Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Peter De Vries (duh VREEZ) is the most serious of the comic writers (such as Robert Benchley, S. J. Perelman, and James Thurber) associated with The New Yorker. He was born in Chicago in 1910, the second child of Dutch immigrants, Joost and Henrietta Eldersveld De Vries. His parents were deeply religious Dutch Calvinists. De Vries attended a parochial school and in 1927 went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he played basketball and edited the student newspaper. From 1931 to 1941 he worked at various jobs; he sold candy, worked on his father’s moving van, and was a radio actor. From 1941 to 1944 he was an editor of Poetry magazine. In that capacity he met Katinka Loeser, an associate editor of the magazine and a short-story writer. They married in 1943, and one year later, at the invitation of James Thurber, they moved to New York, where De Vries became the cartoon editor of The New Yorker.
In 1948 De Vries moved with his growing family to Westport, Connecticut. He and his wife had two sons and two daughters, one of whom, Emily, died of leukemia at the age of eleven in 1960. This inspired the searing account of the death of a child in The Blood of the Lamb. DeVries also tried to exorcise the experience in the paired novellas The Cat’s Pajamas (which was made into a film entitled Pete ‘n Tillie, with Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett) and Witch’s Milk. Between 1952 and...
(The entire section is 1169 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Peter De Vries was born in Chicago, Illinois, on February 27, 1910. His parents, Joost and Henrietta De Vries, emigrated from Holland and settled in a closely knit Dutch Calvinist community on Chicago’s South Side. De Vries’ father was an iceman and furniture mover who started with “a one-horse outfit that he gradually built to a sizeable warehouse business.” During De Vries’ boyhood, the family lived in a three-room apartment behind his father’s business office.
The De Vries family were members of the strict Dutch Reformed Church, and their domestic life was probably much like that described in the autobiographical The Blood of the Lamb: a large, contentious family with parents and in-laws forever arguing about some obscure point of theology or church doctrine. Apparently, such disagreements were commonplace in the Dutch Reformed Church, for in the novel The Mackerel Plaza, when someone boasts to the protagonist’s father that his denomination has not had a schism in the past one hundred years, the father replies, “Rotten wood you can’t split.” De Vries’ parents were also strict about forbidding any form of worldliness: Card playing and watching motion pictures were forbidden, and Bible reading and theological discussions were encouraged. During his adolescence, De Vries rebelled against these strictures, but he later expressed fond memories of the Dutch-language services and hymns of his childhood....
(The entire section is 632 words.)
Four elements are common in the fiction of Peter De Vries: a fascination with metaphysics, especially questions relating to religious issues and to meaning in life; a sympathetic presentation of ordinary domestic arrangements; poking fun at ordinary Midwest and Northeast suburban society; and an amazing skill with the English language.
De Vries was born into a family of Dutch Calvinists and reared in their strict faith. He was graduated from Calvin College in 1931. As a novelist, he often weaves questions of faith into the musings of his characters and the comic transformations they undergo. While exploring religious and existential questions in this way, he satirizes aspects of contemporary life. De Vries celebrates domestic life without sentimentalizing it. He eventually settled with his wife, the writer Katinka Loeser, in suburban Connecticut and fathered five children. A daughter died of leukemia in 1960, a tragedy commemorated in The Blood of the Lamb. In comic novels, his characters usually take a circuitous route to domestic bliss, sometimes exploring unconventional paths along the way. Ultimately, however, they reconcile themselves to conventional happiness.
De Vries devoted his life to language. He held several editorial positions: on small newspapers, at Poetry magazine (1938-1944), and as a staff contributor to The New Yorker (1944-1987). His wit has been placed in the company of that of such noted...
(The entire section is 230 words.)