From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John Dos Passos
||John Roderigo Dos Passos
January 14, 1896
||September 28, 1970 (aged 74)
||novelist, playwright, poet, journalist,
Antonio Feltrinelli Prize
John Roderigo Dos Passos (January
14, 1896 – September 28, 1970) was an American novelist and
Dos Passos was born in Chicago, Illinois,
the illegitimate son of John Randolph Dos Passos Jr. (1844-1917). The elder
Dos Passos was a lawyer of Madeiran Portuguese
descent, the son of John Randolph Dos Passos and Mary Hays, and the brother of
Louis Hays Dos Passos. He was an authority on trusts and
a staunch supporter of the powerful industrial
conglomerates his son would
come to oppose in his fictional works of the 1920s and 30s. In 1910, the elder
Dos Passos married Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison, from Petersburg.
Although he provided for his son's schooling, he refused to acknowledge him
until two years after his marriage (when his son was 14).
The younger Dos Passos received a first-class education, enrolling at The
Choate School (now Choate
Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford,
Connecticut in 1907 under the
name John Roderigo Madison, then traveling with a private tutor on a six-month
France, England, Italy, Greece,
and the Middle
East to study the masters of classical
In 1912 he attended Harvard
University. Following his graduation in 1916 he traveled to Spain to study
art and architecture. With World
War I raging in Europe and
America not yet participating, Dos Passos volunteered in July 1917 for the
S.S.U. 60 of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with friends E.
E. Cummings and Robert
Hillyer. He worked as a driver in Paris and in north-central Italy.
By the late summer of 1918, he had completed a draft of his first novel. At
the same time, he had to report for duty with the U.S.
Corps at Camp Crane in
Pennsylvania. At war's end, he was stationed in Paris, where the U.S. Army
Overseas Education Commission allowed him to study anthropology at the Sorbonne.
A character in U.S.A. goes
through virtually the same military career and stays in Paris after the war.
Considered one of the Lost
Generation writers, Dos Passos'
first novel was published in 1920. Titled One
Man's Initiation: 1917 it was
followed by an antiwar story, Three
Soldiers, which brought him considerable recognition. His 1925 novel
about life in New York City, titled Manhattan
Transfer, was a commercial success and introduced experimental stream-of-consciousness techniques
into Dos Passos' method.
At this point a social revolutionary, Dos Passos came to see the United States
as two nations, one rich and one poor. He wrote admiringly about the Wobblies and
the injustice in the criminal convictions of Sacco
and Vanzetti and joined with
other notable personalities in the United States and Europe in a failed
campaign to overturn their death
sentences. In 1928, Dos Passos spent several months in Russia studying
their socialist system.
In 1937, during the Spanish
Civil War, he returned to Spain with Hemingway,
but his views on the communist movement
had already begun to change. Dos Passos broke with Hemingway and Herbert
Matthews over their cavalier
attitude towards the war and their willingness to lend their names to Stalinist propaganda efforts,
cover-up of the Soviet
responsibility in the murder of José
Robles, Dos Passos's friend and translator of his works into Spanish. (In
later years, Hemingway would give Dos Passos the derogatory moniker of "the
pilot fish" in his memoirs of 1920s Paris, A
Moveable Feast.) These ideas coalesced into the USA trilogy (see
below), of which the first book appeared in 1930.
Dos Passos attended the 1932
Democratic National Convention and
subsequently wrote an article for The
New Republic in which he
harshly criticized the selection of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt as
the party's nominee. In the mid-1930s he wrote a series of scathing articles
about communist political theory, and created an idealistic Communist in The
Big Money who is gradually worn
down and destroyed by
groupthink in the party. As a
result of socialism gaining popularity in Europe as a response to Fascism,
there was a sharp decline in international sales of his books. His politics,
which had always underpinned his work, moved far to the right. (He came to
McCarthy in the early 1950s.)
Recognition for his significant contribution in the literary field would come
thirty years later in Europe when, in 1967, he was invited to Rome to accept
the prestigious Antonio
Feltrinelli Prize for
international distinction in literature. Although Dos Passos' partisans have
contended that his later work was ignored because of his changing politics,
there is a consensus among critics that the quality of his novels drastically
declined following U.S.A.
Between 1942 and 1945, Dos Passos worked as a journalist covering World War
II. In 1947, he was elected to the American
Academy of Arts and Letters, but tragedy struck when an automobile
accident killed his wife of 18 years, Katharine Smith, and cost him the sight
in one eye. The couple had no children. He eventually was remarried to
Elizabeth Hamlyn Holdridge (1909-1998) in 1949, by whom he had an only
daughter, Lucy Hamlin Dos Passos (b. 1950), and he continued to write until
his death in Baltimore, Maryland in
1970. He is interred in Yeocomico
Churchyard Cemetery in Cople
County, Virginia, not far from where he had made his home.
Over his long and successful career, Dos Passos wrote forty-two novels, as
well as poems, essays, and plays, and created more than 400 pieces of art.