finely chiseled “portrait” of one aspect of British literary culture in 1919, is one of the most praised poems of the 20th century.

During his 12 years in London, Pound had completely transformed himself as a poet. He arrived a Late Victorian for whom love was a matter of “lute strings,” “crushed lips,” and “Dim tales that blind me.” Within five or six years he was writing a new, adult poetry that spoke calmly of current concerns in common speech. In this drier intellectual air, “as clear as metal,” Pound’s verse took on new qualities of economy, brevity, and clarity as he used concrete details and exact visual images to capture concentrated moments of experience. Pound’s search for laconic precision owed much to his constant reading of past literature, including Anglo-Saxon poetry, Greek and Latin classics, Dante, and such 19th-century French works as Théophile Gautier’s Émaux et camées and Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary. Like his friend T.S. Eliot, Pound wanted a modernism that brought back to life the highest standards of the past. Modernism for its own sake, untested against the past, drew anathemas from him. His progress may be seen in attempts at informality (1911):

Have tea, damn the Caesars,

Talk of the latest success. . .

in the gathering strength of his 1911 version of the Anglo-Saxon poem “Seafarer” :

Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten,

fell on the stern

In icy feathers. . .

and in the confident free verse of “The Return” (1912):

See, they return; ah, see the tentative

Movements, and the slow feet. . .

From this struggle there emerged the short, perfectly worded free-verse poems in Lustra. In his poetry Pound was now able to deal efficiently with a whole range of human activities and emotions, without raising his voice. The movement of the words and the images they create are no longer the secondhand borrowings of youth or apprenticeship but seem to belong to the observing intelligence that conjures up the particular work in hand. Many of the Lustra poems are remarkable for perfectly paced endings:

Nor has life in it aught better

Than this hour of clear coolness,

the hour of waking together.

But the culmination of Pound’s years in London was his 18-part long poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, which ranged from close observation of the artist and society to the horrors of mass production and World War I; from brilliant echo of the past:

When our two dusts with Waller’s shall be laid,

Siftings on siftings in oblivion,

Till change hath broken down

All things save Beauty alone.

to the syncopation of

With a placid and uneducated mistress

He exercises his talents

And the soil meets his distress.


The Cantos
During his stay in Paris (1921–24) Pound met and helped the young American novelist Ernest Hemingway; wrote an opera, Le Testament, based on poems of François Villon; assisted T.S. Eliot with the editing of his long poem The Waste Land; and acted as correspondent for the New York literary journal The Dial.

In 1924 Pound tired of Paris and moved to Rapallo, Italy, which was to be his home for the next 20 years. In 1925 he had a daughter, Maria, by the expatriate American violinist Olga Rudge, and in 1926 his wife, Dorothy, gave birth to a son, Omar. The daughter was brought up by a peasant woman in the Italian Tirol, the son by relatives in England. In 1927–28 Pound edited his own magazine, Exile, and in 1930 he brought together, under the title A Draft of XXX Cantos, various segments of his ambitious long poem The Cantos, which he had begun in 1915.

The 1930s saw the publication of further volumes of The Cantos (Eleven New Cantos, 1934; The Fifth Decad of Cantos, 1937; Cantos LII–LXXI, 1940) and a collection of some of his best prose (Make It New, 1934). A growing interest in music caused him to arrange a long series of concerts in Rapallo during the 1930s, and, with the assistance of Olga Rudge, he played a large part in the rediscovery of the 18th-century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. The results of his continuing investigation in the areas of culture and history were published in his brilliant but fragmentary prose work Guide to Kulchur (1938).

Following the Great Depression of the 1930s, he turned more and more to history, especially economic history, a subject in which he had been interested since his meeting in London in 1918 with Clifford Douglas, the founder of Social Credit, an economic theory stating that maldistribution of wealth due to insufficient purchasing power is the cause of economic depressions. Pound had come to believe that a misunderstanding of money and banking by governments and the public, as well as the manipulation of money by international bankers, had led the world into a long series of wars. He became obsessed with monetary reform (ABC of Economics, 1933; Social Credit, 1935; What Is Money For?, 1939), involved himself in politics, and declared his admiration for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (Jefferson and/or Mussolini, 1935). The obsession affected his Cantos, which even earlier had shown evidence of becoming an uncontrolled series of personal and historical episodes.


Anti-American broadcasts
As war in Europe drew near, Pound returned home (1939) in the hope that he could help keep the peace between Italy and the United States. He went back to Italy a disappointed man, and between 1941 and 1943, after Italy and the United States were at war, he made several hundred broadcasts over Rome Radio on subjects ranging from James Joyce to the control of money and the U.S. government by Jewish bankers and often openly condemned the American war effort. He was arrested by U.S. forces in 1945 and spent six months in a prison camp for army criminals near Pisa. Despite harsh conditions there, he translated Confucius into English (The Great Digest & Unwobbling Pivot, 1951) and wrote The Pisan Cantos (1948), the most moving section of his long poem-in-progress.

Returned to the United States to face trial for treason, he was pronounced “insane and mentally unfit for trial” by a panel of doctors and spent 12 years (1946–58) in Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D.C. During this time he continued to write The Cantos (Section: Rock-Drill, 1955; Thrones, 1959), translated ancient Chinese poetry (The Classic Anthology, 1954) and Sophocles’ Trachiniai (Women of Trachis, 1956), received visitors regularly, and kept up a voluminous and worldwide correspondence. Controversy surrounding him burst out anew when, in 1949, he was awarded the important Bollingen Prize for his Pisan Cantos. When on April 18, 1958, he was declared unfit to stand trial and the charges against him were dropped, he was released from Saint Elizabeth’s. He returned to Italy, dividing the year between Rapallo and Venice.

Pound lapsed into silence in 1960, leaving The Cantos unfinished. More than 800 pages long, they are fragmentary and formless despite recurring themes and ideas. The Cantos are the logbook of Pound’s own private voyage through Greek mythology, ancient China and Egypt, Byzantium, Renaissance Italy, the works of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and many other periods and subjects, including economics and banking and the nooks and crannies of his own memory and experience. Pound even convinced himself that the poem’s faults and weaknesses, inevitable from the nature of the undertaking, were part of an underlying method. Yet there are numerous passages such as only he could have written that are among the best of the century.

Pound died in Venice in 1972. Out of his 60 years of publishing activity came 70 books of his own, contributions to about 70 others, and more than 1,500 articles. A complete listing of his works is in Donald Gallup, A Bibliography of Ezra Pound (1963; rev. ed 1983). Most of the writing on which Pound’s fame now rests may be found in Personae (The Collected Poems; 1926, new ed. 1949), a selection of poems Pound wished to keep in print in 1926, with a few earlier and later poems added in 1949; The Cantos (1970), cantos 1–117, a collection of all the segments published to date; The Spirit of Romance (1910); Literary Essays (1954), the bulk of his best criticism, ed. with an introduction by T.S. Eliot; Guide to Kulchur (1938); and The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, ed. by D.D. Paige (1950), an excellent introduction to Pound’s literary life and inimitable epistolary style.
 

 

 


William Carlos Williams


 

William Carlos Williams, (b. Sept. 17, 1883, Rutherford, N.J., U.S.—d. March 4, 1963, Rutherford), American poet who succeeded in making the ordinary appear extraordinary through the clarity and discreteness of his imagery.

After receiving an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1906 and after internship in New York and graduate study in pediatrics in Leipzig, he returned in 1910 to a lifetime of poetry and medical practice in his hometown.

In Al Que Quiere! (1917; “To Him Who Wants It!”) his style was distinctly his own. Characteristic poems that proffer Williams’ fresh, direct impression of the sensuous world are the frequently anthologized “Lighthearted William,” “By the Road to the Contagious Hospital,” and “Red Wheelbarrow.”

In the 1930s during the Depression, his images became less a celebration of the world and more a catalog of its wrongs. Such poems as “Proletarian Portrait” and “The Yachts” reveal his skill in conveying attitudes by presentation rather than explanation.

In Paterson (5 vol., 1946–58), Williams expressed the idea of the city, which in its complexity also represents man in his complexity. The poem is based on the industrial city in New Jersey on the Passaic River and evokes a complex vision of America and modern man.

A prolific writer of prose, Williams’ In the American Grain (1925) analyzed the American character and culture through essays on historical figures. Three novels form a trilogy about a family—White Mule (1937), In the Money (1940), and The Build-Up (1952). Among his notable short stories are “Jean Beicke,” “A Face of Stone,” and “The Farmers’ Daughters.” His play A Dream of Love (published 1948) was produced in off-Broadway and academic theatres. Williams’ Autobiography appeared in 1951, and in 1963 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his Pictures from Brueghel, and Other Poems (1962). William Carlos Williams, by the poet Reed Whittemore, was published in 1975.
 


Fiction

The little magazines that helped the growth of the poetry of the era also contributed to a development of its fiction. They printed daring or unconventional short stories and published attacks upon established writers. The Dial (1880–1929), Little Review (1914–29), Seven Arts (1916–17), and others encouraged Modernist innovation. More potent were two magazines edited by the ferociously funny journalist-critic H.L. Mencken—The Smart Set (editorship 1914–23) and American Mercury (which he coedited between 1924 and 1933). A powerful influence and a scathing critic of puritanism, Mencken helped launch the new fiction.


Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was an American author, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for her epic novel Gone with the Wind, her only major publication. This novel is one of the most popular books of all time, selling more than 30 million copies. The film adaptation of it, released in 1939, became the highest-grossing film in the history of Hollywood, and it received a record-breaking ten Academy Awards. Mitchell has been honored by the United States Postal Service with a 1¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

Mencken’s major enthusiasms included the fiction of Joseph Conrad and Theodore Dreiser, but he also promoted minor writers for their attacks on gentility, such as James Branch Cabell, or for their revolt against the narrow, frustrated quality of life in rural communities, including Zona Gale and Ruth Suckow. The most distinguished of these writers was Sherwood Anderson. His Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and The Triumph of the Egg (1921) were collections of short stories that showed villagers suffering from all sorts of phobias and suppressions. Anderson in time wrote several novels, the best being Poor White (1920).

In 1920 critics noticed that a new school of fiction had risen to prominence with the success of books such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise and Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, fictions that tended to be frankly psychological or modern in their unsparing portrayals of contemporary life. Novels of the 1920s were often not only lyrical and personal but also, in the despairing mood that followed World War I, apt to express the pervasive disillusionment of the postwar generation. Novels of the 1930s inclined toward radical social criticism in response to the miseries of the Great Depression, though some of the best, by writers such as Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Henry Roth, and Nathanael West, continued to explore the Modernist vein of the previous decade.
 


Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell

American novelist
in full Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell

born November 8, 1900, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
died August 16, 1949, Atlanta

Main
American author of the enormously popular novel Gone with the Wind.

