John Updike

John Updike

Overview
John Hoyer Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer, art critic
Art critic
An art critic is a person who specializes in evaluating art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites...

, and literary critic.

Updike's most famous work is his Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series (the novels Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike.The novel depicts five months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life...

; Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Redux is a 1971 novel by John Updike. It is the second book in his "Rabbit" series, beginning with Rabbit, Run and followed by Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit At Rest, and the related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered.-Plot summary:...

; Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich is a 1981 novel by John Updike. It is the third novel of the four-part series which begins with Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, and concludes with Rabbit At Rest. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

; Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit at Rest is a 1990 novel by John Updike. It is the fourth and final novel in a series beginning with Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; and Rabbit is Rich. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

; and the novella "Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered is a 2001 novella by John Updike, and a sequel to his "Rabbit" series. It first appeared in his collection of short fiction titled Licks of Love....

"), which chronicles Rabbit's life over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to his death. Both Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit At Rest (1990) received the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

. Updike is one of only three authors (the others were Booth Tarkington
Booth Tarkington
Booth Tarkington was an American novelist and dramatist best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams...

 and William Faulkner
William Faulkner
William Cuthbert Faulkner was an American writer from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of media; he wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career...

) to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

The city overwhelmed our expectations. The Kiplingesque grandeur of Waterloo Station, the Eliotic despondency of the brick row in Chelsea … the Dickensian nightmare of fog and sweating pavement and besmirched cornices.

On London, in “A Madman,” New Yorker (22 December 1962)

If men do not keep on speaking terms with children, they cease to be men, and become merely machines for eating and for earning money.

“A Foreword for Younger Readers,” Assorted Prose (1965)

A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.

“Confessions of a Wild Bore” in Assorted Prose (1965)

The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one's obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.

On J. D. Salinger, in Studies in J. D. Salinger : Reviews, Essays, and Critiques of The Catcher in the Rye and other Fiction (1963) edited by Marvin Laser and Norman Fruman, p. 231; also quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (August 26, 1965)

I would especially like to recourt the Muse of poetry, who ran off with the mailman four years ago, and drops me only a scribbled postcard from time to time.

On completing a long novel, New York Times (7 April 1968)

Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings.

A Month of Sundays (1975)

When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.

Quoted in George Plimpton|George Plimpton ed Writers at Work' Viking (1976)

Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day's progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.

“Marching through a Novel” in Tossing and Turning (1977)

I think “taste” is a social concept and not an artistic one. I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.

Interview in New York Times Book Review (10 April 1977). later published in Conversations with John Updike (1994) edited by James Plath, p. 113

I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone.

Testimony given before the Subcommittee on Select Education of the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Boston, Massachusetts (30 January 1978)
Encyclopedia
John Hoyer Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer, art critic
Art critic
An art critic is a person who specializes in evaluating art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites...

, and literary critic.

Updike's most famous work is his Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series (the novels Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike.The novel depicts five months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life...

; Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Redux is a 1971 novel by John Updike. It is the second book in his "Rabbit" series, beginning with Rabbit, Run and followed by Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit At Rest, and the related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered.-Plot summary:...

; Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich is a 1981 novel by John Updike. It is the third novel of the four-part series which begins with Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, and concludes with Rabbit At Rest. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

; Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit at Rest is a 1990 novel by John Updike. It is the fourth and final novel in a series beginning with Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; and Rabbit is Rich. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

; and the novella "Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered is a 2001 novella by John Updike, and a sequel to his "Rabbit" series. It first appeared in his collection of short fiction titled Licks of Love....

"), which chronicles Rabbit's life over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to his death. Both Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit At Rest (1990) received the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

. Updike is one of only three authors (the others were Booth Tarkington
Booth Tarkington
Booth Tarkington was an American novelist and dramatist best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams...

 and William Faulkner
William Faulkner
William Cuthbert Faulkner was an American writer from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of media; he wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career...

) to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. He published more than twenty novels and more than a dozen short story collections, as well as poetry, art criticism
Art criticism
Art criticism is the discussion or evaluation of visual art.Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty...

, literary criticism
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 and children's books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

, starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

.

Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

", Updike was well recognized for his careful craftsmanship, his unique prose style, and his prolificness. He wrote on average a book a year. Updike populated his fiction with characters who "frequently experience personal turmoil and must respond to crises relating to religion, family obligations, and marital infidelity." His fiction is distinguished by its attention to the concerns, passions, and suffering of average Americans; its emphasis on Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 theology; and its preoccupation with sexuality and sensual detail. His work has attracted a significant amount of critical attention and praise, and he is widely considered to be one of the great American writers
American literature
American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British...

 of his time. Updike's highly distinctive prose style features a rich, unusual, sometimes arcane vocabulary as conveyed through the eyes of "a wry, intelligent authorial voice" that extravagantly describes the physical world, while remaining squarely in the realist
Literary realism
Literary realism most often refers to the trend, beginning with certain works of nineteenth-century French literature and extending to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century authors in various countries, towards depictions of contemporary life and society "as they were." In the spirit of...

 tradition. Updike famously described his own style as an attempt "to give the mundane its beautiful due."

Early life and education


Updike was the only child of Wesley Russell Updike and Linda Grace Hoyer in Reading, Pennsylvania
Reading, Pennsylvania
Reading is a city in southeastern Pennsylvania, USA, and seat of Berks County. Reading is the principal city of the Greater Reading Area and had a population of 88,082 as of the 2010 census, making it the fifth most populated city in the state after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Erie,...

 and grew up in the nearby small town Shillington
Shillington, Pennsylvania
Shillington is a borough in Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with a population of 5,059 at the 2000 census nestled amongst other suburbs outside of Reading...

. The family later moved to the unincorporated
Unincorporated area
In law, an unincorporated area is a region of land that is not a part of any municipality.To "incorporate" in this context means to form a municipal corporation, a city, town, or village with its own government. An unincorporated community is usually not subject to or taxed by a municipal government...

 village of Plowville
Plowville, Pennsylvania
Plowville is an unincorporated area of Robeson Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. it is located on Pennsylvania Route 10, just east of Interstate 176. Its zip code is 19540 and is served by the Twin Valley School District...

. His mother's attempts to be a published writer influenced the young Updike's own aspirations. He later recalled how his mother's writing inspired him as a child. "One of my earliest memories is of seeing her at her desk ... I admired the writer's equipment, the typewriter eraser, the boxes of clean paper. And I remember the brown envelopes that stories would go off in — and come back in."

These early years in Berks County, Pennsylvania, would influence the environment of the Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy
Tetralogy
A tetralogy is a compound work that is made up of four distinct works, just as a trilogy is made up of three works....

, as well as many of his early novels and short stories. He graduated from Shillington High School as co-valedictorian
Valedictorian
Valedictorian is an academic title conferred upon the student who delivers the closing or farewell statement at a graduation ceremony. Usually, the valedictorian is the highest ranked student among those graduating from an educational institution...

 and class president in 1950 and subsequently attended Harvard
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

 after receiving a full scholarship. At Harvard, he soon became widely known among his classmates as an extremely talented and prolific contributor to the Harvard Lampoon
Harvard Lampoon
The Harvard Lampoon is an undergraduate humor publication founded in 1876 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.-Overview:Published since 1876, The Harvard Lampoon is the world's longest continually published humor magazine. It is also the second longest-running English-language humor...

