Ross Lockridge, Jr. Criticism - Essay

Elizabeth Johnson (review date 1948)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Raintree County, in Commonweal, Vol. 47, February 13, 1948, p. 450.

[In the following review, Johnson finds Raintree County verbose, overrated, and “sophomoric.”]

Accolades of hysterical praise have greeted Raintree County since its publication. There have been boomings from some sagacious critics proclaiming it the turning point in American fiction, the renaissance of the American novel. True, the savants have more than once accused Mr. Lockridge of crying “Wolfe!” too often, not to mention the author's being hypnotized by Joyce and Faulkner. But that apparently does not detract from the broad panorama bulging with the humans and historical events that Mr. Lockridge has re-created.

By this time, the American reading public knows that Raintree County is the story of one day in the life of its Indiana hero, John Wickliff Shawnessy; that through a series of flash-backs, we learn of Shawnessy's boyhood, manhood, his physical as well as mental growth; that en route we are tossed a great chunk of American history, the 1839-1892 span. Interlarded amongst all this to-and-fro-ing is a plethora of “epic fragments” from newspapers, diaries and dreams. All this is executed with much patriotism and gusto on Mr. Lockridge's part. He has done handsomely by Johnny Shawnessy; the Raintree County boy holds one's interest and sympathy in a three-dimensional fashion. The author has done well with most of his other characters, too. His mob scenes,...

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Joseph L. Blotner (essay date 1956)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Raintree County Revisted,” in The Western Humanities Review, Vol. 10, Winter, 1956, pp. 57-64.

[In the following essay, Blotner reevaluates Raintree County and attempts to account for the extreme diversity of critical opinion that the novel provoked.]

The arrival of one recent attempt to write the Great American Novel was almost as unique as the book itself. In July, 1947, six months before publication, Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s 1066-page Raintree County won the $125,000 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Novel Award. When the book was published it was made the January selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, adding $25,000 more. Financial success was...

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Gerald C. Nemanic (essay date 1975)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ross Lockridge, Raintree County, and the Epic of Irony,” in MidAmerica II, Vol. 2, 1975, pp. 35-46.

[In the following essay, Nemanic discusses the shocking initial success and ultimate failure of Raintree County.]

William Carlos Williams may be the only important writer of our time who persisted in believing that an American epic might still be written. His own Paterson, an “answer to Greek and Latin with the bare hands,” was not to be that work. Williams knew it; indeed, he visualized his efforts as a necessary preliminary, “a gathering up” of raw materials into a foundation on which later poets might build epic structures.


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Lawrence Jay Dessner (essay date 1976)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Case of Raintree County,” in A Question of Quality: Popularity and Value in Modern Creative Writing, edited by Louis Filler, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 213-18.

[In the following essay, Dessner revisits Raintree County hoping to find the novel worthy of its initial fanfare, but finds instead very little to praise.]

Raintree County, a novel of over a thousand pages, was published, with considerable fanfare, some twenty-five years ago. Its author, an obscure young English teacher from Indiana, who had been supporting his wife and their four children on $2,500 a year, had received, six months prior to publication...

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Joel M. Jones (essay date 1977)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Presence of the Past in the Heartland: Raintree County Revisited,” in MidAmerica IV, Vol. 4, 1977, pp. 112-21.

[In the following essay, Jones examines the significance of Lockridge's re-creation of a historical period in Raintree County.]

Much care is taken to recreate the artifacts, tenor, and style of life in nineteenth century Indiana. These “antiquities” are evoked with deep feeling for that fading fabric of life. They delight, and are their own reason for being. And yet, for Lockridge this is hardly enough. He is bent on discovering the principles of American development, the foundation of American character....

(The entire section is 3284 words.)

Donald J. Greiner (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ross Lockridge and the Tragedy of Raintree County,” in Critique, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1978, pp. 51-62.

[In the following essay, Greiner argues that Lockridge's instant success and subsequent suicide are reflected in the experiences of his main character in Raintree County.]

Although published thirty-one years ago on January 5, 1948, Ross Lockridge's Raintree County remains a curio of modern American fiction. Neither taught in the universities nor studied by the specialists, the novel illustrates the old cliche of known but not read. The critical silence is puzzling. Consider these facts: some readers, including me, regard Raintree County as...

(The entire section is 5154 words.)

Leonard F. Manheim (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Author Wrecked by Success,” in Studies in Literature, Vol. 10, No's. 1, 2, 3, 1978, pp. 103-21.

[In the following essay, Manheim discusses the initial impact of Raintree County in popular and literary reading circles and attempts to account for the novel's disappearance into oblivion in subsequent years.]

