Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The late 1940’s and early 1950’s witnessed, on the one hand, the sharp rise of William Carlos Williams’ literary fame and, on the other, the rapid decline of his health. Because of his literary achievements, Williams, during these few years, received a number of awards and honorary degrees from prestigious institutions. At the same time, however, his health began to fail him. In February, 1948, Williams experienced the first of a series of heart attacks and strokes which were to burden him for the last fifteen years of his life. He had good reason to believe that it was time to assess his own literary career and evaluate the achievements of his life. Shortly after recovering from his first attack, Williams signed a contract in 1949 with Random House to write an autobiography, completing it in less than a year.

Moving in approximately chronological order, The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams covers the period from his childhood until the year he completed the work, at the age of sixty-eight. Four hundred pages long, the book consists of the author’s foreword (four pages) and three parts. Part 1, which contains twenty-one chapters (124 pages), deals with his early life, from his childhood to his advanced medical training in Leipzig, Germany, in 1910. The second part, which contains nineteen chapters (169 pages), begins with his practice as a doctor in New Jersey and ends with his summer excursion to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1931. Parts of the diary that Williams originally kept on his sabbatical trip to Europe are included verbatim in the second part. Relatively short, the third and last part, consisting of sixteen chapters, mainly records the events of his later life, a period during which his literary achievements began to gain wide recognition. At the end of the book, an...

(The entire section is 739 words.)