Paul West Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Paul West is a remarkably prolific novelist whose literary interests also include poetry, criticism, and other nonfiction. In addition to his books of verse, Poems (1952), The Spellbound Horses (1960), The Snow Leopard (1964), and Tea with Osiris (2006), West has published memoirs. These include I, Said the Sparrow (1963), which recounts his childhood in Derbyshire; Words for a Deaf Daughter (1969)—one of West’s most popular works—which poignantly relates the experiences of his daughter, Mandy, who is deaf; and Out of My Depths: A Swimmer in the Universe (1983), which describes the author’s determination to learn to swim at middle age. His short stories were collected in The Universe, and Other Fictions in 1988.

Besides his numerous essays and book reviews in dozens of periodicals, journals, and newspapers, West has published The Growth of the Novel (1959), Byron and the Spoiler’s Art (1960, 1992), The Modern Novel (1963), Robert Penn Warren (1964), The Wine of Absurdity: Essays in Literature and Consolation (1966), and a four-volume series titled Sheer Fiction (1987-2007). A Stroke of Genius: Illness and Self-Discovery was published in 1995, and he published several other volumes of nonfiction, including The Secret Lives of Words (2000), My Father’s War (2005), and The Shadow Factory (2008).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

When Paul West arrived on the literary scene as a novelist, he was regarded as an author who possessed a compelling voice but also as one who wrote grotesque and verbally complex fictions. The unevenness of critical reaction cannot overshadow, however, the regard with which serious readers have approached his work, and a list of his fellowships and awards clearly indicates a writer of significant stature: He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1962), a Paris Review Aga Kahn Prize for Fiction (1974), the National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend for science studies (1975), the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing (1980), the Hazlett Memorial Award for Excellence in the Arts (1981), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (1985), and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction (1985). In 1998, the French government decorated him Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. Besides teaching at Pennsylvania State University from 1962 to 1995, West was a visiting professor and writer-in-residence at numerous American universities. As his fiction developed, West has shown himself to be a highly imaginative, experimental, and linguistically sophisticated writer. Critics usually commend him for his original style and note the striking diversity of his oeuvre.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bryfonski, Dedria, and Laurie Lanza Harris, eds. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. Contains extracts from reviews of West’s works, including Gala and Words for a Deaf Daughter, from such sources as The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, and The Nation. Most of the reviews are favorable, addressing West’s intelligent writing as both an advantage and a disadvantage. One reviewer praises Words for a Deaf Daughter, calling it a “sympathetic book for anyone who feels responsible for someone else.” Another review describes Gala in terms of its “startling, dazzling meditations.”

Lucas, John. “Paul West.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by James Vinson. London: St. James Press, 1976. Lucas discusses the Alley Jaggers sequence of novels, which “deservedly won his reputation as an original novelist,” although he faults them for their lack of psychological study. Mentions West’s highly acclaimed study of Lord Byron’s poetry and Bela Lugosi’s White Christmas. Lists West’s works up to 1975 and includes a statement by West.

McGuire, Thomas G. “The Face(s) of War in Paul West’s Fiction.” War, Literature, and the Arts 10 (Spring/Summer, 1998): 169-186. Traces the persistence of West’s rumination on...

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