Authors: Paul West

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English-born American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Quality of Mercy, 1961

Tenement of Clay, 1965

Alley Jaggers, 1966

I’m Expecting to Live Quite Soon, 1970

Caliban’s Filibuster, 1971

Bela Lugosi’s White Christmas, 1972

Colonel Mint, 1972

Gala, 1976

The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg, 1980

Rat Man of Paris, 1986

The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests, 1988

Lord Byron’s Doctor, 1989

The Women of Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper, 1991

Love’s Mansion, 1992

The Tent of Orange Mist, 1995

Sporting with Amaryllis, 1996

Terrestrials, 1997

Life with Swan, 1999

The Dry Danube: A Hitler Forgery, 2000

O.K.: The Corral, the Earps, and Doc Holliday, 2000

A Fifth of November, 2001

Cheops: A Cupboard for the Sun, 2002

Short Fiction:

The Universe and Other Fictions, 1988

Poetry:

Poems, 1952

The Spellbound Horses, 1960

The Snow Leopard, 1964

Nonfiction:

The Growth of the Novel, 1959

Byron and the Spoiler’s Art, 1960, 2d edition 1992

I, Said the Sparrow, 1963

The Modern Novel, 1963

Robert Penn Warren, 1964

The Wine of Absurdity: Essays in Literature and Consolation, 1966

Words for a Deaf Daughter, 1969

Out of My Depths: A Swimmer in the Universe, 1983

Sheer Fiction, 1987-1994 (3 volumes)

Portable People, 1990 (drawings by Joe Servello)

My Mother’s Music, 1995

A Stroke of Genius: Illness and Self-Discovery, 1995

The Secret Lives of Words, 2000

Master Class: Scenes from a Fiction Workshop, 2001

Oxford Days: An Inclination, 2002

Edited Text:

Byron: Twentieth Century Views, 1963

Biography

Paul Noden West is one of America’s most imaginative and innovative contemporary writers and finest literary stylists. He was born in Eckington, England, on February 23, 1930, the son of Alfred and Mildred (Noden) West. From his earliest days, West was surrounded by book lovers–parents, grandparents, and relatives–who viewed the written word as sacred and who considered nearly any book a worthy addition to an ever-growing canon of literary experiences, experiences they considered as valid as those of everyday life for authenticating the self and one’s existence in the world. West quickly assimilated this reverence for the word and literary text as experience and applied it to his studies at Oxford and Columbia universities. Between the childhood encouragement to sample literature from around the world and the Oxford mentoring that exhorted him to experience literature, learning, and activities outside the traditional academic setting, it is not surprising that West developed an eclectic, comparative taste in literature and in the versatility and variety of his literary craft.{$I[AN]9810000756}{$I[A]West, Paul}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;West, Paul}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;West, Paul}{$I[tim]1930;West, Paul}

Even a cursory examination of West’s works reveals their thematic variety and stylistic richness as well as the originality of his imagination. His themes include psychic abuse, failed relationships, societal indifference, and spiritual inadequacy, but a positive side exists in his writing as well. Self-discovery and survival are strong forces in his works. The dialectical tensions between the forces of genocide and the keepers of peace reinforce the paradoxical nature of existence in an indifferent, imperfect, yet potentially rich universe. This thematic richness and variety is the product of West’s interconnected beliefs about the human condition. Throughout his works, West juxtaposes a picture of a universe in flux, filled with a plurality of experience, to one of an arbitrary and imperfect world, self-absorbed and heedless of its members. West reveals that the tension and confrontation between these paradoxical sides of an absurd world produce both the darker sides of human behavior and being and the potentiality in life. Consequently, his works suggest the need to perceive the universe and life more inclusively and recognize the productive capacity of the imagination to construct meaning and even a measure of happiness in an absurd world.

