Reynolds Price Price, Reynolds - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Price, Reynolds 1933-

(Full name Edward Reynolds Price) American short story writer, novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, memoirist, translator, and critic.

Price is considered among the most accomplished contemporary authors of the American South. His short stories and novels, which are frequently set in the rural regions of his native North Carolina, are complex character studies that address such universal themes as the consequences of familial and sexual love, the need for independence, the effect of the past upon the present, and the mystique of place. Although some consider Price's use of symbolism and irony to be overwrought, many critics laud his unsentimental characterizations and acute depictions of regional traditions. While Price disclaims comparisons made between his work and that of most other Southern writers, particularly William Faulkner's, Price acknowledges Eudora Welty's influence on his career. Critics frequently cite similarities to the work of Welty and Flannery O'Connor in the spiritual and mythic subtext underlying Price's deceptively simple regional stories.

Biographical Information

The son of a traveling salesman, Price was born in Macon, North Carolina. During his undergraduate years at Duke University, he composed his first short story, "Michael Egerton," which received high praise from Eudora Welty, whom Price respected highly. After graduating from Duke University, Price attended Merton College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar. While residing in England, Price composed his first novel, A Long and Happy Life and several of the short stories that would comprise his first collection, The Names and Faces of Heroes. After three years at Oxford, Price returned to North Carolina. He took a position as teacher and writerin-residence at Duke University. In 1984, Price's life quickly changed when he was diagnosed with spinal cancer. For two years he battled the disease and for several months he did not write. Fearing that he would not live to see the publication of his work-in-progress Kate Vaiden, Price returned to the novel while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Price's illness left him confined to a wheelchair. Instead of crippling his artistry, this crisis has resulted in a prolific burst of poetry, drama, fiction, and autobiography. Price currently resides in Durham, North Carolina, and continues to teach at Duke University.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Price acknowledges Tolstoy, Flaubert, and Welty as major influences during the formative years of his writing and traces the roots of his metaphoric style to Milton and the Bible. Throughout his literary career, Price has explored manifestations of familial and sexual love as they affect a character's simultaneous desires for independence and fulfillment, as well as the imperfect communication among loved ones that leads to isolation and occasionally miraculous moments of understanding. These themes are played out in stories where the character's relationships span differences in age, class, race, and personality. The stories in his first collection, The Names and Faces of Heroes, reflect these signature issues, incorporating Price's native Southern setting and his autobiographical impulse. Critics praise Price's deft portrayal of male relationships and male adolescence in stories such as "The Names and Faces of Heroes," "Michael Egerton," and "Troubled Sleep." Permanent Errors, Price's second short fiction collection, differs in subject matter from the earlier fiction, as it focuses on academic and intellectual protagonists who forsake emotional involvement to pursue professional ambitions. The stories, in Price's words, attempt "to isolate in a number of lives the center error of act, will, inderstanding which, once made, has been permanent, incurable, but whose diagnosis and palliation are the hopes of continuance." This volume includes such frequently anthologized pieces as "Waiting at Dachau" and "The Happiness of Others."

Critical Reception

Early in his career Price was lauded for the optimism of his fiction in The Names and Faces of Heroes and the novel A Long and Happy Life which won the William Faulkner Award. With the appearance of Permanent Errors, critics noted a more somber tone. This collection depicts characters whose lives are shaped by a destiny that they can only partially control. Both Price's writing style and his role as Southern writer have been recurring issues among critics. Because of the poetic and metaphoric quality of his fiction, some critics have questioned his realism and characterization of southern culture. Others have defended his prose style as a method for presenting a multi-dimensional world that encompasses the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychic realities of being human. Another recurring issue among critics is the extent to which Price's work is like that of William Faulkner's. Some make the comparison favorably, while others consider Price's work a less-successful imitation of the renowned Southern writer's work. Price comments on this frequent comparison thusly: "All Southern writers who have written in the last twenty years have had to bear the burden of being called Faulknerian. But the truth, if anyone is interested, is this, certainly and simply: they write about the South, which is their home as well as Faulkner's."

