James Gould Cozzens Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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

Of James Gould Cozzens’s fourteen published books, thirteen are novels. Two won special acclaim; Guard of Honor (1948; Pulitzer Prize in fiction, 1949) is widely regarded as one of the best American novels of World War II, and By Love Possessed (1957; Howells Medal of the American Society of Arts and Letters, 1960) was a major best-seller. Cozzens’s only volume of short fiction, Children and Others, contains seventeen of his twenty-nine published stories. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, as were five of his novels.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

James Gould Cozzens has consistently been neglected by the serious critics during his fifty-five-year writing career. He never received the proper recognition and honors accorded to his contemporaries, including Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis. Cozzens is partly to blame because he lived such a reclusive life, avoiding close contact with people and devoting himself totally to the craft of writing. Another reason may also be that his work fits no definite category in American fiction. He has become the least read and least taught of the major American writers enjoying the status of “cult author.” Cozzens launched his writing career at age twenty-one and did not involve himself in self-promotion. He always felt that the first objective of writers should be to perfect and master their art. Despite six Book-of-the-Month Club selections and a Pulitzer Prize, Cozzens’s work remains largely unknown to the general readership. With the exception of By Love Possessed, his books have never circulated widely as paperbacks and none was ever adopted as a classroom text. Critics have long regarded Cozzens as too highly intellectual a novelist, too detached in his writings, and lacking involvement with his characters. Cozzens is at his best creating traditional social novels with believable characters exhibiting a variety of weaknesses and strengths. Two important themes run throughout his work. He believes in the ultimate dignity of humans and in a moral order imposed on what seems to be a chaotic, meaningless world.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his thirteen novels, James Gould Cozzens (KUHZ-uhnz) published two collections of short stories, Child’s Play (1958) and Children and Others (1964), that contain most of the twenty-seven stories he wrote between 1920 and 1950 for mass-circulation magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Redbook. Another collection, A Flower in Her Hair, was published in 1975. Cozzens also served as an associate editor for Winged Foot, a small in-house magazine published by the New York Athletic Club, in the period 1928-1929 and for Fortune magazine in 1937-1938. Matthew Bruccoli has edited a collection of some of these miscellaneous pieces, published under the title Just Representations (1978).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

James Gould Cozzens might best be characterized as a writer’s writer. His work has traditionally been praised more highly by fellow writers and editors than it has by critics or book buyers. From the beginning of his writing career, when The Atlantic Monthly printed an essay Cozzens wrote as a sixteen-year-old high school student, professionals have been drawn to his taut, disciplined style, his carefully structured plots, and his complex, precise renderings of character and background detail. His first novel, written during his freshman year at Harvard University, received a favorable review from The New York Times. His fifth, S.S. San Pedro, won the Scribner’s Prize for fiction. Most of his next eight novels were Book-of-the-Month Club selections.

Cozzens won the O. Henry Award for a short story in 1936, a Pulitzer Prize for Guard of Honor in 1948, and, in 1957, the William Dean Howells Medal, which the American Academy of Arts and Letters gives only once every five years for outstanding achievement in fiction, for By Love Possessed. In his speech nominating the novel for the Howells Medal, Malcolm Cowley called the work a solid achievement, written with a craftsmanship and intelligence that would be envied by all of Cozzens’s fellow novelists. Literary critic Orville Prescott claimed that at least three of Cozzens’s novels were among the finest ever written in America, and C. P. Snow thought Cozzens one of the country’s best realistic novelists. When John Fischer reviewed By Love Possessed in...

(The entire section is 645 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bracher, Frederick. The Novels of James Gould Cozzens. 1959. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972. Of the eight novels by Cozzens published between 1931 and 1959, Bracher argues that at least four of them are of “major importance by any set of standards.” Defends Cozzens from attacks by critics for his lack of personal commitment, showing him to be a novelist of intellect whose strength is storytelling. A thorough commentary on Cozzens’s literary career.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. James Gould Cozzens: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981. A thorough and scholarly listing of Cozzens’s works that is indispensable to both the student and the scholar.

Bruccoli, Matthew J. James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart. New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1983. Bruccoli has emerged as Cozzens’s most ardent literary champion. His biography of the reclusive writer is a highly readable and interesting account of Cozzens’s remarkable career. The writer, working with limited cooperation from Cozzens, has critically examined the author’s letters, diaries, and notebooks. The biography contains several appendices, notes, and an index.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. James Gould Cozzens: New Acquist of True Experience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. This collection...

(The entire section is 596 words.)