William Hoffman 1925-
American novelist and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Hoffman's career through 2001.
Hoffman is known for composing gritty, realistic works which advocate stable, transcendent values, continual self-discovery, and personal sacrifice as a means to spiritual redemption in a fallen world. Though a regional writer, his works transcend the concerns of the American South through the essential humanity of their characters and themes, which together mirror much of the turmoil of the last half of the twentieth century. The dehumanizing effects of war are clearly delineated in The Trumpet Unblown (1957), while the impact of economics on personal lives is central in The Dark Mountains (1963). Tidewater Blood (1998) exemplifies Hoffman's many narrative strengths, and his four short story collections reflect his philosophical beliefs and agrarian bent.
Born in 1925 in Charleston, West Virginia, the son of a coal miner, Hoffman was raised by his grandmother, and a strict Presbyterian upbringing strongly influenced his later fiction. Hoffman graduated from high school at the Kentucky Military Institute in Lyndon, Kentucky. At age eighteen he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served in the medical corps from 1943 to 1946. His experiences in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge shaped three of his novels, The Trumpet Unblown, Days in the Yellow Leaf (1958), and Yancey's War (1966). Upon his return to the United States, Hoffman enrolled in Hampden-Sydney College, from which he graduated in 1949. Intending to become a lawyer, Hoffman attended Washington and Lee University during 1949-50, where he took a creative writing course. He so enjoyed writing that he decided to make it his life's work; accordingly, he participated in the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop from 1950 to 1951. He worked briefly as a journalist in Washington, D.C., and then went to New York City, where he held a minor post at the Chase National Bank. Hoffman returned to Virginia in 1952 in response to an offer from Hampden-Sydney College to become an assistant professor of English. When he returned to Virginia, he began writing fiction and adopted the schedule to which he still adheres, writing from five until nine in the morning, teaching, and then writing again in the afternoon. The discipline this schedule imposed resulted in the completion of two novels, The Trumpet Unblown and Days in the Yellow Leaf. He continued teaching at Hampden-Sydney through 1959, when he resigned to devote himself to writing full-time. During his time away from academic duties he published two more novels, A Place for My Head (1960) and The Dark Mountains. In 1964 he returned to Hampden-Sydney as a writer-in-residence, a post he held for the next seven years. Also in 1964, he purchased a pre-Civil War farmhouse on fifty acres of land near Charlotte Court House for his family, a wife and two daughters. Over the next several years he developed his small farm into a model of self-sufficiency and harmony with the environment of Southside Virginia. Yancey's War, another novel, appeared in 1966, and in 1967 he published a drama, The Love Touch. Two novels, A Walk to the River (1970) and A Death of Dreams (1973), as well as his first short story collection, Virginia Reels (1978), were published in the next decade. Hoffman retired from Hampden-Sydney in 1983 but continues to write. His work has won several prestigious literary prizes, including best story of 1988 from the Virginia Quarterly Review for “Sweet Armageddon,” the Andrew Lytle Prize from the Sewanee Review for “Dancer,” and the Jean Charpiot Goodheart Prize for Fiction, awarded by Shenandoah. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in 1976 and was inducted as a Virginia Cultural Laureate in 1986. Hoffman was awarded the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature in 1992 and the O. Henry Prize in 1996. He was elected to the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 1998, and was a recipient of their Hillsdale Prize for fiction in the same year. Tidewater Blood won the Dashiell Hammett award in 1999. Hoffman has received two honorary D. Litt. degrees, one from Hampden-Sydney College in 1980 and another from Washington and Lee University in 1995.
Hoffman's sense of place is paramount in his works; almost all of them are set in West Virginia, Virginia, or the Chesapeake Bay area. His work shares much of the outlook and many idiosyncrasies of other Southern Agrarian authors, yet his themes are universal and strongly influenced by the circumstances of his own life. Critics divide his novels into three categories, those concerned mostly with the following: war, the culture of Virginia and West Virginia, and spirituality. In both his novels and his short stories, Hoffman's characters attempt to define themselves, search for distant or unknown fathers, cope with random violence, examine the devastating effects of war, or question the rampant materialism of the last half of the twentieth century. The Trumpet Unblown tells the story of a young Virginian, Tyree Jefferson Shelby, who altruistically volunteers for service, but in the course of observing unspeakable brutality and venality on both sides loses all faith in humanity. Days in the Yellow Leaf recalls the inevitability of Aristotelian tragedy in the unfolding story of the protagonist, Tod Young. A conscientious objector during World War II, his father considers him a traitor and coward, yet Tod remains in the town of his childhood. In his determination to be his own man and to avoid hurting others, he loses everything except, in the end, reconciliation and mutual understanding with his father. Yancy's War depicts the life of an inept man whose incompetence takes not only his own life but the lives of the men under his command. Hoffman recalls his own West Virginia heritage in The Dark Mountains, a rich novel about the coal mining industry during the rise of the labor union movement. Hoffman traces three generations of a family, showing their rise, decline, and ultimate accommodation to circumstances. In A Walk to the River, a minister stands falsely accused of committing adultery with the wife of the town's leading citizen. Jackson LeJohn, the chair of the church's board, is charged with overseeing the investigation and congregational meetings that result in the conviction of an innocent man and in the course of discharging his duties, he discovers important things about himself.
