Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912. He was descended not, as he liked to claim, from Ezekiel Cheever, master of the Boston Latin school eulogized by Cotton Mather, but instead and more prosaically from Daniel Cheever, one of Ezekiel’s cousins and the keeper of the prison at Cambridge.
Cheever grew up during what he called the twilight years of Athenian Boston culture. The accelerating pace of the decline that another Quincy man, Henry Adams, had noted a few years earlier in his The Education of Henry Adams (1907) manifested itself not only in the Boston area but in Cheever’s personal life as well. As a result of the stock market crash of 1929, Cheever’s father, Frederick, lost first his position as a shoe salesman (not a shoe manufacturer, as his son liked to claim), then his investments, and finally his self-esteem when his independent-minded wife, Mary, opened a gift shop in order to support the family.
As their parents grew gradually apart, Cheever and his brother, Fred, seven years senior, grew closer—unnaturally so, Cheever came to believe. Dismissed from Thayer Academy for smoking and poor grades, Cheever wrote a semi-autobiographical, quasi-Cubist story, “Expelled,” which Malcolm Cowley selected from a pile of unsolicited manuscripts for publication in the October 1, 1930, issue of...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cheever is one of the very few writers who have attained major status in both the novel and the short story, a form to which the retrospective collection The Stories of John Cheever (1978) brought renewed interest and a much greater measure of respect. Equally important, however, are the ways in which Cheever managed to combine so subtly and so successfully traditional storytelling with narrative innovation and conventional realism with lyrical fabulism, and to invest his middle-class characters and suburban settings with mythic resonance.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
The loss of his father’s job in 1930, followed by the loss of the family home and the strained marital situation caused, John Cheever believed, by his mother’s growing financial and emotional dependence, all had a lifelong effect on Cheever. When he was expelled from Thayer Academy at the age of seventeen, Cheever was already committed to a writing career. His career, however, would do little to assuage his sense of emotional and economic insecurity. Although he liked to claim that “fiction is not crypto-autobiography,” from the beginning, his stories were drawn from his personal experiences. They have even followed him geographically: from New England, to New York City, through his military service, to the suburbs (first Scarborough, then Ossining), with side trips to Italy (1956-1957), the Soviet Union (on three government-sponsored trips), and Sing Sing prison, where he taught writing (1971-1972). The stories have, more importantly, followed Cheever over hazardous emotional terrain, transforming personal obsessions into published fictions: alcoholism, bisexuality, self-doubts, strained marital relations, and the sense of “otherness.” The stories also evidence the longing for stability and home that manifested itself in three of the most enduring relationships of his fifty-year career: with the Yaddo writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York (beginning in 1934); with The New Yorker (which began publishing his work in 1935); and with his...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912, and grew up during what he has called the “Athenian twilight” of New England culture. His father Frederick, who was forty-nine when Cheever was born, lost his position in the shoe business in the 1929 Depression and much of his self-respect a short time later when his wife opened a gift shop in order to support the family. The parents’ emotionally strained relationship eventually led to their separation and caused Cheever to become very close to his brother Fred, seven years his senior. At age seventeen, Cheever was dismissed from Thayer Academy in South Braintree, Massachusetts, for smoking and poor grades; he promptly turned his experience into a story, “Expelled,” which Malcolm Cowley published in The New Republic on October 10, 1930, and with Fred embarked on a walking tour of Europe. Upon their return, the brothers lived together briefly in Boston, where “Jon” (as he then identified himself) wrote while Fred worked in the textile business. The closeness of their relationship troubled Cheever, who then moved to a squalid rooming house on New York’s Hudson Street. There, with the help of his Boston mentor, Hazel Hawthorne, he wrote synopses for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, subsisted on buttermilk and stale bread, associated with Cowley, E. E. Cummings, Sherwood Anderson, Edmund Wilson, Hart Crane, John Dos Passos, and Gaston Lachaise, and somehow managed to keep his art free of the...
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John Cheever’s father, a successful shoe salesman, and his mother, born in Sheffield, England, provided for his education at Thayer Academy. Cheever was eventually expelled. This dismissal led to his story “Expelled,” which was published in The New Republic in October, 1930. In New York in 1932, Cheever worked with Malcolm Cowley and for The New Yorker, a magazine which published 120 of Cheever’s stories.
In 1951, Cheever moved to Scarborough, a community about twenty-five miles north of New York City. In this environment, Cheever’s interpretation of suburbanites developed, and Cheever gained a reputation for stylish satire of manners and customs in communities named variously as St. Botolph’s, Bullet Park, Talifer, Remsen Park, Proxmire Manor, Shady Hill, and Gorey Brook. Typically the residents are white Protestants who suffer through love and loneliness, often facing the destruction of their families. In many cases, characters abuse alcohol and engage in sexual promiscuity while financial pressures threaten their social position and technological development threatens their humanity.
