Authors: Richard Brautigan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and poet

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Confederate General from Big Sur, 1964

Trout Fishing in America, 1967

In Watermelon Sugar, 1968

The Abortion: An Historical Romance, 1971

The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western, 1974

Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery, 1975

Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel, 1976

Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942, 1977

The Tokyo-Montana Express, 1980

So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away, 1982

An Unfortunate Woman, 2000

Short Fiction:

Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970, 1971

Poetry:

The Return of the Rivers, 1957

The Galilee Hitch-Hiker, 1958

Lay the Marble Tea: Twenty-four Poems, 1959

The Octopus Frontier, 1960

All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace, 1967

The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, 1968

Please Plant This Book, 1968

Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, 1970

Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, 1976

June 30th, June 30th, 1978

Miscellaneous:

The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings, 1995

Biography

Richard Gary Brautigan (BROWT-ih-guhn) is identified as a link between the Beat generation of the 1950’s and the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. He was born in 1935 in Tacoma, Washington. His father, Bernard Brautigan, abandoned his mother, Lula Mary Keho Brautigan, while she was pregnant with Richard. Lula Brautigan remarried at least three times, and when Richard was nine years old, his mother abandoned him and his younger sister Barbara for a short period. Brautigan began writing as a teenager, sometimes staying up all night to work on his poetry. He left home at the age of eighteen and moved to San Francisco, where he befriended writers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, and Philip Whalen, with whom he shared an apartment for a while.{$I[AN]9810001344}{$I[A]Brautigan, Richard}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Brautigan, Richard}{$I[tim]1935;Brautigan, Richard}

Richard Brautigan

(Library of Congress)

In 1957, a selection of Brautigan’s poems appeared with those of three other young writers in Four New Poets, produced by Inferno Press, a small San Francisco publisher. In the following year, White Rabbit Press published The Galilee Hitch-Hiker. The booklet contains nine poems narrated by a gentle speaker who describes imaginative encounters with the French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire.

A swift and prolific writer, Brautigan sometimes wrote as many as ten poems a day during this period. Another small San Francisco publisher, Carp Press, issued Brautigan’s next two volumes of poetry, Lay the Marble Tea in 1959 and The Octopus Frontier in 1960. These first three books show Brautigan to be a poet of synesthesia and humor. His strength lay in his ability to fuse disparate images through striking similes.

Brautigan’s first published novel was actually the second that he wrote: A Confederate General from Big Sur. The story, told by Jesse, a naïve student of theology, is about the life of Lee Mellon, a resident of Big Sur who believes he is a general in the Confederate Army. The book is a satire on the hippie lifestyle of the 1960’s.

Although written before A Confederate General from Big Sur, Trout Fishing in America was Brautigan’s second published novel. It is widely regarded as the most important of his works. Trout Fishing in America is the fragmented story of a man in search of the perfect trout stream, symbolic of the American frontier dream. What the narrator finds instead are scenes of industrial violence and environmental perversion. In one chapter, for example, used trout streams are for sale for six dollars per foot in a place called the Cleveland Wrecking Yard. Yet just as the speaker’s imagination has created the negative vision of the wrecking yard, he is capable of magically transcending it: He sees trout in the stacked lengths of stream, and he puts his hand in the water, noting that it is cold and feels good. Trout Fishing in America established Brautigan as one of the most recognizable voices of the 1960’s. College students throughout America identified with the book’s style and themes. In the late 1960’s Brautigan suddenly rose from anonymity and poverty to fame and fortune.

In Watermelon Sugar, Brautigan’s third novel, is narrated by a young man who lives in a commune called “iDEATH,” a part of the larger community of Watermelon Sugar, population 375. The story takes place in the distant future; for the residents of Watermelon Sugar, ancient history is represented by the Forgotten Works, a place filled with “high piles” of undecipherable and useless artifacts.

In the 1970’s, Brautigan turned to writing parodies of standard popular genres. The Abortion appeared in 1971, followed by The Hawkline Monster in 1974, Willard and His Bowling Trophies in 1974, Sombrero Fallout in 1976, and Dreaming of Babylon in 1977. In The Tokyo-Montana Express and So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away, Brautigan returned to the comic, anecdotal style and eccentric characters that had garnered him so much interest in Trout Fishing in America. Reviews of these last two novels were mixed, however, with several critics noting that Brautigan’s unique style, which had seemed so fresh in the 1960’s, had lost its appeal by the 1980’s.

At the age of forty-nine, Richard Brautigan shot himself. The suicide probably occurred sometime in late September, 1984, but the actual date of his death cannot be determined, as his body was not discovered until October 25. A posthumous novel, An Unfortunate Woman, was published in 2000. Brautigan had finished the book in 1983, but his friends, agent, and publisher all discouraged its publication. It appeared in France in 1994 as Cahier d’un retour de troie.