Mitchell attended Washington Seminary in her native Atlanta, Georgia, before enrolling at Smith College in 1918. When her mother died the next year, she returned home. Between 1922 and 1926 she was a writer and reporter for the Atlanta Journal. After an ankle injury in 1926, she left the paper and for the next 10 years worked slowly on a romantic novel about the Civil War and Reconstruction as seen from a Southern point of view. The novel featured Scarlett O’Hara, a strong-willed coquette and jezebel. From her family Mitchell had absorbed the history of the South, the tragedy of the war, and the romance of the Lost Cause. She worked at her novel sporadically, composing episodes out of sequence and later fitting them together. She apparently had little thought of publication at first, and for six years after it was substantially finished the novel lay unread. But in 1935 Mitchell was persuaded to submit her manuscript for publication.

It appeared in 1936 as Gone with the Wind (quoting a line from the poem “Cynara” by Ernest Dowson). Within six months 1,000,000 copies had been sold; 50,000 copies were sold in one day. It went on to sell more copies than any other novel in U.S. publishing history, with sales passing 12,000,000 by 1965, and was eventually translated into some 25 languages and sold in about 40 countries. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The motion-picture rights were sold for $50,000. The film, starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable and produced by David O. Selznick, premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, after an unprecedented period of advance promotion, including the highly publicized search for an actress to play Scarlett. It won eight major Oscars and two special Oscars at the Academy Awards and for two decades reigned as the top moneymaking film of all time. Mitchell, who never adjusted to the celebrity that had befallen her and who never attempted another book, died after an automobile accident in 1949. Four decades after Mitchell’s death, her estate permitted the writing of a sequel by Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” (1991), which was generally unfavourably appraised by critics. In 2001 Mitchell’s estate, citing copyright infringement, sued to block the publication of Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone (2001), a parodic sequel to Gone with the Wind told from a former slave’s perspective. Later that year the case was settled out of court. Mitchell’s estate eventually authorized a second sequel, Rhett Butler’s People (2007), which was written by historical novelist Donald McCaig.
 

 

 


Sherwood Anderson



 

Sherwood Anderson, (b. Sept. 13, 1876, Camden, Ohio, U.S.—d. March 8, 1941, Colon, Panama), author who strongly influenced American writing between World Wars I and II, particularly the technique of the short story. His writing had an impact on such notable writers as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, both of whom owe the first publication of their books to his efforts. His prose style, based on everyday speech and derived from the experimental writing of Gertrude Stein, was markedly influential on the early Hemingway—who parodied it cruelly in Torrents of Spring (1926) to make a clean break and become his own man.

One of seven children of a day labourer, Anderson attended school intermittently as a youth in Clyde, Ohio, and worked as a newsboy, house painter, farmhand, and racetrack helper. After a year at Wittenberg Academy, a preparatory school in Springfield, Ohio, he worked as an advertising writer in Chicago until 1906, when he went back to Ohio and for the next six years sought—without success—to prosper as a businessman while writing fiction in his spare time. A paint manufacturer in Elyria, Ohio, he left his office abruptly one day in 1912 and wandered off, turning up four days later in Cleveland, disheveled and mentally distraught. He later said he staged this episode to get away from the business world and devote himself to literature.

Anderson went back to his advertising job in Chicago and remained there until he began to earn enough from his published work to quit. Encouraged by Dreiser, Floyd Dell, Carl Sandburg, and Ben Hecht—leaders of the Chicago literary movement—he began to contribute experimental verse and short fiction to The Little Review, The Masses, the Seven Arts, and Poetry. Dell and Dreiser arranged the publication of his first two novels, Windy McPherson’s Son (1916; rev. 1921) and Marching Men (1917), both written while he was still a manufacturer. Winesburg, Ohio (1919) was his first mature book and made his reputation as an author. Its interrelated short sketches and tales are told by a newspaper reporter-narrator who is as emotionally stunted in some ways as the people he describes. His novels include Many Marriages (1923), which stresses the need for sexual fulfillment; Dark Laughter (1925), which values the “primitive” over the civilized; and Beyond Desire (1932), a novel of Southern textile mill labour struggles.

His best work is generally thought to be in his short stories, collected in Winesburg, Ohio, The Triumph of the Egg (1921), Horses and Men (1923), and Death in the Woods (1933). Also valued are the autobiographical sketches A Story Teller’s Story (1924), Tar: A Midwest Childhood (1926), and the posthumous Memoirs (1942; critical edition 1969). A selection of his Letters appeared in 1953.

 

 


Sinclair Lewis




 

Sinclair Lewis, in full Harry Sinclair Lewis (b. Feb. 7, 1885, Sauk Centre, Minn., U.S.—d. Jan. 10, 1951, near Rome, Italy), American novelist and social critic who punctured American complacency with his broadly drawn, widely popular satirical novels. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, the first given to an American.

Lewis graduated from Yale University (1907) and was for a time a reporter and also worked as an editor for several publishers. His first novel, Our Mr. Wrenn (1914), attracted favourable criticism but few readers. At the same time he was writing with ever-increasing success for such popular magazines as The Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan, but he never lost sight of his ambition to become a serious novelist. He undertook the writing of Main Street as a major effort, assuming that it would not bring him the ready rewards of magazine fiction. Yet its publication in 1920 made his literary reputation. Main Street is seen through the eyes of Carol Kennicott, an Eastern girl married to a Midwestern doctor who settles in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota (modeled on Lewis’ hometown of Sauk Centre). The power of the book derives from Lewis’ careful rendering of local speech, customs, and social amenities. The satire is double-edged—directed against both the townspeople and the superficial intellectualism that despises them. In the years following its publication, Main Street became not just a novel but the textbook on American provincialism.

In 1922 Lewis published Babbitt, a study of the complacent American whose individuality has been sucked out of him by Rotary clubs, business ideals, and general conformity. The name Babbitt passed into general usage to represent the optimistic, self-congratulatory, middle-aged businessman whose horizons were bounded by his village limits.

He followed this success with Arrowsmith (1925), a satiric study of the medical profession, with emphasis on the frustration of fine scientific ideals. His next important book, Elmer Gantry (1927), was an attack on the ignorant, gross, and predatory leaders who had crept into the Protestant church. Dodsworth (1929), concerning the experiences of a retired big businessman and his wife on a European tour, offered Lewis a chance to contrast American and European values and the very different temperaments of the man and his wife.

Lewis’ later books were not up to the standards of his work in the 1920s. It Can’t Happen Here (1935) dramatized the possibilities of a Fascist takeover of the United States. It was produced as a play by the Federal Theatre with 21 companies in 1936. Kingsblood Royal (1947) is a novel of race relations.

In his final years Lewis lived much of the time abroad. His reputation declined steadily after 1930. His two marriages (the second was to the political columnist Dorothy Thompson) ended in divorce, and he drank excessively.
 

 

 


F. Scott Fitzgerald


F. Scott Fitzgerald, in full Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (b. Sept. 24, 1896, St. Paul, Minn., U.S.—d. Dec. 21, 1940, Hollywood, Calif.), American short-story writer and novelist famous for his depictions of the Jazz Age (the 1920s), his most brilliant novel being The Great Gatsby (1925). His private life, with his wife, Zelda, in both America and France, became almost as celebrated as his novels.

Fitzgerald was the only son of an unsuccessful, aristocratic father and an energetic, provincial mother. Half the time he thought of himself as the heir of his father’s tradition, which included the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, after whom he was named, and half the time as “straight 1850 potato-famine Irish.” As a result he had typically ambivalent American feelings about American life, which seemed to him at once vulgar and dazzlingly promising.

He also had an intensely romantic imagination, what he once called “a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” and he charged into experience determined to realize those promises. At both St. Paul Academy (1908–10) and Newman School (1911–13) he tried too hard and made himself unpopular, but at Princeton he came close to realizing his dream of a brilliant success. He became a prominent figure in the literary life of the university and made lifelong friendships with Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. He became a leading figure in the socially important Triangle Club, a dramatic society, and was elected to one of the leading clubs of the university; he fell in love with Ginevra King, one of the beauties of her generation. Then he lost Ginevra and flunked out of Princeton.

He returned to Princeton the next fall, but he had now lost all the positions he coveted, and in November 1917 he left to join the army. In July 1918, while he was stationed near Montgomery, Ala., he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. They fell deeply in love, and, as soon as he could, Fitzgerald headed for New York determined to achieve instant success and to marry Zelda. What he achieved was an advertising job at $90 a month. Zelda broke their engagement, and, after an epic drunk, Fitzgerald retired to St. Paul to rewrite for the second time a novel he had begun at Princeton. In the spring of 1920 it was published, he married Zelda, and

riding in a taxi one afternoon between very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.

Immature though it seems today, This Side of Paradise in 1920 was a revelation of the new morality of the young; it made Fitzgerald famous. This fame opened to him magazines of literary prestige, such as Scribner’s, and high-paying popular ones, such as The Saturday Evening Post. This sudden prosperity made it possible for him and Zelda to play the roles they were so beautifully equipped for, and Ring Lardner called them the prince and princess of their generation. Though they loved these roles, they were frightened by them, too, as the ending of Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), shows. The Beautiful and Damned describes a handsome young man and his beautiful wife, who gradually degenerate into a shopworn middle age while they wait for the young man to inherit a large fortune. Ironically, they finally get it, when there is nothing of them left worth preserving.

To escape the life that they feared might bring them to this end, the Fitzgeralds (together with their daughter, Frances, called “Scottie,” born in 1921) moved in 1924 to the Riviera, where they found themselves a part of a group of American expatriates whose style was largely set by Gerald and Sara Murphy; Fitzgerald described this society in his last completed novel, Tender Is the Night, and modeled its hero on Gerald Murphy. Shortly after their arrival in France, Fitzgerald completed his most brilliant novel, The Great Gatsby (1925). All of his divided nature is in this novel, the naive Midwesterner afire with the possibilities of the “American Dream” in its hero, Jay Gatsby, and the compassionate Princeton gentleman in its narrator, Nick Carraway. The Great Gatsby is the most profoundly American novel of its time; at its conclusion, Fitzgerald connects Gatsby’s dream, his “Platonic conception of himself,” with the dream of the discoverers of America. Some of Fitzgerald’s finest short stories appeared in All the Sad Young Men (1926), particularly “The Rich Boy” and “Absolution,” but it was not until eight years later that another novel appeared.

The next decade of the Fitzgeralds’ lives was disorderly and unhappy. Fitzgerald began to drink too much, and Zelda suddenly, ominously, began to practice ballet dancing night and day. In 1930 she had a mental breakdown and in 1932 another, from which she never fully recovered. Through the 1930s they fought to save their life together, and, when the battle was lost, Fitzgerald said, “I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium.” He did not finish his next novel, Tender Is the Night, until 1934. It is the story of a psychiatrist who marries one of his patients, who, as she slowly recovers, exhausts his vitality until he is, in Fitzgerald’s words, un homme épuisé (“a man used up”). Though technically faulty and commercially unsuccessful, this is Fitzgerald’s most moving book.