In “The Country Husband,” the superficiality of Shady Hill is satirized as Francis Weed endures a family and community that refuse to acknowledge his individuality. In “The Swimmer,” Neddy Merrill swims across his community...
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Biography (The Sixties in America)
Expelled from Thayer Academy because of poor conduct and application, John Cheever used the experience in his first story, “Expelled,” published by the New Republic in 1929. In the 1930’s, he lived mostly in New York City, publishing stories in New Republic, Collier’s, Story, Atlantic, and the New Yorker (for which he became a regular contributor). He worked at odd jobs and taught advanced composition at Barnard College. In 1941, he married Mary Winternitz and fathered three children. After two years of wartime service, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1951) and wrote television scripts. His first book, The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953), included some of his most anthologized stories. He earned an O’Henry Award, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and the National Book Award (for The Wapshot Chronicle, published in 1957), establishing himself as a master chronicler of the upper middle class.
The Wapshot Scandal (1964), a sequel to The Wapshot Chronicle, is an incisive portrayal of the horrors of suburbia and of a world of missiles and computers. Written with detached understatement, the novel ends with faint hope, making it seem a shadowy,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Disparaged or neglected during much of his career, John Cheever eventually achieved a degree of literary recognition and respect, both as a novelist and as a writer of short stories, that was rivaled only by that of his friend Saul Bellow. The breakdown of Cheever’s parents’ marriage, as well as his father’s loss of self-esteem and his mother’s growing independence, had a profound effect on the author’s development. His expulsion from Thayer Academy in 1929 put an end to his formal education but started him on his way toward a literary career when The New Republic published his story “Expelled” the following year. Although Cheever served his literary apprenticeship during the Depression years, his writing, then and later, remained almost entirely free of the political themes that characterized the writing of many of his contemporaries.
Fiction, Cheever liked to say, is the most exalted form of human communication. He was equally insistent that it is not “crypto-autobiography.” Yet although his stories and novels do not record his life per se, they do reflect his obsessive doubts and desires, which he struggled to keep from public view and which in the fiction he tended to treat in comic fashion, thus defusing its potential explosiveness. The surface of that fiction, like the gentlemanly pose Cheever liked to adopt when dealing...
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John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912. He attended the private Thayer Academy but was expelled before graduating, an experience that became the basis for his first story, "Expelled," in 1930. Cheever subsequently pursued a writing career, contributing work to various publications, including The Atlantic, The Yale Review, and The New Yorker. During this period, he supported himself with odd jobs, including writing book synopses for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio. In 1941 he married Mary M. Winternitz, with whom he eventually had three children.
Cheever served for two years in the army during World War II, and it was during this time that he had his first book of fiction, The Way Some People Live published. After the war, Cheever found work as a scriptwriter, producing scripts for television series including Life with Father. Cheever also began teaching after the war, and during the course of his lifetime he taught at such institutions as the University of Iowa, Boston University, Barnard College, and Sing Sing Prison. Cheever published his second work of fiction, The Enormous Radio and Other Stories, in 1953 to critical acclaim. Cheever's 1978 collection The Stories of John Cheever received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and prompted serious scholarly interest in his works. Other collections of short fiction by Cheever...
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John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912, the second son of Frederick and Mary Liley Cheever. Cheever’s home life was difficult; he had a tumultuous relationship with his brother, and his parents were cold and distant. Expelled from Thayer Academy at the age of seventeen, Cheever went to New York City.
Cheever’s career started almost immediately upon his arrival in New York. He befriended the director of Yaddo, a writers’ colony in upstate New York. At Yaddo, Cheever met e. e. cummings, John Dos Passos, and James Agee. Still seventeen, Cheever sold a story to New Republic, and five years later he was a regular contributor to the New Yorker. His connection to the New Yorker endured for decades, which led some critics to categorize his short stories as being strictly in the New Yorker style and, therefore, a narrow appeal. When he won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for The Stories of John Cheever (which includes ‘‘The Country Husband’’), however, he was taken seriously by readers and critics. Cheever is called the American Chekhov because just as Anton Chekhov portrayed the lives of everyday Russian people, Cheever portrayed daily life in middle-class America.
Cheever married Mary Winternitz on March 22, 1941, and they eventually had four children. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army, where he was a scriptwriter for training films until his 1945 discharge. He continued to write for...
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