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

The Names and Faces of Heroes 1963

Permanent Errors 1970

Home Made 1990

The Forseeable Future 1991

The Collected Stories 1993

Other Major Works

*A Long and Happy Life (novel) 1962

*A Generous Man (novel) 1966

Late Warning: Four Poems (poetry) 1968

Love and Work (novel) 1968

Things Themselves: Essays and Scenes (essays) 1972

Presence and Absence: Versions From the Bible (nonfiction) 1973

The Surface of the Earth (novel) 1975

Early Dark: A Play (drama) 1977

Lessons Learned: Seven Poems (poetry) 1977

A Palpable God: Thirty Stories Translated from the Bible with an Essay of the Origins and Life of Narrative (essay and translations) 1978

The Source of Light (novel) 1981

A Start (miscellany) 1981

Private Contentment (drama) 1982

Vital Provisions (poetry) 1983

August Snow (drama) 1984

Kate Vaiden (novel) 1986

A Common Room (essays) 1987

Good Hearts (novel) 1988

The Laws of Ice (poetry and autobiography) 1988

Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides (memoir) 1989

New Music: A Trilogy (drama) 1990

The Tongues of Angels (novel) 1990

The Use of Fire (poetry) 1990

Blue Calhoun (novel) 1992

The Honest Account of a Memorable Life: An Apocryphal Gospel 1994

The Promise of Rest (novel) 1995

A Whole New Life (autobiography) 1995

These novels, along with the short story "A Chain of Love," were collected in Mustian, 1983.

R. G. G. Price (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Names and Faces of Heroes, in Punch Vol. CCXLV, No. 6423, October 16, 1963, pp. 577-78.

[In the following positive review of The Names and Faces of Heroes, the critic contends that while Price's stories examine many of the same themes as those of other Southern writers, he does it "with an individual eye which sees everything freshly."]

The Names and Faces of Heroes looks [to be] dividing opinion as sharply as Mr. Reynolds Price's first novel, A Long and Happy Life. Is his writing just dilute Faulkner, adrip with Southern charm, hinting at religious profundities, flabby and commercial, or is it, as I believe, the work of a mind sufficiently independent not to avoid material because other writers may have used it for banalities? In I. A. Richards's Practical Criticism he reports an experiment in which he gave a class a poem of Lawrence's without any indication of the author. Because it was set in a cosy, lamplit family atmosphere with a piano, many of the comments were derisive, "Pears Annual, " "Sentimental." etc. I feel something of the same stock response is blocking appreciation of the originality and force with which Mr. Price examines his particular patch of earth. It is true that in other books one finds North Carolina, ageing negroes, poor whites and, come to that, religion. What matters is that they are explored with an individual eye which sees everything freshly so that the ageing negroes are people, as distinguishable from other ageing negroes as Chardin's apples are from other apples. It is possible that in time Mr. Price may become just another Southern dollar-spinner; the point is that he isn't now, and that guilt-by-association isn't criticism. When I read the opening story, "A Chain of Love," in Encounter I felt I was going to remember it for the rest of my life. Of course, vivid memories are not always a test of merit. Good tosh can be vivid, must be. But what I remembered about the story of the girl taking her grandfather to die in hospital—it is the girl who is the heroine of A Long and Happy Life—was not just the freshness and the compassion; it was the obstinacy with which it did not take the easy way, even at the risk of having reviewers assume that it did.

John W. Stevenson (essay date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Faces of Reynolds Price's Short Fiction," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. III, No. 3, Spring, 1966, pp. 300-06.

[In the following essay, Stevenson traces the theme of love as it is manifested through kinship, hospitality, and generosity in The Names and Faces of Heroes.]

The controlling theme of Reynolds Price's fiction is the revelation that comes through the quest for self-knowledge, not in any intellectual sense but in the discovery that meaning and identity are found in giving, and in giving is learned the fulfilment of love. Price constructs everything in his stories around the dramatic contrast between all those human and natural forces that defeat...

