Study Guide

John Barth

John Barth Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201178-Barth.jpgJohn Barth Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Barth was born in Cambridge, Maryland, in the second year of the Great Depression. After graduating from local public schools, Barth spent the summer of 1947 studying theory and orchestration at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. At the time, Barth’s aspiration was to become a big-band jazz arranger in the tradition of Billy Strayhorn, but he soon felt that in comparison with the sophistication of his influences his own talents were limited, so he abandoned music as a career.

Returning to Maryland’s Eastern Shore at the end of the summer of 1947, Barth found that he had been awarded a scholarship to The Johns Hopkins University, and he elected to attend Johns Hopkins in the fall of that year to pursue a major in journalism. Although Barth has suggested that his interest in working with past literature, particularly myth and historical narrative, is a by-product of his interest in musical arrangement, he first became seriously interested in writing fiction in the creative writing classes he took at Johns Hopkins. There he was also introduced to the world of literature and criticism, and by the time he had completed his A.B. degree, which was awarded to Barth in 1951, he had effectively decided to devote himself to writing fiction.

His first extended work of fiction, a novel titled “The Shirt of Nessus” (unpublished), was Barth’s master’s project, for which he received an M.A. from Johns Hopkins in 1952. He then enrolled in the Ph.D. program in literary aesthetics at Johns Hopkins, but financial constraints forced him to abandon his studies and seek steady employment. In 1950, Barth had married Harriet Ann Strickland, and by 1953 they had two children, a daughter, Christine, born in 1951, and a son, John, born in 1952. A third child, David, was born in 1954. Barth joined the English faculty at Pennsylvania State University as an instructor in the fall of 1953, and he remained...

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John Barth Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

As perhaps the most sophisticated practitioner of postmodern fiction in the United States, Barth is a central figure in the literary history of the contemporary period. Each of Barth’s books is consistent with the others in its pursuit of ideas and problems that Barth first considered, in their nascent form, very early in his career. Each Barth novel or short story is also distinctive in demonstrating a distinctive aspect of his technical prowess as a writer. While experimentation in and for itself has never been Barth’s aim, his success as a novelist, in large part, has depended upon his willingness to take risks and to experiment—and to do so with a keen sense of the literary tradition in which he writes.

John Barth Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

John Simmons Barth’s first artistic interest was in music, and he studied briefly at the Juilliard School of Music before entering The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in the fall of 1947. He married Harriette Anne Strickland in January, 1950. In 1951, he received his B.A. in creative writing, and his first child, Christine, was born. Barth completed his M.A. in 1952 and began work on his Ph.D. in the aesthetics of literature. His second child, John, was born in 1952, and with his wife expecting a third child (Daniel, born in 1954), Barth abandoned work on his Ph.D. and took a teaching job at Pennsylvania State University in 1953. In 1965, he left Pennsylvania State to teach at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Divorced from his first wife in 1969, Barth married Shelly Rosenberg on December 27, 1970. Barth was Alumni Centennial Professor of English and Creative Writing at The Johns Hopkins University from 1973 to 1990, when he became professor emeritus.

John Barth Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Simmons Barth was born on May 27, 1930, in Cambridge, Maryland, the contemporary and historical environs of which have provided the setting for much of his writing. He attended Cambridge High School, after which he accommodated his passion for jazz and the drums with a brief stay at the Juilliard School. His unspectacular showing there led him to enroll at Johns Hopkins University, a move made possible when he won a scholarship he had forgotten he had applied for. He achieved the highest grade point average in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences upon receiving the bachelor of arts degree in 1951.

To pay off tuition debts and support his wife (Harriet Anne Strickland, whom he had married in 1950), Barth took a job in the Classics Library, where he first became absorbed in the Asian tale cycles that would later inform the style and content of his own fiction. During this period came his first publications in student literary magazines, including one story, “Lilith and the Lion,” the appearance of which in The Hopkins Review when Barth was twenty may rightly be considered his first professional work. His master’s project was The Shirt of Nessus, a novel based on a love triangle including a father and son and populated by rapists, murderers, bootleggers, and lunatics; Barth confesses it a miscarriage, and he says it now rests in the Dorchester marshes on Chesapeake Bay.

Having received his master of arts degree in the spring of 1952, he began studying for a Ph.D. in the aesthetics of literature while tutoring and teaching freshman composition courses, until the cost of supporting both his family (his third child was born in January, 1954) and his education compelled him to teach full time. He took a position at Pennsylvania State University in 1953; his experience with freshman composition there would eventually find its way into The End of the Road. (He did not earn his doctorate until 1969, from the University of Maryland.) While at Penn State, Barth began a series of one hundred stories in the bawdy manner of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron: O, Prencipe Galeotto (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620), detailing the history of Dorchester County. He abandoned the project within a year, but fifty of the proposed hundred stories were completed; a handful were published separately, and others later were incorporated into The Sot-Weed Factor.

Barth advanced from instructor to associate professor at Penn State, where he taught until 1965, and it was during this...

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John Barth Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201178-Barth.jpgJohn Barth Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Simmons Barth, one of the most influential American writers of the so-called postmodernist era, was born to John Jacob and Georgia Simmons Barth and grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a location that serves as the principal setting in most of his fiction. After finishing high school, he attended the Juilliard School of Music and then enrolled in The Johns Hopkins University in 1947, pursuing a degree in journalism. By the time of his junior year, however, because of the influence of one of his professors, he decided to become a teacher and a fiction writer instead. Barth was married to Harriette Anne Strickland in 1950 and received his bachelor’s degree in creative writing the following year. By 1952, he had completed...

(The entire section is 813 words.)

John Barth Biography (Short Stories for Students)

John Simmons Barth was born on May, 27, 1930, to John Jacob and Georgia Barth in Cambridge, Maryland. After graduating from public high...

(The entire section is 336 words.)