, of which he served as president, before graduating summa cum laude in 1954 with a degree in English
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

.

After graduation, he decided to become a graphic artist and attended The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art
The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art
The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, known as The Ruskin, is an art school and research institute at the University of Oxford.Working collaboratively across two sites, the school provides undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in the study and production of visual art...

 at the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

. His early ambition was to be a cartoonist
Cartoonist
A cartoonist is a person who specializes in drawing cartoons. This work is usually humorous, mainly created for entertainment, political commentary or advertising...

. After returning to the United States, Updike and his family moved to New York, where he became a regular contributor to The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

. This was the beginning of his writing career.

Career as a writer


Updike stayed at The New Yorker as a full staff writer for only two years, writing "Talk of the Town" columns and submitting poetry and short stories to the magazine. In New York, Updike wrote the poems and stories that came to fill his early books like The Carpentered Hen
The Carpentered Hen
The Carpentered Hen is the first poetry collection by John Updike. Interestingly, this collection was also Updike's first published book.This volume and its follow-up, Telephone Polls, was republished in a single-volume edition titled Verses....

 (1958) and The Same Door
The Same Door
The Same Door is the first collection of John Updike's short stories in book form. It was published in 1959 by Alfred A. Knopf. This was the year after his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, was published by the same company, a house he was to remain with for 50 years.-Contents:The book consists of...

 (1959). These works were influenced by Updike's early engagement with The New Yorker. This early work also featured the influence of J. D. Salinger
J. D. Salinger
Jerome David Salinger was an American author, best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as his reclusive nature. His last original published work was in 1965; he gave his last interview in 1980....

 ("A&P
A&P (story)
"A & P" is an ironic short story written by John Updike in 1961 in which the hero and first person narrator takes a stand for what is right and therefore has hope for a better future. M...

"), John Cheever
John Cheever
John William Cheever was an American novelist and short story writer. He is sometimes called "the Chekhov of the suburbs." His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy,...

 ("Snowing in Greenwich Village"), and the Modernists
Modernist literature
Modernist literature is sub-genre of Modernism, a predominantly European movement beginning in the early 20th century that was characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional aesthetic forms...

 Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu...

, Henry Green
Henry Green
Henry Green was the nom de plume of Henry Vincent Yorke , an English author best remembered for the novel Loving, which was featured by Time in its list of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.- Biography :Green was born near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, into an educated family...

, James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

, and Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

.

During this time, Updike also underwent a profound spiritual crisis. Suffering from a loss of religious faith, he began reading Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

 and the theologian Karl Barth
Karl Barth
Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian whom critics hold to be among the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century; Pope Pius XII described him as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas...

. Both deeply influenced his own religious beliefs, which in turn figured prominently in his fiction. Updike remained a believing Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 for the rest of his life.

Later, Updike and his family relocated to Ipswich, Massachusetts
Ipswich, Massachusetts
Ipswich is a coastal town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 12,987 at the 2000 census. Home to Willowdale State Forest and Sandy Point State Reservation, Ipswich includes the southern part of Plum Island...

. Many commentators, including a columnist in the local Ipswich Chronicle, asserted that the fictional town of Tarbox in Couples
Couples
thumb|right|1st edition Couples is a 1968 novel by American author John Updike.-Summary:The novel focuses on a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox...

 was based on Ipswich. Updike denied the suggestion in a letter to the paper. Impressions of Updike's day-to-day life in Ipswich during the 1960s and 1970s are included in a letter to the same paper published soon after Updike's death and written by a friend and contemporary. In Ipswich, Updike wrote Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike.The novel depicts five months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life...

 (1960), on a Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...

, and The Centaur
The Centaur
The Centaur is a 1963 novel by John Updike. It won the National Book Award in 1964. The story concerns George Caldwell, a school teacher, and his son Peter, outside of Alton , Pennsylvania. The novel explores the relationship between the depressive Caldwell and his anxious son...

 (1963), two of his most acclaimed and famous works; the latter won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

.

Rabbit, Run featured Rabbit Angstrom, a former high school basketball
Basketball
Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules...

 star and middle-class paragon who would become Updike's most enduring and critically acclaimed character. Updike wrote three additional novels about him. Rabbit, Run was featured in Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

s All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels.

Updike's career and reputation were nurtured and expanded by his long association with The New Yorker, which published him frequently throughout his lifetime of writing, despite the fact that he had departed the magazine's employment after only two years. The New Yorker, particularly in the 1930s through the 1980s, reached a wide and literate audience with emphasis on writers, artists and thinkers on the east coast, where most of its readers also resided. The magazine was for many decades one of the preeminent publishing forums for the American short story, a genre at which Updike excelled, and it continued to publish shorter fiction long after many other publications had ceased to express any interest. Until the 1960s, there were dozens of popular magazines which published short fiction. As magazines directed their attention to "targeted" or special interest audiences of prime interest to advertisers, short fiction began to fall by the wayside. As the number of venues declined rapidly, the importance of appearing in The New Yorker rose. Updike's short story output found a welcome home at The New Yorker, which, in turn, introduced him to a wide and alert reading public.

In 1971, Updike published a sequel to Rabbit, Run called Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Redux is a 1971 novel by John Updike. It is the second book in his "Rabbit" series, beginning with Rabbit, Run and followed by Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit At Rest, and the related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered.-Plot summary:...

, his response to the 1960s; Rabbit reflected much of Updike's confusion and ambivalence towards the social and political changes that beset the United States during that time. In 1980 he published another novel featuring that character, Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich is a 1981 novel by John Updike. It is the third novel of the four-part series which begins with Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, and concludes with Rabbit At Rest. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

, which won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

, the National Book Critics Circle
National Book Critics Circle
The National Book Critics Circle is an American tax-exempt organization for active book reviewers. Its flagship is the National Book Critics Circle Award....

 Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

--all three major American literary prizes. The novel found "Rabbit the fat and happy owner of a Toyota dealership." Updike found it difficult to end the book, because he was "having so much fun" in the imaginary county Rabbit and his family inhabited. In 1990, he published the last Rabbit novel, Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit at Rest is a 1990 novel by John Updike. It is the fourth and final novel in a series beginning with Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; and Rabbit is Rich. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

, in which his main character died. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

 and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Over 500 pages long, the novel is among Updike's most celebrated. In 2000, Updike included the novella "Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered is a 2001 novella by John Updike, and a sequel to his "Rabbit" series. It first appeared in his collection of short fiction titled Licks of Love....

" in his collection Licks of Love, drawing a final close to the Rabbit saga. His Pulitzers for the two final Rabbit novels make him one of only three writers to have won two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, the other two being William Faulkner
William Faulkner
William Cuthbert Faulkner was an American writer from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of media; he wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career...

 and Booth Tarkington
Booth Tarkington
Booth Tarkington was an American novelist and dramatist best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams...

.

