Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Harold Brodkey’s writing has been called “architectural.” What do you think this term implies and how apt is it in describing Brodkey’s style?

Discuss Brodkey’s use of rounded and flat characters. Would you call him a creator of memorable characters?

How does Brodkey use locale in his stories?

Harold Bloom has said of Brodkey, “If he is ever able to solve his publishing problems, he’ll be seen as one of the great writers of his day.” Discuss this statement in the light of your reading of Brodkey.

People have commented on Brodkey’s “tyrannical use of punctuation.” Discuss this statement in terms of your reading of his work.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

For more than three decades, Harold Brodkey worked on a sprawling, Proustian novel with a working title of “A Party of Animals,” based on his life from birth to the end of college. Portions of the novel, under contract to Farrar, Straus and Giroux since 1961, appeared first in The New Yorker, Esquire, and New American Review. Two of the three segments of Women and Angels, “Ceil” and “Angel,” were taken from this projected novel, which ran to more than two thousand pages in length. The novel was finally published in 1991 as The Runaway Soul. A volume of his essays, Sea Battles on Dry Land: Essays, was published in 1999.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Harold Brodkey is best appreciated as a writer who produced three dozen stories that are so intricately presented as to make readers experience the smallest details. His greatest strength lay neither in plot construction nor in thematic development but in his ability to capture and report authentically the exact, second-by-second occurrences about which he writes.

Brodkey received both the Prix de Rome (Magazine Award) and the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in 1974. He received first prize in the O. Henry short-story awards in 1975 and again in 1976. Brodkey has been a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and of the National Endowment for the Arts.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bawer, Bruce. “A Genius for Publicity.” The New Criterion 7 (December, 1988): 58-69. Bawer comments on how well known Brodkey has become even though his major work, A Party of Animals, has not appeared.

Bidney, Martin. “A Song of Innocence and of Experience: Rewriting Blake in Brodkey’s ‘Piping Down the Valleys Wild.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Spring, 1994): 237-245. Argues that Brodkey’s story is a reformulation of Blake’s poem into a sophisticated study of innocence that is maintained because of experience. Maintains that, like Blake, Brodkey sees innocence as filled with tension that will be more fully revealed by experience.

Bidney, Martin. “An Unreliable Modern Mariner: Rewriting Coleridge in Harold Brodkey’s ‘The State of Grace.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Winter, 1994): 47-55. Claims that Brodkey’s story is a remaking of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Asserts the story is balanced between witty takeoffs of Mariner themes and the seriousness of the protagonist’s dilemma. Examines how in the story the Mariner motifs deflate the protagonist’s self-deception.

Brodkey, Harold. “Harold Brodkey: The Art of Fiction.” Interview by James Linville. Paris Review 33, no. 121. (Winter, 1991): 50. An insightful interview into...

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