The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: 1949 literature

Table of Contents



  • Nelson Algren: The Man with the Golden Arm. Winner of the first National Book Award, Algren’s gritty novel, set in Chicago’s Polish community, concerns card dealer and morphine addict Frankie Machine. A bestseller despite its strong theme, the novel is the first serious treatment of drug addiction in American literature and would be turned into a successful 1955 film directed by Otto Preminger and starring Frank Sinatra.
  • Paul Bowles (1910-1999): The Sheltering Sky. Bowles’s first novel traces the disintegration of an American couple who travel into the North African desert. Regarded as a cult classic of existentialism, it is one of the defining novels of the postwar period. Bowles, who studied with Aaron Copland and Virgil Thompson, was a composer who produced the opera The Wind Remains (1943). Bowles met Gertrude Stein in the 1930s, and she suggested that he explore Morocco, where he would live for much of the rest of his life.
  • Kay Boyle: His Human Majesty. In this novel, a multinational ski troop trains in Colorado for action against the Nazis in 1944.
  • Frederick Buechner (b. 1926): A Long Day’s Dying. Buechner’s ambitious, Jamesian first novel concerns a widow who conceals her affair with her son’s teacher by alleging a homosexual relationship between her son and the teacher.
  • W. R. Burnett: The Asphalt Jungle. The first volume of the author’s City trilogy portrays the “corruption of a whole city in three stages: status quo, imbalance, and anarchy.” It follows the effect of a jewel heist on a gang of criminals in an unnamed Midwestern city. It would be followed by Little Men, Big World (1951) and Vanity Row (1952).
  • John Horne Burns: Lucifer with a Book. Burns’s second novel examines the postwar world from the perspective of new faculty, an ex-WAC, and a disfigured infantry veteran at a private boys’ school.
  • Erskine Caldwell: A Place Called Estherville. In this installment of what the author describes as his “cyclorama of Southern life,” Caldwell takes up the subject of racial conflict in a small Southern town.
  • Truman Capote: Tree of Life, and Other Stories. Capote’s collection is described by one critic as exposing “a sinister underwater universe populated by monstrous children, expressionistic automata, and zombie adults.”
  • Mary Ellen Chase: The Plum Tree. Set in a home for aged women, the novel concerns a day when three old ladies are to be transferred to an asylum.
  • Walter Van Tilburg Clark: The Track of the Cat. Clark’s final novel is a symbolic depiction of the struggle between good and evil as revealed in a panther hunt on a remote Nevada ranch.
  • John Dos Passos: The Grand Design. In the conclusion of his trilogy on the Spottswood family, Dos Passos chronicles the New Deal years and the failures of the Roosevelt administration. Despite praise for the novel’s vivid evocation of Washington during the Depression and World War II, critics detect a conservative shift in Dos Passos‘s views and a reduction of his former daring experimental methods to the simplifications of a propagandist.
  • William Faulkner: Knight’s Gambit. A story collection featuring country attorney Gavin Stephens in Faulkner’s version of the detective genre. According to critic Malcolm Cowley, the work is “the slightest… and the pleasantest of all the books that Faulkner has published.”
  • Shelby Foote (b. 1916): Tournament. Foote’s debut novel begins his exploration of his native Mississippi Delta community through the plight of a farmer during the post-Civil War period.
  • A. B. Guthrie: The Way West. Guthrie wins the Pulitzer Prize for this chronicle of an overland trek by wagon train along the Oregon Trail in 1846.
  • John Hawkes (1925-1998): The Cannibal. Hawkes’s first novel is a nightmarish vision of occupied Germany as a plot is hatched to assassinate the lone American overseer. Hawkes said, “I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting, and theme.” In this, his first fictional experiment, he replaces what he abandoned with “totality of vision” and “structure–verbal and psychological coherence.”
  • Alfred Hayes: The Girl on Via Flaminia. Hayes’s story of an American G.I.’s relationship with an Italian girl is a moody portrait of cultural difference separating the conqueror and the conquered. Critic Siegfried Mandel observes, “With more substance and intensity,… [it] conceivably could have been this war’s A Farewell to Arms.”
  • Sinclair Lewis: The God-Seeker. Lewis’s penultimate novel is a historical story set in Minnesota in the 1850s. Intended as part of a projected series that Lewis never completed, it is mainly noteworthy for exposing the decline of Lewis’s skills, evident as well in his final novel, World So Wide (1951), about an American in Europe, which would be published posthumously.
  • Ross MacDonald (1915-1983): The Moving Target. MacDonald (a pseudonym for Kenneth Miller) introduces Southern California private detective Lew Archer in the first of a popular series of psychologically oriented mysteries.
  • Frederick Manfred (Frederick Feikema): The Primitive. The first volume in the author’s World Wanderer trilogy follows the career of a Siouxland farm boy to college. His story would continue in The Brother (1950) and The Giant (1951).
  • J. P. Marquand: Point of No Return. As a banker awaits news of a promotion, he returns to his Massachusetts home to review his life.
  • Mary McCarthy: The Oasis. The writer takes satirical aim at the contemporary intellectual elite in this novel describing an attempt to establish a utopian society on a New England mountaintop.
  • James A. Michener: The Fires of Spring. Michener’s follow-up to Tales of the South Pacific is an autobiographical character study of a Pennsylvania youth who eventually discovers his vocation as a writer.
  • Toshio Mori (1910-1980): Yokohama, California. Scheduled for publication in 1942, this story collection dealing with the West Coast Japanese American community was delayed when its author was interned during the war. His subsequent collections are Woman from Hiroshima (1979) and The Chauvinist and Other Stories (1979).
  • Howard Nemerov: The Melodramatists. Nemerov’s first novel is a satiric portrait of a Boston family’s frustrated search for meaning in their lives.
  • John O’Hara: A Rage to Live. O’Hara breaks a long silence with his most ambitious work, about the destruction of a marriage by an unfaithful wife. The writer would later observe that his “earlier books were special books about specialized people; but this is the big one, the overall one.” An unfavorable review in The New Yorker prompts O’Hara to break relations with the magazine for eleven years.
  • Elmer Rice: The Show Must Go On. Rice supplies an insider’s view of the theatrical world in a novel about the travails of a young playwright’s Broadway debut.
  • Jack Schaefer (1907-1991): Shane. Schaefer’s first and best-known novel is a western classic about a young boy’s relationship with a former gunfighter who comes to work on his family’s farm and gets involved in the violent clash between the farmers and cattlemen. Shane would be followed by other significant contributions to the western genre, including The Canyon (1953), Company of Cowards (1957), Old Ramon (1960), and Monte Walsh (1963).
  • George Rippey Stewart: Earth Abides. The author’s third treatment of a natural disaster looks at the aftermath of a worldwide viral epidemic, which leaves only a handful of survivors. The book is regarded as a science fiction classic.
  • Gore Vidal: The Season of Comfort. A young painter growing up between the wars in a prominent Washington family struggles to escape the domination of his selfish mother and the pressure to conform.
  • Eudora Welty: The Golden Apples. This short story sequence chronicles life in a small Mississippi town, employing mythical echoings and a displacement of conventional gender boundaries.

