A Separate Peace, the first novel of John Knowles (nohlz), has been one of the most widely read books in the American school system. Knowles grew up in the small city of Fairmont, West Virginia, in the 1930’s when it was a coal town in decline. In 1942 he left for Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Because the school during the years of World War II instituted an “anticipatory plan” that allowed boys to receive their diplomas early, before being drafted into the armed services, Knowles finished his studies in the summer of 1944 and was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps. He qualified as an aviation cadet and spent eight months in training programs in the United States before being discharged in 1945 when the war ended.
Upon returning to civilian life, Knowles attended Yale University, majoring in English and writing for student publications. After graduating in 1949 he went to work as a reporter for a Hartford, Connecticut, newspaper and later as a correspondent and editor for Holiday magazine. In 1952 he became a freelance writer and traveled extensively in Europe, where he began writing a novel, to be entitled Descent into Proslito. On the advice of Thornton Wilder, who had become his mentor, he decided against trying to publish the work. In 1955 he returned to the United States and began to write short stories that would be the seed from which his novel A Separate Peace would grow. In 1959 the British edition of A Separate Peace was published; the critical reception was so favorable that an American publisher bought the rights. Although initial sales of the hardcover edition were not huge, the critics liked the novel, and it won Knowles two awards for fiction.
A Separate Peace grew out of Knowles’s schoolboy experiences at Phillips Exeter and is a classic coming-of-age story. The title is taken from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929) and alludes to the fact that Knowles’s protagonist also declares a private armistice in the midst of a war. The war that provides the historical background in A Separate Peace is World War II, though Knowles does not deal with the battlefield at all, concerning himself with the home...
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