Hoffman writes repeatedly about moral decay and rampant materialism in modern American society, a concern that led to three novels sometimes categorized as philosophical or religious in theme—The Land that Drank the Rain (1982), Godfires (1985), and Furors Die (1990). The Land That Drank the Rain is a modern day retelling of the tribulations of Job. The protagonist, Claytor Carson, has been living a dissolute life in California but returns to his roots in the Cumberland Mountains seeking spiritual renewal. A character named Vestil Skank, alternately sympathetic and repugnant, is Carson's tormentor and ultimate savior. As Carson attempts to redeem Skank from a life of squalor and degradation, he learns that only through self-sacrifice, personal courage, and interaction with others can he experience redemption. Furors Die traces the maturation and relationship of two boys who come from different socioeconomic circumstances but whose lives are irrevocably intertwined. Wylie, born wealthy and given a Southern gentleman's pedigree, and Amos, poor but talented, experience a reversal of fortunes. As the transformation in their lots occurs, their true characters are revealed, permitting self-understanding and growth. Tidewater Blood, covers Hoffman's entire fictional geography. Several members of an aristocratic Virginia family are murdered at a family reunion. Suspicion falls immediately on Charles LeBlanc, the black sheep of the family. A disgraced Vietnam veteran, dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, LeBlanc has been living hermit-like in a swamp. As law enforcement officers attempt to capture him, he embarks on a quest to his family's roots in West Virginia, where he must come to terms with his family's past in order to prove his innocence. Conflicting cultural values and the power of the past over events in the present, themes that Hoffman explores repeatedly in his works, are strong elements of Tidewater Blood. Hoffman's spare prose, setting, and central themes are evident in his four short story collections. The stories in Virginia Reels are deeply pessimistic and reflective of Hoffman's Calvinist heritage. The stories in By Land, By Sea (1988) and Follow Me Home (1994) are less dark than those in the first collection, but describe characters caught in fateful forces that have moved beyond their ability to either recognize or control. In contrast to the first two volumes of short stories, Follow Me Home contains protagonists with strong values—admirable human beings who have attained innocence through experience. Doors (1999) contains ten linked stories that illustrate the fictional town of Tobaccoton, Virginia, which some critics have compared to William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.
Although long favored by critics, Hoffman's works have languished among readers, except for a small following of devoted fans. Though the nationally esteemed Sewanee Review has, as of 1991, published more short stories by William Hoffman than by any other author, his literary reputation has been slow to extend beyond his home state and Southern vicinity. His supporters note that the range and richness of his work, while confined in setting, is universal in exploring the psychological processes of self-discovery, maintenance of ethical values, and the means to redemption. The Trumpet Unblown has been favorably compared to Ernest Hemingway's great war novels and Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, and the characters of The Dark Mountains have been favorably compared to those in Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. While some critics see profundity, even mythic power, in the sparse quality of his narrative style, Hoffman's terse diction has been faulted by some as overly simplistic. Despite such criticism and a long career of relative underrecognition, Hoffman's two recent mystery novels, Tidewater Blood and Blood and Guile (2000), have earned him a wider popular readership. His thematic concerns, reiterated in all his works, link him to the tradition instituted by such important Southern authors as Warren, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor.
The Trumpet Unblown (novel) 1957
Days in the Yellow Leaf (novel) 1958
A Place for My Head (novel) 1960
The Dark Mountains (novel) 1963
Yancey's War (novel) 1966
The Love Touch (drama) 1967
A Walk to the River (novel) 1970
A Death of Dreams (novel) 1973
Virginia Reels (short stories) 1978
The Land That Drank the Rain (novel) 1982
Godfires (novel) 1985
By Land, By Sea (short stories) 1988
Furors Die (novel) 1990
Follow Me Home (short stories) 1994
Tidewater Blood (novel) 1998
Doors (short stories) 1999
Blood and Guile (novel) 2000
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SOURCE: “Author First Wrote Love Letters for a Fee,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, April 7, 1968, p. H14.
