Charles Jackson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Reginald Jackson achieved a considerable reputation as a writer of psychological fiction. Although he had no formal training in psychology, his intuition and personal observation provided material for successful stories of the abnormal and perverse. After studying at Syracuse University, Jackson became a staff writer for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). In 1939, he became a freelance script writer and taught radio writing while working on The Lost Weekend, an autobiographical novel about the downward spiral of an alcoholic, which became an overnight best-seller. The novel’s grim tone and gritty realism were considered rather sordid in 1944, but the book was generally well-received by contemporary reviewers. Soon after its publication, it was made into a popular film starring Ray Milland, with a new “happy” ending provided by Jackson himself. Perhaps in part because of its popular success, for years literary critics largely ignored the novel in discussions of alcoholism in twentieth century literature. Jackson’s sure sense of craft in this work is, however, enough to assure the novel its place.

In his later prose fiction, Jackson continued to concentrate on the lives of people on the fringes of society. In 1946, he published The Fall of Valor, a novel about the disintegration of a college professor who develops a homosexual attraction toward a Marine war hero. In The Outer Edges, the writer studies the social effects of the brutal murder of two young girls by a mentally defective youth. Jackson’s own alcoholism was periodic, with years of abstinence interrupted by binges. In the 1950’s, he published only two volumes of short stories, and by the 1960’s he was reduced to selling automobiles and writing a book on how to buy a used car. His “comeback” novel, A Second-Hand Life (about a woman with nymphomania) appeared in 1967, but it was neither a critical nor a popular success. Jackson committed suicide in 1968, a victim of the disease that had inspired his masterpiece.

Charles Jackson Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Connelly, Mark. Deadly Closets: The Fiction of Charles Jackson. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2001. Examines the life and fiction of Jackson, whom it calls “a pioneer gay writer who addressed taboo issues with insight and sensitivity.” Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Crowley, John W. The White Logic: Alcoholism and Gender in American Modernist Fiction. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. Includes a heavily annotated chapter on The Lost Weekend, along with biographical information on Jackson. Crowley puts the novel in perspective as a postscript to the heroic drunk novels of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Forseth, Roger.“‘Why Did They Make Such a Fuss?’ Don Birnam’s Emotional Barometer.” Dionysus 5, no. 2 (1993). A straightforward discussion of The Lost Weekend.

Gilmore, Thomas B. Equivocal Spirits: Alcoholism and Drinking in Twentieth-Century Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Carries the discussion of alcoholism in literature to the postmodern 1960’s and 1970’s. Gilmore discusses Jackson and Don Birnam as a backdrop to praise Malcolm Lowry’s “more compelling and complex” alcoholic hero in Under the Volcano (1947).

Jackson, Charles. Interview. In The Writer Observed, by Harvey Breit. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1956. A contemporary interview with Jackson.

McCarthy, Patrick A. “Lowry and The Lost Weekend.” Malcolm Lowry Review, 1993. A discussion of Jackson and Lowry.