With its failure and his despair over Zelda, Fitzgerald was close to becoming an incurable alcoholic. By 1937, however, he had come back far enough to become a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and there he met and fell in love with Sheilah Graham, a famous Hollywood gossip columnist. For the rest of his life—except for occasional drunken spells when he became bitter and violent—Fitzgerald lived quietly with her. (Occasionally he went east to visit Zelda or his daughter Scottie, who entered Vassar College in 1938.) In October 1939 he began a novel about Hollywood, The Last Tycoon. The career of its hero, Monroe Stahr, is based on that of the producer Irving Thalberg. This is Fitzgerald’s final attempt to create his dream of the promises of American life and of the kind of man who could realize them. In the intensity with which it is imagined and in the brilliance of its expression, it is the equal of anything Fitzgerald ever wrote, and it is typical of his luck that he died of a heart attack with his novel only half-finished. He was 44 years old.

Arthur Mizener




 

Critics of society


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (1920) showed the disillusionment and moral disintegration experienced by so many in the United States after World War I. The book initiated a career of great promise that found fruition in The Great Gatsby (1925), a spare but poignant novel about the promise and failure of the American Dream. Fitzgerald was to live out this theme himself. Though damaged by drink and by a failing marriage, he went on to do some of his best work in the 1930s, including numerous stories and essays as well as his most ambitious novel, Tender Is the Night (1934). Unlike Fitzgerald, who was a lyric writer with real emotional intensity, Sinclair Lewis was best as a social critic. His onslaughts against the “village virus” (Main Street [1920]), average businessmen (Babbitt [1922]), materialistic scientists (Arrowsmith [1925]), and the racially prejudiced (Kingsblood Royal [1947]) were satirically sharp and thoroughly documented, though Babbitt is his only book that still stands up brilliantly at the beginning of the 21st century. Similar careful documentation, though little satire, characterized James T. Farrell’s naturalistic Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932–35), which described the stifling effects of growing up in a lower-middle-class family and a street-corner milieu in the Chicago of the 1920s.

The ironies of racial identity dominate the stories and novels produced by writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including harsh portraits of the black middle class in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) and the powerful stories of Langston Hughes in The Ways of White Folks (1934), as well as the varied literary materials—poetry, fiction, and drama—collected in Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923). Richard Wright’s books, including Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), Native Son (1940), and Black Boy (1945), were works of burning social protest, Dostoyevskian in their intensity, that dealt boldly with the plight of American blacks in both the old South and the Northern urban ghetto. Zora Neale Hurston’s training in anthropology and folklore contributed to Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), her powerful feminist novel about the all-black Florida town in which she had grown up.

A number of authors wrote proletarian novels attacking capitalist exploitation, as in several novels based on a 1929 strike in the textile mills in Gastonia, N.C., such as Fielding Burke’s Call Home the Heart and Grace Lumpkin’s To Make My Bread (both 1932). Other notable proletarian novels included Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited (1933), Robert Cantwell’s The Land of Plenty (1934), and Albert Halper’s Union Square (1933), The Foundry (1934), and The Chute (1937), as well as some grim evocations of the drifters and “bottom dogs” of the Depression era, such as Edward Anderson’s Hungry Men and Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing (both 1935). The radical movement, combined with a nascent feminism, encouraged the talent of several politically committed women writers whose work was rediscovered later; they included Tillie Olsen, Meridel Le Sueur, and Josephine Herbst.

Particularly admired as a protest writer was John Dos Passos, who first attracted attention with an anti-World War I novel, Three Soldiers (1921). His most sweeping indictments of the modern social and economic system, Manhattan Transfer (1925) and the U.S.A. trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money [1930–36]), employed various narrative innovations such as the “camera eye” and “newsreel,” along with a large cast of characters, to attack society from the left. Nathanael West’s novels, including Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), A Cool Million (1934), and The Day of the Locust (1939), used black comedy to create a bitter vision of an inhuman and brutal world and its depressing effects on his sensitive but ineffectual protagonists. West evoked the tawdry but rich materials of mass culture and popular fantasy to mock the pathos of the American Dream, a frequent target during the Depression years.


 

Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck

Three authors whose writings showed a shift from disillusionment were
Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and John Steinbeck. Hemingway’s early short stories and his first novels, The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), were full of the existential disillusionment of the Lost Generation expatriates. The Spanish Civil War, however, led him to espouse the possibility of collective action to solve social problems, and his less-effective novels, including To Have and Have Not (1937) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), embodied this new belief. He regained some of his form in The Old Man and the Sea (1952) and his posthumously published memoir of Paris between the wars, A Moveable Feast (1964). Hemingway’s writing was influenced by his background in journalism and by the spare manner and flat sentence rhythms of Gertrude Stein, his Paris friend and a pioneer Modernist, especially in such works of hers as Three Lives (1909). His own great impact on other writers came from his deceptively simple, stripped-down prose, full of unspoken implication, and from his tough but vulnerable masculinity, which created a myth that imprisoned the author and haunted the World War II generation.

Hemingway’s great rival as a stylist and mythmaker was William Faulkner, whose writing was as baroque as Hemingway’s was spare. Influenced by Sherwood Anderson, Herman Melville, and especially James Joyce, Faulkner combined stream-of-consciousness techniques with rich social history. Works such as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and The Hamlet (1940) were parts of the unfolding history of Yoknapatawpha County, a mythical Mississippi community, which depicted the transformation and the decadence of the South. Faulkner’s work was dominated by a sense of guilt going back to the American Civil War and the appropriation of Indian lands. Though often comic, his work pictured the disintegration of the leading families and, in later books such as Go Down, Moses (1942) and Intruder in the Dust (1948), showed a growing concern with the troubled role of race in Southern life.

Steinbeck’s career, marked by uneven achievements, began with a historical novel, Cup of Gold (1929), in which he voiced a distrust of society and glorified the anarchistic individualist typical of the rebellious 1920s. He showed his affinity for colourful outcasts, such as the paisanos of the Monterey area, in the short novels Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), and Cannery Row (1945). His best books were inspired by the social struggles of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression, including the simply written but ambiguous strike novel In Dubious Battle (1936) and his flawed masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The latter, a protest novel punctuated by prose-poem interludes, tells the story of the migration of the Joads, an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family, to California. During their almost biblical journey, they learn the necessity for collective action among the poor and downtrodden to prevent them from being destroyed individually.
 


Ernest Hemingway



 

American writer
in full Ernest Miller Hemingway

born July 21, 1899, Cicero [now in Oak Park], Illinois, U.S.
died July 2, 1961, Ketchum, Idaho

Main
American novelist and short-story writer, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He was noted both for the intense masculinity of his writing and for his adventurous and widely publicized life. His succinct and lucid prose style exerted a powerful influence on American and British fiction in the 20th century.

The first son of Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a doctor, and Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in a suburb of Chicago. He was educated in the public schools and began to write in high school, where he was active and outstanding, but the parts of his boyhood that mattered most were summers spent with his family on Walloon Lake in upper Michigan. On graduation from high school in 1917, impatient for a less-sheltered environment, he did not enter college but went to Kansas City, where he was employed as a reporter for the Star. He was repeatedly rejected for military service because of a defective eye, but he managed to enter World War I as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. On July 8, 1918, not yet 19 years old, he was injured on the Austro-Italian front at Fossalta di Piave. Decorated for heroism and hospitalized in Milan, he fell in love with a Red Cross nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky, who declined to marry him. These were experiences he was never to forget.

After recuperating at home, Hemingway renewed his efforts at writing, for a while worked at odd jobs in Chicago, and sailed for France as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. Advised and encouraged by other American writers in Paris—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound—he began to see his nonjournalistic work appear in print there, and in 1925 his first important book, a collection of stories called In Our Time, was published in New York City; it was originally released in Paris in 1924. In 1926 he published The Sun Also Rises, a novel with which he scored his first solid success. A pessimistic but sparkling book, it deals with a group of aimless expatriates in France and Spain—members of the postwar Lost Generation, a phrase that Hemingway scorned while making it famous. This work also introduced him to the limelight, which he both craved and resented for the rest of his life. Hemingway’s The Torrents of Spring, a parody of the American writer Sherwood Anderson’s book Dark Laughter, also appeared in 1926.

The writing of books occupied Hemingway for most of the postwar years. He remained based in Paris, but he traveled widely for the skiing, bullfighting, fishing, and hunting that by then had become part of his life and formed the background for much of his writing. His position as a master of short fiction had been advanced by Men Without Women in 1927 and thoroughly established with the stories in Winner Take Nothing in 1933. Among his finest stories are The Killers, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. At least in the public view, however, the novel A Farewell to Arms (1929) overshadowed such works. Reaching back to his experience as a young soldier in Italy, Hemingway developed a grim but lyrical novel of great power, fusing love story with war story. While serving with the Italian ambulance service during World War I, the American lieutenant Frederic Henry falls in love with the English nurse Catherine Barkley, who tends him during his recuperation after being wounded. She becomes pregnant by him, but he must return to his post. Henry deserts during the Italians’ disastrous retreat after the Battle of Caporetto, and the reunited couple flee Italy by crossing the border into Switzerland. There, however, Catherine and her baby die during childbirth, and Henry is left desolate at the loss of the great love of his life.

Hemingway’s love of Spain and his passion for bullfighting resulted in Death in the Afternoon (1932), a learned study of a spectacle he saw more as tragic ceremony than as sport. Similarly, a safari he took in 1933–34 in the big-game region of Tanganyika resulted in The Green Hills of Africa (1935), an account of big-game hunting. Mostly for the fishing, he purchased a house in Key West, Florida, and bought his own fishing boat. A minor novel of 1937 called To Have and Have Not is about a Caribbean desperado and is set against a background of lower-class violence and upper-class decadence in Key West during the Great Depression.

By now Spain was in the midst of civil war. Still deeply attached to that country, Hemingway made four trips there, once more a correspondent. He raised money for the Republicans in their struggle against the Nationalists under General Francisco Franco, and he wrote a play called The Fifth Column (1938), which is set in besieged Madrid. As in many of his books, the protagonist of the play is based on the author. Following his last visit to the Spanish war, he purchased Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”), an unpretentious estate outside Havana, Cuba, and went to cover another war—the Japanese invasion of China.

The harvest of Hemingway’s considerable experience of Spain in war and peace was the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), a substantial and impressive work that some critics consider his finest novel, in preference to A Farewell to Arms. It was also the most successful of all his books as measured in sales. Set during the Spanish Civil War, it tells of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer who is sent to join a guerrilla band behind the Nationalist lines in the Guadarrama Mountains. Most of the novel concerns Jordan’s relations with the varied personalities of the band, including the girl Maria, with whom he falls in love. Through dialogue, flashbacks, and stories, Hemingway offers telling and vivid profiles of the Spanish character and unsparingly depicts the cruelty and inhumanity stirred up by the civil war. Jordan’s mission is to blow up a strategic bridge near Segovia in order to aid a coming Republican attack, which he realizes is doomed to fail. In an atmosphere of impending disaster, he blows up the bridge but is wounded and makes his retreating comrades leave him behind, where he prepares a last-minute resistance to his Nationalist pursuers.

All of his life Hemingway was fascinated by war—in A Farewell to Arms he focused on its pointlessness, in For Whom the Bell Tolls on the comradeship it creates—and, as World War II progressed, he made his way to London as a journalist. He flew several missions with the Royal Air Force and crossed the English Channel with American troops on D-Day (June 6, 1944). Attaching himself to the 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, he saw a good deal of action in Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge. He also participated in the liberation of Paris, and, although ostensibly a journalist, he impressed professional soldiers not only as a man of courage in battle but also as a real expert in military matters, guerrilla activities, and intelligence collection.