In 1995, Everyman's Library
Everyman's Library
Everyman's Library is a series of reprinted classic literature currently published in hardback by Random House. It was originally an imprint of J. M. Dent , who continue to publish Everyman Classics in paperback.J. M. Dent and Company began to publish the series in 1906...

 collected and canonized the four novels as the omnibus Rabbit Angstrom, for which Updike wrote an introduction in which he described Rabbit as "a ticket to the America all around me. What I saw through Rabbit's eyes was more worth telling than what I saw through my own, though the difference was often slight." Updike later called Rabbit "a brother to me, and a good friend. He opened me up as a writer."

Updike's early Olinger
Olinger, Pennsylvania
Olinger, Pennsylvania is a fictional rural town in the southeastern part of the state that serves as the setting for several short stories and one novel by American writer John Updike...

 period was set in the Pennsylvania of his youth; it ended around 1965 with the lyrical Of the Farm
Of the Farm
Of the Farm is a 1965 novel by the American author John Updike. Of the Farm was his fourth novel. The story concerns Joey Robinson, a divorced, thirty-five-year-old Manhattan advertising executive who visits his mother on her unfarmed farm in rural Pennsylvania. He has come with his new wife,...

. After his early novels, Updike became most famous for his chronicling infidelity, adultery, and marital unrest, especially in suburban America, and for his controversial depiction of the confusion and freedom inherent in this breakdown of social mores. He once wrote that it was "a subject which, if I have not exhausted, has exhausted me." The most prominent of Updike's novels of this vein is Couples
Couples
thumb|right|1st edition Couples is a 1968 novel by American author John Updike.-Summary:The novel focuses on a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox...

 (1968), a novel about adultery in a small fictional Massachusetts town called Tarbox. It garnered Updike an appearance on the cover of Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 magazine with the headline "The Adulterous Society." Both the magazine article and, to an extent, the novel struck a chord of national concern over whether American society was abandoning all social standards of conduct in sexual matters.

The Maple short stories, collected in Too Far To Go
Too Far to Go
Too Far to Go is a collection of short stories by the American author John Updike published in 1979 in conjunction with the showing of a two-hour television movie on the NBC network with Blythe Danner, Michael Moriarty, Kathryn Walker and Glenn Close...

 (1979), reflected the ebb and flow of Updike's first marriage; "Separating" (1974) and "Here Come the Maples" (1976) related to Updike's divorce. Those stories were the basis for the television movie
Television movie
A television film is a feature film that is a television program produced for and originally distributed by a television network, in contrast to...

 also called Too Far To Go, broadcast by NBC
NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

 in 1979. Two other novels from this period, A Month of Sundays (1975), the first in Updike's so-called Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 romantic work of fiction in a historical setting, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is considered to be his magnum opus. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an...

 trilogy, and Marry Me: A Romance (1976), are also meditations on suburban adultery.

The Coup (1978), a lauded novel about an African dictatorship inspired by a visit he made to Africa, found Updike working in new territory. After writing Rabbit is Rich, Updike published The Witches of Eastwick
The Witches of Eastwick
The Witches of Eastwick is a 1984 novel by John Updike.-Plot summary:The story, set in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the late 1960s, follows the witches Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont, who acquired their powers after leaving or being left by their husbands....

 (1984), a playful novel about witches living in Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

. He described it as an attempt to "make things right with my, what shall we call them, feminist detractors
Feminist literary criticism
Feminist literary criticism is literary criticism informed by feminist theory, or by the politics of feminism more broadly. Its history has been broad and varied, from classic works of nineteenth-century women authors such as George Eliot and Margaret Fuller to cutting-edge theoretical work in...

." One of Updike's most popular novels, it was adapted as a film
The Witches of Eastwick (film)
The Witches of Eastwick is a 1987 American horror comedy based on John Updike's novel of the same name. Directed by George Miller, the film stars Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne, alongside Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the eponymous witches...

 and was included in The Western Canon (1994) of Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom is an American writer and literary critic, and is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. He is known for his defense of 19th-century Romantic poets, his unique and controversial theories of poetic influence, and his prodigious literary output, particularly for a literary...

. In 2008 Updike published The Widows of Eastwick
The Widows of Eastwick
The Widows of Eastwick is the final novel by John Updike, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning "Rabbit" series. First published in 2008, it is a sequel to his novel The Witches of Eastwick.-Plot:...

, a return to the witches in their old age. It was his last published novel.

In 1986 he published the unconventional novel Roger's Version
Roger's Version
Roger's Version is a 1986 novel by John Updike about Roger Lambert, a theology professor in his fifties, whose rather complacent faith is challenged by Dale, an evangelical graduate student who believes he can prove that God exists with computer science...

, the second volume of the so-called Scarlet Letter trilogy, about an attempt to prove God's existence
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

 using a computer program
Computer program
A computer program is a sequence of instructions written to perform a specified task with a computer. A computer requires programs to function, typically executing the program's instructions in a central processor. The program has an executable form that the computer can use directly to execute...

. Author and critic Martin Amis
Martin Amis
Martin Louis Amis is a British novelist, the author of many novels including Money and London Fields . He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester, but will step down at the end of the 2010/11 academic year...

 called it a "near-masterpiece." The novel S. (1989), uncharacteristically featuring a female protagonist, concluded Updike's reworking of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter.

Updike enjoyed working in series; in addition to the Rabbit Angstrom novels and the Maples stories, a recurrent Updike alter-ego is the moderately well-known, unprolific Jewish novelist and eventual Nobel laureate Henry Bech
Henry Bech
Henry Bech is a fictional character created by American author John Updike. Bech first appeared in assorted short stories, stories which were later compiled in the books Bech: A Book , Bech Is Back , and Bech at Bay...

, chronicled in three comic short-story cycles: Bech, a Book (1970), Bech Is Back (1981) and Bech At Bay: A Quasi-Novel (1998). These stories were compiled into The Complete Henry Bech (2001) by Everyman's Library. Bech was portrayed as a comical and self-conscious antithesis of Updike's own literary persona: Jewish, a World War II veteran, reclusive, and unprolific to a fault.

After the publication of the Pulitzer-winning Rabbit at Rest, Updike spent the rest of the 1990s and early 2000s publishing novels more in a wide range of genres; the work of this period was frequently experimental in nature. These styles included the historical fiction
Historical fiction
Historical fiction tells a story that is set in the past. That setting is usually real and drawn from history, and often contains actual historical persons, but the principal characters tend to be fictional...

 of Memories of the Ford Administration
Memories of the Ford Administration
Memories of the Ford Administration is a 1992 novel by John Updike published by Knopf.-Plot introduction:Set in the early 1990s, it concerns a historian and teacher, Alfred Clayton, and his response to a national survey requesting "memories and impressions" of the administration of Gerald Ford...

 (1992), the magical realism of Brazil
Brazil (novel)
Brazil is a 1994 novel by the American author John Updike. It contains many elements of magical realism.Tristão Raposo, a nineteen –year-old black child of the Rio slums, spies Isabel Leme, an eighteen-year-old upper-class white girl, across the hot sands of Copacabana Beach, and presents her with...

 (1994), the science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 of Toward the End of Time
Toward the end of time
Toward the End of Time is a novel by John Updike, published in 1997. It is the author's eighteenth novel.-Plot summary:Set in New England, like many of his novels, Toward the End of Time portrays a world in which the Chinese and the Americans have attacked one another with nuclear weapons. The...

