Wilfrid Sheed Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sheed, Wilfrid 1930–

An Anglo-American novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, and editor, Sheed writes witty, satirical novels in which the bite is tempered by his compassion. A frequent target for his sarcasm is the contemporary obsession with self-analysis. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)

Julian Moynahan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Transatlantic Blues" … is fictional autobiography structured as a general confession in the old-Catholic sense of the term. This confession is stimulated by a mid-life crisis or breakdown stemming from the hero's self-condemnatory conviction that the work he does is despicable and immoral, even a symptom of diabolism. Pendrid ("Monty") Chatworth is a television host-interviewer toiling for both a major American network and the BBC, specializing in celebrity interviewing of the pseudo-candid type and in "searching" documentaries. (p. 1)

"Transatlantic Blues," written in the familiar Sheedian vein of dark comedy, is worth reading for its wealth of insight into the two societies during and since...

(The entire section is 277 words.)

James Wolcott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Chalices, confessionals, crucifixes—every page of Wilfrid Sheed's new novel Transatlantic Blues … is sprinkled with strained jokey references to Roman Catholicism. Like the father in Looking for Mr. Goodbar who tears around the house in a Notre Dame jacket, narrator-hero Pendrid "Monty" Chatworth isn't merely intensely Catholic, he's pathologically Catholic—God is his co-pilot, and together they're strafing the countryside. The novel opens with Chatworth on a 747 flight above the Atlantic, boozily asking other first-class occupants to hear his confession. After a Jewish passenger sarcastically obliges him, Chatworth growls, "Fuck you, you secular pig. You had a great religion once. What'd...

(The entire section is 781 words.)

Robert Towers

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I found it impossible to identify [Transatlantic Blues'] real subject or to guess the impulse that led to its writing. Much of the Oxford material reads like a retread of Sheed's first novel, A Middle-Class Education (1960). And the differences in English and American attitudes and style that so agitate the adolescent (and collegiate) Pendrid have been more poignantly dramatized in The Blacking Factory (1968). It is not helpful to think of the novel as a kind of Bildungsroman, since the central character undergoes no real development; he merely tries on a series of less than adequate identities. It is then the story of a sell-out, an anatomy of guilt? The portrait of a once zealous (if...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

John B. Breslin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As a satirical tour de force, Transatlantic Blues has its moments. Like Chatworth, Wilfrid Sheed is also a transatlantic personality and his barbs slash both ways, skewering British dilettantism and American pragmatism with equal gusto. Of British heroism: "Fearfully brave. Group commander at Dunkirk. Made tea while the bullets sang. 'Oh dear, they've ruined our best pot. I am vexed.' Stamps foot, giggles." Of American nomadism: "Americans are so good at being homeless, they must practice it at home." And yet I did not find it a very funny book. Like Chatworth himself, the humor is too contrived, too much like a talk-show monologue. The constant play of mirrors and echoes that makes the hero so...

(The entire section is 154 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Chatworth's voice, shrewd, sardonic, reductive—he is on to himself and on to everybody else—presents the Anglo-American scene, and particularly the Catholic scene, afresh [in Transatlantic Blues]…. Class plays its usual murky role, and Chatworth's voice reaches new levels of satirical irony as he confronts and rings the changes on all the traps of American anglophilia and anglophobia, of English pro- and anti-Americanism. The voice gets sharper still as yet another excruciating Catholic struggle with sex is rehearsed. Cheerfuller comedy comes in his account of self-prostitution for the media. Chatsworth is too "vibrantly superficial" to engage in the trapped masochisms of a Mauriac or Greene protagonist;...

(The entire section is 843 words.)