Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Alison Lurie was born in Chicago on September 3, 1926. She attended Radcliffe College, where she received an A.B. degree in 1947. The following year she married Jonathan Peale Bishop, Jr., who went on to become a professor of English at Cornell University. Before their divorce in 1985, the Bishops had three sons, John, Jeremy, and Joshua.
Lurie’s first book was a privately printed memoir of a close friend, poet and playwright Violet Lang, but her first significant work of fiction was Love and Friendship (1962), a novel that contains the themes of domestic dissatisfaction and adultery that Lurie would continue to explore in later work. Its principal character, Emily Stockwell Turner, is the prototype of Katherine Cattleman, Erica Tate, and the other unfulfilled, frustrated, middle-class American women who populate Lurie’s narratives.
In addition to being a housewife and mother and working occasionally as a ghostwriter and librarian, Lurie continued to publish her novels, gaining more critical acclaim and a wider readership with each one: The Nowhere City (1965), Imaginary Friends (1967), and Real People (1969). Moreover, she began to garner fellowships and grants that helped further her career as a writer: Yaddo fellowships in 1963, 1964, and 1966 (Yaddo, an artist’s colony, gave Lurie material for...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Author Gore Vidal has called Alison Lurie the “Queen Herod of modern fiction,” a reference to her capacity for slaying what seems most sacred to many people—marriage and the family, higher learning and intellect, and American lifestyles and values. While Lurie has an undeniable wit and savage irony in her novels, she also has a passion for truth, a generosity of spirit, and a reluctance to judge human conduct by any one set of restrictive standards.
Taken together, her novels constitute a major achievement of comic writing and detached observation of American life, and the artistry of her prose and carefully crafted narratives place her in the tradition of America’s finest novelists.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Alison Lurie was born September 3, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up in White Plains, New York. Her Latvian-born father was a scholar, a teacher, and a socialist who later became the founder and executive director of the Council of Jewish Federations. Lurie’s mother, also a socialist, was a former journalist for a Chicago newspaper. Lurie suffered a minor birth injury that affected the hearing in her left ear and also caused some damage to her facial muscles. An avid reader as a child, she began at about the age of thirteen to read such authors as Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, and Jane Austen. In 1947, she graduated from Radcliffe College, where she had met many people who later became important literary figures, including Jonathan Peale Bishop, a teacher, critic, and essayist. She married Bishop in 1948, and they had three children. In 1975, Lurie separated from Bishop, divorcing him ten years later.
Lurie struggled with many discouraging rejections of her writing when she was in her twenties, and she regards 1966 as the turning point in her life, when she wrote and published privately a memoir of an eccentric friend, V. R. “Bunny” Lang. Thereafter came a succession of novels that garnered high praise, including a Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Affairs. A professor of children’s literature at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she began teaching in 1969, Lurie divides her time among Ithaca, Key West, and London.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Born in Chicago and raised in White Plains, New York, Alison Lurie grew up as an avid reader, beginning with authors such as Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, and Jane Austen at the age of thirteen of fourteen. She received her A.B. degree from Radcliffe College in 1947. In 1948 she married Jonathan Peale Bishop; they were divorced in 1985. The mother of three sons, Lurie has worked as a librarian, ghost writer, critic, and essayist as well as novelist and author of children’s literature. She was awarded Yaddo Foundation and Guggenheim fellowships in the years 1963, 1964, and 1965, a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1967-1968, the American Academy of Arts and Letters award in 1978, and, for Foreign Affairs, a Pulitzer Prize in 1985. She joined the English faculty at Cornell University in 1968, where her husband was also a professor. She taught courses in narrative writing and children’s literature. Indeed, Lurie has published distinguished critical articles and reviews of children’s literature, including the studies Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups and Boys and Girls Forever, and edited a series of historical children’s books with Justin Schiller, as well as collecting and editing folktales, myths, and legends in Clever Gretchen, and Other Forgotten Folktales, Fabulous Beasts, and The Heavenly Zoo.
In 1981 Lurie published a semiotic study of fashion in The Language of Clothes, with chapter titles such as “Clothing as a Sign System,” “Youth and Age,” “Fashion and Status,” and “Sex and Fashion.” The chapters contain useful information and clever commentary. Lurie is best known in American letters, however, for her satirical novels, most of which feature American academics and their students, administrators, spouses, and friends amid sometimes comic, sometimes pathetic or ludicrous circumstances. From Love and Friendship to her later novels, Foreign Affairs, The Truth About Lorin Jones, and The Last Resort, Lurie reveals her incisive insight into the foibles of academics. Most of her novels feature characters who have been educated in prestigious Eastern colleges and who have lived highly privileged lives. They are generally witty, sophisticated, and usually, totally lacking in self-knowledge. Most of Lurie’s characters manage to insulate themselves from genuine experience; they hide behind a facade of intellectual life. They betray spouses, children, friends, and colleagues in the petty struggles of department politics or paltry, predictable adulteries. In Love and Friendship Lurie sharply probes the nature of love, sexuality, friendship, and various kinds of self-deceptions among the intellectuals and pseudointellectuals, faculty wives, and bohemians who inhabit a small, self-important New England campus. Lurie exposes pretension and fraud among these dessicated middle-class professionals, but she does so in a spirit of fun.
In The Nowhere City Lurie places an Eastern-educated couple in sunny California. Although the characters in The Nowhere City are not interesting enough to command the reader’s sympathy, Lurie delights in exposing and savaging the emptiness of the “nowhere city,” symbolized aptly and hilariously by a twenty-foot-high cement doughnut revolving atop a restaurant. Nobody escapes Lurie’s satire: Bohemians are exposed as hypocrites and liars, academics as self-deceivers, and Hollywood actors and actresses as neurotic. In a world drained of belief and stable values, Lurie’s characters have a hard time finding a firm...
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