[In the following essay, Galloway traces Hoffman's early experiences as a writer, his relationship with his wife, and discusses with the author aspects of Hoffman's house in the town of Charlotte Court House, Virginia.]
Author William Hoffman, who got his “professional” writing start composing love letters for classmates at the tender age of 16, now finds himself cast in the role of country squire.
As author-in-residence at Hampden-Sydney College, he teaches creative writing, a field dear to his heart, and as the owner of “Wynard,” a pre Civil War house, he is living the life he likes.
“We looked for this kind of a house from the day we were married,” said Hoffman’s wife Sue, who is fond of horses and antiques. “I came to an auction at the house next door and found out about this one. We moved in five years ago.”
Built about 1832, the main section of the house in Charlotte Court House was later enlarged. The house came complete with ghost.
“We scoffed of course, and didn't believe in ghosts,” Mrs. Hoffman explained pertly, then added in a matter of fact voice, “but we have heard footsteps upstairs, and one night about 1 or 2 a.m. I heard someone come halfway down the stairs and then stop. I checked and...
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SOURCE: “The Intolerable Wrestle,” in Modern Age, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter, 1972, pp. 109-11.
[In the following review of A Walk to the River, Buffington discusses Hoffman's Southern concerns and prose style, finding shortcomings in the novel's dramatization.]
William Hoffman is one of the writers indicted in Floyd C. Watkins’ The Death of Art: Black and White in the Recent Southern Novel (University of Georgia Press, 1970). Professor Watkins’ thesis, simple to argue, is that the fictions of Hoffman, Carson McCullers, Elizabeth Spencer, Harper Lee, Jesse Hill Ford, Peter S. Feibleman, and others, including even William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren in some of their late work, fail both on the side of truth and on the side of art in their representations of the South according to liberal stereotypes. Hoffman’s first novel, Trumpet Unblown, is an example, says Watkins, of the way these writers “usually reject the entire Southern tradition.” In A Place for My Head—praised by The Saturday Review because “it points up the bitterness, the blindness, the stubborn pride, and the fear gripping the modern-day South”—“white and black are both so evil that little good can be found to praise in either race. … ‘All that’s left in the world,’” one of the characters says, “‘is bastards.’”
In A Walk to the River,...
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SOURCE: “The Fugitive Hero in New Southern Fiction,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. XCI, No. 3, Summer, 1983, pp. 439-45.
[In the following excerpt, Davenport offers a positive assessment of The Land That Drank the Rain.]
Being an American, over a century after Henry James’s celebrated remark, is still a complex fate. What is perhaps more noteworthy in our age of easy mobility, mass communication, and increasing national uniformity is that it is still a complex fate—and a virtually unique fate—to be a southerner. More accurately it is a paradoxical fate. The southerner exists at the intersection of two deeply rooted conflicting traditions: on the one hand stand family piety, southern Protestantism, regional loyalty, and attachment to the land; and on the other stands ornery rebelliousness. Take a modern southerner, no matter how sophisticated, and set him down in New York: he is likely to feel like a paroled convict—or perhaps a deposed monarch. Yet if this same exile is brought home to a cozy Sunday dinner with the family in Raleigh or Birmingham, he may well experience acute feelings of suffocation and entanglement. A dilemma of this sort clearly accounts for a great deal of the vitality (to say nothing of the subjects) of recent southern writing.
Everywhere in contemporary southern fiction one encounters flight, escape, rebellion—and yet the opposite tendency is always there,...
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SOURCE: “About Any Kind of Meanness You Can Name,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. XCIII, No. 4, Fall, 1985, pp. 649-56.
[In the following excerpt, Sullivan commends Hoffman's prose style but finds Godfires to be a reprise of well-worn views and attitudes about the contemporary American South.]
The three novels discussed here are all more or less southern, but otherwise they are about as different as they could be. The hero of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, from which I take my title, is born in Tennessee, but the action of the novel occurs in the American West. Lewis Green's The Silence of Snakes is set in the mountains of North Carolina between the world wars, and its themes are traditionally southern. William Hoffman’s novel, [Godfires,] laid in rural Virginia with occasional incursions into Richmond, engages the ambiguities of the modern South.
In one of its dimensions Godfires is a novel of detection. Billy Payne, the commonwealth’s attorney in Howell County, Virginia, is a man on the skids at thirty-five, a failed yuppie who is likely to be out of work after the next election. His quotidian life moves from his office, where the local preachers urge him to suppress pornography and to discover and prosecute juveniles who make love in the byways, to his home, where he lives with his father in drunken acrimony equally shared. Billy’s mother is dead; his...
