Richard Brautigan Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Richard Brautigan was born in Tacoma, Washington, on January 30, 1935, the son of Bernard Brautigan and Lula Mary Keho Brautigan. A series of stepfathers made Brautigan’s early life rather chaotic and unstable. He began to write while attending high school, and the Beat movement drew him to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1950’s. There he met Philip Whalen, with whom he shared an apartment for a period, as well as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and most of the other poets and fiction writers who congregated in the bookstores and coffeehouses. While Brautigan is primarily remembered as an offbeat novelist, he was first published as a poet; The Return of the Rivers appeared in 1957, the same year he married Virginia Dionne Adler. The Galilee Hitch-Hiker was published in 1958, Lay the Marble Tea: Twenty-four Poems in 1959, and The Octopus Frontier in 1960, the year his daughter Ianthe was born. During this period he worked at a succession of odd jobs while writing a considerable body of poetry.

During the four years Brautigan was married to Virginia Adler, he completed two of the three books of fiction upon which his literary reputation rests and began the third. Donald Allen was instrumental in bringing two of Brautigan’s novels to the attention of an editor at Grove Press in New York, which published A Confederate General from Big Sur in 1964. When this work sold poorly, Grove had second thoughts about handling a second book. Allen acted on Brautigan’s behalf again by publishing Trout Fishing in America himself in 1967, and Brautigan’s literary career quickly started to take shape. The “love generation” soon began to think it heard its own voice in the thoughtful, eccentric characters that peopled Brautigan’s novels; Brautigan became a cult writer to a social...

(The entire section is 757 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In his early novels, Richard Brautigan searches for the meaning of America. What he finds is a country debased by commercialism, shaken in its values, and haunted by loneliness. For the individual, love, humor, and the imagination can bring meaning to life.

Brautigan explored the American soul in the middle of the twentieth century; he believed gentleness and peace to be both means and end in this quest. His highly original, richly metaphoric books show him to be much more than a transitional literary figure. His finely crafted prose bears witness to his unique way of viewing the world.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Richard Brautigan was born in Tacoma, Washington, in the midst of the Great Depression. Very little is known about his early life. Although Brautigan apparently drew on his childhood experiences in his fiction, his idiosyncratic attitude toward his past made him reluctant to discuss actual details with anyone. From anecdotal fragments confided to a few persons close to him, a far less than idyllic picture emerges that includes a pattern of abandonment and mistreatment at the hands of stepfathers. Deprivation seems to have been a part of his heritage, and Brautigan would claim throughout his life that he never graduated from high school.

In 1956, Brautigan moved to San Francisco and became peripherally aligned with the Beat poets. He wrote and published several volumes of poetry, but none sold well. He also met an educated young woman, Virginia Adler, who became his first wife and the mother of Ianthe, their daughter. Adler supported the family by doing secretarial work. Problems arose when Brautigan continued his bachelor habits of haunting bars and bringing his friends home for further revels. In time, Virginia became involved with one of Brautigan’s drinking friends and ran away with him to live in Salt Lake City in 1963. Although he was devastated, Brautigan wrote one of his best novels, In Watermelon Sugar, in 1964.

Success showered on Brautigan with the publication of Trout Fishing in America in 1967. Fame and money...

(The entire section is 433 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Richard Gary Brautigan was born and reared in the Pacific Northwest. The son of Bernard F. Brautigan and Lula Mary Keho Brautigan, he spent his early years in Washington and Oregon. His literary career took hold when, in 1958, he moved to San Francisco, California, and began writing poetry in the company of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Duncan, Philip Whalen, and Michael McClure. The company he kept led to his initial identification as a Beat poet, but Brautigan’s unique and now well-known style defied the classification.

Resisting crass commercialism and the profits linked with corporate America, Brautigan’s first books were published primarily for the benefit of his friends and acquaintances. Success finally forced him to allow a New York publication of his work in the 1960’s, however, and Grove Press published his A Confederate General from Big Sur. Shortly after his change of allegiance from Four Seasons Foundation in San Francisco to Grove Press in New York, Brautigan was invited to become poet-in-residence at Pasadena’s California Institute of Technology. Although he had never attended college, he accepted the invitation and spent the 1967 academic year at the prestigious school.

In 1957, Brautigan married Virginia Diorine Adler. They had one daughter, Ianthe, and later were divorced. In his later years, Brautigan divided his time among three places: Tokyo, San Francisco, and, when in retreat or fishing, a small town in Montana. He died in 1984, an apparent suicide.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

From 1967 to 1971, Richard Brautigan’s popularity was based on his association with West Coast youth movements. His books, particularly his short, fanciful novels, were viewed as expressions of a generation disillusioned with the American myth. His gentle, comic books mourned the apparent loss of the American Eden, and his stories often focus on the search for a new American pastoral utopia. Such a search, his works point out, ultimately results in despair and disillusionment. Brautigan’s works comment upon social and personal values in America, linking life and nature. An implicit belief in Brautigan’s work is that one cannot find personal happiness in a contaminated, polluted environment.

Critical views differ widely on Brautigan’s vision, some emphasizing his apocalyptic, melancholy America, others pointing to his gentle, sweet, optimistic imagery that transcends the hard, workaday world. His use of nature is often compared to that of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), especially Trout Fishing in America, regarded as Brautigan’s best novel. Like Thoreau, Brautigan is considered to be an advocate of the individual conscience rather than the dictates of social laws, a theme explored in all of his early works, perhaps best demonstrated in his The Abortion: An Historical Romance, in which a couple live in a library of unpublished books and in which the woman has, without much guilt or any medical complication, an abortion.

Critics generally agree that Brautigan’s prose is more important than his verse, and that earlier, more stylistically innovative writings present his themes more concisely than his later work. Brautigan’s canon is widely discussed for his use of metaphorical, whimsical language rather than for any depth of philosophy or meaning. His use of America’s past as being both bankrupt of ideas and a necessity for understanding the present, his concern for the fluidity and stability of nature, and his quirky, surreal examinations of social disintegration remain of interest despite his reputation for merely being a spokesman for the revolutionary attitudes of the 1960’s.

While continuing to publish after 1971, Brautigan found both his critical and popular support eroding with each successive book. Brautigan apparently committed suicide in September, 1984, but his body was not discovered until October 25 of that year.