Jong, Erica (Vol. 18)
Jong, Erica 1942–
An American novelist and poet, Jong belongs to the "confessional/personalist" school. She is best known for her controversial works of sexual frankness, Fear of Flying and How to Save Your Own Life. (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 6, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)
Fruits & Vegetables, Jong's first book, was a sweet beginning for an exciting new poet. The title poems are rich and garden-fresh…. The images are fleshy, organic. They emanate from an observant and productive woman who enjoys growing bountiful fruit and vegetable poems for her readers….
Intriguing concepts about male-female relationships originate in Half-Lives…. On the other hand, her list poems begin to lose their effect in Half-Lives. In "Paper Cuts" and "Men," for example, an enjoyable humor is present with fairly interesting insights, but the all-too-frequent psychological conclusions now seem cute, too clever, and too facile.
In Loveroot, list poems or lists within poems appear even more often. They seem to be a pat way to render what could otherwise be a more significant emotional exploration. (p. 94)
In poems like "Wrinkles" or "Sexual Soup," a prose-like style adds to the too-simple representation of emotions…. Too easy pronouncements of feeling occur most often at the ends of poems….
It is almost as if Ms. Jong is trying, at times, to wind up a psychological session with herself within each given poem…. Even in poems with no lists, everything is often too well explained and neatly concluded….
Despite her exhortations to herself to let go, to declare herself for joy, Ms. Jong has perhaps too much control. (p....
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What might a radical feminist think now that Erica Jong has declared a truce in the battle of the sexes? … What might a contemporary theologian say about the notion that God is dog spelled backward?
With ["At the Edge of the Body"], Erica Jong has convincingly demonstrated that she is beyond the censure of "wizened gray guardians of letters"—or anyone else.
Charles Molesworth, "Five Poets," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 2, 1979, pp. 8, 14.∗
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Erica Jong is too fine a writer to care much about the accidental categories of the activists, categories that are a product of crippled imaginations. If Ms. Jong wrote a novel with a male protagonist-narrator, I would pick it up with respect and in the expectation of entertainment and even of enlightenment…. [She] has extrapolated from her own life and her own fear an archetype that has had immense appeal, not only with the MAF [Modern American Female], but also with the Modern European Woman.
In her new novel, Erica Jong has refused to capitalize on an outlook and an ambience that a less scrupulous writer could have exploited forever…. Her title Fanny, as well as the afterword, acknowledges a measure of indebtedness to John Cleland's erotic masterpiece, Fanny Hill, but the book is neither a pastiche nor a parody. It is, despite its allegiance to an antique genre, a genuinely original creation….
Ms. Jong's first two books are highly literate: They show mastery, or mistressy, of language; they depend for their effects on verbal exactitude and the disposition of rhythm. Subject matter apart, they are models of what orthodox, as opposed to experimental, fiction ought to be in this final phase of the century….
Her 18th-century English is not a matter of restoring the second person singular, using tags like prithee, or slavishly following old orthography (musick,...
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'Though 'tis clear that Mrs. Erica Jong is indebted in the extream to various Wits of the 18th Century, to wit: Mr. Pope, Mr. Fielding, Mr. Defoe and that erotick blood, Mr. John Cleland, still, 'tis they who owe their Thanks to her. For by relating the True History of one Fanny Bellars, also called Hackabout-Jones, Mrs. Erica has fill'd a most lamentable Gap left by these Liter'ry Gentlemen and duly noted by many an English Major of the Female Sex….
Bawdy she may be (by which liter'ry Term we Moderns mean to signify dirty in the extream, but of a classick Style, so 'tis properly acceptable to Persons of high Taste) but she hath also, in abundance, Passion for her Babe, her Good Friends of both Sexes, for the poetic tongue; she hath a prodigious amount of Thought on the Lot of the Fair Sex and of the Black Man and Woman, much Curiosity about the World, and a most commendable striving for Good.
She also hath this funny Way with Words that can drive the faithful Reader nuts in the extream, but 'tis a pleasant Prose when once the Reader hath accustom'd herself to't. Mrs. Erica hath employ'd a Style, neither 18th Century nor our 20th, that conveyeth the Spirit but doth not confuseth the Mind. Be you duly warn'd however, that it leaveth a peculiar staccato Sense in the Tongue that maketh the Nouns leap out with Abandon….
'Twill be a Surprize, no doubt, to the gentle Readers who know Mrs. Erica from...
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["Fanny"] is a literary prodigy. It reaches back to an earlier century for its very life: language, spirit and shape…. Miss Jong is reported to have begun her book by wondering: What if Tom Jones had been a woman? The question is irresistible. It made me wonder whether to begin this review with an immovable answer: Erica Jong is not Henry Fielding. But that answer will not do. The fearful collision of these novelists has resulted, not in an impasse, but in an explosion, a surge of literary energy. (p. 1)
A perverse epic in prose, then. Earnest, not mock-heroic. Our first-person heroine has literary ambitions—and a mind, as she frequently tells us….
An entertaining novel, but also a novel of ideas. I do not mean merely that references to Shaftesbury and Mandeville, Voltaire and Locke, Pascal and La Rochefoucauld are bandied about at the drop of a garter. I do not mean merely that an educated ex-slave takes pleasure in tormenting less advantaged white folks with relentless quotations in Latin. I mean that there are two related arguments which govern the movement of the book….
I still harbor a sneaking affection, I confess, for the discredited theory of witchcraft advanced by the scholar Margaret A. Murray. It made me happy to see her data, at least, taken seriously in this novel…. Erica Jong has made mythic use of [Murray's views]—stunning use—by concentrating on the matriarchal power of...
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