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SOURCE: “Spirit Prevails in Well-Crafted Tales,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, April 3, 1988, p. F5.
[In the following review of By Land, By Sea, Merritt praises Hoffman's abilities as a literary craftsman and poignant storyteller.]
William Hoffman is an old-fashioned writer, and this seems to account for both the pleasures of his stories and for some of their annoying traits.
Being an old-fashioned writer from Virginia—Hoffman lives in Charlotte County and was for seven years writer-in-residence at Hampden-Sydney College—means that these stories are close to the land and occasionally to the Chesapeake Bay, and they belong to the sense of place that has always played such an important role in Southern literature.
Being an old-fashioned writer from the South also means that many of Hoffman's stories tend to be a bit overdone in their use of words. Southerners tend to love a good adjective, and if they can find two, three or four, then all the better. It can get a bit annoying, but then that's part of the genre.
Beyond all of this, however, Hoffman's dozen stories [in By Land, By Sea] display an honest compassion for the people he creates on the page. In their clashes between values of the past and present, in their struggle to retain their ties to the land and sea at times when the modern world seems opposed to such simple concerns,...
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SOURCE: “Southside Life Inspires Author,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, May 15, 1988, pp. C1–C2.
[In the following review, Neuberger relates how Hoffman enjoys living in a small, agrarian community in Virginia, and discusses the inspiration Hoffman draws from the landscape and the people around him.]
Like almost everyone else in this small Southside town. Bill Hoffman can be seen each morning ambling to the post office, greeting others along the way.
In the afternoons, Hoffman will do chores around the small farm he and his wife share with their horses, dogs and cats.
But a typical resident of Southside, Hoffman is not.
He’s the author of nine novels and dozens of short stories, some collected in the recently published By Land, by Sea.
With the countryside just outside his office window, Hoffman has penned a pile of tales focusing on life in rural Virginia communities. The places often bear a striking resemblance to towns like Farmville and Charlotte Court House.
“I’ve lived here so long, it’s part of me now,” says Hoffman, a native of West Virginia who adopted Southside Virginia as his home about 35 years ago.
White-haired and easygoing at 62, Hoffman is settled into the unhurried life around this town of fewer than 600 people. He and his wife, Sue, reared two daughters, and...
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SOURCE: “Wonderful Geographies,” in Georgia Review, Vol. 43, No. 2, Summer, 1989, pp. 406-16.
[In the following excerpt, Johnson offers a favorable evaluation of By Land, By Sea, though arguing that some of the stories “lapse into melodrama.”]
“The truth is,” Eudora Welty has written, “fiction depends for its life on place.” Her well-known essay, “Place in Fiction,” champions the significance of a story’s setting: “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable as art, if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.” The importance of location, according to Welty, transcends any critical commonplaces about “regional” writing or “verisimilitude.” Referring to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County but also to Emily Brontë’s Yorkshire moors and Flaubert’s French villages, Welty suggests that the mythologized landscape underlying any great novel or story is the primary source of its emotional power. Far from betraying a limited or parochial viewpoint, a clearly defined fictional geography provides the essential grounding for authentic human character and action. In 1972, Welty told an interviewer that she didn’t mind being called a regional writer, since she viewed the notion of regionalism in this larger context: “I just think of myself writing about human beings and I happen to live in a region, as do we all, so I write about what I...
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SOURCE: “Hoffman Doesn't Dodge Life,” in the Farmville Herald, March 21, 1990, pp. A1, A3.
[The following review of Furors Dieprovides a plot summary of the novel and lauds Hoffman's abilities as a skilled writer, praising his proficiency with symbolism, language, satire, and setting.]
To the followers of the fiction of William Hoffman, it will come as no surprise that he has dedicated his latest novel—his tenth, Furors Die—to his former minister and his wife. In the first place, Bill Hoffman has always been interested in, and, in his fiction, has never dodged questions of a moral, philosophical, or theological nature: One recalls immediately Tod Young of Days in the Yellow Leaf, Jackson LeJohn of A Walk To the River, Claytor Carson of The Land That Drank the Rain, and Billy Payne of Godfires. But there is a second and more compelling reason for such a dedication—apart from a long-term friendship—and that is that Furors Die can be read as a parable on the seven deadly sins, with special emphasis on pride, avarice (or greed) and lust.
The story is essentially a richly detailed account of the growing up and coming to age of its two main characters, Wylie Duval and Amos “Pinky” Cody. Wylie has it all—and at a early age: new cars, easy girls, country club life-style. Overly influenced by a frenzied and aggressive mother, a...