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Reynolds Price with Wallace Kaufman (interview date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in Shenandoah, Vol. XVII, No. 4, Summer, 1966, pp. 3-25.

[In the following excerpt, Price discusses his early career, Eudora Welty's influence on his career and work, and gives his reaction to being labeled a Southern writer.]

[Kaufman]: . . . . Most reviewers now consider you as a Southern writer. What do you think your relationship is to the first generation of modern Southern novelists? People like Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Robert Penn Warren, Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty?

[Price]: I should say that my relation to all those names, except Eudora Welty, is a relationship of varied admiration and respect. But a...

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Theodore Solotaroff (essay date 1970)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Reynolds Price Who Outgrew the Southern Pastoral," in Saturday Review, New York, Vol. LIII, No. 39, September 26, 1970, pp. 27-9, 46.

[Solotaroff is an American critic and educator. In the following excerpt, he reviews the development of Price's themes in Permanent Errors.]

In its deeper reaches, Love and Work is a novel about the unconscious and its circuits of love, fear, and punishment—what used to be called God. There is more than a hint of the spiritual in Price, rather like that in E. M. Forster or Rilke, which takes a psychological rather than a theological form: a powerful sense of dark unseen forces and influences that are only partly...

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Guy Davenport (essay date 1970)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Permanent Errors, in The New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1970, p. 4.

[Davenport is an American scholar, poet, essayist, illustrator, and fiction writer. In the following review, Davenport identifies the problems of intimacy and communication faced by characters in Permanent Errors.]

The permanent errors of these bitter stories are suicide, the refusal to forgive and that violation of the heart's privacy whereby we know so much about a person's misery that we cannot know the person. All knowledge of others, Reynolds Price seems to say, is tragic. Then tension between human beings is a matter of distance, both real and psychological....

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Allen Shepherd (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Notes on Nature in the Fiction of Reynolds Price," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XV, No. 2, 1973, pp. 83-94.

[In the following excerpt, Shepherd traces the various connections between the natural world and human consciousness in Price's short fiction. ]

Reynolds Price is not a writer in whose work nature and the relation of man and nature seem of the first importance, as they do, in different senses, in the fiction of Faulkner, Warren, Wolfe, O'Connor, or Dickey. Whatever the difficulties, though not because of them, Price is not given to celebrating nature. Beyond the dark pastoral of A Long and Happy Life (1962) and the...

(The entire section is 1971 words.)

Constance Rooke (essay date 1983)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Permanent Errors" in Reynolds Price, Twayne Publishers, 1983, pp. 87-110.

[Rooke is an American critic and short story writer. In the following excerpt, she examines the series of errors that lead to isolation and imperfect love in Permanent Errors.]

Permanent Errors is, according to Price, an "attempt to isolate in a number of lives the central error of act, will, understanding which, once made, has been permanent, incurable, but whose diagnosis and palliation are the hopes of continuance." Loosely defined, it is a collection of stories divided into four parts. The first part, however, is really four stories which combine to form a discontinuous...

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Carl Ficken (essay date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reynolds Price: 'A Chain of Love'," in God's Story and Modern Literature, Fortress Press, 1985, pp. 151-61.

[In the following excerpt, Ficken discusses how Price uses humor and descriptive narrative to the examine the painful reality of death in "A Chain of Love. " ]

Reynolds Price is a contemporary Southern writer who has translated some biblical stories and has written about the value of narrative for human survival—whether a person is listening to or telling the tales. He cites the earliest narratives we have, those from the Hebrew Scriptures—the stories of Genesis and Judges, for example—and links the hearing and telling of those narratives with the...

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Reynolds Price with the students and faculty of Hendrix College (interview date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview, edited by Ashby Bland Crowder, in The Southern Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Winter, 1988, pp. 12-26.

