Authors: Erica Jong

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and poet

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Fear of Flying, 1973

How to Save Your Own Life, 1977

Fanny: Being the True History of Fanny Hackabout-Jones, 1980

Parachutes and Kisses, 1984

Serenissima: A Novel of Venice, 1987 (also known as Shylock’s Daughter, 1995)

Any Woman’s Blues, 1990

Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters, 1997 (pb. in England as Of Blessed Memory, 1997)

Sappho’s Leap, 2003

Poetry:

Fruits and Vegetables, 1971

Half-Lives, 1973

Loveroot, 1975

At the Edge of the Body, 1979

Witches, 1981 (poetry and nonfiction)

Ordinary Miracles: New Poems, 1983

Becoming Light: Poems, New and Selected, 1991

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Megan’s Two Houses: A Story of Adjustment, 1996

Nonfiction:

The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller, 1993

Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir, 1994

What Do Women Want? Bread, Roses, Sex, Power, 1998

Conversations with Erica Jong, 2002 (Charlotte Templin, editor)

Biography

Erica Jong became well-known in the early 1970’s as a writer of sexual fiction from a woman’s perspective, and she remains an important novelist and poet of the twentieth century. She was born Erica Mann in Manhattan to second-generation Jewish parents of Polish and Russian origin with a family tradition of the arts. Although her parents were not observant Jews, during her lifetime Jong has gained a strong sense of Jewish identity. Jong attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City and earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and a B.A. degree from Barnard College. She did graduate study in eighteenth century English literature at Columbia University, earned an M.A. degree, and taught poetry at New York’s City College before abandoning an academic career for creative writing.{$I[AN]9810001854}{$I[A]Jong, Erica}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Jong, Erica}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Jong, Erica}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Jong, Erica}{$I[tim]1942;Jong, Erica}

Jong’s first marriage, to her college lover in 1963, ended in divorce. She married Chinese American Freudian psychiatrist Allan Jong (whose last name she still bears) in 1966 and accompanied him on an army assignment to Germany. Her first published work, the collection of poems entitled Fruits and Vegetables, was followed by another book of poems, Half-Lives, and by the novel Fear of Flying, which made publishing history after its publication in 1973. Fear of Flying became a number one best-seller, and Jong gained celebrity status. The book has sold more than twelve million copies worldwide.

Fear of Flying tells the story of Isadora Wing, a poet, who goes to Vienna to attend a psychiatric conference with her psychiatrist husband. While there she meets psychoanalyst Adrian Goodlove, who seems to be the embodiment of her sexual fantasies. She accompanies him on a jaunt across Europe, but he is disappointing as a sexual partner, and Isadora finds that he has arranged to meet his wife and children in France. The novel also recounts Isadora’s mental journey back in time as she revisits scenes from the past–her first sexual experiences, her lovers, and her marriages. Left alone in Paris, she takes stock of her life and decides to reconcile with her husband–but not to grovel.

Jong was among the first to write candidly about female sexuality. Novelist Henry Miller said that as a pioneer in sexual fiction, Jong opened doors for women writers that he had opened for men. Jong’s heroines, frequently artists or writers, pursue their own selfhood even though they are drawn in two directions: toward autonomy and self-development but also toward love and self-surrender. Though exploring serious themes, Jong’s art illustrates her comic gift.

Jong’s next novel, How to Save Your Own Life, published in 1977, also featured the Isadora persona. The novel was based on Jong’s experience of separating from her husband, her trip to Hollywood in the attempt to turn her first novel into a film, and her love affair with a younger man. Jong divorced Allan Jong, and, in 1978, she married Jonathan Fast.

In 1980 Jong published Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones, an imitation eighteenth century novel that increased her literary reputation. Jong’s novel was praised for the vitality of the title character, the brilliance of the imitation eighteenth century language, and the inventiveness of the picaresque-style tale. While she was writing the novel, which includes the birth of her protagonist’s daughter, Jong herself gave birth to a daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, in 1978.

In Parachutes and Kisses, published in 1984, Jong again employed the Isadora persona, and the novel dealt with divorce and single parenthood, which Jong was experiencing at the time. (She had separated from, and subsequently divorced, Jonathan Fast.) In Serenissima: A Novel of Venice, Jong for the first time incorporated elements of fantasy in her work. Her protagonist, actress Jessica Pruitt, travels to Venice to serve as a judge in a film festival while anticipating playing Shylock’s daughter (also named Jessica) in a film version of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In a departure from realism, Jessica is transported to Venice of the sixteenth century and becomes Shylock’s daughter. She meets and loves William Shakespeare, who, in this fictional world, has fled to Venice to escape the plague in England. In Jong’s 1990 novel, Any Woman’s Blues, she tells the story of painter Leila Sand, who struggles against and conquers her several addictions, including sex with her young lover and alcohol.

Inventing Memory is the story of four generations of women, beginning with Sarah Levitsky’s flight from the Cossacks in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century and ending with her great-granddaughter Sara’s mounting of a museum exhibit on “One Hundred Years of Jewish Immigration” shortly after the turn of the twenty-first century. Jong uses the multigenerational format to explore not only the Jewish experience in the United States but also the position of female artists in American society. In Sappho’s Leap, Jong travels even further back into the past, imagining the life and amorous adventures of the Greek poet Sappho (c. 630 b.c.e.-c. 560 b.c.e.).

Jong has continued to write poetry exploring many themes, and she published a volume of new and selected poems entitled Becoming Light in 1991. Like her novels, her poems (often with sexually explicit themes) explore what it means to be a woman in American culture. Jong has also written books of memoirs. The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller presents reminiscences of the friendship between Jong and the octogenarian Miller and defends Miller’s sexual fiction. Fear of Fifty deals with Jong’s life to the early 1990’s, including her marriage to Ken Burrows in 1989.

BibliographyCharney, Maurice. Sexual Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1981. Contains a chapter comparing Fear of Flying with Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969).Scott, Robert F.“‘Sweets and Bitters’: Fanny and the Feminization of the Eighteenth Century Novel.” Midwest Quarterly 42, no. 1 (2000): 81-93. Analyzes Jong’s novel in relation to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (1748-1749), assessing Jong’s use of eighteenth century pastiche in a modern context.Suleiman, Susan Rubin. “(Re)Writing the Body: The Politics and Poetics of Female Eroticism.” In The Female Body in Western Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Sees Jong’s work as a milestone in “sexual poetics.”Templin, Charlotte. Feminism and the Politics of Literary Reputation: The Example of Erica Jong. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1995. Explores the issues of literary reception and reputation and argues that Jong’s reputation has been adversely affected by her association with sexuality and her celebrity status. The book contains a thorough bibliography of scholarly sources on Jong’s works.Walker, Nancy, and Zita Dresner. Redressing the Balance: American Women’s Literary Humor from Colonial Times to the 1980’s. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988. The chapter on Jong focuses on Fear of Flying and How to Save Your Own Life.
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