John Knowles: Overview

Citation metadata

Author: Ruel E. Foster
Date: 1996
From: Contemporary Novelists(6th ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,041 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

John Knowles writes, in general, not about his home turf but about New England or Europe. Only one novel, Vein of Riches, and that not his best, is about West Virginia, his childhood home. His fictional world is a cultivated, cosmopolitan, somewhat jaded world. He is a fine craftsman, a fine stylist, alert to the infinite resources and nuances of language. Yet, as he says, he is one of the live-around-the-world people, rootless, nomadic, and making a virtue of that rootlessness. He is a connoisseur of different cultures but master of none—or perhaps of one only, the sub-culture of the New England prep school. One defect of this very cosmopolitanism is the feeling of alienation that Knowles feels from his fictional world. As a veteran of many cultures he finds this trait an advantage when he writes graceful travel essays for Holiday magazine. He finds it a disadvantage when he wishes to create for Vein of Riches a thoroughly credible fictional character.

A Separate Peace, his first novel, is also by far his most important. It is a prep school novel about Gene Forrester and his close friend, Finney, and the studied set of ambiguities and ambivalences arising from the intense and complex relationship between the two. Gene, beset by a love-hate attitude toward Finney, causes Finney to suffer a serious injury and still later is the putative cause of his death from a second injury. But Finney's death is preceded by Gene's reconciliation with him, a redemptive act which to some degree assuages his feeling of guilt. Thus, the...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420004682