 (1997), the postmodernism
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

 of Gertrude and Claudius
Gertrude and Claudius
Gertrude and Claudius is a novel by John Updike. It uses the known sources of Shakespeare's Hamlet to tell a story that draws on a rather straightforward revenge tale in the medieval Denmark depicted by Saxo Grammaticus in his twelfth-century Historiae Danicae, but incorporates extra plot elements...

 (2000), and the experimental fiction of Seek My Face (2002).

In the midst of these, he wrote what was for him a more conventional novel, named In the Beauty of the Lilies
In the Beauty of the Lilies
In the Beauty of the Lilies is a 1996 novel by John Updike. It takes its title from a line of the abolitionist song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."-Summary:...

 (1996), an historical saga spanning several generations and exploring themes of religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 and cinema
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 in America. It is considered the most successful novel of Updike's late career. Some critics have predicted that the novel may be considered by posterity to be a "late masterpiece overlooked or praised by rote in its day, only to be rediscovered by another generation", while others thought it overlong and depressing. In Villages (2004), Updike returned to the familiar territory of infidelities in New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

. His twenty-second novel, Terrorist
Terrorist (novel)
Terrorist is the 22nd and penultimate novel written by John Updike.-Plot introduction:The story centers on an American-born Muslim teenager named Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, although Ahmad’s high school guidance counselor, Jack Levy, also plays a central role...

 (2006), the story of a fervent young extremist Muslim in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, garnered media attention but little critical praise.

In 2003, Updike published The Early Stories
The Early Stories: 1953–1975
The Early Stories: 1953–1975, published in 2003 by Knopf, is a John Updike book collecting much of his short stories written from the beginning of his writing career, when he was just 21, until 1975...

, a large collection of his short fiction spanning the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. At more than 800 pages long, with over one hundred stories, some consider it one of Updike's most important works, chronicling part of his huge body of short fiction; it has been called "a richly episodic and lyrical Bildungsroman
Bildungsroman
In literary criticism, bildungsroman or coming-of-age story is a literary genre which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood , and in which character change is thus extremely important...

 . . . in which Updike traces the trajectory from adolescence
Adolescence
Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and mental human development generally occurring between puberty and legal adulthood , but largely characterized as beginning and ending with the teenage stage...

, college
College
A college is an educational institution or a constituent part of an educational institution. Usage varies in English-speaking nations...

, married life
Marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

, fatherhood, separation and divorce." It won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is awarded annually by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation to the authors of the year's best works of fiction by living American citizens. The winner receives US $15,000 and each of four runners-up receives US $5000. The foundation brings the winner and runners-up to...

 in 2004. This lengthy volume nevertheless excluded several stories found in his short-story collections published from the same period.

Updike worked in a wide array of genres, including fiction, poetry (most of which is compiled in Collected Poems: 1953-1993, 1993), essays (collected in nine separate volumes), a play (Buchanan Dying, 1974), and a memoir (Self Consciousness, 1989).

Updike won an array of awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

, two National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

s, three National Book Critics Circle
National Book Critics Circle
The National Book Critics Circle is an American tax-exempt organization for active book reviewers. Its flagship is the National Book Critics Circle Award....

 awards, both the 1989 National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

 and 2003 National Humanities Medal
National Humanities Medal
The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.The award, given by the...

, and the Rea Award for the Short Story
Rea Award for the Short Story
The Rea Award for the Short Story is an annual award given to a living American or Canadian author chosen for unusually significant contributions to short story fiction.-The Award:...

 for outstanding achievement. The National Endowment for the Humanities
National Endowment for the Humanities
The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency of the United States established by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. The NEH is located at...

 selected Updike to present the 2008 Jefferson Lecture
Jefferson Lecture
The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is an honorary lecture series established in 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities . According to the NEH, the Lecture is "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."-History of...

, the U.S. government's highest humanities
Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 honor; Updike's lecture was entitled "The Clarity of Things: What Is American about American Art."

Marriages and family


Updike married Mary E. Pennington, an art student at Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the coordinate college for Harvard University. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges. Radcliffe College conferred joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas beginning in 1963 and a formal merger agreement with...

, in 1953. She accompanied him to Oxford, England, where he attended art school and where their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1955. The couple had three more children together: writer David (born 1957), Michael (born 1959) and Miranda (born 1960); Updike and Pennington divorced in 1974. Updike had seven grandchildren: Trevor Leonard Updike and Sawyer Michael Updike, Michael's sons; John Anoff Cobblah and Michael Kwame Cobblah, Elizabeth's sons; Kai Daniels Freyleue, Seneca Dunn Freyleue, and Peter Mickinley Chandler, Miranda's sons; and Wesley Updike, David's son.

In 1977 Updike married Martha Ruggles Bernhard, with whom he lived in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts
Beverly Farms
Beverly Farms is an informally defined neighborhood at the eastern edge of the city of Beverly, Massachusetts. It is an ocean-front community with a population of about 3,500 which extends from the Manchester-by-the-Sea border to another informally defined section of Beverly known as Prides...

 until his death of lung cancer
Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...

 at a hospice in Danvers, Massachusetts
Danvers, Massachusetts
Danvers is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. Located on the Danvers River near the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, Danvers is most widely known for its association with the 1692 Salem witch trials, and for its famous asylum, the Danvers State Hospital.-17th century:The land...

, on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Poetry


Updike published eight volumes of poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 over his career, including his first book The Carpentered Hen
The Carpentered Hen
The Carpentered Hen is the first poetry collection by John Updike. Interestingly, this collection was also Updike's first published book.This volume and its follow-up, Telephone Polls, was republished in a single-volume edition titled Verses....

 (1958), and one of his last, the posthumous Endpoint (2009). The New Yorker published excerpts of Endpoint in its March 16, 2009 issue. Much of Updike's poetical output was recollected in Knopf's
Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. is a New York publishing house, founded by Alfred A. Knopf, Sr. in 1915. It was acquired by Random House in 1960 and is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group at Random House. The publishing house is known for its borzoi trademark , which was designed by co-founder...

 Collected Poems (1993). He wrote that "I began as a writer of light verse, and have tried to carry over into my serious or lyric verse something of the strictness and liveliness of the lesser form." The poet Thomas M. Disch
Thomas M. Disch
Thomas Michael Disch was an American science fiction author and poet. He won the Hugo Award for Best Related Book – previously called "Best Non-Fiction Book" – in 1999, and he had two other Hugo nominations and nine Nebula Award nominations to his credit, plus one win of the John W...

 noted that because Updike was such a well-known novelist, his poetry "could be mistaken as a hobby or a foible"; Disch saw Updike's light verse instead as a poetry of "epigrammatical lucidity." His poetry has been praised for its engagement with "a variety of forms and topics," its "wit and precision," and for its depiction of topics familiar to American readers.

British poet Gavin Ewart
Gavin Ewart
Gavin Buchanan Ewart was a British poet best known for contributing to Geoffrey Grigson's New Verse at the age of seventeen.-Life:...

 praised Updike for the metaphysical quality of his poetry and for his ability "to make the ordinary seem strange," and calls Updike one of the few modern novelists capable of writing good poetry. Reading Endpoint aloud, the critic Charles McGrath claimed that he found "another, deeper music" in Updike's poetry. He finds that Updike's wordplay "smoothes and elides itself", and has many subtle "sound effects." John Keenan, who praised the collection Endpoint as "beautiful and poignant", notes that his poetry's engagement with "the everyday world in a technically accomplished manner seems to count against him." It is possible that the literary establishment was unwilling to concede that a writer could do both poetry and fiction well.