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SOURCE: “Old-Fashioned Values,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, May 20, 1990, p. G5.
[In the following brief review of Furors Die, Merritt praises Hoffman's talent for describing character and place, but denounces the novel for its old-fashioned attitudes, particularly in regard to its portrayal of sexual relations.]
When William Hoffman is described as an “old-fashioned” writer, what it means is that he's a Southern writer who tries to maintain the old Southern values—to life, as well as literature—in a changing world. In this, his 10th novel, the former writer-in-residence at Hampden-Sydney College and longtime resident of Charlotte Courthouse tries to tell a modern story in those somewhat dated terms, and he draws both his strengths and weaknesses from the effort.
Corruption is the central theme of Furors Die, and Hoffman uses the oldest plot in the world. He focuses on the lives of two men—the one who has all the advantages and the one who does not—and follows them until the “have-not” is seduced by the money and influence that has been held over him all his life. And, as it must be in such a parable, he pays the consequences.
The setting is a fictitious town in West Virginia, but with lots of Virginia references. The boys are Wylie Duval of a wealthy family and Amos “Pinky” Cody of a poor and deeply religious upbringing. Hoffman...
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SOURCE: “The Fiction of William Hoffman: An Introduction,” in Hollins Critic, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, February, 1991, pp. 1-10.
[In the following essay, Frank provides an overview of the central themes, regional settings and motifs, prose style, and narrative presentation in Hoffman's fiction. Frank's analysis, which aims to enlarge Hoffman's readership, focuses on several representative works—the novels The Trumpet Unblown, The Land That Drank the Rain, and Godfires, and the short story collection By Land, By Sea.]
During the past thirty-five years William Hoffman has published ten novels, two collections of short stories, and over three dozen additional short stories in such quarterlies as the Transatlantic Review, The Virginia Quarterly, and The Sewanee Review; he is perhaps best known to the readers of the latter, for The Sewanee Review has published more short stories by William Hoffman than by any other author. Although Hoffman’s fiction has been the subject of at least one doctoral dissertation and numerous master’s theses, and although reviews of his novels have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek, his work has not received the attention of the critics that it should command. The purpose of this essay, then, is to introduce to a larger audience the fictional world of William Hoffman, focusing on his first...
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SOURCE: “Fiction and the Furniture of Consciousness,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. C, No. 2, Spring, 1992, pp. 323-30.
[In the following excerpt, Davenport praises Hoffman's skill as a novelist and offers a positive assessment of Furors Die.]
“Caelum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt”: those who rush across the sea change their climate, not their minds. Thus ran Horace’s advice to his travelling friend Bullatius. Given the right sort of mind, you will find what you seek anywhere, even at squalid Ulubrae—or, given the wrong sort, nowhere. Horace’s line has enjoyed a modicum of fame, no doubt because there have always been enough impenetrably ethnocentric travellers to make it seem true. But there are other conclusions that might be drawn here as well. For, if it is the mind that makes the place, then the mind—the right sort, once again—can presumably find (or create) significantly different meanings in different places.
There is hardly a finer instance of this “right” sort of mentality than Henry James, whose life’s work is, among other things, the record of a profound and sensitive mind’s self-conscious interaction with the places of the visible world. Such an achievement as The American Scene owes everything to James’s faith (or “superstition” as he calls it) that “objects and places, coherently grouped, disposed for human use and addressed...
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SOURCE: “Hoffman Energizes His Tales,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, September 11, 1994, p. F4.
[In the following brief review of the short stories in Follow Me Home, Carter deems the tales to be carefully constructed, humorous, and compelling, but denounces Hoffman for the fact that some of the stories and dialogue seem contrived.]
“We read to know we're not alone,” says a character in the recent film, Shadowlands. Literature comforts us with the knowledge that others share our doubts and fears, our disappointments and heartaches. And it extends this comfort by letting us enter the lives of others and experience the secret longings and broken dreams that stand us on common ground.
It is this function of literature that William Hoffman, a Virginian and former Hampden-Sydney College professor, so capably fulfills in his third collection of stories [Follow Me Home]. A master craftsman of empathy, Hoffman immerses us in the lives of characters we would shun on the street and makes us care about them.
Beau, the aptly named protagonist of “Points,” is an insufferable snob whose son “considers civility a nuisance.” A horseman whose bank balance has seen better days, Beau fears being cut from the “February Frolic,” fox hunt and, to his son's disgust, toadies up to those who control the invitation list. Nevertheless, when the chips are...
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SOURCE: “Taking Measure: Violent Intruders in William Hoffman's Short Fiction,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. CIV, No. 3, Summer, 1996, pp. 396-412.