Brautigan’s style is light, rapid, and conversational. In Trout Fishing in America and his other early novels, Brautigan might be criticized for being merely sentimental over the loss of the once-pristine American frontier if it were not for the humorous tone of his narrator’s protean imagination. Although sometimes tedious, his liberal repetition of key words and phrases emphasizes the ironic innocence of characters surrounded by images of violence, death, betrayal, and emptiness. Shy, lonesome, and impassioned, they are not hardened by the loss of the American pastoral myth. Most often, they passively accept their fates.

The enormous, though short-lived, popularity of Brautigan’s work during the American counterculture revolution may have worked against his long-term reputation, signaling to some critics that his work was only the product of its time. Yet while American critical interest in Brautigan’s work began to lag in the 1970’s, European, and especially French, critics discovered textural complexities that Americans did not perceive until the 1980’s, when critics Edward Halsey Foster and Marc Chénetier noted, for very different reasons, that Brautigan deserved new study. One of the most unconventional writers of an unconventional era, Brautigan cannot easily be defined.

BibliographyAbbott, Keith. Downstream from “Trout Fishing in America.” Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1989. Abbott recounts his memories of Brautigan from their first meeting in San Francisco in 1966 through the Montana years and back to 1982 in San Francisco. Abbott’s last chapter, “Shadows and Marble,” is a critical essay devoted to Brautigan’s language and strategy of fiction.Barber, John F. Richard Brautigan: An Annotated Bibliography. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990. A good source for students of Brautigan.Barber, John F., ed. Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2007. The thirty-two essays in this book are written by friends and colleagues of Brautigan who knew and respected the author and his writing. Many of the pieces here are previously unpublished, while others have appeared in literary journals. Altogether, they serve as a loving tribute to Brautigan, who was greatly admired by the essayists on both a personal and a literary level. Includes previously unpublished photographs and artwork.Boyer, Jay. Richard Brautigan. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1987. Short study of Brautigan offering criticism and interpretation. Boyer describes how Trout Fishing in America sought to use the imagination to transcend reality. Includes a bibliography.Bradbury, Malcolm. The Modern American Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Chapter 7, “Postmoderns and Others: The 1960’s and 1970’s,” cites Brautigan, placing him in the genre of writers who “celebrated the hippie youth spirit.” Bradbury gives succinct but insightful critical commentary on Brautigan’s novels. He sees Brautigan as much more than a hippie writer, whose spirit of “imaginative discovery” spawned a number of literary successors.Brautigan, Ianthe. You Can’t Catch Death: A Daughter’s Memoir. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Brautigan’s daughter recalls her childhood spent bouncing between her two bohemian parents’ homes. She describes her father, who committed suicide when she was twenty-four years old, as a “dignified, brilliant, hysterically funny, and sometimes difficult” man.Chénetier, Marc. Richard Brautigan. New York: Methuen, 1983. A semiotic examination of Brautigan’s approach to structure and elements of style that generate meaning. This slender volume touches on several works, with particular attention to Trout Fishing in America.Foster, Edward Halsey. Richard Brautigan. Boston: Twayne, 1983. This blend of biography and criticism deals primarily with Brautigan’s work within his own cultural ambience, referring to other contemporary fiction, the Beat movement, and Zen Buddhism as an overall influence. Not always flattering, Foster discusses most of Brautigan’s novels and short fiction.Horvath, Brooke. “Richard Brautigan’s Search for Control Over Death.” American Literature 57 (October, 1985): 435-455. Horvath explores possible limits to Brautigan’s response of imagination as a strategy for countering the basic issue of death in his four early novels and one of the stories in The Tokyo-Montana Express.Iftekharuddin, Farhat. “The New Aesthetics in Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970.” In Creative and Critical Approaches to the Short Story, edited by Noel Harold Kaylor. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. This essay deals primarily with Brautigan’s short stories. Iftekharuddin’s discussion of literary innovation and his treatment of other Brautigan critics make this an important contribution.Kaylor, Noel Harold, ed. Creative and Critical Approaches to the Short Story. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. Farhat Iftekharuddin’s essay, “The New Aesthetics in Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970,” deals primarily with Brautigan’s short stories. Iftekharuddin’s discussion of literary innovation and his treatment of other Brautigan critics make this an important contribution.Mills, Joseph. Reading Richard Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing in America.” Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1998. A brief volume in the Boise State University Western Writers series, providing a critical analysis of the novel. Includes a bibliography.Seymore, James. “Author Richard Brautigan Apparently Takes His Own Life, But He Leaves a Rich Legacy.” People Weekly 22 (November 12, 1984): 40-41. Provides a biographical background leading up to Brautigan’s suicide, including his heavy drinking and depression at the loss of his readers.Stull, William L. “Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America: Notes of a Native Son.” American Literature 56 (March, 1984): 69-80. Stull approaches general themes in Trout Fishing in America by examining some of the book’s many allusions to other literature and Americana. A good introduction to the novel and to Brautigan.Wright, Lawrence. “The Life and Death of Richard Brautigan.” Rolling Stone, April 11, 1985. A biographical sketch, noting Brautigan’s early fame and cult following, the fading of his reputation, and his suicide. Notes that when friends describe him, he seems two different people; at one point he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
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