Other Fiction: The Train Was on Time (Der Zug war puenktlich) (novella) by Cologne-born novelist Heinrich (Theodor) Böll, 31, who has resolved not to let Germans forget their Nazi past; Conjugal Love (L’Amore Coniugale e Altri Racconti) by Alberto Moravia, whose prostitutes are his most sympathetic characters; The House on the Hill (La Casa in Collina) by Cesare Pavese; Iron in the Soul (The Troubled Sleep or La Mort dans l’ame) by Jean-Paul Sartre; The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen; El Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges; The Oasis by Mary McCarthy; The House of Incest by Anaïs Nin; The Sheltering Sky by émigré composer-novelist-poet-translator Paul Bowles, now 38, who has been living at Tangier; A Rage to Live by John O’Hara; The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren is about drug addiction; The Beginning and the End by Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, 38; Point of No Return by John P. Marquand; “No Consultation Today” (“Honjitsu Kyushin“) (story) by Masuji Ibuse; The Third Man by Graham Greene; Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, whose book is a chilling projection of a totalitarian state whose authorities exercise mind control (“Big Brother Is Watching You”). Orwell introduces the inverted graffiti “Ignorance Is Strength” and “Freedom Is Slavery” along with such portmanteau words as newspeak, bellyfeel, and doublethink. “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” says one of Orwell‘s characters (compare Santayana, 1905); Time of Hope by C. P. Snow; Tournament by Mississippi-born novelist Shelby Foote, 32; Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford; The Moving Target by California-born mystery writer John MacDonald (Kenneth Millar), 33.

Literary Criticism and Scholarship

  • T. S. Eliot: Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Eliot takes up Matthew Arnold’s role as cultural critic in this consideration of the concept of culture and its social impact.
  • Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps: Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949. A groundbreaking anthology of poetry from African American and Caribbean writers.
  • Philip Rahv (1908-1973): Image and Idea. Rahv’s critical collection includes the paradigm-creating essay “Paleface and Redskin,” which identifies a dichotomy between experience and consciousness among American writers. Rahv, who came to the United States as a child from Russia, cofounded the Partisan Review in 1933.
  • Austin Warren (1899-1986) and René Wellek (1903-1989): Theory of Literature. In one of the most influential and comprehensive analyses of the New Criticism, the authors compare the “extrinsic approach” to literature, which emphasizes biography and history, with the “intrinsic approach” of the New Criticism, which concentrates on the work itself. Granting the importance of knowing the conditions out of which literary works emerged, they argue that such knowledge cannot take the place of “description, analysis, and evaluation” of the work itself.


