The Sot-Weed Factor  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
American satire

The Sot-Weed Factor is a 1960 novel by John Barth that satirizes picaresque novels such as Tristram Shandy and Tom Jones. (Sot-weed is an old term for tobacco. A factor is a middleman who buys something to resell it.) Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

The novel takes its title from a poem of the same name published in London in 1708 and signed Ebenezer Cooke. As Barth explained:

The Sot–Weed Factor began with the title and, of course, Ebenezer Cooke's original poem. . . . Nobody knows where the real chap is buried; I made up a grave for Ebenezer because I wanted to write his epitaph.

Barth also made extensive use of the few pieces of information known at the time about the historical Cooke, his assumed father and grandfather, both called Andrew Cooke, and his sister, Anna.


The novel is set in early eighteenth century on the eastern shore of the colony of Maryland. It tells the story of an English poet named Ebenezer Cooke who is given the title "Poet Laureate of Maryland" by Charles Calvert. He undergoes many adventures on his journey to Maryland and while in Maryland, all the while striving to preserve his innocence (i.e. his virginity). The book takes its title from the grand poem that Cooke composes throughout the story, which was originally intended to sing the praises of Maryland, but ends up being a biting satire based on his disillusioning experiences.

The novel plays with the narrative of John Smith (see John Smith of Jamestown) and Pocahantas, presenting Smith as a boastful and bawdy opportunist, whose narrative of his explorations in Virginia is portrayed as highly fictional and self-serving. This view is generally accepted by historians today.


  • Ebenezer Cooke
  • Andrew Cooke (his father)
  • Anna Cooke (his twin sister)
  • Henry Burlingame (the Cooke children's beloved tutor)
  • Bertrand Burton (his knavish manservant)
  • Ben Oliver (poet and tavern denizen)
  • Dick Merriwether (same)
  • Tom Trent (same)
  • John McEvoy
  • Joan Toast (syphilitic prostitute who is a paramour of Ebenezer but who later marries him)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Sot-Weed Factor" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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