Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
How does the theme of isolation function in Jean Stafford’s work?
In her fictional works that are set in the West, Stafford is said to write about the West as it is seen by women rather than by men. What are some examples of this distinctive viewpoint?
How does Stafford use humor in her fiction?
Many of Stafford’s works are about children or women who are victimized. Which of her characters seem totally helpless, and why?
In which of Stafford’s stories does a character’s understanding of a situation have good results?
In which of Stafford’s stories does a revelation have unfortunate results?
Do you see reflections in Stafford’s fiction of her own battles with domestic violence, alcoholism, and insecurity?
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Jean Stafford’s first three books were novels, Boston Adventure (1944), The Mountain Lion (1947), and The Catherine Wheel (1952). She also published juvenile fiction and a short, book-length interview with the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, A Mother in History (1966).
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Although critics suggest that her insightful, carefully crafted fiction deserves more attention, Stafford is generally considered to be a minor writer. Best known for her more than forty short stories, which—like her novels—are largely autobiographical, Jean Stafford investigates the complexities of human nature and explores the powerlessness of women in society as a major theme. Her treatment of women has generally been viewed as a metaphor for universal human alienation in modern society.
Stafford’s reputation as a fiction writer was established with the publication of Boston Adventure in 1944, the same year she was awarded a prize by Mademoiselle. Over the years, she received numerous other awards, including grants from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, and the National Press Club. She also received an O. Henry Memorial Award for her story “In the Zoo” in 1955 and the Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford in 1970.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Avila, Wanda. Jean Stafford: A Comprehensive Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1983. This reference contains short summaries of 220 publications by Stafford (books, stories, articles, essays, book and movie reviews) and 428 critical works about her.
Goodman, Charlotte Margolis. Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Delineating the connections between Jean Stafford’s life and her fiction, this literary biography presents a portrait of Stafford as an extremely talented but troubled individual. Drawing heavily from Jean Stafford’s letters, it is well researched and makes interesting reading.
Hulbert, Ann. The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Rigorously focused on Stafford’s literary work and on the development of her ambivalent literary sensibility, this superbly written biography nevertheless scants a depiction of the full range of her life.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “The Interior Castle: The Art of Jean Stafford’s Short Fiction.” Shenandoah 30 (Spring, 1979): 61-64. Part of a memorial issue for Jean Stafford, this article looks closely at characters in some of Stafford’s short stories. The issue also includes Stafford’s last story, “Woden’s Day,” which was extracted from her unfinished novel The...
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