Born in the Bronx in 1931, Edgar Lawrence Doctorow has written fiction set in almost every major historical era since the Civil War, but he has returned again and again to urban themes, to the life of New York City at the beginning of the twentieth century and in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Greatly influenced by the radical politics of the Depression and by the work of John Dos Passos, Doctorow has chosen to write an updated version of proletarian fiction, reflecting his concern with the domination of the means of production by government and industry. Doctorow sides with the masses—the immigrants, the minorities, and all the downtrodden, underdog characters who populate his novels. Unlike the proletarian fiction of the 1930’s, however, Doctorow’s work is rarely sentimental. Rather, it is distinguished by an elegance and irony that perhaps are attributable to his formal education and to his early conventional and middle-class pursuit of a career. Writing a generation after the Palmer raids that rounded up and imprisoned radicals in the 1920’s and the great industrial strikes of the Depression, he has had the opportunity and the incentive to meditate on both the persecution of American radicals and the failure of the Left to mount a credible alternative to the capitalistic power structure.
Doctorow graduated from Kenyon College with a major in philosophy. Known for its prestigious literary review and the presence of important writers such as the poet John Crowe Ransom, Kenyon provided Doctorow with examples of literary careers he could emulate, for he was educated in a college generation that had exposure to writers who were, for the first time, being placed in significant numbers in faculty positions. Writers continued to be critics of society while being employed by society’s influential institutions. This dual and...
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E. L. Doctorow has shown himself to be a master stylist, an adept delineator of characters, a lyric portrayer of places and eras, and a shrewd commentator on popular genres and political themes who also maintains a strong sense of narrative and storytelling. Indeed, his work is a major evocation and critique of the American mythos and a brilliant creation of new American fables. His experiments with point of view and with the relationship between history and fiction have marked him as a major innovator.
Edgar Lawrence Doctorow was born in the Bronx in 1931, and his fiction returns again and again to urban themes, particularly to the life of New York City at the beginning of the twentieth century and in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He graduated from Kenyon College with a major in philosophy, and after serving in the U.S. Army he worked for publishers in New York City, editing important writers such as Norman Mailer. His philosophical training is evident in his novels, in which he tries to infuse serious ideas into popular genres such as the Western (Welcome to Hard Times), science fiction (Big as Life), and detective fiction (The Waterworks).
Identifying with the downtrodden, with immigrants,...
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