West’s particular significance in contemporary literature rests strongly with his stylistic genius; he ranks with James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf in his ability to craft simultaneously lyrical and dense, elegant and economical tours de force. He captures the exciting, arbitrary nature of words for reflecting a universe in flux. West’s career has moved in a steady arc from the realism of the Alley Jaggers trilogy through the experimentalism of Caliban’s Filibuster and Gala to a sustained production of historical fiction. In these later novels he has imaginatively explored Count von Stauffenberg, the putative assassin of Adolf Hitler, a Parisian street person, Jack the Ripper, his own parents’ adolescence and courtship, and Chinese women conscripted by the Japanese to act as prostitutes. West has given historical fiction a depth and stylistic exuberance unmatched by most practitioners of the form. In all these novels, there is also a sustained examination of the creative possibilities of an artistic sensibility, with character after character practicing some personal, highly individual art.

West’s fiction demands fluidity of the novel as an organic, dynamic genre and of the reader as collaborator in the creative process of constituting the text as aesthetic object. It is for these contributions to contemporary literature that West’s peers awarded him the prestigious American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award in 1985, and the Lannan Prize for Fiction and France’s Grand Prix Halpérine-Kaminsky in 1993.

BibliographyBryfonski, Dedria, and Laurie Lanza Harris, eds. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. Contains extracts from reviews of West’s works, including Gala and Words for a Deaf Daughter, from such sources as The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, and The Nation. Most of the reviews are favorable, addressing West’s intelligent writing as both an advantage and a disadvantage. One reviewer praises Words for a Deaf Daughter, calling it a “sympathetic book for anyone who feels responsible for someone else.” Another review describes Gala in terms of its “startling, dazzling meditations.”Lucas, John. “Paul West.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by James Vinson. London: St. James Press, 1976. Lucas discusses the Alley Jaggers sequence of novels, which “deservedly won his reputation as an original novelist,” although he faults them for their lack of psychological study. Mentions West’s highly acclaimed study of Lord Byron’s poetry and Bela Lugosi’s White Christmas. Lists West’s works up to 1975 and includes a statement by West.McGuire, Thomas G. “The Face(s) of War in Paul West’s Fiction.” War, Literature, and the Arts 10 (Spring/Summer, 1998): 169-186. Traces the persistence of West’s rumination on warfare and conflict. Three principal novels–The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg, The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests, and Rat Man of Paris–form the basis of the argument. The journal also contains an interview with West and three of the author’s short fictions.Madden, David W. “Indoctrination to Pariahdom: Liminality in the Fiction of Paul West.” Critique 40 (Fall, 1998): 49-70. Examines five of West’s novels to explain the confusions and violence found so frequently there. The essay argues that each novel presents characters suspended in a liminal state from which they have difficulties extracting themselves.Madden, David W. Understanding Paul West. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. A book-length study on West that provides an overview of his work through The Women of Whitechapel. Intended as an introductory study to West’s life and fiction, it traces the development of the themes of identity, artistic creation, and imagination’s freedom.Madden, David W, ed. The Review of Contemporary Fiction 11 (Spring, 1991). A special half-issue devoted to West. Contains thirteen essays, an interview, and a primary bibliography of West’s work up to The Women of Whitechapel, examining his novels from a variety of perspectives. The collection also features three short fictions from West.Pope, Dan. “A Different Kind of Post-Modernism.” The Gettysburg Review 3 (Autumn, 1990); 658-669. Looks at West’s short-story collection The Universe and Other Fictions in the company of Rick DeMarinis’s The Coming Triumph of the Free World (1988) and T. Coraghessan Boyle’s If the River Was Whiskey (1989). A fine sustained consideration of West’s short fiction.Saltzman, Arthur M. “Beholding Paul West and The Women of Whitechapel.” Twentieth Century Literature 40 (Summer, 1994): 256-271. Examines West’s fourteenth novel in terms of the author’s wit and inventive verbal energy and the uneasy balance between ontology and linguistic inventiveness.West, Paul. “Paul West.” In Contemporary Authors: Autobiography Series, edited by Mark Zadrozny. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. A beautifully written autobiography, filled with rich images and information about West’s early life, his ideas about writing, and other writers who became his friends. Includes a bibliography of his works.
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