[In the following essay, Chappell draws attention to the recurring motif of an outsider entering into an insular community, or “pocket society,” in Hoffman's short fiction. As Chappell notes, this theme in Hoffman's stories is often dramatized by episodes of violence and menacing reversals that give depth, suspense, and resolution to his narratives.]
The term pocket society describes a definable aggregate of individual people that possesses recognizable dynamic qualities and important, though often changeable, relationships among its different members. It is smaller than our world or national societies or our body politic, and in the immediate sense it is more important to us because we engage so intimately and continually with it. Our family comprises a pocket society and our professional colleagues comprise another and so do the members of our church; the same is true of a bridge club or a sewing circle or an army barracks. But we rarely think about the natures of these small societies because they envelop us: we are caught up in their webs of multiple tensions and have no way to break clear and discover an objective point of view. We are too much a part of them; they are too much a part of us.
Fiction writers like to take a...
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SOURCE: “Hoffman's Novel ‘Tight, Taut, Compelling …’,” in Farmville Herald, April 1, 1998, p. 2B.
[In the following review, Frank enthusiastically praises the literary merits and compelling, thrilling story in Tidewater Blood.]
Move over John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell and Sue Grafton—there's a new kid on the mystery writer's block! Charlotte County novelist William Hoffman's Tidewater Blood is tight, taut, compelling and convincing.
Two months ago my wife and I were on our way to visit my brother in New Port Richey, Florida via Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of my wife's sister we had with us a twelve hour tape of Dean Koontz' Intensity. It was so gripping that we thought about driving around Savannah after our arrival just so we could-listen to the novel's conclusion. Yesterday I had to sit with our other Savanna, our granddaughter, who was recovering from a strep throat. I took along with me my copy of Tidewater Blood, assuming I could read a chapter or two while she dozed, worked on her homework, or watched television. I never put the book down until I finished it several hours later!
As the poet and novelist Fred Chappell wrote in a pre-publication review, Tidewater Blood is “an irresistible story of revenge, flight, recognition and ingenious detective work. Here is a novel as taut as a drumhead, as sinewy as braided cable,...
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SOURCE: “Hoffman Turns to Suspense,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, April 12, 1998, p. F4.
[In the following review, Carter lauds Hoffman's characterization and sense of place in Tidewater Blood,but denounces the author for couching the deeper story about the conflict between Virginians and West Virginians within the trappings of a murder mystery.]
Although Cold Mountain and Paradise have managed recently to elbow their way onto the bestseller lists, the top slots are still populated mainly by novels about secret political/economic/terrorist cabals threatening to destroy entire populations unless their demands are met.
In such novels, a protagonist armed only with a Swiss Army knife stumbles unwittingly into the plot, survives massive explosions and enough high-tech firepower to reduce the immediate environment to rubble, restores peace and security to the world, then parts with the frightened female companion he has somehow acquired and returns to his job as a typesetter.
Writers such as Virginia novelist William Hoffman, who explore the complexities of moral conflict in a fallen world, win lots of prizes and get good reviews but usually have to teach for a living. (Hoffman is a long-time professor at Hampden-Sydney College.) Small wonder, then, that they are tempted sometimes to go for the green.
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SOURCE: “Surprise Ending,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, April 29, 1998, p. D1, D3.
[In the following review, McKelway extols the virtues of Tidewater Blood, noting that the book marks a departure for Hoffman due to its suspense thriller characteristics, whereas his other works typically feature philosophical examinations and deeper symbolic levels at their core.]
He doesn't remember exactly when the idea came to him, but it dawned on Virginia writer William Hoffman that murdering someone with a time-delayed explosion would make for a novel crime.
Fortunately, the idea has spawned a possible best seller rather than a police record.
In his new book. Tidewater Blood, Hoffman has allowed his fertile imagination to do away with a prosperous, unsuspecting chunk of Virginia aristocracy on the 250th anniversary of the family's arrival in the colony.
“No,” he said the other day from his Charlotte County farm, Wynyard, “I don’t have any enemies that I’m getting back at.”
Blowing up folks has not been Hoffman's meal ticket as a writer over his long career, one that runs back to the 1950s and has produced more than 50 short stories and 10 other full-length works.
These writings have thematically plumbed Southside and Tidewater Virginia history, religion and segregation, as well as the opening of the...
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SOURCE: “His Novel's Success is ‘Thrilling’ News,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, April 30, 1998, p. B1.
[In the following review, Clark discusses the release of Tidewater Blood, noting Hoffman's easy-going affability and the author's venture into the suspense thriller market with the novel.]