Literary criticism and art criticism


Updike was also a critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

 of literature
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 and art
Art criticism
Art criticism is the discussion or evaluation of visual art.Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty...

, one frequently cited as one of the best American critics of his generation. In the introduction to Picked-Up Pieces, his 1975 collection of prose, he listed his personal rules for literary criticism:
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give enough direct quotation — at least one extended passage — of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's œuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never ... try to put the author "in his place," making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.


He reviewed "nearly every major writer of the 20th century and some 19th-century authors", typically in The New Yorker, always trying to make his reviews "animated." He was also a champion for young writers, often making generous comparisons to his own literary heroes including Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

 and Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu...

. Good reviews from Updike were often seen as a significant achievement in terms of literary reputation and even sales; some of his positive reviews helped jump-start the careers of such younger writers as Erica Jong
Erica Jong
Erica Jong is an American author and teacher best known for her fiction and poetry.-Career:A 1963 graduate of Barnard College, and with an M.A...

, Thomas Mallon
Thomas Mallon
Thomas Mallon is a novelist and critic. He was born in Glen Cove, New York. He attended Brown University as an undergraduate and earned a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. from Harvard. He received the Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in 1994 and won a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1987...

 and Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer is an American author best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close...

. Bad reviews by Updike sometimes caused controversy, as when in late 2008 he gave a "damning" review of Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved...

's novel A Mercy
A Mercy
A Mercy is Toni Morrison's 9th novel. It was first published in 2008. A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery in early America. It is both the story of mothers and daughters and the story of a primitive America. It made the New York Times Book Review list of "10 Best Books of 2008"...

.

Updike was praised for his literary criticism's conventional simplicity and profundity, for being an aestheticist
Aestheticism
Aestheticism was a 19th century European art movement that emphasized aesthetic values more than socio-political themes for literature, fine art, the decorative arts, and interior design...

 critic who saw literature on its own terms, and for his longtime commitment to the practice of literary criticism.

Much of Updike's art criticism appeared in The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

, where he often wrote about American art
American Art
American Art is the debut album of the band Weatherbox. It was released on May 8, 2007 on Doghouse Records. The album received critical acclaim from several sources including underground music distribution company Smartpunk, who lauded the band's style:...

. His art criticism involved an aestheticism like that of his literary criticism.

Updike's 2008 Jefferson Lecture
Jefferson Lecture
The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is an honorary lecture series established in 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities . According to the NEH, the Lecture is "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."-History of...

, "The Clarity of Things: What's American About American Art?", dealt with the uniqueness of American art from the 18th century to the 20th. In the lecture he argued that American art, until the expressionist movement
Expressionism
Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas...

 of the 20th century in which America declared its artistic "independence", is characterized by an insecurity not found in the artistic tradition of Europe." In Updike's own words:
Two centuries after Jonathan Edwards sought a link with the divine in the beautiful clarity of things, William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania...

 wrote in introducing his long poem Paterson
Paterson (poem)
Paterson is a poem by influential modern American poet William Carlos Williams.The poem is composed of five books and a fragment of a sixth book. The five books of Paterson were published separately in 1946, 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958, and the entire work was published as a unit in 1963. This book...

 that "for the poet there are no ideas but in things." No ideas but in things. The American artist, first born into a continent without museums and art schools, took Nature as his only instructor, and things as his principal study. A bias toward the empirical, toward the evidential object in the numinous fullness of its being, leads to a certain lininess, as the artist intently maps the visible in a New World that feels surrounded by chaos and emptiness.

Critical reputation and style



Updike is considered one of the greatest American fiction writers of his generation. He and Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved...

 were the most written-about living American novelists of their time. He was widely praised as America's "last true man of letters", with an immense and far-reaching influence on many writers. The excellence of his prose style is acknowledged even by critics skeptical of other aspects of Updike's work. Critics emphasize his "inimitable prose style" and "rich description and language," often favorably compared to Proust
Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu...

 and Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

. Some critics consider the fluency of his prose to be a fault, questioning the intellectual depth and thematic seriousness of his work given the polish of his language and the perceived lightness of his themes, while others criticized Updike for misogynistic depictions of women and sexual relationships. Other critics argue that Updike's "dense vocabulary and syntax
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 functions as a distancing technique to mediate the intellectual and emotional involvement of the reader." On the whole, however, Updike is extremely well regarded as a writer who mastered many genres, wrote with intellectual vigor and a powerful prose style, with "shrewd insight into the sorrows, frustrations, and banality of American life."

Updike's character Rabbit Angstrom, the protagonist of the series of novels widely considered his magnum opus, has been said to have "entered the pantheon of signal American literary figures," along with Huckleberry Finn
Huckleberry Finn (character)
Huckleberry "Huck" Finn is a fictional character created by Mark Twain, who first appeared in the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and is the protagonist and narrator of its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He is 12 or 13 years old during the former and a year older at the time of the latter...

, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield
Holden Caulfield
Holden Caulfield is the 16-to-17 years old protagonist of author J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. He is universally recognized for his resistance to growing older and desire to protect childhood innocence...

 and others. A 2002 list by Book magazine of the 100 Best Fictional Characters Since 1900 listed Rabbit in the top five. The Rabbit novels, the Henry Bech
Henry Bech
Henry Bech is a fictional character created by American author John Updike. Bech first appeared in assorted short stories, stories which were later compiled in the books Bech: A Book , Bech Is Back , and Bech at Bay...

 stories, and the Maples stories have been canonized
Western canon
The term Western canon denotes a canon of books and, more broadly, music and art that have been the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. As such, it includes the "greatest works of artistic merit." Such a canon is important to the theory of educational perennialism and the...

 by Everyman's Library
Everyman's Library
Everyman's Library is a series of reprinted classic literature currently published in hardback by Random House. It was originally an imprint of J. M. Dent , who continue to publish Everyman Classics in paperback.J. M. Dent and Company began to publish the series in 1906...

. After Updike's death, Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

's Houghton Library
Houghton Library
Houghton Library is the primary repository for rare books and manuscripts at Harvard University. It is part of the Harvard College Library within the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Houghton is located on the south side of Harvard Yard, next to Widener Library.- History :Harvard's first...

 acquired his papers, manuscripts, and letters, naming the collection the John Updike Archive. 2009 also saw the founding of the John Updike Society, a group of scholars dedicated to "awakening and sustaining reader interest in the literature and life of John Updike, promoting literature written by Updike, and fostering and encouraging critical responses to Updike's literary works." The Society will begin publishing The John Updike Review, a journal of critical scholarship in the field of Updike studies. The John Updike Society First Biennial Conference took place in 2010 at Alvernia University.