[Following is an excerpt from a lecture Price gave at Hendrix College in Arkansas where he answered questions from the faculty and staff. Price discusses his relationship to the setting and characters in "Waiting at Dachau " and offers insights into the characters and events of the story. ]

"Waiting at Dachau" is the fourth story in a volume of Reynolds Price's short stories entitled Permanent Errors (1970) and is grouped with three other stories—"The Happiness of Others," "A Dog's Death" and "Scars"—which together constitute the first...

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Patricia Hampl (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Walking Wounded," in The New York Times Book Review, July 7, 1991, p. 5.

[Hampl is an American poet. In the following excerpt, she praises the introspective quality of the stories in The Foreseeable Future.]

Less than a generation ago, the short story, having lost its home in America's popular magazines, seemed also to have lost its place in contemporary writing. The New Yorker was the only weekly still publishing and paying well for short fiction, along with monthlies like The Atlantic and a handful of women's magazines. The baleful warning of the Visiting Writer comes back, telling a short-story-writing class: "The market has dried up." The...

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Greg Johnson (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Homecomings," in The Georgia Review, Vol. XLV, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 778-86.

[Johnson is an American novelist and short story writer. In the excerpted review below, he notes Price's preoccupation with the theme of homecoming and praises his writing style.]

One of the salient traits of Southern fiction has been its ongoing, obsessive fascination with home. Although such major non-Southern writers as Melville, James, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald tended to focus upon rootless wanderers whose sense of home is either attenuated or irrelevant, the imaginations of Southern writers have seldom strayed far from their origins. Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home...

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James A. Schiff (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fathers and Sons in the Fiction of Reynolds Price: A Sense of Crucial Ambiguity," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. 29, No. 1, January, 1993, pp. 16-29.

[Schiff is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he examines the bond between fathers and sons in Price's fiction and reveals the characterisitic role of eroticism established in "The Names and Faces of Heroes. "]

Since the 1962 publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, which not only won the Faulkner Award but was also printed in its entirety in Harper's, Reynolds Price has been a visible presence in contemporary American letters, yet for...

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George Garrett (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Here is Heartbreak, and Here is Laughter," in The New York Times Book Review, July 4, 1993, p. 8.

[In the following review, Garrett praises the complexity and scope of Price's short stories.]

Reynolds Price has been a significant figure on the American literary scene for more than 30 years. He has been recognized as one of our most gifted writers since his first published book, the novel A Long and Happy Life (1962), appeared and won the William Faulkner Foundation Award. (It has been in print ever since.) Well before that, in 1954, while he was still an undergraduate at Duke, he earned the attention, interest and practical support of the visiting...

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Ron Carlson (essay date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Collected Stories of Reynolds Price," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. 30, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 371-78.

[In the following review, Carlson emphasizes the effective realism and emotional intensity of Price's stories. ]

I have become certain of one thing in the last half-year: the rich collection of stories in The Collected Stories of Reynolds Price—the galley copy of which I have absolutely torn apart, used up, wrecked—will exist somewhere as a thread in the fabric of twentieth-century American literature. The fifty stories here were written over the span of almost forty years (though Price notes in his introduction...

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Jeffrey J. Folks (essay date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Collected Stories, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 370-71.

[Folks is an American scholor with a special interest in Southern literature. In this positive review, he remarks on Price's continuing interest in the human struggle against a threatening reality of loss, illness, and death.]

Now recognized as one of the South's finest living writers, Reynolds Price is author of the Mustian trilogy—which includes A Long and Happy Life (1962), A Generous Man (1966), and Good Hearts (1988)—and of the highly acclaimed novel Kate Waiden, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Flora, Joseph M. and Bain, Robert. Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South: A Bio-bihliographical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993, 571 p.

Provides biographical and a primary bibliography.

Wright, Stuart and West, James L. W. Reynolds Price: A Bibliography, 1949-1984. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986, 122 p.

Primary bibliography containing descriptions of Price's work and intial critical reactions to them.


Humphries, Jefferson. "Taking Things Seriously: Reynolds Price as Teacher and Writer." Southwest Review 74, No....

(The entire section is 228 words.)