Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

St. Botolphs

St. Botolphs. Massachusetts town, introduced in The Wapshot Chronicle as an old river town, that becomes in The Wapshot Scandal a seat of virtue and value in a corrupting, debased world. Cheever recapitulates his presentation of the town in the first pages of the second book, beginning with the square in the town’s center and then moving out to show the shops and homes which, in their individual characteristics, exemplify the positive attributes that Cheever admires.

In spite of the inevitable pressures wrought by changing economic conditions, the town is still a place of decorum and relative tranquillity. Its comparative insularity, which makes it seem quaint and old-fashioned, affords a place of refuge to its inhabitants, so that Coverly Wapshot exclaims on its “pathos and beauty” after returning from the outside world. He regards his aunt Honora’s bizarre behavior as one of the “eccentric niceties” of the village.

At the book’s close, Cheever steps out of the omniscient authority of the narrative to compose an envoi to his real/fictional setting, admitting “I love this water and its shores; love it absurdly as if I could marry the view.” The novel is his paean to a place that he feared was soon to be lost forever. On the last page of the novel, Cheever regretfully states about St. Botolphs, “I will never come back” and adds, “if I do there will be nothing left . . . there will really be nothing at all.”


(The entire section is 617 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bosha, Francis J., ed. The Critical Response to John Cheever. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Sampler of reviews and critical essays on all Cheever publications. Reprints five reviews of The Wapshot Chronicle and includes a new essay by Kenneth C. Mason on “Tradition and Desecration” in the two Wapshot books.

Bosha, Francis J., comp. John Cheever: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. Excellent discussion of the inconsistent critical response to Cheever’s fiction. Provides a comprehensive, fully annotated listing of works about Cheever, including reviews, articles, and interviews.

Collins, R. G., ed. Critical Essays on John Cheever. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Good overview of the critical reception of Cheever’s fiction. Reprints many of the most important and influential reviews and essays (some in revised form), including Frederick Karl on pastoral, Beatrice Greene on Cheever’s vision as an effect of style, and Frederick Bracher on comedy. A new essay by Samuel Coale on Cheever’s “Romancer’s Art” is especially noteworthy.

Donaldson, Scott. John Cheever: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1988. Fair-minded and richly detailed, this biography offers the fullest and most objective, but nevertheless sympathetic, account of Cheever’s life and work, including the publication and reception of The Wapshot Scandal.

Hunt, George W. John Cheever: The Hobgoblin Company of Love. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983. Longer, more detailed, but more tendentious than the earlier book-length studies by Samuel Coale (1977) and Lynn Waldeland (1979). Hunt offers useful summaries of plot and criticism before offering his own critical reading in terms of Cheever’s Christian perspective.