Vardis Fisher Fisher, Vardis (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Fisher, Vardis (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Fisher, Vardis 1895–1968

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Fisher, best known for his Vridar Hunter tetralogy, was an American novelist, poet, essayist, and short story writer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 25-28.)

Mr. Fisher has the energies and the admirably steady work habits of a nineteenth-century man of letters, and his output shows the sort of unevenness that commonly accompanies incessant production. One would hate to be set the task of reading every word he has published, but would hate even worse to be without the half-dozen books that show him at his best. (p. 33)

Fisher has a strong desire to be the scholar-artist, but his gift for narrative has not always been compatible with his yen for scholarship. His talent and his subjects are sometimes not congruent.

In an essay written in 1963 Fisher remarks that the Testament of Man series was probably too much for him, the difficulty being that he started on the series so late in life that he simply could not read enough or learn enough. It is unlikely, however, that the Testament would have been much improved if Fisher had started on it the day he was weaned; if the series fails it is not through lack of knowledge or historical insight, not because of any inability to understand history, but because Mr. Fisher could not animate that many periods in fiction. In a few of the Testament novels, particularly in My Holy Satan, he has managed to do so, but in most of the others the ideas are made quite clear while the characters remain vague. (pp. 33-4)

One would venture that he … has been most successful, both as scholar and artist, not in writing about Western Man, but in writing about man in the American West.

The pre-Christian era pricks the scholar in Fisher; the early West pricks the novelist. (p. 34)

Larry McMurtry, "Icy Grief and a Fire of Vengeance," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1965 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), November 6, 1965, pp. 33-4.

Fisher had made a rather propitious beginning as a novelist. His first two novels, though not best sellers, were highly praised; and critics expected a rich new regionalist contribution to American literature. When Fisher started his autobiographical tetralogy, he still seemed in the regionalist tradition, but it was soon evident that the modern Rousseau had other things in mind. The tetralogy [In Tragic Life (1932), Passions Spin the Plot (1934), We Are Betrayed (1935), and No Villain Need Be (1936)] shot Fisher into fame with the litterati, even if they did not always approve him. When Children of God won the Harper prize in 1939, Fisher was, from all indications, in the forefront of American letters. Before he had finished his tetralogy and while he was writing Children of God, Fisher conceived the scheme for a long series of novels which would show the development of man's mind and spirit. While reviewers and the public were praising the Mormon saga, Fisher was trying to talk up his scheme with publishers, with very little success. When the first few books of the new series appeared, a few critics noticed them with interest. However, they received nothing like the attention Fisher got in the depression decade. Even his first two novels received more notice. But midway through the series, Fisher was receiving almost no attention. He had become a historical curiosity; he was dismissed as a writer whose interest belonged essentially to the troubled decade of the 1930's. Indeed, it seemed for a time that The Testament of Man would not even be published. (pp. 7-8)

Alan Swallow suggests that Vardis Fisher has not received his due because he is an intellectual novelist, a novelist in the tradition of Johnson's Rasselas and of Meredith—a tradition concerned primarily with idea and not presently popular. The term "novel of ideas" had little currency before Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point (1928)…. In fact, Fisher's tetralogy, like Huxley's novel, aspires to the condition of music. The four books follow the pattern of the...

(The entire section is 2,872 words.)