Eulogizing Updike in January 2009, the British novelist Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan
Ian Russell McEwan CBE, FRSA, FRSL is a British novelist and screenwriter, and one of Britain's most highly regarded writers. In 2008, The Times named him among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945"....

 wrote that Updike's "literary schemes and pretty conceits touched at points on the Shakespearean
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

", and that Updike's death marked "the end of the golden age of the American novel in the 20th century's second half." McEwan concluded that the Rabbit series is Updike's "masterpiece and will surely be his monument", and describing it, concluded:
Updike is a master of effortless motion — between third and first person, from the metaphorical density of literary prose to the demotic, from specific detail to wide generalisation, from the actual to the numinous, from the scary to the comic. For his own particular purposes, Updike devised for himself a style of narration, an intense, present tense, free indirect style, that can leap up, whenever it wants, to a God's-eye view of Harry, or the view of his put-upon wife, Janice, or victimised son, Nelson. This carefully crafted artifice permits here assumptions about evolutionary theory, which are more Updike than Harry, and comically sweeping notions of Jewry, which are more Harry than Updike.

This is at the heart of the tetralogy's achievement. Updike once said of the Rabbit books that they were an exercise in point of view. This was typically self-deprecating, but contains an important grain of truth. Harry's education extends no further than high school, and his view is further limited by a range of prejudices and a stubborn, combative spirit, yet he is the vehicle for a half-million-word meditation on postwar American anxiety, failure and prosperity. A mode had to be devised to make this possible, and that involved pushing beyond the bounds of realism
Realism (arts)
Realism in the visual arts and literature refers to the general attempt to depict subjects "in accordance with secular, empirical rules", as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation...

. In a novel like this, Updike insisted, you have to be generous and allow your characters eloquence, "and not chop them down to what you think is the right size".


Jonathan Raban
Jonathan Raban
Jonathan Raban is a British travel writer and novelist. He has received several awards, such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Royal Society of Literature's Heinemann Award, the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers...

, highlighting many of the virtues that have been ascribed to Updike's prose, called Rabbit at Rest
Rabbit At Rest
Rabbit at Rest is a 1990 novel by John Updike. It is the fourth and final novel in a series beginning with Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; and Rabbit is Rich. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

 (1990) "one of the very few modern novels in English ... that one can set beside the work of Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

, Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray was an English novelist of the 19th century. He was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society.-Biography:...

, George Eliot
George Eliot
Mary Anne Evans , better known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist and translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era...

, Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

, and not feel the draft ... It is a book that works by a steady accumulation of a mass of brilliant details, of shades and nuances, of the byplay between one sentence and the next, and no short review can properly honor its intricacy and richness."

The novelist Philip Roth
Philip Roth
Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained fame with the 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus, an irreverent and humorous portrait of Jewish-American life that earned him a National Book Award...

, considered one of Updike's chief literary rivals, wrote that "John Updike is our time's greatest man of letters, as brilliant a literary critic and essayist as he was a novelist and short story writer. He is and always will be no less a national treasure than his 19th-century precursor, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

."

The noted critic James Wood
James Wood (critic)
James Wood is a literary critic, essayist and novelist. he is Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine.-Background and education:...

 called Updike "a prose writer of great beauty, but that prose confronts one with the question of whether beauty is enough, and whether beauty always conveys all that a novelist must convey." In a review of Updike's Licks of Love (2001), Wood concluded that Updike's "prose trusses things in very pretty ribbons", but that there often exists in his work a "hard, coarse, primitive, misogynistic worldview." Wood both praises and criticizes Updike's language for having "an essayistic saunter; the language lifts itself up on pretty hydraulics, and hovers slightly above its subjects, generally a little too accomplished and a little too abstract." He writes that Updike is capable of writing "the perfect sentence" and notes that Updike's unique style is characterized by a "delicate deferral" of the sentence. The beauty of Updike's language and his faith in the power of that language floats above reality, according to Wood:
For some time now Updike's language has seemed to encode an almost theological optimism about its capacity to refer. Updike is notably unmodern in his impermeability to silence and the interruptions of the abyss. For all his fabled Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

, both American Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 and Lutheran-Barthian
Karl Barth
Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian whom critics hold to be among the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century; Pope Pius XII described him as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas...

, with its cold glitter, its insistence on the aching gap between God and His creatures, Updike seems less like Hawthorne than Balzac, in his unstopping and limitless energy, and his cheerfully professional belief that stories can be continued; the very form of the Rabbit books – here extended a further instance
Rabbit Remembered
Rabbit Remembered is a 2001 novella by John Updike, and a sequel to his "Rabbit" series. It first appeared in his collection of short fiction titled Licks of Love....

 – suggests continuance. Updike does not appear to believe that words ever fail us – ‘life's gallant, battered ongoingness ', indeed – and part of the difficulty he has run into, late in his career, is that he shows no willingness, verbally, to acknowledge silence, failure, interruption, loss of faith, despair and so on. Supremely, better than almost any other contemporary writer, he can always describe these feelings and states; but they are not inscribed in the language itself. Updike's language, for all that it gestures towards the usual range of human disappointment and collapse, testifies instead to its own uncanny success: to a belief that the world can always be brought out of its cloudiness and made clear in a fair season.


In direct contrast to Wood's evaluation, the Oxford critic Thomas Karshan asserted that Updike is "intensely intellectual", with a style that constitutes his "manner of thought" not merely "a set of dainty curlicues." Karshan calls Updike an inheritor of the "traditional role of the epic writer." According to Karshan, "Updike's writing picks up one voice, joins its cadence, and moves on to another, like Rabbit himself, driving south through radio zones on his flight away from his wife and child." Disagreeing with Wood's critique of Updike's alleged over-stylization, Karshan evaluates Updike's language as convincingly naturalistic:
Updike's sentences at their frequent best are not a complacent expression of faith. Rather, like Proust's sentences in Updike's description, they "seek out an essence so fine the search itself is an act of faith." Updike aspires to "this sense of self-qualification, the kind of timid reverence towards what exists that Cézanne shows when he grapples for the shape and shade of a fruit through a mist of delicate stabs." Their hesitancy and self-qualification arise as they meet obstacles, readjust and pass on. If life is bountiful in New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

, it is also evasive and easily missed. In the stories Updike tells, marriages and homes are made only to be broken. His descriptiveness embodies a promiscuous love for everything in the world. But love is precarious, Updike is always saying, since it thrives on obstructions and makes them if it cannot find them.


Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom is an American writer and literary critic, and is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. He is known for his defense of 19th-century Romantic poets, his unique and controversial theories of poetic influence, and his prodigious literary output, particularly for a literary...

 once called Updike "a minor novelist with a major style. A quite beautiful and very considerable stylist ... He specializes in the easier pleasures." Bloom also edited an important collection of critical
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 essays on Updike in 1987, in which he concluded that Updike possessed a major style and was capable of writing beautiful sentences which are "beyond praise"; nevertheless, Bloom went on, "the American sublime will never touch his pages."

On The Dick Cavett Show
The Dick Cavett Show
The Dick Cavett Show has been the title of several talk shows hosted by Dick Cavett on various television networks, including:* ABC daytime ...

 in 1981, the novelist and short-story writer John Cheever
John Cheever
John William Cheever was an American novelist and short story writer. He is sometimes called "the Chekhov of the suburbs." His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy,...

 was asked why he did not write book reviews and what he would say if given the chance to review Updike's Rabbit is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Is Rich is a 1981 novel by John Updike. It is the third novel of the four-part series which begins with Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, and concludes with Rabbit At Rest. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered...