The New York Times for 8 March 1948 carried a substantial news article which deals with the suicide which is here being considered:

                                                  by the United Press


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Fred Erisman (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Raintree County and the Power of Place,” in Markham Review, Vol. 8, Winter, 1979, pp. 36-40.

[In the following essay, Erisman analyzes Raintree County's concern with the influence of geographical location on Americans.]

Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s novel, Raintree County (1948) has not lacked critical attention. A Book-of-the-Month Club selection and the winner of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Novel Award before publication, it enjoyed a brief spurt of popular notice. More recently, it has attracted a degree of scholarly consideration. It has been discussed in the context of the epic tradition, has been read through the spectacles of Freudian...

(The entire section is 3488 words.)

Daniel Aaron (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “On Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s, Raintree County,” in Classics of Civil War Fiction, edited by David Madden and Peggy Bach, University Press of Mississippi, 1991, pp. 204-14.

[In the following essay, Aaron provides an overview of the plot and characters in Raintree County as well as a critical assessment.]

Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s, novel, a mix of history and myth, encloses a single day, July 4, 1892, in legendary Raintree County, Indiana. As the hours tick on from dawn to midnight, flashbacks (some fifty in all) to distant decades gradually fill in the lives of the principal characters who have converged at Waycross Station near the town of Freehaven...

(The entire section is 3975 words.)

Charles Trueheart (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Great American Studies Novel,” in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 274, No. 3, September, 1994, pp. 105-11.

[In the following essay, Trueheart discusses Raintree County alongside Lockridge 's son Larry's biography of his father, Shade of the Raintree.]

Fewer and fewer of us can imagine what it was like to be sentient in 1948, and so it behooves us to approach the thousand-piece puzzle of Raintree County, by Ross Lockridge Jr., with a certain humility. Such a novel would probably not be published today, let alone be so lavishly received. It is even hard to imagine that it could be written in a time like ours. Yet for a brief moment Lockridge was...

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Gerald Weales (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Return to Raintree County,” in The Gettysburg Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 168-76.

[In the following essay, Weales recounts the publishing and critical history of Raintree County.]

Ross Lockridge, Jr. wanted to write a great book, perhaps The Great American Novel, that ignis fatuus that used to dance—and perhaps still does—before the eyes of ambitious young novelists. Although he and his publisher avoided the TGAN label when Raintree County was published in 1948, Houghton Mifflin marketed the book as a serious work of fiction, if a good read. Both the publisher and the author understandably wanted the novel to be...

(The entire section is 4229 words.)

David D. Anderson (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Raintree County and the ‘Dark Fields of the Republic,’” in Myth, Memory, and the American Earth: The Durability of Raintree County, edited by David D. Anderson, The Midwestern Press, 1998, pp. 9-15.

[In the following essay, Anderson discusses Raintree County as a great chronicle of emerging patterns in twentieth-century Midwestern America.]

When Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr. was published early in 1948, it was subject to a barrage of critical and popular appraisal almost unparalleled up to that time. Whether its 1060 pages, with accompanying chronologies, lists, and maps, were seen as the embodiment of the American myth...

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Park Dixon Goist (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Habits of the Heart in Raintree County” in Myth, Memory, and the American Earth: The Durability of Raintree County, edited by David D. Anderson, The Midwestern Press, 1998, pp. 56-67.

[In the following essay, Goist examines the tension between individual and community in Raintree County.]

Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985), a widely discussed work by Robert Bellah and a team of social scientists, has once again reiterated the importance and urgency of understanding the tension between individualism and community in America.1 This provocative work also provides a challenging framework for...

(The entire section is 4788 words.)

Douglas A. Noverr (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Memory, the Divided Self, and Revelatory Resolution in Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s Raintree County,” in Myth, Memory, and the American Earth: The Durability of Raintree County, edited by David D. Anderson, The Midwestern Press, 1998, pp. 77-83.

[In the following essay, Noverr discusses internal tension and the division of self in the protagonist of Raintree County.]

In her 1988 work titled Equivocal Endings in Classic American Novels Joyce A. Rowe finds a fairly consistent and repeated pattern in the endings of classic American novels that enables one to speak of “the American sense of an ending.” In this pattern the protagonist of each of the...

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Dean Rehberger (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Blurred Boundaries and the Desire for Nationalism in Ross Lockridge's Raintree County,” in Myth, Memory, and the American Earth: The Durability of Raintree County, edited by David D. Anderson, The Midwestern Press, 1998, pp. 68-76.

[In the following essay, Rehberger examines nationalism and the possibility of true national union in Raintree County.]

What is any nation, after all—and what is a human being—but a struggle between conflicting, paradoxical, opposing elements—and they themselves and their most violent contexts, important part of that One Identity, and of its development?


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