(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As the epigraph indicates, the title of The Catherine Wheel was taken from a passage in Murder in the Cathedral (1935), a play by T. S. Eliot that compares the things of this world to children’s pleasures, as ephemeral as firework displays. In her final novel, Stafford again shows the tragic results that occur when individuals become so intoxicated with their own imagined needs that they are willing to sacrifice other people, as well as their own integrities, in order to fulfill them.

The story is told alternately by two protagonists, Katharine Congreve, a wealthy, unmarried woman from Boston, and Andrew Shipley, a twelve-year-old boy, the son of John Shipley, the man whom Katherine loved and lost twenty years before. For years, Andrew and his older twin sisters have spent their summers at Katharine’s country house in northern New England, never dreaming that their hostess is anything more than the longtime friend of both their parents and the first cousin of their mother, Maeve Maxwell Shipley. To the children, Katharine is the ultimate aunt, an understanding friend and confidant as well as a magician who can always suggest an exciting remedy for boredom.

This summer, however, both Andrew and Katharine are experiencing serious inner conflicts. After a difficult year at home, Andrew has looked forward to spending the summer with his best friend, Victor Smithwick, a fascinating local boy. This year, however, Victor is...

(The entire section is 496 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Austenfeid, Thomas Carl. American Women Writers and the Nazis: Ethics and Politics in Boyle, Porter, Stafford, and Hellman. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Goodman, Charlotte Margolis. Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.

Hulbert, Ann. The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Roberts, David. Jean Stafford: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

Rosowski, Susan J. Birthing a Nation: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Ryan, Maureen. Innocence and Estrangement in the Fiction of Jean Stafford. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Walsh, Mary Ellen Williams. Jean Stafford. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Wilson, Mary Ann. Jean Stafford: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1996.