Understanding Diane Johnson
115 pages

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Understanding Diane Johnson is a biographical and critical study of a quintessential American novelist who has devoted forty-five years to writing about French and American culture. Johnson, who was nominated for the National Book Award three times and the Pulitzer Prize twice, has been a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books since the 1970s and is the author of more than a dozen fiction and nonfiction volumes.

Johnson is well known as a comic novelist who addresses serious social problems. Durham outlines Johnson's continued exploration of women's lives and her experimentation with varied forms of narrative technique and genre parody in the detective novels The Shadow Knows and Lying Low, both award-winning novels. Durham examines Johnson's reinvention of the international novel of manners—inherited from Henry James and Edith Wharton—in her best-selling Franco-American trilogy: Le Divorce, Le Mariage, and L'Affaire.

As the first book-length study of this distinguished American writer, Understanding Diane Johnson surveys an extensive body of work and draws critical attention to a well-published, widely read author who was the winner of the California Book Awards Gold Medal for Fiction in 1997.



Publié par
Date de parution 27 août 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611171983
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,2100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


UNDERSTANDINGCONTEMPORARY AMERICAN LITERATURE Matthew J. Bruccoli, Founding Editor Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
Volumes on Edward Albee | Sherman Alexie | Nelson Algren | Paul Auster Nicholson Baker | John Barth | Donald Barthelme | The Beats Thomas Berger | The Black Mountain Poets | Robert Bly T. C. Boyle | Raymond Carver | Fred Chappell | Chicano Literature Contemporary American Drama | Contemporary American Horror Fiction Contemporary American Literary Theory Contemporary American Science Fiction, 1926–1970 Contemporary American Science Fiction, 1970–2000 Contemporary Chicana Literature | Robert Coover | Philip K. Dick James Dickey | E. L. Doctorow | Rita Dove | John Gardner | George Garrett Tim Gautreaux | John Hawkes | Joseph Heller | Lillian Hellman | Beth Henley James Leo Herlihy | John Irving | Randall Jarrell | Charles Johnson Diane Johnson | Adrienne Kennedy | William Kennedy | Jack Kerouac Jamaica Kincaid | Etheridge Knight | Tony Kushner | Ursula K. Le Guin Denise Levertov | Bernard Malamud | David Mamet | Bobbie Ann Mason Colum McCann | Cormac McCarthy | Jill McCorkle | Carson McCullers W. S. Merwin | Arthur Miller | Lorrie Moore | Toni Morrison’s Fiction Vladimir Nabokov | Gloria Naylor | Joyce Carol Oates | Tim O’Brien Flannery O’Connor | Cynthia Ozick | Walker Percy | Katherine Anne Porter Richard Powers | Reynolds Price | Annie Proulx | Thomas Pynchon Theodore Roethke | Philip Roth | May Sarton | Hubert Selby, Jr. Mary Lee Settle | Neil Simon | Isaac Bashevis Singer | Jane Smiley Gary Snyder | William Stafford | Robert Stone | Anne Tyler | Gerald Vizenor Kurt Vonnegut | David Foster Wallace | Robert Penn Warren | James Welch Eudora Welty | Tennessee Williams | August Wilson | Charles Wright
© 2012 University of South Carolina
Cloth epition Pulishep y the University of South Carolina ress, 2012 Eook epition Pulishep in Columia, South Carolina, y the University of South Carolina ress, 2012
21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The Lirary of Congress has catalogep the cloth epition as follows:
Durham, Carolyn A. Unperstanping Diane Johnson / Carolyn A. Durham. P. cm. — (Unperstanping contemPorary American literature) Inclupes iliograPhical references anp inpex. ISBN 978-1-61117-075-7 (cloth : alk. PaPer) 1. Johnson, Diane, 1934– —Criticism anp interPretation. I. Title. S3560.O3746Z58 2012 813'.54—pc23
ISBN 978-1-61117-198-3 (eook)
For John, Deb, and Diane herself
Series Editor’s Preface Acknowledgments
Chapter 1 Understanding Diane Johnson
Chapter 2 The Southern California Novels:Fair Game, Loving Hands at Home, Burning
Chapter 3 The Northern California Novels:The Shadow Knows, Lying Low, Health and Happiness
Chapter 4 The Franco-American Trilogy:Le Divorce, Le Mariage, L’Affaire
Chapter 5 The Travel Novels:Persian Nights, Lulu in Marrakech
Chapter 6 Conclusion: Critical Works
Notes Bibliography Index
The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931–2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue as new volumes are developed to fill in gaps among the nearly one hundred series volumes published to date and to embrace a host of new writers only now making their marks on our literature. As Professor Bruccoli explained in his preface to the volumes he edited, because much influential contemporary literature makes special demands, “the wordunderstanding in the titles was chosen deliberately. Many willing readers lack an adequate understanding of how contemporary literature works; that is, of what the author is attempting to express and the means by which it is conveyed.” Aimed at fostering this understanding of good literature and good writers, the criticism and analysis in the series provide instruction in how to read certain contemporary writers—explicating their material, language, structures, themes, and perspectives—and facilitate a more profitable experience of the works under discussion. In the twenty-first century, Professor Bruccoli’s prescience gives us an avenue to publish expert critiques of significant contemporary American writing. The series continues to map the literary landscape and provide both instruction and enjoyment. Future volumes will seek to introduce new voices alongside canonized favorites, to chronicle the changing literature of our times, and to remain, as Professor Bruccoli conceived, contemporary in the best sense of the word. Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
