- 15 Fiction:The 1930s to the 1960s
Scholars continue to favor proletarian and Southern writers, although this year's scholarship also devotes some attention to frequently overlooked Easterners and Westerners. A number of authors are the recipients of one or more book-length studies, including John Steinbeck, James Agee, Dorothy Parker, Richard Wright, Flannery O'Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, Ayn Rand, and Jack Kerouac. Ralph Ellison and Vladimir Nabokov are the focus of Cambridge companion volumes, and Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Henry Roth, Robert Cantwell, and Ray Bradbury are the subjects of substantial biographies. Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Henry Miller, and Nathanael West are conspicuously ignored. As in recent years, critical debate continues to center around such popular topics as race, class, culture, religion, and gender.
Six writers germane to this chapter are studied in Gary Richards's Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936–1961 (LSU). Richards looks at works published between 1936 and 1961 by Richard Wright, Truman Capote, William Goyen, Harper Lee, Lillian Smith, and Carson McCullers, all authors who were "concerned with same-sex desire and southern identity" and who used "strategies of indirection" when writing about a controversial subject in a homophobic era. [End Page 323]
In February House (Houghton Mifflin) Sherill Tippins chronicles the history of an experimental residence for artists at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn that was rented by George Davis, the fiction editor at Harper's Bazaar, from June 1940 until December 1941. Inhabited by Carson McCullers, W. H. Auden, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, among others, and considered the "greatest artistic salon of the decade," February House offered aspiring artists a temporary sanctuary in which to pursue their work during the threat of another world war. While there, Jane Bowles wrote Two Serious Ladies and Auden and Britten worked on Paul Bunyan, an opera. The residents were scattered during World War II and the house was demolished in 1945. What is most important, argues Tippins, is the journey of the artists, who "took action to pursue the truth as best they could before the events of history conspired to redirect their efforts."
Michelle Ann Stephens in Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962 (Duke) studies the work of Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, and C. L. R. James, three radical Caribbean male intellectuals who tried "to imagine black nationality in terms that stood outside of the colonial and Western imperial order." Central to their writing was their value of free movement and their concern over their national identity. Did it belong "in the new European nationalisms," in America, or in Africa? Stephens seeks to fill a gap in the scholarship on Garvey, McKay, and James by noting how the writing of these men "forces us to place notions of diaspora, nationhood, transnationalism, and even the status of the modern state back within the context of empire and coloniality." Significantly, their work offers "alternative visions of black community that transform or move beyond imperial, gendered visions of sovereignty."
Authors important to this chapter also surface in Myles Weber's Consuming Silences: How We Read Authors Who DON'T Publish (Georgia). Weber focuses on Ellison, Henry Roth, J. D. Salinger, and Tillie Olsen, authors who have been unproductive after the publication of a major work yet "have been able to command serious critical attention and remain literary celebrities by offering the public volumes of silence, which have been read and interpreted like any other text." [End Page 324]
a. John Steinbeck and Nelson Algren
Steinbeck is the subject of one essay collection, two books, and two individual articles. Stephen K. George's The Moral Philosophy of John Steinbeck (Scarecrow) collects 13 essays that explore Steinbeck's contributions to moral philosophy. Five examine Steinbeck's personal moral philosophy and eight consider the way that Steinbeck's moral views emerge in his writing. In "John Steinbeck's lower-case utopia: Basic Human Needs, a Duty to Share, and the Good Life" (pp. 3–20) Patrick K. Dooley applies the Aristotelian concept of moral goodness to Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath...