George P. Elliott Elliott, George P(aul) - Essay

Elliott, George P(aul)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Elliott, George P(aul) 1918–

American novelist, short story writer, and poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Elliott seems to me one of the most promising new figures to have appeared on the literary scene in a long time. He writes with that air of cool judicious detachment that is now universally recognized as one of the signatures of serious fiction in this period, but after reading a few pages of Parktilden Village, you become pleasantly aware of the absence of portentous solemnity in the tone, and you begin to see that for once the cool judiciousness is doing something more than calling your attention to the author's subtlety and good taste: it is working to define a critical attitude toward the main character. This bland and pleasant young sociologist is ultimately to be shown as capable of the most vicious irresponsibility and the most heedless cruelty. But we soon understand that Elliott's intention is not to indict the individual Hazen; he is attacking the whole culture personified by Hazen for breeding emotional sterility and moral emptiness—in short, for having no values.

Norman Podhoretz, "The New Nihilism and the Novel" (1958), in his Doings and Undoings (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1963, 1964 by Norman Podhoretz), Farrar, Straus, 1964, pp. 159-78.

George P. Elliott's David Knudsen is a deeply topical novel that deserves more attention than the perfunctory or hostile reviews it has received. It is concerned, in a remarkably concrete and sensitive way, with the contemporary problem that impinges upon one's consciousness like an unsolved murder in the next building and that makes most other topical subjects seem dated or peripheral. The subject of Elliott's novel is what it means, specifically, to live in the nuclear age—the problems of morale and morality which we face as we sit tight in the valley of the shadow of death, depending upon the mercy of science and the goodness of the state….

Over much of the novel broods the vision of a Godless culture—whose jet bombers and factories, campuses and highways reiterate the theme "made by man" but have "little to do with the modes of love or choice or human suffering," and whose scientific cosmology … ends in chaos…. However, threaded through David's story of his encounter with an age and a self that support secular humanism no better than religious belief is a persistent evocation of the saving moments and modes of what men once called grace…. These … assertions of value not only temper the tone of David's vision and bring it into relation with the common, conscious life as such, but also serve to define the influence by which David is led in the end to his liberating moment of self-recognition, when the statement made by the religious man from the soul can be made by the neurotic from the ego: "I am weak, and I want." The religious element has always been strong in Elliott's fiction, and if Parktilden Village is finally a book about original sin, David Knudsen is a close study of the doctrine of charity.

Theodore Solotaroff, "The Fallout of the Age" (1962), in his The Red Hot Vacuum and Other Pieces on the Writing of the Sixties, Atheneum, 1970, pp. 37-43.

George P. Elliott's In the World [is, in] its demeanor [,] … not different from his Parktilden Village and David Knudsen, novels which seemed to demonstrate that the flat heavy American style is even less valid than cool English intelligence. In the World is long, over two hundred thousand words. As befits Elliott's efforts to allow his characters all the room they need to make their decisions and to live with them, the book is in the usual sense plotless. It should have been a disaster, adequate reward for someone who really wants to be Tolstoi. But there is great strength in this novel, derived more from Thackeray, really, than from Tolstoi; Elliott is determined to make "the world" as resonant a metaphor as "Vanity Fair." Of course it does not work, for Elliott is far less interestingly baffled by his overriding idea than Thackeray was by his. But for at least half the book, despite the great wandering, Elliott keeps his focus on his hero, a professor of law who, among other things, must decide whether to continue teaching or become a federal judge. The author is fascinated by the prospect of dramatizing the possibilities that academe is as much "in the world" as the bench, and so he does what few writers of academic novels dare to: he puts one of his biggest scenes in the classroom. In a fine exchange, all too brief, between teacher and student, he brings his hero to his decision. The climactic speech is in itself less than brilliant but it shows how the classroom can rebuke the ideal of monosyllabic realism, how teachers can sometimes speak so students can sometimes listen, how a man can make a decision on the basis of such an exchange, how an asking mind is indeed "in the world."

Roger Sale, in Hudson Review, Spring, 1966, pp. 131-32.

From the Berkeley Hills is George P. Elliott's first collection of poems, though he has been publishing poetry in magazines for over twenty years. The volume is full of good writing. Elliott's imagination, by turns sensual, meditative, witty, ranges over a variety of subjects. In love poems like She Touches Him and Fever and Chills Elliott's special gift is evoking the tactile—love as the myriad touch.

John T. Irwin, "Four Practitioners," in Poetry (© 1971 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), September, 1971, pp. 351-53.

If the plot of this novel [Muriel] is unadulterated hogwash, Elliott's ear for dialogue is pure tin. And, it goes without saying, Elliott is a thoroughly humorless writer. This deformed piece of work about a WASP Mrs. Portnoy should never have been conceived, let alone been born.

Burton Bernstein, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, April 8, 1972; used with permission), April 8, 1972, p. 74.

[George P. Elliott's] talents are conspicuously elegant. Since 1961 when his marvelous collection of stories, "Among the Dangs," appeared, through several novels, Elliott has won his way to hard artistic victories by keeping his prose tightly buttoned, his effects in decorous control. But for the sake of "Muriel" he has rightly chosen a cliché-ridden idiom, almost terminally folksy, studded with "cripes" and "land-a-goshen" and straws that break camels' backs and people who "look as though you'd swallowed a dill pickle whole."

By some most curious alchemy, the reader does not balk at this language, but rather lets it support a more subtle structure of imagery. The simple language of the novel's characters arouses stock expectations in us that it is Elliott's business to overturn….

[Muriel is a] beautifully wrought … novel. Everything turns out badly, not because the author pistol-whips events into submission, but because he has delicately, with intimidating patience and self-control, built a model of the world whose stern chronologies—from hope to death—are ineluctable.

Geoffrey Wolff, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 16, 1972, p. 5.

George P. Elliott, a good and occasionally gifted man, has lost what intuitive fictional touch and trust he once had. Elliott is often an appealing critic, mostly because his finest qualities, his honesty and gentleness, can set him off to advantage against splashier and more professional academics. But of his fiction some of the early stories in Among the Dangs are the best; his novels always seem to struggle to be born, to be expressive in the flat style, to be interesting about characters not in themselves interesting—to struggle, but never to work. His latest, Muriel, it must be said right away, is a dull novel, and in it Elliott seems not only not to trust his characters, but not even to understand them very well.

Roger Sale, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1972 by NYREV, Inc.), May 4, 1972, p. 3.