Evan S. Connell, Jr. Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Evan S. Connell, Jr.’s literary career extends across all forms and genres. He wrote a number of highly successful and acclaimed short stories and novels, including Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969), which have been recognized as minor modern classics, and The Alchymist’s Journal (1991). He also wrote book-length poems. In nonfiction, Connell produced studies of famous explorers in A Long Desire (1979) and a collection of essays on various subjects, The White Lantern (1980). One of his most popular works is Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn (1984), an acute, penetrating, and poetic meditation on the often tragic relationship between white settlers and Native Americans.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Evan S. Connell, Jr.’s first novel, Mrs. Bridge, was a best-seller and was nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1960. Connell’s writing earned him Saxton and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships and a Rockefeller Foundation grant. Son of the Morning Star was a best-seller and won for Connell a National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1987 he was honored with an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Despite the critical and popular success of his novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, it might be argued that long fiction is not Evan S. Connell’s best form; certainly, it is only one of many literary forms in which he has worked. His Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel (1963) and Points for a Compass Rose (1973) are haunting, sometimes cryptic prose poems, the latter of which was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry in 1974. Termed “vatic literature” by one critic, these books have been compared to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), Ezra Pound’s Cantos (1925-1970), and Albert Camus’s Carnets (1962, 1964; Notebooks, 1963, 1965)—even to “an exotic, unexpurgated Encyclopaedia Britannica.”

Connell’s fascination with the odd particulars of human existence has also produced two well-received collections of essays, A Long Desire (1979) and The White Lantern (1980). Both of these books blend history, legend, and whimsy in essay form as Connell contemplates the singular obsessions of some of the great travelers, explorers, plunderers, and thinkers of world history. His growing fascination with “the Little Bighorn Fiasco” narrowed Connell’s plans for a third book of essays, this time about the Old West, to a nonfiction work about General George A. Custer titled Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn (1984). In 2004, he published Francisco Goya, a history of the painter’s life and times. Connell’s highly praised short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines such as Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. Several volumes of his short fiction have been published, including The Anatomy Lesson, and Other Stories (1957) and Lost in Uttar Pradesh: New and Selected Stories (2008). From 1959 to 1965, Connell was editor of Contact, a well-respected San Francisco literary magazine. He has also written reviews for The New York Times, New York magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, and other publications.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Evan S. Connell’s first novel, Mrs. Bridge, was a best seller and was nominated for the National Book Award for fiction in 1960; in 1973, Connell was one of the five judges for that award. Three of his six novels (Mrs. Bridge, The Diary of a Rapist, and Mr. Bridge) were selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as being among the best novels of their respective years. Writers praise his mastery, but scholars have found no enigmas demanding explication. His instinct for telling details and the crisp straightforwardness of hisnarrative style have been widely admired.

Apart from work by Gus Blaisdell, however, little systematic study of Connell’s writing exists. One of the most private of contemporary writers, Connell has never intentionally courted the public, writing only about subjects that interest him and only in ways that interest him, paying no attention to current literary fashion. While not an “experimental” writer in the usual self-conscious sense of the term, Connell freely searches among forms and styles for each of his works, and the category-defying forms of Mrs. Bridge and Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel made publication of both books difficult: Eight publishers rejected Mrs. Bridge before the Viking Press gambled on it, and even Viking might not have published Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel had it not first appeared in Contact, providing them printing plates that they could reuse.

Apart from the two nominations for National Book Awards, Connell’s writing has earned him numerous honors, including Saxton and Guggenheim fellowships and a Rockefeller Foundation grant. One mark of his distinction is that in 1981, North Point Press reissued his two Bridge books in keeping with its commitment to reissue out-of-print contemporary classics. Son of the Morning Star was a best seller and garnered for Connell a National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history. In 2000, Connell was the recipient of the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Blaisdell, Gus. “After Ground Zero: The Writings of Evan S. Connell, Jr.” New Mexico Quarterly 36 (Summer, 1966): 181-207. Contains helpful and revealing insight into Connell’s earlier works, which include many of his formative short stories.

Brooke, Allen. “Introverts and Emigres.” New Criterion 14 (October, 1995): 58-63. Brooke finds an uneven quality to the short stories of Connell. He believes Connell reserves his best stories for conventional characters, while those which deal with fashionable types are narrow and pointless.

Connell, Evan S., Jr. “Evan S. Connell.” Interview by Patricia Holt. Publishers Weekly 220 (November 20, 1981): 12-13. Connell speaks perceptively about his efforts and aims in his writing, with some interesting sidelights on his critical and popular reception.

Connell, Evan S., Jr. “Evan S. Connell, Jr.” Interview by Dan Tooker and Roger Hofheins. In Fiction: Interviews with Northern California Writers. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. Connell is often cited by critics as the foremost of the Northern California writers, who created a literary movement that has had considerable impact on contemporary American fiction. Connell is articulate in presenting his views, especially on the themes and methods of his own writing.


(The entire section is 456 words.)