The Fiction of William Hoffman: An Introduction

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,740 words

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[(essay date February 1991) In the following essay, Frank provides an overview of the central themes, regional settings and motifs, prose style, and narrative presentation in Hoffman's fiction. Frank's analysis, which aims to enlarge Hoffman's readership, focuses on several representative works--the novels The Trumpet Unblown,The Land That Drank the Rain, and Godfires, and the short story collection By Land, By Sea.]

During the past thirty-five years William Hoffman has published ten novels, two collections of short stories, and over three dozen additional short stories in such quarterlies as the Transatlantic Review, The Virginia Quarterly, and The Sewanee Review; he is perhaps best known to the readers of the latter, for The Sewanee Review has published more short stories by William Hoffman than by any other author. Although Hoffman's fiction has been the subject of at least one doctoral dissertation and numerous master's theses, and although reviews of his novels have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek, his work has not received the attention of the critics that it should command. The purpose of this essay, then, is to introduce to a larger audience the fictional world of William Hoffman, focusing on his first novel, The Trumpet Unblown (1955), two recent novels, The Land That Drank The Rain (1982) and Godfires (1985), and his most recent collection of short stories, By Land, By Sea (1988). The first novel, described by the critic Hassell Simpson as one of the finest novels ever written about World War II, deals with a subject and theme identified by both Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway as the most universal of all subjects, war; the second demonstrates that redemption is always possible, even for the most jaded among us; and the third novel recalls the enormous redemptive power of love. These three novels, collectively, together with the short story collection, demonstrate the range, versatility and power of the fiction of William Hoffman. (Hoffman's other seven novels, in the order of their publication, are Days in the Yellow Leaf (1958), A Place for My Head (1960), The Dark Mountains (1966), Yancey's War (1966), A Walk to the River (1970), A Death of Dreams (1973), and Furors Die (1990).

Although The Trumpet Unblown is actually Hoffman's second novel, it is his first published novel. It is largely autobiographical and, ironically, because Bill Hoffman is a gentle, caring man, contains more violence and more gratuitous brutality than any of Hoffman's other nine novels. Early on in the novel one sees the influence of Hemingway, especially the Hemingway of A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the careful reader also finds the influence of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, especially in scenes and descriptions in Trumpet where men in action in the military hospitals are depicted as mechanical, detached, automaton-like. But although the novel is autobiographical, its protagonist, Tyree Jefferson Shelby, is not William Hoffman. He is a twentieth century version of Crane's Henry Fleming and becomes in the course of the novel another casualty of war, this time...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100038768