William “Bill” Hoffman came to town yesterday to promote his new novel, Tidewater Blood.
The book, a modern suspense thriller involving an aristocratic Virginia family whose roots go way back, is off to a fine start artistically and commercially.
It has been proclaimed a page-turner by some literary critics, and it is showing signs of becoming a best seller. If the book earns him a chunk of change, that will be just fine with Hoffman, an accomplished fiction writer who hadn't been known as a mystery writer.
“Some people have accused me of betraying my craft by writing a thriller,” he told a lunch-hour audience at The Library of Virginia. “My response is that a 72-year-old man has a right to make a little money.”
Hoffman is a serious writer and a funny guy.
His healthy sense of humor was in grand form at the state library, where his appearance was sponsored by The Virginia Center for the Book.
The audience included a number of men who have known Bill Hoffman a long time. Some of...
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SOURCE: “Hoffman Opens His Door: Author Discusses Writing, New Short Story Collection,” in Farmville Herald, June 4, 1999, pp. 1, 10.
[In the following interview, Hoffman discusses his approach to writing, his short story collection Doors,and the thematic concerns of his fiction.]
Editor’s Note: The following interview took place at the home of Bill and Susan Hoffman at their home, Wynyard, in Charlotte Court House, on Monday, May 24. The occasion was the publication of Mr. Hoffman’s fifteenth book and fourth short story collection, Doors. … The interview was conducted on behalf of the Farmville Herald by Bill Frank, Professor Emeritus of English, Longwood College.
[William L. Frank:] Most of our readers are familiar with your work, but for readers new to the area would you tell us when you began writing, and why did you decide that writing fiction was to be your principal life’s work?
[William Hoffman:] I started writing fiction when I was at Washington and Lee University and took a writing class there. I really entered my intense and sustained period of writing in 1952, when I went to teach at Hampden-Sydney College. I wrote my first four or five novels while I lived in Farmville. I chose fiction because it chose me, I guess. I love to read fiction because I believe fiction is a lot more than entertaining. I think the...
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SOURCE: “Hoffman's Doors Offers Look at Human Nature,” in Farmville Herald, June 4, 1999, p. 8.
[In the following review, Van Ness offers a positive assessment of Doors.]
“Begin with an individual,” Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1926, “and before you know it you find you have created a type.” Fitzgerald’s “type,” a determined, upper-class young woman, courageous and attractive and independent, competing at life and love for the highest stakes—her future—, centered all his stories. William Hoffman’s fourth collection of stories, titled Doors, also presents a type, though one not so readily defined—an outsider who is not restricted to a particular class, race, or gender and who not only rejects traditional social values, keeping instead his or her own counsel, but also acts on distinctly personal beliefs. It is this intense individualism that distinguishes these men and women, renders them memorably large, and which in these new stories often serves as an obstacle to be overcome rather than as a source of personal salvation.
In Follow Me Home, Hoffman’s previous collection, published in 1994, he insisted upon what may only be called spirituality, a code of conduct centered not on religion so much as the realization that in the modern world all are wounded, lost, vulnerable. Consequently, what is required are the old-fashioned virtues of love,...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
SOURCE: “Hoffman Evokes Sense of Place,” in Richmond Times Dispatch, June 27, 1999, p. F4.
[In the following brief review, Carter offers a positive evaluation of the stories in Doors.]
Few writers have an ear so finely attuned to the pulsebeat of a place as William Hoffman. In the 10 stories collected here [in Doors], all of which appeared previously in prestigious literary quarterlies, Hoffman creates a rich and lovingly detailed tapestry that encapsulates the life of Southside Virginia from its fox-hunting elite to its harried tobacco farmers, confident “come-heres,” and watermen (or, in this case, waterwomen). In the spare, precise prose that is his hallmark, Hoffman accomplishes feats of storytelling legerdemain that might well serve as a textbook for aspiring writers.
A case in point is the story “Stones,” an O. Henry prize-winner that delineates the curious combination of social progress and cultural stasis that permeates the rural South. “Stones” is about a young boy, Chris, the son of a Norfolk Southern switchman, confronting what is, to him, the inexplicable behavior of a mysterious black man who has become the owner of a house once the centerpiece of a 3,000-acre tobacco plantation.
In choosing to tell the story from Chris's point-of-view, Hoffman is able to deploy a potent blend of subtlety and dramatic irony that allows us the...
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SOURCE: “The Novels of William Hoffman: One Writer's Spiritual Odyssey from World War II to the Twenty-First Century,” in The Fictional World of William Hoffman, edited by William L. Frank, University of Missouri Press, 2000, pp. 58-87.