I àm gràteful to the College of Wooster for supporting the reseàrch leàve in 2010–11 thàt àllowed me to complete this book ànd for providing funding from the Henry Luce III Fund for Distinguished Scholàrship, which permitted me to interview Diàne Johnson in Pàris on à number of occàsions. I thànk Diàne Johnson for her willingness to speàk with me on à wide vàriety of topics over à period of severàl yeàrs ànd especiàlly while I wàs completing this project. One of the greàt pleàsures in writing this book hàs been the opportunity to get to know the writer às well às her work. The Filmstrip Acquisitions Endowment from the Hàrry Rànsom Center àlso provided support for my reseàrch. I thànk àll the libràriàns ànd stàff members àt the Rànsom Center, ànd specificàlly Richàrd Workmàn ànd Pàt Fox, for their courtesy ànd àssistànce during my reseàrch fellowship. I àm gràteful to my students àt the College of Wooster for the màny wàys in which they hàve chàllenged ànd encouràged my thinking ànd my scholàrship. In pàrticulàr Frànces (Boo) Flynn pàtiently helped me tràck down references ànd reviews ànd aàthàrine Tàtum’s senior thesis reflected our shàred interest in the works of Diàne Johnson. I thànk Diàne Johnson for permission to quote from our conversàtions, ànd I thànk the Hàrry Rànsom Center àt the University of Texàs àt Austin for màking vàrious màteriàls àvàilàble.
Understanding Diane Johnson
In the course of her forty-five-year writing career, Diane Johnson has been variously described, including in her own words, as a comic novelist, a novelist of manners, an American novelist, an international novelist, and a travel novelist. Although she does not write poetry or drama, the diversity of her nonfiction work, which includes literary criticism, biography, book reviews, travelogues, and essays, rivals that of her fiction in range and complexity. Although she is best known as a novelist, Johnson’s work constitutes an authentic oeuvre in which her key interests, notably the concepts of “America” and of “Americanness,” recur in different forms and contexts to enrich the reader’s understanding. Because she is a comic novelist who addresses serious social problems, a quintessentially American novelist who characteristically populates her fiction with foreigners and expatriates, and a novelist of manners who reinvents a fictional form commonly viewed as both outmoded and fundamentally alien to the American novel, her career embodies many paradoxes and ironies. In an initial contradiction, Johnson’s lifelong engagement with questions of cultural difference directly contrasts with her own heritage and upbringing. Born in 1934 in Moline, Illinois, the author, like her parents and grandparents before her, grew up in the Midwest in a “family with absolutely no ethnic consciousness.” In comparison to the colorful relatives, holiday customs, and unusual food enjoyed by classmates of primarily Scandinavian descent, Johnson, a “DAR WASP” with ancestors who arrived on theMayflowerand fought in the American Revolution, recalls the disappointment she felt at her own “boring background.” This early experience as a cultural outsider and Johnson’s resultant sense of herself as a “default American” suggest that the novelist’s interest in exploring national identity from within a cross-cultural framework and through the eyes of a stranger was 1 developed at a very early age. If Johnson’s middle-class upbringing in a bedroom community for “the executive class” of John Deere is consistent with the largely privileged background common to writers interested in customs and manners, it did not necessarily augur a future as a novelist. Johnson’s assertion that she has “always been a writer” is confirmed both by the childhood diaries she kept with unusual fidelity and the “first novel” she remembers completing at the age of nine, but at this point in her life it never occurred to her that writing might be a career, let alone her own career. She did not know any living authors, nor, in fact, had she read any, even though her early experience as “a Midwestern child from a rather bookish 2 and cultivated home” turned her into a passionate reader. She read Jane Austen and was particularly fond of Victorian literature, notably the fiction of William Makepeace Thackeray and Anthony Trollope; Henry James figured especially prominently among the few American novelists she encountered while working her way through the local Carnegie Library’s list of the “World’s Great Novels.” This early immersion in the books of writers renowned for their comedic and satirical treatment of society and whose works serve to define the novel of manners clearly influenced Johnson’s own fictional practice. Similarly her love of reading remains evident in her extensive nonfiction writing, some of which is devoted to the beloved authors of her youth whom she continues to reread on a regular basis. Even an early interest in foreign travel and in France in particular is evident in the books that she read in childhood. The Francophile librarian in Moline also introduced Johnson to the historical adventures of Alexandre Dumaspère,d’Artagnan emerges from the pages of whose The
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