(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Missolonghi Manuscript is a novel about George Gordon, Lord Byron, based on the convenient device of recently discovered (but imaginary) diaries written by the poet. The narrative is prefaced by a fictitious meeting at a party in Italy of a T. H. Applebee from Bryn Mawr College with the American-born Marchesa del Rosso. Applebee learns from the marchesa that she has a manuscript of three notebooks written by Byron in Missolonghi, Greece, between January, 1824, and his death there three months later. Two years pass, and the marchesa dies, but Applebee is allowed to copy the notebooks, learning in so doing that the marchesa had obtained the manuscript from a Colonel Eppingham, who had himself purchased it in Greece from a “decomposing personage,” the Baron von Haugwitz. None of these ruses is of further significance.

The three notebooks tell two parallel stories: Each day opens with a short entry on current affairs in Missolonghi (the first note is for 25 January 1824) but switches quickly to the main interest, Byron’s autobiographical musings, given in chronological order. So the story soon settles down to an imaginative reconstruction of many of the major relationships of Byron’s life: with Lady Caroline Lamb, Annabella Milbanke, and Teresa Guiccioli; and with literary friends (Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt) and social cronies (John Cam Hobhouse and Edward John Trelawny). Interludes of sexual coupling are frequent, their descriptions frank, their practices varied. By the end of the third notebook the main autobiographical account has caught up with the thinner Missolonghi diary narrative.

The first notebook goes through February 17. The entries on Missolonghi detail the squalor and hopelessness of the place (“Missolonghi is a quagmire”). Prokosch’s Byron explains that he came to Greece in search of “self-renewal and self-forgetfulness” and hoping to shed “the serpent-skin of my selfish, brutal past.” On February 2, Byron reports feeling ill, and his discomfort and malaise continue. Of his companions at Missolonghi, Byron is closest to Loukas, the boy who tends...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977. Contains a useful discussion of Prokosch, situating him in the context of twentieth century literature.

Bishop, John Peale. The Collected Essays of John Peale Bishop. Edited by Edmund Wilson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948. “Final Dreading” is a favorable poetry review by Bishop of Prokosch’s The Assassins, his first book of poems. Refers to Prokosch’s extensive travels and its influence on these poems and concludes with a brief commentary on Prokosch’s technique and his relationship to Oswald Spengler and Saint-John Perse.

Carpenter, Richard C. “The Novels of Frederic Prokosch.” College English 18 (1957): 261-267. Provides much insight into the development of Prokosch’s novelistic style. An appreciative essay by a sympathetic critic of Prokosch.

Marowski, Daniel G., and Roger Matuz, eds. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 48. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. The entry on Prokosch presents an overview of his works, citing him as a “highly regarded novelist” who gained prominence in the 1930’s. Included is a sampling of reviews, mostly favorable, of his earlier works (The Asiatics, The Assassins, The Seven Who Fled), as well as later works, such as The Missolonghi Manuscript and his memoir, Voices, in which he addresses his literary displacement.

Quartermain, Peter, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 48. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. Provides a selected checklist of Prokosch’s works, giving more emphasis to his poetry, although he is better known as a novelist. Discusses his poems between 1920 and the mid-1940’s. Also includes background information on Prokosch, including his numerous travels, and some brief commentary on his novels.

Squires, Radcliffe. Frederic Prokosch. New York: Twayne, 1964. Presents Prokosch’s works in a chronological format and is useful as a critical introduction. Squires focuses on the timeless qualities of “interplay of emotion and intellect” in Prokosch’s work but acknowledges that his writing was a “casualty” of World War II, which changed the values of the reading public. A selected bibliography is provided.