 (1981). He replied:
The reason I didn't review the book is that it perhaps would have taken me three weeks. My appreciation of it is that diverse and that complicated ... John is perhaps the only contemporary writer who I know now who gives me the sense of the fact that life is — the life that we perform is in an environment that enjoys a grandeur that escapes us. Rabbit is very much possessed of a paradise lost
Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse...

, of a paradise known fleetingly perhaps through erotic
Eroticism
Eroticism is generally understood to refer to a state of sexual arousal or anticipation of such – an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love...

 love and a paradise that he pursues through his children. It's the vastness of John's scope that I would have described if I could through a review.


The Fiction Circus
The Fiction Circus
The Fiction Circus is a Brooklyn-based online literary magazine that currently publishes short fiction and essays on the arts. The group also holds staged multimedia fiction readings accompanied by electronic music and incorporating visual art and theater as a frame narrative...

, an online and multimedia
Multimedia
Multimedia is media and content that uses a combination of different content forms. The term can be used as a noun or as an adjective describing a medium as having multiple content forms. The term is used in contrast to media which use only rudimentary computer display such as text-only, or...

 literary magazine
Literary magazine
A literary magazine is a periodical devoted to literature in a broad sense. Literary magazines usually publish short stories, poetry and essays along with literary criticism, book reviews, biographical profiles of authors, interviews and letters...

, called Updike one of the "four Great American Novel
Great American Novel
The "Great American Novel" is the concept of a novel that is distinguished in both craft and theme as being the most accurate representative of the zeitgeist in the United States at the time of its writing. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state,...

ists" of his time along with Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, Western, and modernist genres. He received the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road...

, and Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo is an American author, playwright, and occasional essayist whose work paints a detailed portrait of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries...

, each jokingly represented as a sign of the Zodiac
Zodiac
In astronomy, the zodiac is a circle of twelve 30° divisions of celestial longitude which are centred upon the ecliptic: the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year...

. Furthermore, Updike was seen as the "best prose writer in the world", like Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

 before him. But in contrast to many literati and establishment obituaries, the Circus asserted that nobody "thought of Updike as a vital writer."

Adam Gopnik
Adam Gopnik
Adam Gopnik, is an American writer, essayist and commentator. He is best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker—to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism—and as the author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon, an account of five years that Gopnik, his wife...

 of The New Yorker evaluated Updike as "the first American writer since Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

 to get himself fully expressed, the man who broke the curse of incompleteness that had haunted American writing ... He sang like Henry James, but he saw like Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis
Harry Sinclair Lewis was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930, he became the first writer from the United States to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of...

. The two sides of American fiction — the precise, realist, encyclopedic appetite to get it all in, and the exquisite urge to make writing out of sensation rendered exactly — were both alive in him." The critic James Wolcott
James Wolcott
James Wolcott is an American journalist, known for his critique of contemporary media. Wolcott is the cultural critic for Vanity Fair and contributes to The New Yorker. He also writes a blog....

, in a review of Updike's last novel, The Widows of Eastwick
The Widows of Eastwick
The Widows of Eastwick is the final novel by John Updike, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning "Rabbit" series. First published in 2008, it is a sequel to his novel The Witches of Eastwick.-Plot:...

 (2008), notes that Updike's penchant for observing America's decline is coupled with an affirmation of America's ultimate merits: "Updike elegises entropy American-style with a resigned, paternal, disappointed affection that distinguishes his fiction from that of grimmer declinists: Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo is an American author, playwright, and occasional essayist whose work paints a detailed portrait of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries...

, Gore Vidal, Philip Roth. America may have lost its looks and stature, but it was a beauty once, and worth every golden dab of sperm."

Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar , outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality...

, in a controversial essay in the Times Literary Supplement, professed to have "never taken Updike seriously as a writer." He criticizes his political and aesthetic worldview for its "blandness and acceptance of authority in any form." He concludes that Updike "describes to no purpose." Vidal mockingly refers to Updike as "our good child", in reference to his wide establishment acclaim, and excoriates his alleged political conservatism. Vidal's ultimate conclusion is that "Updike's work is more and more representative of that polarizing within a state where Authority grows ever more brutal and malign while its hired hands in the media grow ever more excited as the holy war of the few against the many heats up."

Robert B. Silvers
Robert B. Silvers
Robert Benjamin Silvers is an American editor who has served as editor of The New York Review of Books since 1963. According to a 2007 Vanity Fair article, "Jason Epstein's assessment of Silvers as 'The most brilliant editor of a magazine ever to have worked in this country' has been 'shared by...

, editor of The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books
The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

, called Updike "one of the most elegant and coolly observant writers of his generation". The short-story writer Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore is an American fiction writer known mainly for her humorous and poignant short stories.-Biography:...

, who once described Updike as "American literature's greatest short story writer ... and arguably our greatest writer", reviewed Updike's body of short stories in The New York Review, praising their intricate detail and rich imagery: "his eye and his prose never falter, even when the world fails to send its more socially complicated revelations directly his story's way." In a post commemorating his birthday in 2011, blogger and literary critic Christy Potter called Updike "... THE Writer, the kind of writer everyone has heard of, the one whose name you can bring up at a party and people who have never read one thing he wrote will still nod their heads knowingly and say, 'Oh yes, John Updike. The writer.'"

During November 2008 the editors of the UK's Literary Review
Literary Review
Literary Review is a British literary magazine founded in 1979 by Anne Smith, then head of the Department of English at Edinburgh University. Its offices are currently on Lexington Street in Soho, London, and it has a circulation of 44,750. Britain's principal literary monthly, the magazine was...

 magazine awarded Updike their Bad Sex in Fiction Lifetime Achievement Award, which celebrates "crude, tasteless or ridiculous sexual passages in modern literature."

Themes



The principal themes in Updike's work are religion, sex, and America as well as death. Often he would combine them, frequently in his favored terrain of "the American small town, Protestant middle class", of which he once said, "I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules." For example, the decline of religion in America is chronicled in In the Beauty of the Lilies
In the Beauty of the Lilies
In the Beauty of the Lilies is a 1996 novel by John Updike. It takes its title from a line of the abolitionist song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."-Summary:...

 (1996) alongside the history of cinema, and Rabbit Angstrom contemplates the merits of sex with the wife of his friend Reverend Jack Eccles while the latter is giving his sermon in Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run
Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike.The novel depicts five months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life...

 (1960). Critics have often noted that Updike imbued language itself with a kind of faith in its efficacy, and that his tendency to construct narratives spanning many years and books — the Rabbit series, the Henry Bech
Henry Bech
Henry Bech is a fictional character created by American author John Updike. Bech first appeared in assorted short stories, stories which were later compiled in the books Bech: A Book , Bech Is Back , and Bech at Bay...

 series, Eastwick, the Maples stories — demonstrates a similar faith in the transcendent power of fiction and language. Updike's novels often act as dialectic
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

al theological
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 debates between the book itself and the reader, the novel endowed with theological beliefs meant to challenge the reader as the plot runs its course. Rabbit Angstrom himself acts as a Kierkegaardian
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

 Knight of Faith
Knight of faith
The knight of faith is an individual who has placed complete faith in himself and in God and can act freely and independently from the world. The 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard vicariously discusses the knight of faith in several of his pseudonymic works, with the most in-depth...

