Erica Jong Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Erica Jong became well-known in the early 1970’s as a writer of sexual fiction from a woman’s perspective, and she remains an important novelist and poet of the twentieth century. She was born Erica Mann in Manhattan to second-generation Jewish parents of Polish and Russian origin with a family tradition of the arts. Although her parents were not observant Jews, during her lifetime Jong has gained a strong sense of Jewish identity. Jong attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City and earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and a B.A. degree from Barnard College. She did graduate study in eighteenth century English literature at Columbia University, earned an M.A. degree, and taught poetry at New York’s City College before abandoning an academic career for creative writing.

Jong’s first marriage, to her college lover in 1963, ended in divorce. She married Chinese American Freudian psychiatrist Allan Jong (whose last name she still bears) in 1966 and accompanied him on an army assignment to Germany. Her first published work, the collection of poems entitled Fruits and Vegetables, was followed by another book of poems, Half-Lives, and by the novel Fear of Flying, which made publishing history after its publication in 1973. Fear of Flying became a number one best-seller, and Jong gained celebrity status. The book has sold more than twelve million copies worldwide.

Fear of Flying tells the story of Isadora Wing, a poet, who goes to Vienna to attend a psychiatric conference with her psychiatrist husband. While there she meets psychoanalyst Adrian Goodlove, who seems to be the embodiment of her sexual fantasies. She accompanies him on a jaunt across Europe, but he is disappointing as a sexual partner, and Isadora finds that he has arranged to meet his wife and children in France. The novel also recounts Isadora’s mental journey back in time as she revisits scenes from the past—her first sexual experiences, her lovers, and her marriages. Left alone in Paris, she takes stock of her life and decides to reconcile with her husband—but not to grovel.

Jong was among the first to write candidly about female sexuality. Novelist Henry Miller said that as a pioneer in sexual fiction, Jong opened doors for women...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charney, Maurice. Sexual Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1981. Contains a chapter comparing Fear of Flying with Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969).

Scott, Robert F.“‘Sweets and Bitters’: Fanny and the Feminization of the Eighteenth Century Novel.” Midwest Quarterly 42, no. 1 (2000): 81-93. Analyzes Jong’s novel in relation to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (1748-1749), assessing Jong’s use of eighteenth century pastiche in a modern context.

Suleiman, Susan Rubin. “(Re)Writing the Body: The Politics and Poetics of Female Eroticism.” In The Female Body in Western Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Sees Jong’s work as a milestone in “sexual poetics.”

Templin, Charlotte. Feminism and the Politics of Literary Reputation: The Example of Erica Jong. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1995. Explores the issues of literary reception and reputation and argues that Jong’s reputation has been adversely affected by her association with sexuality and her celebrity status. The book contains a thorough bibliography of scholarly sources on Jong’s works.

Walker, Nancy, and Zita Dresner. Redressing the Balance: American Women’s Literary Humor from Colonial Times to the 1980’s. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988. The chapter on Jong focuses on Fear of Flying and How to Save Your Own Life.