James Gould Cozzens Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207074-Cozzens.jpg James Gould Cozzens Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The carefully crafted novels of James Gould Cozzens (CUHZ-uhnz) marked a course for twentieth century American fiction against which the novels of his contemporaries continue to be judged. Cozzens was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1903, the only child of Henry William and Bertha Wood Cozzens; he spent his childhood on Staten Island, New York, and later at the Kent School in Connecticut. His first published work, at age seventeen, was an article in the Atlantic Monthly on preparatory school student government. He entered Harvard University in 1922 and there was encouraged in his writing by the poet Robert Hillyer, an instructor in English. While a freshman, he wrote his first novel, Confusion, concerning the effect of excessive cultivation on a beautiful French girl. It was published in 1924, when he was twenty-one years old. Unable to cope with his situation as an undergraduate celebrity, he rusticated himself to Nova Scotia, where he wrote his second book, Michael Scarlett, a historical novel about William Shakespeare’s England. He then went to Cuba, where he tutored the children of the American operators of a Cuban sugar plantation. This experience provided the background for two other novels, Cock Pit and The Son of Perdition. All four of these youthful novels Cozzens later dismissed as inferior work. In December, 1927, he married Sylvia Bernice Baumgarten, a successful literary agent.

With S.S. San Pedro, Cozzens began to give evidence of his mature manner. A short novel based on accounts of the sinking of the British steamer Vestris in 1928, S.S. San Pedro was a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and thus brought Cozzens a wider readership. In his next novel, The Last Adam, also a Book-of-the-Month Club choice, Cozzens established the direction which most of his later novels were to take. Published in England as A Cure of Flesh and made into a film with Will Rogers, it is set in a small Connecticut town. The chief character, a physician, is forced to confront the conflict between the tight, restrictive code of the town and his own professional and moral imperatives. Such a fictional situation enabled Cozzens to describe with particular detail the technical circumstances of a professional as he interacts with a variety of people in a circumscribed society. The prose is clear,...

(The entire section is 977 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in Chicago, James Gould Cozzens grew up on Staten Island, New York, attended the Kent School in Connecticut, and then went to Harvard University in 1922, where he remained for two years. During the mid-1920’s he served as a tutor of American children in Cuba and Europe. In 1927, he married Bernice Baumgarten, a New York literary agent; they had no children. In 1938, Cozzens was briefly a guest editor at Fortune. With the outbreak of World War II, he entered the U.S. Army Air Force, worked on various classified stateside assignments, and was discharged as a major in 1945. Cozzens was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, received two O. Henry Awards for short fiction in 1931 and 1936, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1949, and the Howells Medal of the American Society of Arts and Letters in 1960.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

James Gould Cozzens’s life was as quiet, as competently professional, and as outwardly uneventful as the lives of the prosperous executives, lawyers, ministers, and generals who inhabit his fiction. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 19, 1903, to a comfortable though not wealthy businessman, Henry William Cozzens, and his wife, Bertha. The family moved east, and Cozzens grew up on Staten Island. He attended private schools in New York and, for six years, Kent School, a preparatory school in Connecticut. By the time he was sixteen, he was already showing a precocious ability for writing.

While still at Kent School, he managed to have his essay “A Democratic School” published by The Atlantic Monthly. A year later, he matriculated to Harvard University and spent much of his freshman year writing his first novel, Confusion. It was published in 1924 by B. J. Brimmer, and the success of it, he later admitted, went to his head. He immediately began a second, taking a leave of absence from school to complete it. Michael Scarlett was published in 1925 and received such favorable press from publications such as The New York Times that Cozzens gave himself over completely to writing. Instead of returning to college, he spent the next year in Cuba, planning his next fictions and earning pocket money by tutoring the children of American engineers. During the next eleven years, he published seven lengthy novels, the...

(The entire section is 488 words.)