Six Literary Lives
The Shared Impiety of Adams, London, Sinclair, Williams, Dos Passos, and Tate
Reed Whittemore
248 pages
6 x 9

Formats available:
Hardcover   $50.00 SH
ISBN: 978-0-8262-0874-3

About the Book

A brilliant tour de force, informative, unapologetically opinionated and a pleasure to read," exclaimed Newsweek about Reed Whittemore's recent book on biography, Whole Lives. The Washing Times proclaimed that his earlier work Pure Lives revealed biography as "a troubled genre-but as this book testifies brilliantly, a fascinating one." Whittemore continues to build upon his formidable reputation in the field of biography with Six Literary Lives, in which he deepens our understanding of six major twentieth-century writers.

Whittemore's subjects-Henry Adams, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and Allen Tate-were writers of widely diverse talents and interests. However, Wittemore says, they all shared a "common climate of thought," a nineteenth-century view, now unfashionable, of literature's role in our culture. Although each biography could stand alone, Whittemore focuses on the ideas-literary, scientific, cultural-that united these six literary lives and emphasizes the shared impiety.

The book is an experiment in group biography with an ideological base. Using as a foundation American culture before World War II, which Daniel Bell described as "the end of ideology," Whittemore introduces these biographies with a discussion of the intellectual climate these writers shared. There is also a supplementary essay on three naturalists-Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Gerard Manley Hopkins-who shared similarly impious mind-sets.

Six Literary Lives reasserts values of character and art that have been belittled or attacked in the late twentieth century. The six figures studied here were all aggressive individuals ill at ease with solidarity. Their personal relations were slight, yet their common underlying stance in relation to their culture illuminates both that culture and, by comparison, our own.


Reed Whittemore is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Maryland and is author of numerous books, including The Poet as Journalist: Life at the New Republic and William Carlos Williams: Poet from Jersey. He has also written many volumes of poetry, including The Past, The Future, the Present; The Feel of Rock; and The Mother's Breast and the Father's House.


"Reed Whittemore's latest book is one of those stimulating treatments rarely found in contemporary writing. Lively, engaging and provocative, it offers a survey of six major twentieth- century literary figures in an accessible and persuasive style both pleasurable and challenging."--Western American Literature


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