Following the war in Europe, Hemingway returned to his home in Cuba and began to work seriously again. He also traveled widely, and, on a trip to Africa, he was injured in a plane crash. Soon after (in 1953), he received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Old Man and the Sea (1952), a short heroic novel about an old Cuban fisherman who, after an extended struggle, hooks and boats a giant marlin only to have it eaten by voracious sharks during the long voyage home. This book, which played a role in gaining for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, was as enthusiastically praised as his previous novel, Across the River and into the Trees (1950), the story of a professional army officer who dies while on leave in Venice, had been damned.

By 1960 Fidel Castro’s revolution had driven Hemingway from Cuba. He settled in Ketchum, Idaho, and tried to lead his life and do his work as before. For a while he succeeded, but, anxiety-ridden and depressed, he was twice hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he received electroshock treatments. Two days after his return to the house in Ketchum, he took his life with a shotgun. Hemingway had married four times and fathered three sons.

Hemingway left behind a substantial amount of manuscript, some of which has been published. A Moveable Feast, an entertaining memoir of his years in Paris (1921–26) before he was famous, was issued in 1964. Islands in the Stream, three closely related novellas growing directly out of his peacetime memories of the Caribbean island of Bimini, of Havana during World War II, and of searching for U-boats off Cuba, appeared in 1970.

Hemingway’s characters plainly embody his own values and view of life. The main characters of The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls are young men whose strength and self-confidence nevertheless coexist with a sensitivity that leaves them deeply scarred by their wartime experiences. War was for Hemingway a potent symbol of the world, which he viewed as complex, filled with moral ambiguities, and offering almost unavoidable pain, hurt, and destruction. To survive in such a world, and perhaps emerge victorious, one must conduct oneself with honour, courage, endurance, and dignity, a set of principles known as “the Hemingway code.” To behave well in the lonely, losing battle with life is to show “grace under pressure” and constitutes in itself a kind of victory, a theme clearly established in The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway’s prose style was probably the most widely imitated of any in the 20th century. He wished to strip his own use of language of inessentials, ridding it of all traces of verbosity, embellishment, and sentimentality. In striving to be as objective and honest as possible, Hemingway hit upon the device of describing a series of actions by using short, simple sentences from which all comment or emotional rhetoric has been eliminated. These sentences are composed largely of nouns and verbs, have few adjectives and adverbs, and rely on repetition and rhythm for much of their effect. The resulting terse, concentrated prose is concrete and unemotional yet is often resonant and capable of conveying great irony through understatement. Hemingway’s use of dialogue was similarly fresh, simple, and natural-sounding. The influence of this style was felt worldwide wherever novels were written, particularly from the 1930s through the ’50s.

A consummately contradictory man, Hemingway achieved a fame surpassed by few, if any, American authors of the 20th century. The virile nature of his writing, which attempted to re-create the exact physical sensations he experienced in wartime, big-game hunting, and bullfighting, in fact masked an aesthetic sensibility of great delicacy. He was a celebrity long before he reached middle age, but his popularity continues to be validated by serious critical opinion.

Philip Young
 

 

 


William Faulkner





 

William Faulkner, in full William Cuthbert Faulkner, original surname Falkner (b. Sept. 25, 1897, New Albany, Miss., U.S.—d. July 6, 1962, Byhalia, Miss.), American novelist and short-story writer who was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Youth and early writings
As the eldest of the four sons of Murry Cuthbert and Maud Butler Falkner, William Faulkner (as he later spelled his name) was well aware of his family background and especially of his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, a colourful if violent figure who fought gallantly during the Civil War, built a local railway, and published a popular romantic novel called The White Rose of Memphis. Born in New Albany, Miss., Faulkner soon moved with his parents to nearby Ripley and then to the town of Oxford, the seat of Lafayette county, where his father later became business manager of the University of Mississippi. In Oxford he experienced the characteristic open-air upbringing of a Southern white youth of middle-class parents: he had a pony to ride and was introduced to guns and hunting. A reluctant student, he left high school without graduating but devoted himself to “undirected reading,” first in isolation and later under the guidance of Phil Stone, a family friend who combined study and practice of the law with lively literary interests and was a constant source of current books and magazines.

In July 1918, impelled by dreams of martial glory and by despair at a broken love affair, Faulkner joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as a cadet pilot under training in Canada, although the November 1918 armistice intervened before he could finish ground school, let alone fly or reach Europe. After returning home, he enrolled for a few university courses, published poems and drawings in campus newspapers, and acted out a self-dramatizing role as a poet who had seen wartime service. After working in a New York bookstore for three months in the fall of 1921, he returned to Oxford and ran the university post office there with notorious laxness until forced to resign. In 1924 Phil Stone’s financial assistance enabled him to publish The Marble Faun, a pastoral verse-sequence in rhymed octosyllabic couplets. There were also early short stories, but Faulkner’s first sustained attempt to write fiction occurred during a six-month visit to New Orleans—then a significant literary centre—that began in January 1925 and ended in early July with his departure for a five-month tour of Europe, including several weeks in Paris.

His first novel, Soldiers’ Pay (1926), given a Southern though not a Mississippian setting, was an impressive achievement, stylistically ambitious and strongly evocative of the sense of alienation experienced by soldiers returning from World War I to a civilian world of which they seemed no longer a part. A second novel, Mosquitoes (1927), launched a satirical attack on the New Orleans literary scene, including identifiable individuals, and can perhaps best be read as a declaration of artistic independence. Back in Oxford—with occasional visits to Pascagoula on the Gulf Coast—Faulkner again worked at a series of temporary jobs but was chiefly concerned with proving himself as a professional writer. None of his short stories was accepted, however, and he was especially shaken by his difficulty in finding a publisher for Flags in the Dust (published posthumously, 1973), a long, leisurely novel, drawing extensively on local observation and his own family history, that he had confidently counted upon to establish his reputation and career. When the novel eventually did appear, severely truncated, as Sartoris in 1929, it created in print for the first time that densely imagined world of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County—based partly on Ripley but chiefly on Oxford and Lafayette county and characterized by frequent recurrences of the same characters, places, and themes—which Faulkner was to use as the setting for so many subsequent novels and stories.


The major novels
Faulkner had meanwhile “written [his] guts” into the more technically sophisticated The Sound and the Fury, believing that he was fated to remain permanently unpublished and need therefore make no concessions to the cautious commercialism of the literary marketplace. The novel did find a publisher, despite the difficulties it posed for its readers, and from the moment of its appearance in October 1929 Faulkner drove confidently forward as a writer, engaging always with new themes, new areas of experience, and, above all, new technical challenges. Crucial to his extraordinary early productivity was the decision to shun the talk, infighting, and publicity of literary centres and live instead in what was then the small-town remoteness of Oxford, where he was already at home and could devote himself, in near isolation, to actual writing. In 1929 he married Estelle Oldham—whose previous marriage, now terminated, had helped drive him into the RAF in 1918. One year later he bought Rowan Oak, a handsome but run-down pre-Civil War house on the outskirts of Oxford, restoration work on the house becoming, along with hunting, an important diversion in the years ahead. A daughter, Jill, was born to the couple in 1933, and although their marriage was otherwise troubled, Faulkner remained working at home throughout the 1930s and ’40s, except when financial need forced him to accept the Hollywood screenwriting assignments he deplored but very competently fulfilled.

Oxford provided Faulkner with intimate access to a deeply conservative rural world, conscious of its past and remote from the urban-industrial mainstream, in terms of which he could work out the moral as well as narrative patterns of his work. His fictional methods, however, were the reverse of conservative. He knew the work not only of Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville but also of Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and other recent figures on both sides of the Atlantic, and in The Sound and the Fury (1929), his first major novel, he combined a Yoknapatawpha setting with radical technical experimentation. In successive “stream-of-consciousness” monologues the three brothers of Candace (Caddy) Compson—Benjy the idiot, Quentin the disturbed Harvard undergraduate, and Jason the embittered local businessman—expose their differing obsessions with their sister and their loveless relationships with their parents. A fourth section, narrated as if authorially, provides new perspectives on some of the central characters, including Dilsey, the Compsons’ black servant, and moves toward a powerful yet essentially unresolved conclusion. Faulkner’s next novel, the brilliant tragicomedy called As I Lay Dying (1930), is centred upon the conflicts within the “poor white” Bundren family as it makes its slow and difficult way to Jefferson to bury its matriarch’s malodorously decaying corpse. Entirely narrated by the various Bundrens and people encountered on their journey, it is the most systematically multi-voiced of Faulkner’s novels and marks the culmination of his early post-Joycean experimentalism.

Although the psychological intensity and technical innovation of these two novels were scarcely calculated to ensure a large contemporary readership, Faulkner’s name was beginning to be known in the early 1930s, and he was able to place short stories even in such popular—and well-paying—magazines as Collier’s and Saturday Evening Post. Greater, if more equivocal, prominence came with the financially successful publication of Sanctuary, a novel about the brutal rape of a Southern college student and its generally violent, sometimes comic, consequences. A serious work, despite Faulkner’s unfortunate declaration that it was written merely to make money, Sanctuary was actually completed prior to As I Lay Dying and published, in February 1931, only after Faulkner had gone to the trouble and expense of restructuring and partly rewriting it—though without moderating the violence—at proof stage. Despite the demands of film work and short stories (of which a first collection appeared in 1931 and a second in 1934), and even the preparation of a volume of poems (published in 1933 as A Green Bough), Faulkner produced in 1932 another long and powerful novel. Complexly structured and involving several major characters, Light in August revolves primarily upon the contrasted careers of Lena Grove, a pregnant young countrywoman serenely in pursuit of her biological destiny, and Joe Christmas, a dark-complexioned orphan uncertain as to his racial origins, whose life becomes a desperate and often violent search for a sense of personal identity, a secure location on one side or the other of the tragic dividing line of colour.

Made temporarily affluent by Sanctuary and Hollywood, Faulkner took up flying in the early 1930s, bought a Waco cabin aircraft, and flew it in February 1934 to the dedication of Shushan Airport in New Orleans, gathering there much of the material for Pylon, the novel about racing and barnstorming pilots that he published in 1935. Having given the Waco to his youngest brother, Dean, and encouraged him to become a professional pilot, Faulkner was both grief- and guilt-stricken when Dean crashed and died in the plane later in 1935; when Dean’s daughter was born in 1936 he took responsibility for her education. The experience perhaps contributed to the emotional intensity of the novel on which he was then working. In Absalom, Absalom! (1936) Thomas Sutpen arrives in Jefferson from “nowhere,” ruthlessly carves a large plantation out of the Mississippi wilderness, fights valiantly in the Civil War in defense of his adopted society, but is ultimately destroyed by his inhumanity toward those whom he has used and cast aside in the obsessive pursuit of his grandiose dynastic “design.” By refusing to acknowledge his first, partly black, son, Charles Bon, Sutpen also loses his second son, Henry, who goes into hiding after killing Bon (whom he loves) in the name of their sister’s honour. Because this profoundly Southern story is constructed—speculatively, conflictingly, and inconclusively—by a series of narrators with sharply divergent self-interested perspectives, Absalom, Absalom! is often seen, in its infinite open-endedness, as Faulkner’s supreme “modernist” fiction, focused above all on the processes of its own telling.


Later life and works
The novel The Wild Palms (1939) was again technically adventurous, with two distinct yet thematically counterpointed narratives alternating, chapter by chapter, throughout. But Faulkner was beginning to return to the Yoknapatawpha County material he had first imagined in the 1920s and subsequently exploited in short-story form. The Unvanquished (1938) was relatively conventional, but The Hamlet (1940), the first volume of the long-uncompleted “Snopes” trilogy, emerged as a work of extraordinary stylistic richness. Its episodic structure is underpinned by recurrent thematic patterns and by the wryly humorous presence of V.K. Ratliff—an itinerant sewing-machine agent—and his unavailing opposition to the increasing power and prosperity of the supremely manipulative Flem Snopes and his numerous “poor white” relatives. In 1942 appeared Go Down, Moses, yet another major work, in which an intense exploration of the linked themes of racial, sexual, and environmental exploitation is conducted largely in terms of the complex interactions between the “white” and “black” branches of the plantation-owning McCaslin family, especially as represented by Isaac McCaslin on the one hand and Lucas Beauchamp on the other.

For various reasons—the constraints on wartime publishing, financial pressures to take on more scriptwriting, difficulties with the work later published as A Fable—Faulkner did not produce another novel until Intruder in the Dust (1948), in which Lucas Beauchamp, reappearing from Go Down, Moses, is proved innocent of murder, and thus saved from lynching, only by the persistent efforts of a young white boy. Racial issues were again confronted, but in the somewhat ambiguous terms that were to mark Faulkner’s later public statements on race: while deeply sympathetic to the oppression suffered by blacks in the Southern states, he nevertheless felt that such wrongs should be righted by the South itself, free of Northern intervention.

Faulkner’s American reputation—which had always lagged well behind his reputation in Europe—was boosted by The Portable Faulkner (1946), an anthology skillfully edited by Malcolm Cowley in accordance with the arresting if questionable thesis that Faulkner was deliberately constructing a historically based “legend” of the South. Faulkner’s Collected Stories (1950), impressive in both quantity and quality, was also well received, and later in 1950 the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature catapulted the author instantly to the peak of world fame and enabled him to affirm, in a famous acceptance speech, his belief in the survival of the human race, even in an atomic age, and in the importance of the artist to that survival.

The Nobel Prize had a major impact on Faulkner’s private life. Confident now of his reputation and future sales, he became less consistently “driven” as a writer than in earlier years and allowed himself more personal freedom, drinking heavily at times and indulging in a number of extramarital affairs—his opportunities in these directions being considerably enhanced by a final screenwriting assignment in Egypt in 1954 and several overseas trips (most notably to Japan in 1955) undertaken on behalf of the U.S. State Department. He took his “ambassadorial” duties seriously, speaking frequently in public and to interviewers, and also became politically active at home, taking positions on major racial issues in the vain hope of finding middle ground between entrenched Southern conservatives and interventionist Northern liberals. Local Oxford opinion proving hostile to such views, Faulkner in 1957 and 1958 readily accepted semester-long appointments as writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Attracted to the town by the presence of his daughter and her children as well as by its opportunities for horse-riding and fox-hunting, Faulkner bought a house there in 1959, though continuing to spend time at Rowan Oak.

The quality of Faulkner’s writing is often said to have declined in the wake of the Nobel Prize. But the central sections of Requiem for a Nun (1951) are challengingly set out in dramatic form, and A Fable (1954), a long, densely written, and complexly structured novel about World War I, demands attention as the work in which Faulkner made by far his greatest investment of time, effort, and authorial commitment. In The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959) Faulkner not only brought the “Snopes” trilogy to its conclusion, carrying his Yoknapatawpha narrative to beyond the end of World War II, but subtly varied the management of narrative point of view. Finally, in June 1962 Faulkner published yet another distinctive novel, the genial, nostalgic comedy of male maturation he called The Reivers and appropriately subtitled “A Reminiscence.” A month later he was dead, of a heart attack, at the age of 64, his health undermined by his drinking and by too many falls from horses too big for him.


Assessment
By the time of his death Faulkner had clearly emerged not just as the major American novelist of his generation but as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, unmatched for his extraordinary structural and stylistic resourcefulness, for the range and depth of his characterization and social notation, and for his persistence and success in exploring fundamental human issues in intensely localized terms. Some critics, early and late, have found his work extravagantly rhetorical and unduly violent, and there have been strong objections, especially late in the 20th century, to the perceived insensitivity of his portrayals of women and black Americans. His reputation, grounded in the sheer scale and scope of his achievement, seems nonetheless secure, and he remains a profoundly influential presence for novelists writing in the United States, South America, and, indeed, throughout the world.

Michael Millgate

 

 

 


John Steinbeck



 

American novelist
in full John Ernst Steinbeck
born Feb. 27, 1902, Salinas, Calif., U.S.
died Dec. 20, 1968, New York, N.Y.

Main
American novelist, best known for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which summed up the bitterness of the Great Depression decade and aroused widespread sympathy for the plight of migratory farm workers. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1962.

Steinbeck attended Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., intermittently between 1920 and 1926 but did not take a degree. Before his books attained success, he spent considerable time supporting himself as a manual labourer while writing, and his experiences lent authenticity to his depictions of the lives of the workers in his stories. He spent much of his life in Monterey county, Calif., which later was the setting of some of his fiction.

Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold (1929), was followed by The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), none of which were successful. He first achieved popularity with Tortilla Flat (1935), an affectionately told story of Mexican-Americans. The mood of gentle humour turned to one of unrelenting grimness in his next novel, In Dubious Battle (1936), a classic account of a strike by agricultural labourers and a pair of Marxist labour organizers who engineer it. The novella Of Mice and Men (1937), which also appeared in play and film versions, is a tragic story about the strange, complex bond between two migrant labourers. The Grapes of Wrath won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award and was made into a notable film in 1940. The novel is about the migration of a dispossessed family from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California and describes their subsequent exploitation by a ruthless system of agricultural economics.

After the best-selling success of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck went to Mexico to collect marine life with the freelance biologist Edward F. Ricketts, and the two men collaborated in writing Sea of Cortez (1941), a study of the fauna of the Gulf of California. During World War II Steinbeck wrote some effective pieces of government propaganda, among them The Moon Is Down (1942), a novel of Norwegians under the Nazis, and he also served as a war correspondent. His immediate postwar work—Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947), and The Wayward Bus (1947)—contained the familiar elements of his social criticism but were more relaxed in approach and sentimental in tone.

Steinbeck’s later writings were comparatively slight works of entertainment and journalism interspersed with three conscientious attempts to reassert his stature as a major novelist: Burning Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961). In critical opinion, none equaled his earlier achievement. East of Eden, an ambitious epic about the moral relations between a California farmer and his two sons, was made into a film in 1955. Steinbeck himself wrote the scripts for the film versions of his stories The Pearl (1948) and The Red Pony (1949). Outstanding among the scripts he wrote directly for motion pictures were Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata! (1952).

Steinbeck’s reputation rests mostly on the naturalistic novels with proletarian themes he wrote in the 1930s; it is in these works that his building of rich symbolic structures and his attempts at conveying mythopoeic and archetypal qualities in his characters are most effective.
 






Lyric fictionists

An interesting development in fiction, abetted by Modernism, was a shift from naturalistic to poetic writing. There was an increased tendency to select details and endow them with symbolic meaning, to set down the thought processes and emotions of the characters, and to make use of rhythmic prose. In varied ways Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Cabell, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner all showed evidence of this—in passages, in short stories, and even in entire novels. Faulkner showed the tendency at its worst in A Fable (1954), which, ironically, won a Pulitzer Prize.

Lyricism was especially prominent in the writings of Willa Cather. O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918) contained poetic passages about the disappearing frontier and the creative efforts of frontier folk. A Lost Lady (1923) and The Professor’s House (1925) were elegiac and spare in style, though they also depicted historic social transformations, and Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) was an exaltation of the past and of spiritual pioneering. Katherine Anne Porter, whose works took the form primarily of novelettes and stories, wrote more in the style of the Metaphysical poets, though she also wrote one long, ambitious novel, Ship of Fools (1962). Her use of the stream-of-consciousness method in Flowering Judas (1930) as well as in Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939) had the complexity, the irony, and the symbolic sophistication characteristic of these poets, whose work the Modernists had brought into fashion.

Two of the most intensely lyrical works of the 1930s were autobiographical novels set in the Jewish ghetto of New York City’s Lower East Side before World War I: Michael Gold’s harsh Jews Without Money (1930) and Henry Roth’s Proustian Call It Sleep (1934), one of the greatest novels of the decade. They followed in the footsteps of Anzia Yezierska, a prolific writer of the 1920s whose passionate books about immigrant Jews, especially Bread Givers (1925), have been rediscovered by contemporary feminists.

Another lyrical and autobiographical writer, whose books have faded badly, was Thomas Wolfe, who put all his strivings, thoughts, and feelings into works such as Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and Of Time and the River (1935) before his early death in 1938. These Whitmanesque books, as well as posthumously edited ones such as The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can’t Go Home Again (1940), dealt with a figure much like Wolfe, echoing the author’s youth in the South, young manhood in the North, and eternal search to fulfill a vision. Though grandiose, they influenced many young writers, including Jack Kerouac.

Walter Blair
Morris Dickstein



 


Katherine Anne Porter


Katherine Anne Porter, (b. , May 15, 1890, Indian Creek, Texas, U.S.—d. Sept. 18, 1980, Silver Spring, Md.), American novelist and short-story writer, a master stylist whose long short stories have a richness of texture and complexity of character delineation usually achieved only in the novel.

Porter was educated at private and convent schools in the South. She worked as a newspaperwoman in Chicago and in Denver, Colorado, before leaving in 1920 for Mexico, the scene of several of her stories. “Maria Concepcion,” her first published story (1922), was included in her first book of stories, Flowering Judas (1930), which was enlarged in 1935 with other stories.

The title story of her next collection, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), is a poignant tale of youthful romance brutally thwarted by the young man’s death in the influenza epidemic of 1919. In it and the two other stories of the volume, “Noon Wine” and “Old Mortality,” appears for the first time her semiautobiographical heroine, Miranda, a spirited and independent woman.

Porter’s reputation was firmly established, but none of her books sold widely, and she supported herself primarily through fellowships, by working occasionally as an uncredited screenwriter in Hollywood, and by serving as writer-in-residence at a succession of colleges and universities. She published The Leaning Tower (1944), a collection of stories, and won an O. Henry Award for her 1962 story, “Holiday.” The literary world awaited with great anticipation the appearance of Porter’s only full-length novel, on which she had been working since 1941.

