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date: 14 June 2024

Dos Passos, Johnlocked

Dos Passos, Johnlocked

  • Robert M. Dowling

Extract

John Roderigo Dos Passos was a major twentieth-century American novelist and self-styled “chronicler” of the American scene. He is best known for his contributions to the literary avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, most notably Three Soldiers (1921), Manhattan Transfer (1925), and the U.S.A. trilogy—The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The most influential American reviewers of the early to mid-twentieth century, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, and Granville Hicks, all welcomed Dos Passos as a foremost contributor to the modern American tradition. Dos Passos combined the artistic practices of literary naturalism and modernism and, significantly, foresaw many of the literary agendas that dominated postmodern writing in the late twentieth century. Just before the eruption of World War II, Dos Passos effected a notorious shift in his political views from radical to reactionary and subsequently alienated many friends and critics on the Left. By the 1950s—a period in which literary stature depended largely on the extent to which an author challenged, rather than affirmed, the conservative establishment—Dos Passos had fallen so low in the eyes of the literary elite that James T. Farrell ironically remarked, “Dos Passos's liberalism has so decayed that his lifetime of work is not as important as two short stories and a wooden novel by Lionel Trilling.” Trilling's single novel, The Middle of the Journey (1947), is no longer widely read, and Dos Passos's work is—but definitely not his lifetime's worth.

Subjects

  • North American Literatures

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