John Cheever Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The loss of his father’s job in 1930, followed by the loss of the family home and the strained marital situation caused, John Cheever believed, by his mother’s growing financial and emotional dependence, all had a lifelong effect on Cheever. When he was expelled from Thayer Academy at the age of seventeen, Cheever was already committed to a writing career. His career, however, would do little to assuage his sense of emotional and economic insecurity. Although he liked to claim that “fiction is not crypto-autobiography,” from the beginning, his stories were drawn from his personal experiences. They have even followed him geographically: from New England, to New York City, through his military service, to the suburbs (first Scarborough, then Ossining), with side trips to Italy (1956-1957), the Soviet Union (on three government-sponsored trips), and Sing Sing prison, where he taught writing (1971-1972). The stories have, more importantly, followed Cheever over hazardous emotional terrain, transforming personal obsessions into published fictions: alcoholism, bisexuality, self-doubts, strained marital relations, and the sense of “otherness.” The stories also evidence the longing for stability and home that manifested itself in three of the most enduring relationships of his fifty-year career: with the Yaddo writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York (beginning in 1934); with The New Yorker (which began publishing his work in 1935); and with his wife Mary Winternitz Cheever (whom he met in 1939 and married two years later, and with whom he bickered over the next forty years).

Cheever did not become free of his various fears and dependencies—including his nearly suicidal addiction to alcohol—until the mid-1970’s. After undergoing treatment for alcoholism at Smithers Rehabilitation Center, he transformed what might well have become his darkest novel into his most affirmative. Falconer (1977) was both a critical and a commercial success. Like its main character, Cheever seemed for the first time in his life free, willing at least to begin talking about the private life that he had so successfully guarded, even mythified before, when he had played the part of country squire. The triumph was, however, short-lived: two neurological seizures in 1980, a kidney operation and the discovery of cancer in 1981, and, shortly after the publication of his fifth novel, the aptly and perhaps whimsically titled Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982), his death on June 18, 1982.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912, and grew up during what he has called the “Athenian twilight” of New England culture. His father Frederick, who was forty-nine when Cheever was born, lost his position in the shoe business in the 1929 Depression and much of his self-respect a short time later when his wife opened a gift shop in order to support the family. The parents’ emotionally strained relationship eventually led to their separation and caused Cheever to become very close to his brother Fred, seven years his senior. At age seventeen, Cheever was dismissed from Thayer Academy in South Braintree, Massachusetts, for smoking and poor grades; he promptly turned his experience into a story, “Expelled,” which Malcolm Cowley published in The New Republic on October 10, 1930, and with Fred embarked on a walking tour of Europe. Upon their return, the brothers lived together briefly in Boston, where “Jon” (as he then identified himself) wrote while Fred worked in the textile business. The closeness of their relationship troubled Cheever, who then moved to a squalid rooming house on New York’s Hudson Street. There, with the help of his Boston mentor, Hazel Hawthorne, he wrote synopses for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, subsisted on buttermilk and stale bread, associated with Cowley, E. E. Cummings, Sherwood Anderson, Edmund Wilson, Hart Crane, John Dos Passos, and Gaston Lachaise, and somehow managed to keep his art free of the political issues that dominated much of the literature of the period. It was also during that time that Cheever began three of his most enduring relationships: with Yaddo, the writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York; with The New Yorker, which published his “Brooklyn Rooming House” in the May 25, 1935, issue; and with Mary Winternitz, the daughter of the Dean of Yale Medical School, whom he married on March 22, 1941. They had three...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

John Cheever’s father, a successful shoe salesman, and his mother, born in Sheffield, England, provided for his education at Thayer Academy. Cheever was eventually expelled. This dismissal led to his story “Expelled,” which was published in The New Republic in October, 1930. In New York in 1932, Cheever worked with Malcolm Cowley and for The New Yorker, a magazine which published 120 of Cheever’s stories.

In 1951, Cheever moved to Scarborough, a community about twenty-five miles north of New York City. In this environment, Cheever’s interpretation of suburbanites developed, and Cheever gained a reputation for stylish satire of manners and customs in communities named variously as St. Botolph’s, Bullet Park, Talifer, Remsen Park, Proxmire Manor, Shady Hill, and Gorey Brook. Typically the residents are white Protestants who suffer through love and loneliness, often facing the destruction of their families. In many cases, characters abuse alcohol and engage in sexual promiscuity while financial pressures threaten their social position and technological development threatens their humanity.

In “The Country Husband,” the superficiality of Shady Hill is satirized as Francis Weed endures a family and community that refuse to acknowledge his individuality. In “The Swimmer,” Neddy Merrill swims across his community by advancing from the pool of one neighbor to the pool of the next. The journey allows Cheever to reveal the identity of the neighbors, and Neddy stumbles home at the end to realize that his protracted drunkenness has led his wife to abandon him. In The Wapshot Scandal, suicidally alcoholic characters descend into episodes of sexual depravity. The community has the atmosphere of a wasteland, with nuclear holocaust looming ominously.

John Cheever’s career was illustrious, but his personal life, like the lives of many of his characters, was marred by alcoholism, infidelity, and family crises. Cheever won the O. Henry Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, among others, for his fiction.


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Expelled from Thayer Academy because of poor conduct and application, John Cheever used the experience in his first story, “Expelled,” published by the New Republic in 1929. In the 1930’s, he lived mostly in New York City, publishing stories in New Republic, Collier’s, Story, Atlantic, and the New Yorker (for which he became a regular contributor). He worked at odd jobs and taught advanced composition at Barnard College. In 1941, he married Mary Winternitz and fathered three children. After two years of wartime service, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1951) and wrote television scripts. His first book, The Enormous Radio and Other...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Disparaged or neglected during much of his career, John Cheever eventually achieved a degree of literary recognition and respect, both as a novelist and as a writer of short stories, that was rivaled only by that of his friend Saul Bellow. The breakdown of Cheever’s parents’ marriage, as well as his father’s loss of self-esteem and his mother’s growing independence, had a profound effect on the author’s development. His expulsion from Thayer Academy in 1929 put an end to his formal education but started him on his way toward a literary career when The New Republic published his story “Expelled” the following year. Although Cheever served his literary apprenticeship during the Depression years, his writing,...

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(Short Stories for Students)

John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912. He attended the private Thayer Academy but was expelled before graduating,...

(The entire section is 266 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912, the second son of Frederick and Mary Liley Cheever. Cheever’s home life...

(The entire section is 375 words.)