John Dos Passos
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Dos Passos' pioneering works of nonlinear fiction were a major influence in the field. In particular Alfred Döblin's "Berlin Alexanderplatz" and Jean-Paul Sartre's "The Roads To Freedom" trilogy show the influence of his methods. In an often cited 1936 essay, Sartre referred to Dos Passos as "the greatest writer of our time." Perhaps the best-known work partaking of the cut-up technique found in U.S.A. is science fiction writer John Brunner's Hugo Award-winning 1968 "non-novel" Stand on Zanzibar, in which Brunner makes use of fictitious newspaper clippings, television announcements, and other "samples" taken from the news and entertainment media of the year 2010.
Considered one of the Lost Generation writers, Dos Passos' first novel was published in 1920. Titled One Man's Initiation: 1917 it was followed by an antiwar story, Three Soldiers, which brought him considerable recognition. His 1925 novel about life in New York City, titled Manhattan Transfer, was a commercial success and introduced experimental stream-of-consciousness techniques into Dos Passos' method.
At this point a social revolutionary, Dos Passos came to see the United States as two nations, one rich and one poor. He wrote admiringly about the Wobblies and the injustice in the criminal convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti and joined with other notable personalities in the United States and Europe in a failed campaign to overturn their death sentences. In 1928, Dos Passos spent several months in Russia studying their socialist system. He returned to Spain with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, but his views on the communist movement had already begun to change. Dos Passos broke with Hemingway and Herbert Matthews over their cavalier attitude towards the war and their willingness to submit their names to Stalinist propaganda efforts. In later years, Hemingway would give Dos Passos the derogatory moniker of "the pilot fish" in his memoirs of 1920s Paris, A Moveable Feast, criticising Dos Passos for contaminating Hemingway's favourite places by bringing along his rich friends.
His major work is the U.S.A. trilogy comprising The 42nd Parallel (1930), Nineteen Nineteen or 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). Dos Passos used experimental techniques in these novels, incorporating newspaper clippings, autobiography, biography and fictional realism to paint a vast landscape of American culture during the first decades of the twentieth century. Though each novel stands on its own, the trilogy is designed to be read as a whole. Dos Passos' political and social reflections in the novel are deeply pessimistic about the political and economic direction of the United States, and few of the characters manage to hold onto their ideals through the First World War.
In the mid-1930s he wrote a series of scathing articles about communist political theory, and created an idealistic Communist in The Big Money who is gradually worn down and destroyed by groupthink in the party. At a time when socialism was gaining popularity in Europe as a response to Fascism, Dos Passos' writings resulted in a sharp decline in international sales of his books. His politics, which had always underpinned his work, moved far to the right. (He came to admire Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s.) Nevertheless, recognition for his significant contribution in the literary field would come thirty years later in Europe when, in 1967, he was invited to Rome to accept the prestigious Antonio Feltrinelli Prize for international distinction in literature. Although Dos Passos' partisans have contended that his later work was ignored because of his changing politics, there is a consensus among critics that the quality of his novels drastically declined following U.S.A.
Between 1942 and 1945, Dos Passos worked as a journalist covering World War II. In 1947, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but tragedy struck when an automobile accident killed his wife of 18 years, Katharine Smith, and cost him the sight in one eye. The couple had no children. He eventually remarried to Elizabeth Hamlyn Holdridge (1909-1998) in 1949, by whom he had an only daughter, Lucy Hamlin Dos Passos (b. 1950), and he continued to write until his death in Baltimore, Maryland in 1970. He is interred in Yeocomico Churchyard Cemetery in Cople Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia, not far from where he had made his home.
Over his long and successful career, Dos Passos wrote forty-two novels, as well as poems, essays, and plays, and created more than 400 pieces of art.
- One Man's Initiation: 1917 (1920)
- Three Soldiers (1921)
- A Pushcart at the Curb (1922)
- Rosinante to the Road Again (1922)
- Streets of Night (1923)
- Manhattan Transfer (1925)
- Facing the Chair (1927)
- Orient Express (1927)
- U.S.A. (1938). Three-volume set includes
- The 42nd Parallel (1930)
- Nineteen Nineteen (1932)
- The Big Money (1936)
- The Ground we Stand On (1949)
- District of Columbia (1952). Three-volume set includes
- Adventures of a Young Man (1939)
- Number One (1943)
- The Grand Design (1949)
- Chosen Country (1951)
- Most Likely to Succeed (1954)
- The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson (1954)
- The Men Who Made the Nation (1957)
- The Great Days (1958)
- Prospects of a Golden Age (1959)
- Midcentury (1961)
- Mr. Wilson's War (1962)
- Brazil on the Move (1963)
- The Best Times: An Informal Memoir (1966)
- The Shackles of Power (1966)
- World in a Glass - A View of Our Century From the Novels of John Dos Passos (1966)
- The Portugal Story (1969)
- Century's Ebb: The Thirteenth Chronicle (1970)
- Easter Island: Island of Enigmas (1970)
- Lettres à Germaine Lucas Championnière (2007) - only in French