With the publication of Ship of Fools in 1962, Porter won a large readership for the first time. A best-seller that became a major film in 1965, it tells of the ocean voyage of a group of Germans back to their homeland from Mexico in 1931, on the eve of Hitler’s ascendency. Porter’s carefully crafted, ironic style is perfectly suited to the allegorical exploration of the collusion of good and evil that is her theme, and the penetrating psychological insight that had always marked her work is evident in the book.

Porter’s Collected Short Stories (1965) won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Her essays, articles, and book reviews were collected in The Days Before (1952; augmented 1970). Her last work, published in 1977, when she suffered a disabling stroke, was The Never-Ending Wrong, dealing with the Sacco-Vanzetti case of the 1920s.
 

 

 


Jack Kerouac



 

Jack Kerouac, original name Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac (b. March 12, 1922, Lowell, Mass., U.S.—d. Oct. 21, 1969, St. Petersburg, Fla.), American novelist, poet, and leader of the Beat movement whose most famous book, On the Road (1957), had broad cultural influence before it was recognized for its literary merits. On the Road captured the spirit of its time as no other work of the 20th century had since F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925).

Childhood and early influences
Lowell, Mass., a mill town, had a large French Canadian population; while Kerouac’s mother worked in a shoe factory and his father worked as a printer, Kerouac attended a French Canadian school in the morning and continued his studies in English in the afternoon. He spoke joual, a Canadian dialect of French, and so, though he was an American, he viewed his country as if he were a foreigner. Kerouac subsequently went to the Horace Mann School, a preparatory school in New York City, on a football scholarship. There he met Henri Cru, who helped Kerouac find jobs as a merchant seaman, and Seymour Wyse, who introduced Kerouac to jazz.

In 1940 Kerouac enrolled at Columbia University, where he met two writers who would become lifelong friends: Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Together with Kerouac they are the seminal figures of the literary movement known as Beat, a term introduced to Kerouac by Herbert Huncke, a Times Square junkie, petty thief, hustler, and writer. It meant “down-and-out” as well as “beatific” and therefore signified the bottom of existence (from a financial and an emotional point of view) as well as the highest, most spiritual high.

Kerouac’s childhood and early adulthood were marked by loss: his brother Gerard died in 1926, when Gerard was nine. Kerouac’s boyhood friend Sebastian Sampas died in 1944 and his father, Leo, in 1946. In a deathbed promise to Leo, Kerouac pledged to care for his mother, Gabrielle, affectionately known as Memere. Kerouac married three times: to Edie Parker (1944, annulled 1946); to Joan Haverty (1951), with whom he had a daughter, Jan Michelle; and to Stella Sampas (1966), the sister of Sebastian, who had died at Anzio, Italy, during World War II.


On the Road and other early work
By the time Kerouac and Burroughs met in 1944, Kerouac had already written a million words. His boyhood ambition had been to write the “great American novel.” His first novel, The Town & the City (1950), received favourable reviews but was considered derivative of the novels of Thomas Wolfe, whose Time and the River (1935) and You Can’t Go Home Again (1940) were then popular. In his novel Kerouac articulated the “New Vision,” that “everything was collapsing,” a theme that would dominate his grand design to have all his work taken together as “one vast book”—The Legend of Duluoz.

Yet Kerouac was unhappy with the pace of his prose. The music of bebop jazz artists Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker began to drive Kerouac toward his “spontaneous bop prosody,” as Ginsberg later called it, which took shape in the late 1940s through various drafts of his second novel, On the Road. The original manuscript, a scroll written in a three-week blast in 1951, is legendary: composed of approximately 120 feet (37 metres) of paper taped together and fed into a manual typewriter, the scroll allowed Kerouac the fast pace he was hoping to achieve. He also hoped to publish the novel as a scroll so that the reader would not be encumbered by having to turn the pages of a book. Rejected for publication at first, it finally was printed in 1957. In the interim, Kerouac wrote several more “true-life” novels, Doctor Sax (1959), Maggie Cassidy (1959), and Tristessa (1960) among them.

Kerouac found himself a national sensation after On the Road received a rave review from The New York Times critic Gilbert Millstein. While Millstein extolled the literary merits of the book, to the American public the novel represented a departure from tradition. Kerouac, though, was disappointed with having achieved fame for what he considered the wrong reason: little attention went to the excellence of his writing and more to the novel’s radically different characters and its characterization of hipsters and their nonconformist celebration of sex, jazz, and endless movement. The character Dean Moriarty (based on Neal Cassady, another important influence on Kerouac’s style) was an American archetype, embodying “IT,” an intense moment of heightened experience achieved through fast driving, talking, or “blowing” (as a horn player might) or in writing. In On the Road Sal Paradise explains his fascination with others who have “IT,” such as Dean Moriarty and Rollo Greb as well as jazz performers: “The only ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.” These are characters for whom the perpetual now is all.

Readers often confused Kerouac with Sal Paradise, the amoral hipster at the centre of his novel. The critic Norman Podhoretz famously wrote that Beat writing was an assault against the intellect and against decency. This misreading dominated negative reactions to On the Road. Kerouac’s rebellion, however, is better understood as a quest for the solidity of home and family, what he considered “the hearthside ideal.” He wanted to achieve in his writing that which he could find neither in the promise of America nor in the empty spirituality of Roman Catholicism; he strived instead for the serenity that he had discovered in his adopted Buddhism. Kerouac felt that the Beat label marginalized him and prevented him from being treated as he wanted to be treated, as a man of letters in the American tradition of Herman Melville and Walt Whitman.


Sketching, poetry, and Buddhism
Despite the success of the “spontaneous prose” technique Kerouac used in On the Road, he sought further refinements to his narrative style. Following a suggestion by Ed White, a friend from his Columbia University days, that he sketch “like a painter, but with words,” Kerouac sought visual possibilities in language by combining spontaneous prose with sketching. Visions of Cody (written in 1951–52 and published posthumously in 1972), an in-depth, more poetic variation of On the Road describing a buddy trip and including transcripts of his conversation with Cassady (now fictionalized as Cody), is the most successful realization of the sketching technique.

As he continued to experiment with his prose style, Kerouac also bolstered his standing among the Beat writers as a poet supreme. With his sonnets and odes he ranged across Western poetic traditions. He also experimented with the idioms of blues and jazz in such works as Mexico City Blues (1959), a sequential poem comprising 242 choruses. After he met the poet Gary Snyder in 1955, Kerouac’s poetry, as well as that of Ginsberg and fellow Beats Philip Whalen and Lew Welch, began to show the influence of the haiku, a genre mostly unknown to Americans at that time. (The haiku of Bashō, Buson, Masaoka Shiki, and Issa had not been translated into English until the pioneering work of R.H. Blyth in the late 1940s.) While Ezra Pound had modeled his poem In a Station of the Metro (1913) after Japanese haiku, Kerouac, departing from the 17-syllable, 3-line strictures, redefined the form and created an American haiku tradition. In the posthumously published collection Scattered Poems (1971), he proposed that the “Western haiku” simply say a lot in three short lines:

Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.

In his pocket notebooks, Kerouac wrote and rewrote haiku, revising and perfecting them. He also incorporated his haiku into his prose. His mastery of the form is demonstrated in his novel The Dharma Bums (1958).

Kerouac turned to Buddhist study and practice from 1953 to 1956, after his “road” period and in the lull between composing On the Road in 1951 and its publication in 1957. In the fall of 1953 he finished The Subterraneans (it would be published in 1958). Fed up with the world after the failed love affair upon which the book was based, he read Henry David Thoreau and fantasized a life outside civilization. He immersed himself in the study of Zen, beginning his genre-defying Some of the Dharma in 1953 as reader’s notes on Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible (1932); the work grew into a massive compilation of spiritual material, meditations, prayers, haiku, and musings on the teaching of Buddha. In an attempt to replicate the experience of Han Shan, a reclusive Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty (618–907), Kerouac spent 63 days atop Desolation Peak in Washington state. Kerouac recounted this experience in Desolation Angels (1965) using haiku as bridges (connectives in jazz) between sections of spontaneous prose. In 1956 he wrote a sutra, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. He also began to think of his entire oeuvre as a “Divine Comedy of the Buddha,” thereby combining Eastern and Western traditions.


Later work
By the 1960s Kerouac had finished most of the writing for which he is best known. In 1961 he wrote Big Sur in 10 days while living in the cabin of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a fellow Beat poet, in California’s Big Sur region. Two years later Kerouac’s account of his brother’s death was published as the spiritual Visions of Gerard. Another important autobiographical book, Vanity of Duluoz (1968), recounts stories of his childhood, his schooling, and the dramatic scandals that defined early Beat legend.

In 1969 Kerouac was broke, and many of his books were out of print. An alcoholic, he was living with his third wife and his mother in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he spent his time in local bars. A week after he had been beaten by fellow drinkers whom he had antagonized, he died of internal hemorrhaging in front of his television while watching The Galloping Gourmet—the ultimate ending for a writer who came to be known as the “martyred king of the Beats.”


Assessment
Kerouac’s insistence upon “First thought, best thought” and his refusal to revise was controversial. He felt that revision was a form of literary lying, imposing a form farther away from the truth of the moment, counter to his intentions for his “true-life” novels. For the composition of haiku, however, Kerouac was more exacting. Yet he accomplished the task of revision by rewriting. Hence, there exist several variations of On the Road, the final one being the 1957 version that was a culmination of Kerouac’s own revisions as well as the editing of his publisher. Significantly, Kerouac never saw the final manuscript before publication. Still, many critics found the long sweeping sentences of On the Road ragged and grammatically derelict.

Kerouac explained his quest for pure, unadulterated language—the truth of the heart unobstructed by the lying of revision—in two essays published in the Evergreen Review: Essentials of Spontaneous Prose (1958) and Belief and Technique for Modern Prose (1959). On the grammatically irreverent sentences, Kerouac extolled a “method” eschewing conventional punctuation in favour of dashes. In Essentials of Spontaneous Prose he recommended the “vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases)”; the dash allowed Kerouac to deal with time differently, making it less prosaic and linear and more poetic. He also described his manner of developing an image, which began with the “jewel center,” from which he wrote in a “semi-trance,” “without consciousness,” his language governed by sound, by the poetic effect of alliteration and assonance, until he reached a plateau. A new “jewel center” would be initiated, stronger than the first, and would spiral out as he riffed (in an analogy with a jazz musician). He saw himself as a horn player blowing one long note, as he told interviewers for The Paris Review. His technique explains the unusual organization of his writing, which is not haphazard or sloppy but systematic in the most individualized sense. In fact, Kerouac revised On the Road numerous times by recasting his story in book after book of The Legend of Duluoz. His “spontaneity” allowed him to develop his distinct voice.

Regina Weinreich
 




Literary criticism

Some historians, looking back over the first half of the 20th century, were inclined to think that it was particularly noteworthy for its literary criticism. Beyond doubt, criticism thrived as it had not for several generations. It was an important influence on literature itself, and it shaped the perceptions of readers in the face of difficult new writing.

