John Knowles 1926–
American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
Fascinated by the era affected by World War II, Knowles often places his fiction during that period. He writes of young heroes facing the tests of modern life. His young male protagonists arrive at a painful awakening, the realization of the evil in society and in themselves. Knowles perceives this realization as their major step toward manhood.
Knowles's most famous novel, A Separate Peace, is characteristic of his greatest concerns. This fictional account of a young man's moral and emotional maturation has been consistently popular with young adults since its publication in 1960. Like most of Knowles's other works, A Separate Peace portrays two protagonists who battle with the love/hate relationship that evolves out of their strikingly different views of life. Gene and Phineas exemplify Knowles's use of doubles to portray the dichotomy in the American personality, which Knowles characterizes as "a careful Protestant with a savage stirring in his insides."
Following A Separate Peace, almost universally considered a classic, beautifully wrought novel, Knowles wrote several works which failed to attain the critical acclaim of this first novel. Even his recent Peace Breaks Out, which shares the elite prep school setting and a similar theme with A Separate Peace, does not fulfill its promise.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.; Something about the Author, Vol. 8; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 6.)