  • John Gunther: Death Be Not Proud. The journalist provides a moving tribute to his seventeen-year-old son, who died of a brain tumor in 1947.
  • Margaret Mead: Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. Applying insights derived from studying Pacific Islanders, Mead considers gender differences, similarities, traits, and problems.
  • Thomas Merton: The Waters of Siloe and Seeds of Contemplation. The former is a history of the Trappist order; the latter, reflections on prayer and the spiritual life. Both are bestsellers.
  • Henry Miller: Sexus. Published in Paris, this is the first volume of the author’s trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion, a memoir of Miller’s life prior to his departure for Europe in 1930. It would be followed by Plexus (1953) and Nexus (1960) and published in America by Grove Press in 1965.
  • Audie Murphy (1924-1971): To Hell and Back. The most decorated American soldier in World War II offers a diary account of his combat experience. Murphy would later play himself in a 1955 film version of the story.
  • S. J. Perelman: Listen to the Mocking Bird. A collection of the humorist’s sketches for The New Yorker, including “Cloudland Revisited,” a reevaluation of the bestsellers of the 1920s.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: This I Remember. In a continuation of her previous autobiographical volume, This Is My Story (1937), Roosevelt covers the years 1924 to 1945 in what is regarded as the best memoir produced by a First Lady.
  • Lillian Smith: Killers of the Dream. The author of Strange Fruit (1944) applies a Freudian method to understand Southern race relations.
  • E. B. White: Here Is New York. White celebrates New York City in this essay collection.

Other Non Fiction: The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who says liberalism must stand between totalitarian extremes of communism and fascism; The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe) by French philosopher and novelist Simone de Beauvoir, 41, will be the bible of feminists (an English translation will appear in 1953). De Beauvoir condemns marriage as an “obscene bourgeois institution” that keeps women from true individuality; Male and Female by Margaret Mead; The Need for Roots (L’Enracinement) by the late French writer Simone Weil; The Mediterranean and The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II by French historian (Paul Achille) Fernand Braudel, 47, who focuses on the lives of ordinary people (he studied before the war under Lucien Febvre and wrote the first drafts of his books from memory during his 5 years in a German prisoner-of-war camp); The Mature Mind by City College of New York philosophy professor Harry A. Overstreet, 72; American Freedom and Catholic Power by Ohio-born atheist Paul Blanshard, now 57, who attended Union Theological Seminary, became a Congregationalist minister in 1917, renounced Christianity a year later as fraudulent, and now creates a storm of controversy by saying that nuns are relics of “an age when women allegedly enjoyed subjection and reveled in self-abasement,” claiming that Roman Catholic influence represents a political power that is dictating human behavior and social policy in America, and decrying demands that parochial schools be given a share of public educational funding.

Misc Literature Information

The decade opened with the appearance of the first inexpensive paperback. Book clubs proliferated, and book sales went from one million to over twelve million volumes a year. Many important literary works were conceived during, or based on, this time period, but published later. Thus, it took a while for the horror of war and the atrocities of prejudice to come forth. Shirley Jackson wrote The Lottery to demonstrate how perfectly normal, otherwise nice people, could allow something like the Holocaust. In The Human Comedy, William Saroyan tackles questions of prejudice against the setting of World War II. Richard Wright completed Native Son in 1940 and Black Boy in 1945, earning acclaim, but government persecution over his communist affiliation sent him to Paris in 1945. Nonfiction writing proliferated, giving first-hand accounts of the war. The first edition of Dr. Benjamin Spock‘s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care is considered by some to have changed child rearing.


  • Conrad Aiken: Divine Pilgrim and Skylight One. The first volume is a series of “philosophical symphonies” on the problem of identity and consciousness; the second is a collection of love poems and observations on the American scene.
  • Gwendolyn Brooks: Annie Allen. The poet’s second volume is a coming-of-age verse narrative of a black girl’s development and struggles with poverty and racial identity. For her achievement, Brooks becomes the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.
  • John Ciardi: Live Another Day. Ciardi‘s third volume includes an introductory essay on the nature of poetry and the responsibilities of the reader and the poet.
  • Kenneth Fearing: Stranger at Coney Island and Other Poems. Criticism of this volume of urban scenes suggests that the poet’s best work is behind him, a sentiment that contributes to Fearing’s abandonment of poetry for fiction until 1955.
  • Langston Hughes: One-Way Ticket. The poet returns to black urban themes and features one of his most endearing creations, Alberta K. Johnson, in the poem “Madam to You.”
  • Muriel Rukeyser: Orpheus. This long poem turns the Orpheus myth into an allegory of the fate of the artist.
  • Louis Simpson (b. 1923): The Arrivistes: Poems, 1940-49. The poet’s first collection shows promise in the use of conventional verse forms to consider a wide range of social and cultural issues, many reflecting Simpson‘s combat experience. Simpson was born in Jamaica, saw combat in Europe as a paratrooper, and would earn his reputation chronicling wartime experience and the contradictions of the American Dream.

More Poetry: The Arrivistes by Jamaican-born New York poet Louis Simpson, 26; The Art of Early Wisdom by Kenneth Rexroth; The Labyrinth by Edwin Muir; By Avon River by H. D. (Hilda Doolittle); Hope (La espera) by José María Valverde; Book of Algae (Libro de las algas) by Ignacio Aldecoa; Woman to Man by Judith Wright.


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