Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Cambridge. Largest town and seat of Dorchester County, Maryland. It sits along the Choptank River on the DelMarVa peninsula, an area best known as the Eastern Shore. The economy is sustained mainly by natural resources: the crabs, oysters, and seafood of the Chesapeake Bay and the tomatoes and other crops of the rich, flat farms of the area. Cambridge is where the novel’s narrator, Todd Andrews, was born and raised; except for his service in the U.S. Army during World War I and his college and law school days, he has never lived anywhere else.

Founded during colonial times, with its first house dating to 1706, Cambridge embodies much of the history of the Tidewater region of Maryland and thus is richly evocative of the personal background of the novel’s characters, especially Todd Andrews, a multi-generational Marylander. As described in the novel, Cambridge is a sleepy, southern town, in many ways outside of time and largely unaffected by modern life. In such a setting, characters such as Todd and his friends, the Macks, are free to concentrate upon their inner lives and more abstract, philosophical concerns.

Dorset Hotel

Dorset Hotel. Residential hotel located in the heart of Cambridge, just across the street from the courthouse where Todd practices as an attorney and only one block from his offices on “Lawyers Row” on Court Lane. After his father lost all of his money in the Great Depression in 1930 and hanged himself, Todd was forced to sell the...

(The entire section is 627 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

1. Is Todd Andrews's decision to kill essentially everyone in the town a believable one, or does it seem contrived by the author to make a...

(The entire section is 152 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In his 1987 introduction to the Anchor Literary Library edition of his early novels, Barth remarks that his first novel, The Floating...

(The entire section is 210 words.)

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Floating Opera reflects two notable influences: Albert Camus and Machado de Assis. Barth's preoccupation with suicide reflects the...

(The entire section is 177 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The formal ingenuity in The Floating Opera and its mixture of bawdiness, low comedy, and intellectual seriousness are typical of...

(The entire section is 105 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bowen, Zack. A Reader’s Guide to John Barth. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains a chapter on The Floating Opera with emphasis on the book’s relationship to twentieth century philosophical and artistic concerns.

LeClair, Thomas. “John Barth’s The Floating Opera: Death and the Craft of Fiction.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 14, no. 4 (Winter, 1973): 711-730. Focuses on Todd Andrews as narrator of his story and how his storytelling ultimately helps to save him from suicide.

Morrell, David. John Barth: An Introduction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. The chapter on The Floating Opera notes carefully the differences between the two versions and comments on the philosophical values expressed in the novel.

Schickel, Richard. “The Floating Opera.” Critique 6, no. 2 (Fall, 1963): 53-67. This essay appeared before the second version of the novel, and it assesses the weaknesses of the first version, which the second version corrected.

Walkiewicz, E. P. John Barth. Boston: Twayne, 1986. A brief introduction to all of Barth’s work, with sections on The Floating Opera.