Dos Passos: A Life

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A New York Times Notable Book

An intimate biography of a great American writer.

He rose from a childhood as the illegitimate son of a financial titan to become the man Sartre called "the greatest writer of our time." A progressive writer who turned his passions into the groundbreaking U.S.A. trilogy, John Dos Passos later embraced conservative causes. At the height of his career he was considered a peer of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, yet he died in obscurity in 1970.

Award-winning biographer Virginia Spencer Carr examines the contradictions of Dos Passos's life with an in-depth study of the man. Using the writer's letters and journals, and with assistance from the Dos Passos family, Carr reconstructs an epic life, one of literary acclaim and bitter obscurity, restless wandering and happy marriage, friendship with Edmund Wilson and feuds with Hemingway. First published to acclaim in 1984, Dos Passos remains the definitive personal portrait of the author.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fascinating. It gives us a clearer sense than ever before of what a bizarre personal life lay behind his bitter views of public life.... Thanks to Mrs. Carr's stylishly-written, fact-crammed biography, it is now possible to put together a more plausible explanation of Dos Passos's political odyssey." -New York Times Book Review

"The virtues of this biography result largely from Carr's carefully establishing the facts of Dos Passos's visible progress through the world, including his many travels.... The figure who emerges from this welter of information is thoroughly human and is a sensible and likable and even admirable person." -Washington Post

"[A] solid, detailed biography that attempts to understand not only the novelist but the highly political man who found himself in no man's land: 'too liberal for the conservatives, too conservative for the liberals.'" -National Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810122000
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 688
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Spencer Carr was formerly the John B. and Elena Dìaz-Versòn Chair of English Letters at Georgia State University. Her other works include the forthcoming Paul Bowles: A Life (Scribner, 2004), Understanding Carson McCullers (South Carolina, 1991), and The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers (Doubleday, 1975), winner of the Francis Butler Simkins Prize of the Southern Historical Society and Longwood College. Carr lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Table of Contents

Foreword to the 2004 Edition
A Note from the Author

Book I. Jack Madison, 1896-1912
1. "Jack may have been illegitimate, but he came from good stock . . ."
2. "Nothing is so beneficial to a man as to be happily married . . ."
3. "When you write me, I drop everything on earth . . ."
4. "My dear, one has to fight for himself . . ."
5. "All seem to take well to my marriage . . ."

Book II. "Dos": John R. Dos Passos, Jr. 1912-47
6. The Harvard Years, 1912-16
7. Summer 1916
8. Winter in Castile, 1916
9. Death of a Father—Alone in New York, Winter and Spring 1917
10. One Man's Initiation, 1917
11. Return to France, 1918-20
12. The New York Literary Scene and Retreat to the Near East, 1920-22
13. "Scuttling About the World . . . Like a Cockroach Running Away from a Light," 1922-26
14. War on the Home Front: The New Playwrights, Sacco and Vanzetti, and The New Masses, 1925-27
15. Visit to Russia, 1928
16. The Demise of a Theatre and a New Life, 1929
17. A Middle-Class Liberal in the Depressed Thirties, 1930-33
18. The French Riviera and Span: A Summer Interlude
19. Life Under the Blue Eagle, 1933-36
20. Disillusionment in Spain, 1937
21. Departure from the Left
22. A Nation at War, 1941-44
23. Globe-Trotting and a Sad Farewell, 1944-47
24. At Loose Ends, 1948-49

Book III. "Mr. Jack": Squire of Spence's Point, 1949-70
25. Home at Last: "Mr. Jack" in Virginia
26. As the World Turns: Speaking His Mind as a Conservative, 1960-69
27. A Final Journey, 1970

Some Words After
Notes and Sources

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