The period began with a battle between two literary groups, one that called its movement New Humanism and stood for older values in judging literature and another group that urged that old standards be overthrown and new ones adopted. The New Humanists, such as Irving Babbitt, a Harvard University professor, and Paul Elmer More, were moralists whose work found an echo in neotraditionalist writers such as T.S. Eliot, who shared their dislike of naturalism, Romanticism, and the liberal faith in progress. The leader of the opposition, hardly a liberal himself, was the pugnacious H.L. Mencken, who insisted that the duty of writers was to present “the unvarnished truth” about life. His magazine articles and reviews gathered in A Book of Prefaces (1917) and the six volumes of Prejudices (1919–27) ushered in the iconoclasm of the 1920s, preparing the ground for satiric writers such as Sinclair Lewis. Mencken was a tireless enthusiast for the work of Joseph Conrad and Theodore Dreiser, among other modern writers. With his dislike of cant and hypocrisy, Mencken helped liberate American literature from its moralistic framework.




Socio-literary critics

In this period of social change, it was natural for critics to consider literature in relationship to society and politics, as most 19th-century critics had done. The work of Van Wyck Brooks and Vernon L. Parrington illustrated two of the main approaches. In America’s Coming-of-Age (1915), Letters and Leadership (1918), and The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920), Brooks scolded the American public and attacked the philistinism, materialism, and provinciality of the Gilded Age. But he retreated from his critical position in the popular Makers and Finders series, which included The Flowering of New England (1936), New England: Indian Summer (1940), The World of Washington Irving (1944), The Times of Melville and Whitman (1947), and The Confident Years (1952). These books wove an elaborate cultural tapestry of the major and minor figures in American literature. In Main Currents in American Thought (1927–30), Parrington, a progressive, reevaluated American literature in terms of its adherence to the tenets of Jeffersonian democracy.

The growth of Marxian influence upon thinking in the 1920s and ’30s manifested itself in several critical works by V.F. Calverton, Granville Hicks, Malcolm Cowley, and Bernard Smith, as well as numerous articles in journals such as Modern Quarterly, New Masses, Partisan Review, and The New Republic. Though the enthusiasm for communism waned, Marxism contributed to the historical approach of outstanding critics such as Edmund Wilson and Kenneth Burke and to the entire school of New York intellectuals that formed around Partisan Review and included critics such as Lionel Trilling and Philip Rahv.


Moral-aesthetic critics

Wilson and Burke, like Cowley, Morton D. Zabel, Newton Arvin, and F.O. Matthiessen, tried to strike a balance between aesthetic concerns and social or moral issues. They were interested both in analyzing and in evaluating literary creations—i.e., they were eager to see in detail how a literary work was constructed yet also to place it in a larger social or moral framework. Their work, like that of all critics of the period, showed the influence of T.S. Eliot. In essays and books such as The Sacred Wood (1920) and The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), Eliot drew close attention to the language of literature yet also made sweeping judgments and large cultural generalizations. His main impact was on close readers of poetry—e.g., I.A. Richards, William Empson, and F.R. Leavis in England and the critics of the New Criticism movement in the United States, many of whom were also poets besides being political and cultural conservatives. Along with Eliot, they rewrote the map of literary history, challenged the dominance of Romantic forms and styles, promoted and analyzed difficult Modernist writing, and greatly advanced ways of discussing literary structure. Major examples of their style of close reading can be found in R.P. Blackmur’s The Double Agent (1935), Allen Tate’s Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas (1936), John Crowe Ransom’s The World’s Body (1938), Yvor Winters’s Maule’s Curse (1938), and Cleanth Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn (1947). Though they were later attacked for their formalism and for avoiding the social context of writing, the New Critics did much to further the understanding and appreciation of literature.

 

 

APPENDIX

 

 

Willa Cather




American author
in full Wilella Sibert Cather

born Dec. 7, 1873, near Winchester, Va., U.S.
died April 24, 1947, New York, N.Y.

Main
American novelist noted for her portrayals of the settlers and frontier life on the American plains.

At age 9 Cather moved with her family from Virginia to frontier Nebraska, where from age 10 she lived in the village of Red Cloud. There she grew up among the immigrants from Europe—Swedes, Bohemians, Russians, and Germans—who were breaking the land on the Great Plains.

At the University of Nebraska she showed a marked talent for journalism and story writing, and on graduating in 1895 she obtained a position in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on a family magazine. Later she worked as copy editor and music and drama editor of the Pittsburgh Leader. She turned to teaching in 1901 and in 1903 published her first book of verses, April Twilights. In 1905, after the publication of her first collection of short stories, The Troll Garden, she was appointed managing editor of McClure’s, the New York muckraking monthly. After building up its declining circulation, she left in 1912 to devote herself wholly to writing novels.

Cather’s first novel, Alexander’s Bridge (1912), was a factitious story of cosmopolitan life. Under the influence of Sarah Orne Jewett’s regionalism, however, she turned to her familiar Nebraska material. With O Pioneers! (1913) and My Ántonia (1918), which has frequently been adjudged her finest achievement, she found her characteristic themes—the spirit and courage of the frontier she had known in her youth. One of Ours (1922), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and A Lost Lady (1923) mourned the passing of the pioneer spirit.

In her earlier Song of the Lark (1915), as well as in the tales assembled in Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920), including the much-anthologized “Paul’s Case,” and Lucy Gayheart (1935), Cather reflected the other side of her experience—the struggle of a talent to emerge from the constricting life of the prairies and the stifling effects of small-town life.

A mature statement of both themes can be found in Obscure Destinies (1932). With success and middle age, however, Cather experienced a strong disillusionment, which was reflected in The Professor’s House (1925) and her essays Not Under Forty (1936).

Her solution was to write of the pioneer spirit of another age, that of the French Catholic missionaries in the Southwest in Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) and of the French Canadians at Quebec in Shadows on the Rock (1931). For the setting of her last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), she used the Virginia of her ancestors and her childhood.

 

 

 

 


Pearl S. Buck




From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Nobel Prize in Literature
1938


Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (June 26, 1892 — March 6, 1973) also known as Sai Zhen Zhu (Simplified Chinese: 赛珍珠; Pinyin: Sài Zhēnzhū; Traditional Chinese: 賽珍珠), was a prolific American sinologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces." With no irony, she has been described in China as a Chinese writer.

Life
Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia to Caroline (Stulting; 1857-1921) and Absalom Sydenstricker, a Southern Presbyterian missionary. The family was sent to Zhenjiang, China in 1892 when Pearl was 3 months old. She was raised in China and was tutored by a Confucian scholar named Mr. Kung. She was taught English as a second language by her mother and tutor.

The Boxer Uprising greatly affected Pearl Buck and her family. Buck wrote that during this time, …her eight-year-old childhood … split apart. Her Chinese friends deserted her and her family, and there were not as many Western visitors as there once were. The streets [of China] were alive with rumors- many … based on fact- of brutality to missionaries … Buck’s father was a missionary, so Buck’s mother, her little sister, and herself were …evacuated to the relative safety of Shanghai, where they spent nearly a year as refugees… (The Good Earth, Introduction) In July 1901, Buck and her family sailed to San Francisco. Not until the following year did the Sydenstrickers return to China.

In 1910, she left China once again for America to attend Randolph-Macon Woman's College, where she would earn her degree (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1914. She then returned to China and married an agricultural economist missionary, John Lossing Buck, on May 13, 1917. She lived with him in Suzhou, Anhui Province, a small town on the Huai River (There are two cities in China with the same English name 'Suzhou', one in Anhui while the more famous one is in Jiangsu Province. The one where the Bucks had spent several years was in Anhui). It is the region she described later in "The Good Earth."; her book was very much based on her experience in Suzhou, Anhui. She served in China as a Presbyterian missionary from 1914 until 1933. Her views later became highly controversial in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, leading to her resignation as a missionary.

In 1920, she and John had a daughter, Carol, who was afflicted with phenylketonuria. The small family then moved to Nanjing, where Pearl taught English literature at the University of Nanking. In 1925, the Bucks adopted Janice (later surnamed Walsh). In 1926, she left China and returned to the United States for a short time in order to earn her Masters degree from Cornell University.

From 1920 to 1933, Pearl and John made their home in Nanking (Nanjing), on the campus of Nanking University, where both had teaching positions. In 1921, Pearl's mother died, and shortly afterwards her father moved in with the Bucks. The tragedies and dislocations which Pearl suffered in the 1920s reached a climax in March 1927, in the violence known as the "Nanking Incident." In a confused battle involving elements of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops, Communist forces, and assorted warlords, several Westerners were murdered. The Bucks spent a terrified day in hiding, after which they were rescued by American gunboats. After a trip downriver to Shanghai, the Buck family sailed to Unzen, Japan, where they spent the following year. They later moved back to Nanking, though conditions remained dangerously unsettled.

In 1935 Pearl got a divorce. Richard Walsh, president of the John Day Company and her publisher, became her second husband. The couple lived in Pennsylvania.


Humanitarian efforts
Buck was an extremely passionate activist for human rights. In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children unadoptable, Pearl established Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. In the nearly five decades of its work, Welcome House has assisted in the placement of more than five thousand children. In 1964, to provide support for Asian-American children who were not eligible for adoption, Buck also established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which provides sponsorship funding for thousands of children in half a dozen Asian countries. When establishing the Opportunity House Foundation to support child sponsorship programs in Asia, Buck said, "The purpose...is to publicize and eliminate injustices and prejudices suffered by children, who, because of their birth, are not permitted to enjoy the educational, social, economic and civil privileges normally accorded to children."

While the historic site works to preserve and display artifacts from her profoundly multicultural life, many of Buck's life experiences are also described in her novels, short stories, fiction, and children's stories. Through them she sought to prove to her readers that universality of mankind can exist if man accepts it. She dealt with many topics including women's rights, emotions (in general), Asian cultures, immigration, adoption, and conflicts that many people go through in life.

Pearl S. Buck died of lung cancer on March 6, 1973 in Danby, Vermont and was interred in Green Hills Farm in Perkasie. She designed her own tombstone, which does not record her name in English; instead, the grave marker is inscribed with Chinese characters representing the name Pearl Sydenstricker.
 

 

 


Mortimer Adler






in full Mortimer Jerome Adler

born Dec. 28, 1902, New York, New York, U.S.
died June 28, 2001, San Mateo, California

American philosopher, educator, editor, and advocate of adult and general education by study of the great writings of the Western world.

While still in public school Adler was taken on as a copyboy by the New York Sun, where he stayed for two years doing a variety of editorial work full-time. He then attended Columbia University, completed his coursework for a bachelor’s degree, but did not receive a diploma because he had refused physical education (swimming). He stayed at Columbia to teach and earn a Ph.D. (1928) and then became professor of the philosophy of law at the University of Chicago. There, with Robert M. Hutchins, he became a proponent of the pursuit of liberal education through regular discussions based on reading great books. He had studied under John Erskine in a special honours course at Columbia in which the “best sellers of ancient times” were read as a “cultural basis for human understanding and communication.”

Adler was associated with Hutchins in editing the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World (1952) and conceived and directed the preparation of its two-volume index of great ideas, the Syntopicon.

