Frederic Prokosch Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111207106-Prokosch.jpg Frederic Prokosch. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Frederic Prokosch (proh-KAWSH) published five books of poetry. Some of his poems enjoyed a transitory popularity and appeared in anthologies, notably those of Oscar Williams. In addition, he translated the love sonnets of Louise Labé in 1947, some of the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin in 1943, and Euripides’ Medea (431 b.c.e.) in 1947.

Many of the poems in Prokosch’s first collection, The Assassins (1936), celebrate places and journeys and aspire to create an exotic mood. The collection also contains one of his most anthologized poems, “The Dolls,” where Prokosch writes at his musical best of the sweet, crescent-eyed shapes that, reaching into the poet’s “secret night,” become the “furies” of his sleep. Dylan Thomas later parodied this poem, giving to his own poem the title “The Molls.”

Prokosch’s second volume of poems, The Carnival (1938), depends less on the dazzling imagery of geography and more on the ordinary things of life and was an attempt, according to the author, to convey the darkness of the prewar decade, as in “Fable,” where the “rippled snow is tracked with blood,/ And my love lies cold in the burning wood.” The volume contains a long, autobiographical “Ode” that describes the phases of Prokosch’s first thirty years of life and his various discoveries (of fairy tales, his body, the past, Asia). His “Nocturne,” beginning “Close...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Frederic Prokosch is said to have created the novel of geography, a distillate of the reflective travelogue. More than half of his sixteen novels fall into this category, and even those that do not are dominated in some way by the theme of geography and involve cosmopolitan, travel-loving characters. With the publication of his first novel, The Asiatics, in 1935, a book highlighted by Asian scenes and attitudes when other American novelists were writing realistic novels set in their own country, Prokosch achieved instant fame and maintained a high reputation for approximately the next ten years. William Butler Yeats was deeply struck by Prokosch’s poetic gifts, and André Gide, Thomas Mann, and Albert Camus all praised his works during his stellar decade. Even his later works were praised by W. Somerset Maugham, Thornton Wilder, and Marianne Moore.

The Asiatics, which was translated into seventeen foreign languages and was even more popular in Europe than in the United States, would remain in print for more than fifty years. The Seven Who Fled won the Harper Novel Prize, awarded by a panel of judges consisting of Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, and Louis Bromfield. In 1944, Warner Bros. released a film adaptation of The Conspirators starring Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid.

Radcliffe Squires observed that Prokosch’s recurring theme—the death-defying search for truth in travel—began to seem irrelevant to a postwar generation looking for stability in suburbia. Subsequently, his novels were not so much condemned by the critics as they were ignored. Nevertheless, no complete discussion of twentieth century literature can afford to gloss over the fictional subgenre—the novel of geography—pioneered by the wunderkind Prokosch.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977. Contains a useful discussion of Prokosch, situating him in the context of twentieth century literature.

Carpenter, Richard C. “The Novels of Frederic Prokosch.” College English 18 (1957): 261-267. Provides much insight into the development of Prokosch’s novelistic style. An appreciative essay by a sympathetic critic of Prokosch.

Squires, Radcliffe. Frederic Prokosch. New York: Twayne, 1964. Presents Prokosch’s works in a chronological format and is useful as a critical introduction. Squires focuses on the timeless qualities of “interplay of emotion and intellect” in Prokosch’s work but acknowledges that his writing was a “casualty” of World War II, which changed the values of the reading public. A selected bibliography is provided.