A Cloak of Light (Magill's Literary Annual 1986)
With the third volume of his autobiography, Wright Morris concentrates on his development as a novelist. Will’s Boy (1981) depicts his childhood and adolescence in Nebraska and Chicago, and Solo: An American Dreamer in Europe, 1933-34 (1983) describes a Continental tour by college student Morris. These books present many people, places, and events that served as the raw material for Morris’ fiction, and A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life, which begins with his return from Europe, in 1934, and continues until 1960, offers Morris at work on twelve of his twenty novels. The book is more than a literary memoir, however, providing loving portraits of Morris’ friends and relatives and of the numerous places in the United States, Mexico, and Europe. A Cloak of Light also contains a reasonably objective portrayal of its author as artist and man.
Much of the memoir is devoted to the early years of Morris’ first marriage. Mary Ellen Finfrock Morris taught music while her husband began his career as a writer. During this period, Morris worked briefly for the Works Progress Administration and taught drawing and swimming, but most of the time, he wrote, trying to find the proper voice for his fiction. Experimenting with short descriptive passages, Morris suddenly realized that “one might actually ’take’ the pictures I...
(The entire section is 1789 words.)
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
The two major studies of Wright Morris’ work, David Madden’s Wright Morris (1964) and G.B. Crump’s The Novels of Wright Morris: A Critical Interpretation (1978), begin with similar statements of puzzlement over the reading public’s neglect of this writer. Morris’ more than thirty volumes, of which his novels represent more than half, include phototexts, essays, short stories, and memoirs. Despite having won both the National Book Award and the American Book Award, Morris had not by the beginning of the 1980’s attracted a sufficient following to warrant the reprinting by commercial presses of even his most ambitious novels. Nevertheless, the decision by the University of Nebraska Press to reprint his work, plus Morris’ continued productivity and the appearance in the 1980’s of more than half a dozen stories in The New Yorker, has resulted in a modest renaissance of interest.
Morris’ minimalist approach and understanding of human emotions raised a number of questions, fair or not, about Morris himself and about his intentions as a writer of fiction. A typical reservation was that of Alfred Kazin: Despite Morris’ “many symbols, his showy intentions, his pointed and hinted significances,” the novels were “without the breath and extension of life.” The seeming detachment of Morris’ narrators from their material, and of his characters from their lives and from one another, echoed for many readers the cool...
(The entire section is 1257 words.)