In 1952 Adler became director of the Institute for Philosophical Research (initially in San Francisco and from 1963 in Chicago), which prepared The Idea of Freedom, 2 vol. (1958–61). His books include How to Read a Book (1940; rev. ed. 1972), A Dialectic of Morals (1941), The Capitalist Manifesto (with Louis O. Kelso, 1958), The Revolution in Education (with Milton Mayer, 1958), Aristotle for Everyone (1978), How to Think About God (1980), and Six Great Ideas (1981).

With Hutchins, Adler edited for Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., the 10-volume Gateway to the Great Books (1963) and from 1961 an annual, The Great Ideas Today. He also headed the editorial staff of Britannica’s 20-volume Annals of America, including a two-volume Conspectus, Great Issues in American Life (1968). Under the sponsorship of Britannica, he delivered several series of lectures at the University of Chicago that were published later as books: The Conditions of Philosophy (1965), The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes (1967), and The Time of Our Lives (1970). In 1969 he became director of planning for the 15th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, published in 1974. He was chairman of the Encyclopædia Britannica’s Board of Editors from 1974 to 1995. Adler’s memoirs consist of Philosopher at Large: An Intellectual Autobiography (1977) and A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror (1992). As the spokesman for a group of noted educators, he wrote, after considerable study and debate, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982) and The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus (1984), calling for the abolition in American schools of multitrack educational systems, arguing that a single elementary and secondary school program for all students would ensure the upgrading of the curriculum and the quality of instruction to serve the needs of the brightest and to lift the achievement of the least advantaged. He proposed that specialized vocational or preprofessional training be given only after students had completed a full course of basic education in the humanities, arts, sciences, and language.

Among Adler’s later works are How to Speak, How to Listen: A Guide to Pleasurable and Profitable Conversation (1983) and Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985).
 

 

 


Erich Fromm


 

born March 23, 1900, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
died March 18, 1980, Muralto, Switzerland

German-born American psychoanalyst and social philosopher who explored the interaction between psychology and society. By applying psychoanalytic principles to the remedy of cultural ills, Fromm believed, mankind could develop a psychologically balanced “sane society.”

After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1922, Fromm trained in psychoanalysis at the University of Munich and at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. He began practicing psychoanalysis as a disciple of Sigmund Freud but soon took issue with Freud’s preoccupation with unconscious drives and consequent neglect of the role of societal factors in human psychology. For Fromm an individual’s personality was the product of culture as well as biology. He had already attained a distinguished reputation as a psychoanalyst when he left Nazi Germany in 1933 for the United States. There he came into conflict with orthodox Freudian psychoanalytic circles. From 1934 to 1941 Fromm was on the faculty of Columbia University in New York City, where his views became increasingly controversial. In 1941 he joined the faculty at Bennington College in Vermont, and in 1951 he was appointed professor of psychoanalysis at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City. From 1957 to 1961 he held a concurrent professorship at Michigan State University, and he returned to New York City in 1962 as professor of psychiatry at New York University.

In several books and essays, Fromm presented the view that an understanding of basic human needs is essential to the understanding of society and mankind itself. Fromm argued that social systems make it difficult or impossible to satisfy the different needs at one time, thus creating both individual psychological and wider societal conflicts.

In Fromm’s first major work, Escape from Freedom (1941), he charted the growth of freedom and self-awareness from the Middle Ages to modern times and, using psychoanalytic techniques, analyzed the tendency, brought on by modernization, to take refuge from contemporary insecurities by turning to totalitarian movements such as Nazism. In The Sane Society (1955), Fromm presented his argument that modern man has become alienated and estranged from himself within consumer-oriented industrial society. Known also for his popular works on human nature, ethics, and love, Fromm additionally wrote books of criticism and analysis of Freudian and Marxist thought, psychoanalysis, and religion. Among his other books are Man for Himself (1947), Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950), The Art of Loving (1956), May Man Prevail? (1961, with D.T. Suzuki and R. De Martino), Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1962), The Revolution of Hope (1968), and The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (1970).
 

 

 


Willard Van Orman Quine




American philosopher

born June 25, 1908, Akron, Ohio, U.S.
died December 25, 2000, Boston, Massachusetts

Main
American logician and philosopher, widely considered one of the dominant figures in Anglo-American philosophy in the last half of the 20th century.

After studying mathematics and logic at Oberlin College (1926–30), Quine won a scholarship to Harvard University, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1932. On a traveling fellowship to Europe in 1932–33, he met some of the leading philosophers and logicians of the day, including Rudolf Carnap and Alfred Tarski. After three years as a junior fellow at Harvard, Quine joined the faculty in 1936. From 1942 to 1945 he served as a naval intelligence officer in Washington, D.C. Promoted to full professor at Harvard in 1948, he remained there until 1978, when he retired.

Quine produced highly original and important work in several areas of philosophy, including logic, ontology, epistemology, and the philosophy of language. By the 1950s he had developed a comprehensive and systematic philosophical outlook that was naturalistic, empiricist, and behaviourist. Conceiving of philosophy as an extension of science, he rejected epistemological foundationalism, the attempt to ground knowledge of the external world in allegedly transcendent and self-validating mental experience. The proper task of a “naturalized epistemology,” as he saw it, was simply to give a psychological account of how scientific knowledge is actually obtained.

Although much influenced by the Logical Positivism of Carnap and other members of the Vienna Circle, Quine famously rejected one of that group’s cardinal doctrines, the analytic-synthetic distinction. According to this doctrine, there is a fundamental difference between statements such as “All bachelors are unmarried,” which are true or false solely by virtue of the meanings of the terms they contain, and statements such as “All swans are white,” which are true or false by virtue of nonlinguistic facts about the world. Quine argued that no coherent definition of analyticity had ever been proposed. One consequence of his view was that the truths of mathematics and logic, which the positivists had regarded as analytic, and the empirical truths of science differed only in “degree” and not kind. In keeping with his empiricism, Quine held that both the former and the latter were known through experience and were thus in principle revisable in the face of countervailing evidence.

In ontology, Quine recognized only those entities that it was necessary to postulate in order to assume that our best scientific theories are true—specifically, concrete physical objects and abstract sets, which were required by the mathematics used in many scientific disciplines. He rejected notions such as properties, propositions, and meanings as ill-defined or scientifically useless.

In the philosophy of language, Quine was known for his behaviourist account of language learning and for his thesis of the “indeterminacy of translation.” This is the view that there are always indefinitely many possible translations of one language into another, each of which is equally compatible with the totality of empirical evidence available to linguistic investigators. There is thus no “fact of the matter” about which translation of a language is correct. The indeterminacy of translation is an instance of a more general view, which Quine called “ontological relativity,” that claims that for any given scientific theory there are always indefinitely many alternatives entailing different ontological assumptions but accounting for all available evidence equally well. Thus, it does not make sense to say that one theory rather than another gives a true description of the world.

Among Quine’s many books are Word and Object (1960), The Roots of Reference (1974), and his autobiography, The Time of My Life (1985).

 

 

 



Ayn Rand




 

born Feb. 2, 1905, St. Petersburg, Russia
died March 6, 1982, New York, N.Y., U.S.

Russian-born American writer who, in commercially successful novels, presented her philosophy of objectivism, essentially reversing the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic.

Rand graduated from the University of Petrograd in 1924 and two years later immigrated to the United States. She initially worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and in 1931 became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Her first novel, We, the Living, was published in 1936. The Fountainhead (1943), her first best-selling novel, depicts a highly romanticized architect-hero, a superior individual whose egoism and genius prevail over timid traditionalism and social conformism. The allegorical Atlas Shrugged (1957), another best-seller, combines science fiction and political message in telling of an anticollectivist strike called by the management of U.S. big industry, a company of attractive, self-made men.

The political philosophy of objectivism shaped Rand’s work. A deeply conservative doctrine, it posited individual effort and ability as the sole source of all genuine achievement, thereby elevating the pursuit of self-interest to the role of first principle and scorning such notions as altruism and sacrifice for the common good as liberal delusions and even vices. It further held laissez-faire capitalism to be most congenial to the exercise of talent. Rand’s philosophy underlay her fiction but found more direct expression in her nonfiction, including such works as For the New Intellectual (1961), The Virtue of Selfishness (1965), Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966), Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967), and Philosophy: Who Needs It? (1982). She also promoted her objectivist philosophy in the journals The Objectivist (1962–71) and The Ayn Rand Letter (1971–76).

Rand’s controversial views attracted a faithful audience of admirers and followers, many of whom first encountered her novels as teenagers. Although her work influenced generations of conservative politicians and government officials in the United States, it was not well regarded among academic philosophers, most of whom dismissed it as shallow. She was working on an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged for a television miniseries when she died.
 

 

 


Richard Rorty




 

in full Richard McKay Rorty

born Oct. 4, 1931, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died June 8, 2007, Palo Alto, Calif.

American pragmatist philosopher and public intellectual noted for his wide-ranging critique of the modern conception of philosophy as a quasi-scientific enterprise aimed at reaching certainty and objective truth. In politics he argued against programs of both the left and the right in favour of what he described as a meliorative and reformist “bourgeois liberalism.”

The son of nonacademic leftist intellectuals who broke with the American Communist Party in the early 1930s, Rorty attended the University of Chicago and Yale University, where he obtained a Ph.D. in 1956. Following two years in the army, he taught philosophy at Wellesley College (1958–61) and Princeton University (1961–82) before accepting a position in the department of humanities at the University of Virginia. From 1998 until his retirement in 2005, Rorty taught comparative literature at Stanford University.

Rorty’s views are somewhat easier to characterize in negative than in positive terms. In epistemology he opposed foundationalism, the view that all knowledge can be grounded, or justified, in a set of basic statements that do not themselves require justification. According to his “epistemological behaviourism,” Rorty held that no statement is epistemologically more basic than any other, and no statement is ever justified “finally” but only relative to some circumscribed and contextually determined set of additional statements. In the philosophy of language, Rorty rejected the idea that sentences or beliefs are “true” or “false” in any interesting sense other than being useful or successful within a broad social practice. He also opposed representationism, the view that the main function of language is to represent or picture pieces of an objectively existing reality. Finally, in metaphysics he rejected both realism and antirealism, or idealism, as products of mistaken representationalist assumptions about language.

Because Rorty did not believe in certainty or absolute truth, he did not advocate the philosophical pursuit of such things. Instead, he believed that the role of philosophy is to conduct an intellectual “conversation” between contrasting but equally valid forms of intellectual inquiry—including science, literature, politics, religion, and many others—with the aim of achieving mutual understanding and resolving conflicts. This general view is reflected in Rorty’s political works, which consistently defend traditional left-liberalism and criticize newer forms of “cultural leftism” as well as more conservative positions.

Rorty defended himself against charges of relativism and subjectivism by claiming that he rejected the crucial distinctions these doctrines presuppose. Nevertheless, some critics have contended that his views lead ultimately to relativist or subjectivist conclusions, whether or not Rorty wished to characterize them in those terms. Others have challenged Rorty’s interpretation of earlier American pragmatist philosophers and suggested that Rorty’s own philosophy is not a genuine form of pragmatism.

Rorty’s publications include Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Consequences of Pragmatism (1982), and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989).

Brian Duignan
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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