[In the following essay, Frank provides an overview of Hoffman's novels, which he divides into “war novels,” “Virginia/West Virginia novels,” and “philosophical/spiritual novels,” and examines the recurring motif of spiritual longing, disillusionment, and redemption in these works. According to Frank, “Hoffman's real subject is not initiation, but his own spiritual odyssey.” A portion of this essay originally appeared as a review of Furors Die, in the Farmville Heraldon March 21, 1990.]
In the forty-five years since William Hoffman published The Trumpet Unblown, he has published ten other novels, four collections of short stories, and over fifty uncollected stories. Obviously there are numerous ways to approach a body of fiction this large, written over such a long period of time. In her master’s thesis, Mary Davis has suggested that the most striking aspect of Hoffman’s novels has to do with the initiation of his male protagonist, and she has skillfully revealed how each novel shows a young man’s entry into the real world, either escaping from a sheltered innocence or reentering the world of reality from a position of...
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SOURCE: “The American Adam in the Southern Wasteland: William Hoffman's Follow Me Home and the Ethics of Redemption,” in The Fictional World of William Hoffman, edited by William L. Frank, University of Missouri Press, 2000, pp. 24-45.
[In the following essay, Van Ness examines the theme of spiritual redemption in the short stories of Follow Me Home. Van Ness identifies Hoffman's protagonists as American incarnations of the biblical Adam, situated in a fallen “southern wasteland.” As such, Hoffman's protagonists are viewed as independent, self-reliant individuals whose rediscovery of old-fashioned morality and the virtues of the heart lead to renewal and “a spiritual wholeness.”]
William Hoffman’s third collection of short stories, Follow Me Home, constitutes a continuation of his earlier volumes, Virginia Reels and By Land, by Sea. Hoffman’s protagonists have almost always been outsiders, men and women who reject the traditional values sanctioned by society; they keep their own counsel and act on their own beliefs. This intense individualism, at times solipsistic, often warps their moral consciousness, and they become grotesques, having so accepted their personal values or so distorted commonly held ethical standards that, in their envy or resentment, they resemble the biblical figure of Cain, not so much losing their innocence as never seeming to have...
(The entire section is 8485 words.)
SOURCE: “Bestseller Dreams,” in Washington Post, February 4, 2001, p. W11.
[In the following essay, Span surveys Hoffman's career as a writer who has been critically acclaimed but has yet to achieve the status of bestselling author, focusing upon the promotion of his novel Blood and Guile.]
Bill Hoffman walks into the Volume II Bookstore in Blacksburg, Va., on a Wednesday evening and immediately wishes he could walk right out again.
It's the chairs. Past the poster promising “10٪ Off William Hoffman Books During Event,” past the stacks of his novels Tidewater Blood and the just-published Blood and Guile, in the center of this enormous store that sells Virginia Tech textbooks and sweat shirts and baseball caps, he's spotted nearly 70 metal folding chairs. In a burst of reckless optimism, the store's staff has set up rows and rows for a reading and signing that's supposed to start in a few minutes—and all of them are empty.
“Doesn't look too promising, does it?” Hoffman says glumly to his wife.
He and Sue have driven 150 miles to this first stop on his promotional rounds, and all the way up into the Blue Ridge, Bill wondered whether the long trip could possibly prove worthwhile. Amiable but a little shy, Hoffman doesn't really like publicity appearances anyway. If he were the kind of name-brand author whose novels sold...
(The entire section is 8026 words.)
Capers, Charlotte. “The Comeuppance of a Gentleman.” New York Times Book Review (17 April 1960): 24.
Offers a positive assessment of A Place for My Head.
Cooperman, Stanley. “Recent Fiction.” The Nation (11 February 1955): 123.
Finds The Trumpet Unblown to be a dated and unremarkable war novel.
Core, George. “Confronting Dilemmas of Flesh, Spirit.” Roanoke Times & World-News (5 December 1993): D4.
Brief overview of Hoffman's career and life in honor of the Dos Passos Award he received from Longwood College.
Daniels, Lucy. “After the Past, the Present.” Saturday Review (18 June 1960): 19-20.
Concludes that Hoffman's “vivid and disturbing” novel is “not a book for those with faith in mankind.”
Davis, Paxton. “Raves for Latest from Hoffman.” Roanoke Times & World-News (10 June 1990): F4.
Review of Furors Die.
DeCandido, GraceAnne A. Review of Doors. Booklist (1 June 1999): 1791.
Offers a positive assessment of Doors.
Dodd, David. Review of Tidewater Blood. Library Journal (1 March 1998): 127.
Offers a favorable assessment of Tidewater...
(The entire section is 423 words.)