Carl Van Vechten Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111229278-Van_Vechten.jpg Carl Van Vechten. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Carl Van Vechten (van VEHK-tehn) had three major careers in the arts; he was a critic, a novelist, and a photographer. His music criticism includes Music After the Great War (1915), Music and Bad Manners (1916), and The Music of Spain (1918). His involvement with major American and European writers and artists of the 1920’s and 1930’s is chronicled in his autobiographies, Sacred and Profane Memories (1932) and Fragments from an Unwritten Autobiography (1955).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The spirit of the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, and the lost generation is nowhere better depicted than in the saucy and irreverent novels of Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten moved deftly through three careers: he began as a music, dance, and drama critic, producing several volumes of wide-ranging, urbane essays; then, he devoted himself to fiction, writing seven well-received novels in a decade that saw the first publications of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos; finally, he became a noted photographer, specializing in portraits of writers and artists.

In all his diverse endeavors, Van Vechten was witty, cosmopolitan, and above all, unconventional. He publicized the work of such writers as William Faulkner, Ronald Firbank, and especially Gertrude Stein, who remained his close friend until her death, and who assigned him as her literary executor. He was among the first critics to recognize the exciting cultural renaissance flourishing in Harlem and devoted much effort to helping establish the careers of Countée Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and other black artists. He saw himself as a popularizer and supporter of avant-garde artists, and with a clear eye and self-assurance, he brought to the attention of the American public figures ranging from Wasaw Nijinsky to Erik Satie, from Mary Garden to Igor Stravinsky.

Van Vechten, more than many of his contemporaries, lived the literary life with seemingly boundless enthusiasm. His verve animates all of his writing, including the essays he frequently contributed to such journals as Trend, The Smart Set, and Vanity Fair. This effervescent spirit informs his novels as well. His wide interests, diverse friendships, and tireless pursuit of the new, the brilliant, and the innovative make Van Vechten a fascinating guide to America’s cultural life in the first decades of the twentieth century.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Coleman, Leon. Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Garland, 1998. Essentially a biography on Van Vechten, emphasizing his interest and influence in the arts. Contains much valuable background information on Van Vechten and his relationships with fellow writers, artists, and dancers during the 1920’s.

Lueders, Edward. Carl Van Vechten. New York: Twayne, 1965. A critical study on Van Vechten containing a brief biography, a discussion of his novels and other works, an afterword, a chronology, and a bibliography. A knowledgeable, sympathetic study by Leuders, who defends Van Vechten’s work from critics’ attacks on its superficiality and pointlessness.

Lueders, Edward. Carl Van Vechten and the Twenties. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1955. Discusses Van Vechten’s novels and volumes on music and art in the context of the hectic high life of the 1920’s. Lueders, a friend of Van Vechten and critic of his work, has written an interesting study of this author and the decade during which he produced his novels.

Van Vechten, Carl. Letters of Carl Van Vechten. Edited by Bruce Kellner. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987. An intimate portrait of Van Vechten, as seen through his letters to friends, fellow authors, publishers, artists, biographers, and family members. The letters have been selected from private collections and private and public institutions.

Van Vechten, Carl, and Langston Hughes. Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964. Edited by Emily Bernard. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. Provides an inside view of the Harlem Renaissance as well as insight into Van Vechten’s relationships with fellow authors and musicians.