Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Diamond County Home for the Aged

Diamond County Home for the Aged. Home for elderly people in which the novel is primarily set. A converted mansion that once belonged to a prominent member of the jurisdiction (the local term for county), it has resident rooms, a passageway, and four acres of land that constitute the literal world (or “constricted community”) of its residents. John Updike placed it in New Jersey to avoid a too-specific autobiographical equivalence to the Pennsylvania community on which the community is based, and also because his father’s family was from Trenton, New Jersey, and he wanted to include that aspect of his background in the book. The land surrounding the home is described as “shallowy concave farms,” and the distant horizon dotted with “small hills typical of New Jersey.”

Diamond County

Diamond County. Once-rural region of New Jersey that is being transformed by the forces of the mid-twentieth century that Updike recognizes as inevitable but which he regrets to an extent. John Hook, the central narrative consciousness, remembers how as a boy he could go to the top of a hill and not see a house in any direction, whereas now there does not seem to be any space east of the Alleghenies where a person can stand and not be in hailing distance of a house. This motif is emphasized by Hook’s references to his boyhood, his life work as a teacher in a village school near the river, and the relative isolation of the families there....

(The entire section is 619 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Detweiler, Robert. John Updike. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. A study of Updike’s fiction with respect to his narrative art. The chapter on The Poorhouse Fair competently, if briefly, covers the setting, uses of language, character, themes, and philosophy.

Greiner, Donald J. John Updike’s Novels. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984. Greiner has written extensively about Updike. The chapter discussing the origins of The Poorhouse Fair effectively utilizes Updike’s introduction to the revised edition of 1977.

Hamilton, Alice, and Kenneth Hamilton. The Elements of John Updike. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970. A detailed discussion of the theological dimensions of The Poorhouse Fair, noting and explaining religious allusions and symbols.

Newman, Judie. John Updike. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Compares Couples and The Poorhouse Fair in a chapter that considers both books in the context of the social situation of America. Good on uses of metaphor, concluding with the idea that the novel is “diagnostic” rather than “prescriptive.”

Updike, John. Self-Consciousness: Memoirs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989. In the essay “On Being a Self Forever,” Updike discusses his religious position at length, covering many of the issues he examined in The Poorhouse Fair.

Vargo, Edward P. Rainstorms and Fire: Ritual in the Novels of John Updike. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1973. The chapter on The Poorhouse Fair emphasizes the use of ritual and celebration as means of expressing a religious vision.