Vardis Fisher Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Vardis Alvero Fisher was born on March 31, 1895, in Annis, Idaho, the son of Joseph and Temperance Thornton, Mormon converts. After spending his early life in a log cabin on the frontier, he received his A.B. degree at the University of Idaho and his M.A. and his Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. After graduation he taught at both universities; he also served in World War I as a corporal.

Fisher was married three times: to Leona McMurtrey in 1918, to Margaret Trusler in 1928, and to Laurel Holmes in 1940. During the years of the Depression he was the director of the Federal Writers’ Project in Idaho. He wrote two thorough descriptive works on Idaho, The Idaho Guide and The Idaho Encyclopedia, while working for the project.

His first two novels, Toilers of the Hills and Dark Bridwell, present Laurentian themes in a Western setting. His first work to attract attention was a thinly disguised biographical work, a tetralogy consisting of In Tragic Life, Passions Spin the Plot, We Are Betrayed, and No Villain Need Be. His best-known work is his long historical novel Children of God, which tells the story of the Mormon movement under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. In 1939 the work won the Harper Novel Prize. City of Illusion is a story of the Comstock Lode, and The Mothers is a fictionalized account of the Donner Party tragedy. In a planned twelve-volume series called The Testament of Man, he attempted to trace the development of humankind from prehistoric days. Some of the titles in this series are Darkness and the Deep, The Golden Rooms, Intimations of Eve, Adam and the Serpent, and The Island of the Innocent. Pemmican is a novel of the early fur trade in the American Northwest.

Vardis Fisher Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

American Book Collector 14 (September, 1963). A special Vardis Fisher issue that incudes a bibliography, an article by Fisher, and essays by several critics, including Joseph M. Flora. (This periodical is unfortunately difficult to find.)

Attebury, Louie. A Literary History of the American West. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987. This massive study devotes about twenty-five pages to summarizing the Western literature of Fisher.

Bishop, John Peale. “The Strange Case of Vardis Fisher.” Southern Review 3, no. 2 (1937). Compares Fisher with Erskine Caldwell, Thomas Wolfe, and William Faulkner.

Chatterton, Wayne. Vardis Fisher: The Frontier and Regional Works. Boise, Idaho: Boise State College, 1972. Provides history and criticism of Fisher’s Western literary works.

DeVoto, Bernard. “Millennial Millions.” The Saturday Review of Literature, August 26, 1939. Argues that Children of God is Fisher’s masterpiece.

Flora, Joseph M. Rediscovering Vardis Fisher: Centennial Essays. Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 2001. Twelve chapters delve into the themes, meanings, and criticism of Fisher’s works.

Milton, John R. “The Primitive World of Vardis Fisher: The Idaho Novels.” Midwest Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought 17 (1976). Stresses the autobiographical aspect of Fisher’s work.

Rein, David M. Vardis Fisher: Challenge to Evasion. Chicago: Normandie House, 1938. Presents an example of Marxist criticism.

Snell, George Dixon. The Shapers of American Fiction, 1798-1947. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1943. Ranks Fisher among America’s major authors.

Strong, Lester. “Vardis Fisher Revisited.” South Dakota Review 24 (Autumn, 1986). Deals with the process of turning history into myth.