William Maxwell Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In his memoir Ancestors (1971), William Maxwell provides a history of his family, tracing his ancestry on both his mother’s and father’s sides to American pioneers and presenting much of the autobiographical material that is reflected in his fiction. In addition to his novels, Maxwell is well known for his short stories and for the reviews he wrote during his long career (1936-1976) on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. Some of his stories have been collected in The Old Man at the Railroad Crossing, and Other Tales (1966), Over by the River, and Other Stories (1977), and All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories of William Maxwell (1995). He also wrote two works for children: The Heavenly Tenants (1946) and Mrs. Donald’s Dog Bun and His Home Away from Home (1995).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

William Maxwell was probably best known as a writer and fiction editor for The New Yorker, where he edited the works of John Cheever, Irwin Shaw, John O’Hara, and others. Although not well known among general readers, Maxwell received much critical acclaim for his own fiction, earning many awards, including the Friends of American Writers Award in 1938 and the William Dean Howells Award for Fiction for So Long, See You Tomorrow in 1980. He received a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1958 and served as that organization’s president from 1969 to 1972. Maxwell was consistently praised for the realism of his dialogue, his deep and sensitive insights into characters, especially children, and his depiction of the American Midwest.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baxter, Charles, Michael Collier, and Edward Hirsch, eds. A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. A collection of essays, analyses of Maxwell’s works and biographical sketches, forming more of a celebration of Maxwell than a critical study.

Burkhardt, Barbara A. William Maxwell: A Literary Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005. This book is both biography and literary criticism based on the author’s interviews with Maxwell and access to Maxwell’s writings and correspondence.

Eakin, John Paul. “The Referential Aesthetic in Autobiography.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, Fall, 1990, 129-144. An academic study of the use of autobiography for fiction by Maxwell and other writers.

Maxfield, James F. “The Child, the Adolescent, and the Adult: Stages of Consciousness in Three Early Novels of William Maxwell.” Midwest Quarterly 24 (1983): 315-335. Using primarily a psychoanalytic approach, Maxfield examines They Came like Swallows, The Folded Leaf, and Time Will Darken It as forming a trilogy that reflects the maturing of Maxwell as he confronts the loss of his mother and his father’s remarriage. Chronologically, the three early novels represent the wish fulfillment of the author at three stages of life....

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