John Knowles Essay - Knowles, John (Vol. 1)

Knowles, John (Vol. 1)

Knowles, John 1926–

An American novelist, Knowles is the author of A Separate Peace and Indian Summer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

John Knowles achieved an early and substantial reputation with the publication of A Separate Peace. Since then he has written a second novel, a European and Near Eastern travel book, and now a third novel, Indian Summer. On the dust jacket of each of these is the wistful identification of John Knowles as the author of A Separate Peace, an identification which has begun to suggest, by Indian Summer, that Knowles' reputation is based altogether on the success of his first novel. There is a kind of justice, however, in the association, for all of Knowles' later works are concerned in one fashion or another with the same theme as that of his first—the necessity for one to conquer the forces within himself that work for his destruction and concomitantly to achieve that harmony of self that enables him to love….

[It] seems to me that Indian Summer is a tired novel, and I am not convinced that Knowles really cared much for it. Throughout there is an air of the feigned, from Pop Sommer's charm, to Georgia's anguish, to Cleet's vitality, to Neil's shrewdness, as though the novel were an exercise undertaken by a novelist who understands his theme but who feels very little for it. To say this, however, is not to dismiss the novel, for it is an interesting work with some fine moments. But in all fairness, it must be added that Indian Summer is not the novel that will cause admirers of John Knowles to forget A Separate Peace.

James Ellis, "John Knowles: Indian Summer," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. IX, No. 2, 1967, pp. 92-5.

Knowles worked with nostalgia quite effectively in A Separate Peace. In The Paragon it rings false; the dialogue is faked and stagey, the characters are stereotyped, the parallels between 1950 and 1970 are tritely obvious, and the shape of the novel is curiously disjointed, for the tale jumps back and forth between Louis's affairs and world affairs with little real connection, particularly near the end. It is as if Knowles imagined Louis precisely as a paragon (of something), an idea that, for some reason, Knowles couldn't transform into the fleshly power of felt experience needed to make us care about it. Morning in Antibes, Knowles' much ignored second novel, is about the grown, not the adolescent world, and may be his finest work to date.

James Aronson "Reservations" (© 1971 by The Antioch Review, Inc.; first published in The Antioch Review, Vol. XXXI, No. 1; reprinted by permission of the editors), in Antioch Review, Spring, 1971, pp. 131-32.