About the Introducer:
LOUIS BEGLEY is the author of several novels, including Schmidt Delivered, About Schmidt, Wartime Lies, and Shipwreck. He lives in New York City.
Rage to Liveby John O'Hara
A momentous bestseller when it was first published in 1949, John O’Hara’s sprawling novel A Rage to Live offers up a gorgeous pageant of idealists and libertines, tradesmen and crusaders, men of violence and goodwill, and women of fierce strength and tenderness. These memorable characters and their vital stories add up to a large-scale social/b>
A momentous bestseller when it was first published in 1949, John O’Hara’s sprawling novel A Rage to Live offers up a gorgeous pageant of idealists and libertines, tradesmen and crusaders, men of violence and goodwill, and women of fierce strength and tenderness. These memorable characters and their vital stories add up to a large-scale social chronicle of America, in what is perhaps the most ambitious work of O’Hara’s career.
“The range of O’Hara’s knowledge of how Americans live was incomparably greater than that of any other fiction writer of his time,” judged The New Yorker. “One would have to go back to Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser to find a novelist who had even the intention of acquiring knowledge on the scale that O’Hara acquired it.”
- Vintage Classic
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John O'Hara was a prolific author, with several of his works converted into film media (Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra and A Rage to Live with Suzanne Pleshette along with BUtterfield 8). My introduction to his works was initially through film. Since he writes about the rigid social structure of the coal fields of Pennsyvlania, his works might have limited appeal to denizens of other regions but for the universal themes of forbidden sexual attraction, the dissipation and ennui of the well-heeled, and the relentless social climbing of those who are forever on the outside due to their ethnicity or social status. Reading his books as an aging adult offers other insights. Certainly his works are appreciated more by those who have lived a full life than by those who are just entering adulthood. A Rage to Live follows the life of one woman, Grace Caldwell Tate. Grace is a passionate woman with little circumspection and certainly not much judgment. All levels of southeastern PA (and some northeastern PA) society are exposed for what, in O'Hara's eyes at least, they are: cruel, exclusive, heavily Anglo-Saxon, and immoral. Before reading any of his works, you would do well to read a biography of John O'Hara. He was the son of an Irish doctor. That alone kept his family from reaching the highest levels of Gibbsville (Pottsville, PA's) society. He led the life of an affluent young swain until the death of his father forever ended that lifestyle and his dreams of entering Yale. So, some of his writing reflects that bitterness.
O'Hara has always been a favorite of mine. He writes details, his eye is keen, his stories wide reaching and personal at once. They are compelling reads, which is why I'm coming back to buy (another) copy of A Rage To Live, along with (another) copy of From The Terrace, and Ten North Frederick. I read all three of these (along with Butterfield 8) before, and my copies have long since been lost to other reading friends - John O'Hara captures American life as no other writer did at the time, and this is the 'genre' I love the most - so I promised myself an O'Hara spring break. I agree with the other reviewer that a biography of John O'Hara would be helpful in reading this and his other books, since while they're hugely entertaining novels, they are also biographical, and when you've finished, you'll be completely convinced that Gibbsville is an actual town, somewhere and anywhere in these United States, and that the Tates and their neighbors are as real as you yourself are. He's that good a writer. I recommend, without reservation.