.

Sex in Updike's work is noted for its ubiquity and the reverence with which he described it:
His contemporaries invade the ground with wild Dionysian yelps, mocking both the taboos that would make it forbidden and the lust that drives men to it. Updike can be honest about it, and his descriptions of the sight, taste and texture of women's bodies can be perfect little madrigals.

The critic Edward Champion notes that Updike's prose heavily favors "external sexual imagery" rife with "explicit anatomical detail" rather than descriptions of "internal emotion" in descriptions of sex. In Champion's interview with Updike on The Bat Segundo Show
The Bat Segundo Show
The Bat Segundo Show is a podcast based in New York run by writer and literary critic Edward Champion.The program features comprehensive interviews with prominent figures in arts and culture, with a special focus on literature. Past guests have included David Mitchell, David Lynch, Amy Sedaris,...

, Updike replied that he perhaps favored such imagery to concretize and make sex "real" in his prose. Another sexual theme commonly addressed in Updike is adultery
Adultery
Adultery is sexual infidelity to one's spouse, and is a form of extramarital sex. It originally referred only to sex between a woman who was married and a person other than her spouse. Even in cases of separation from one's spouse, an extramarital affair is still considered adultery.Adultery is...

, especially in a suburban, middle class setting, most famously in Couples
Couples
thumb|right|1st edition Couples is a 1968 novel by American author John Updike.-Summary:The novel focuses on a promiscuous circle of ten couples in the small Massachusetts town of Tarbox...

 (1968). The Updikean narrator is often "a man guilty of infidelity and abandonment of his family."

Similarly, Updike wrote about America with a certain nostalgia, reverence, and recognition and celebration of America's broad diversity. ZZ Packer
ZZ Packer
ZZ Packer is an African-American author, notable for her works of short fiction.-Life:She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and Louisville, Kentucky. "ZZ" was a childhood nickname; her given name is Zuwena...

 wrote that in Updike, "there seemed a strange ability to harken both America the Beautiful as well as America the Plain Jane, and the lovely Protestant backbone in his fiction and essays, when he decided to show it off, was as progressive and enlightened as it was unapologetic."
The Rabbit novels in particular can be viewed, according to Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes
Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer, and winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, for his book The Sense of an Ending...

, as "a distraction from, and a glittering confirmation of, the vast bustling ordinariness of American life." But as Updike celebrated ordinary America, he also alluded to its decline: at times, he was "so clearly disturbed by the downward spin of America." Adam Gopnik concludes that "Updike's great subject was the American attempt to fill the gap left by faith with the materials produced by mass culture. He documented how the death of a credible religious belief has been offset by sex and adultery and movies and sports and Toyotas and family love and family obligation. For Updike, this effort was blessed, and very nearly successful."


Updike also commonly wrote about death, his characters providing a "mosaic of reactions" to mortality, ranging from terror to attempts at insulation. In The Poorhouse Fair
The Poorhouse Fair
The Poorhouse Fair was the first novel by the American author John Updike.A new edition was published with an introduction by the author. According to the introduction, the new edition contains some changes from the first edition-Plot:The setting is a fictional location in New Jersey...

 (1959), the elderly John Hook intones, "There is no goodness without belief ... And if you have not believed, at the end of your life you shall know you have buried your talent in the ground of this world and have nothing saved, to take into the next", demonstrating a religious, metaphysical faith present in much of Updike's work. For Rabbit Angstrom, with his constant musings on mortality, his near-witnessing of his daughter's death, and his often shaky faith, death is more frightening and less obvious in its ramifications. At the end of Rabbit at Rest (1990), though, Rabbit demonstrates a kind of certainty, telling his son Nelson on his deathbed, "... But enough. Maybe. Enough." In The Centaur
The Centaur
The Centaur is a 1963 novel by John Updike. It won the National Book Award in 1964. The story concerns George Caldwell, a school teacher, and his son Peter, outside of Alton , Pennsylvania. The novel explores the relationship between the depressive Caldwell and his anxious son...

 (1963), George Caldwell is afraid of his cancer and does not have any religious faith. Death can also be a sort of unseen terror; it "occurs offstage but reverberates for survivors as an absent presence."

Updike himself also experienced a "crisis over the afterlife", and indeed "many of his heroes shared the same sort of existential fears the author acknowledged he had suffered as a young man: Henry Bech
Henry Bech
Henry Bech is a fictional character created by American author John Updike. Bech first appeared in assorted short stories, stories which were later compiled in the books Bech: A Book , Bech Is Back , and Bech at Bay...

's concern that he was 'a fleck of dust condemned to know it is a fleck of dust,' or Colonel Ellelloû's lament that 'we will be forgotten, all of us forgotten.' Their fear of death threatens to make everything they do feel meaningless, and it also sends them running after God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 — looking for some reassurance that there is something beyond the familiar, everyday world with 'its signals and buildings and cars and bricks.'" Updike demonstrated his own fear in some of his more personal writings, including the poem "Perfection Wasted" (1990):
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic ...


Describing his purpose in writing prose, Updike himself, in the introduction to his Early Stories: 1953-1975 (2004), wrote that his aim was always "to give the mundane its beautiful due." Elsewhere he famously said, "When I write, I aim my mind not towards New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 but towards a vague spot east of Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

." Some have suggested that the "best statement of Updike's aesthetic comes in his early memoir 'The Dogwood Tree'" (1962): "Blankness is not emptiness; we may skate upon an intense radiance we do not see because we see nothing else. And in fact there is a colour, a quiet but tireless goodness that things at rest, like a brick wall or a small stone, seem to affirm."

Cultural references

  • Updike was featured on the cover of Time
    Time (magazine)
    Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

     twice, on 26 April 1968 and again on 18 October 1982.
  • Updike was the subject of a "closed book examination" by Nicholson Baker
    Nicholson Baker
    Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. As a novelist, he often focuses on minute inspection of his characters' and narrators' stream of consciousness, and has written about such provocative topics as voyeurism and planned assassination...

    , entitled U and I (1991). Baker discusses his wish to meet Updike and become his golf partner.
  • In a season 12
    The Simpsons (season 12)
    The Simpsons 12th season began on Wednesday, November 1, 2000 with "Treehouse of Horror XI".The season contains four hold over episodes from the season 11 production line. The show runner for the twelfth production was Mike Scully. The season features three episodes that were produced for the...

     episode of the animated series The Simpsons
    The Simpsons
    The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

    , "Insane Clown Poppy
    Insane Clown Poppy
    "Insane Clown Poppy" is the third episode of the twelfth season of The Simpsons. It aired on November 12, 2000 in the US. In the episode, during an outdoor book fair, Krusty finds out he has a daughter , but loses her trust after gambling away her violin to Fat Tony, prompting Homer and Krusty to...

    " (2000), John Updike is the ghost writer of a book that Krusty the Clown is promoting. The book's title is Your Shoe's Too Big To Kickbox God, a 20-page book written entirely by John Updike as a money-making scam.
  • The main character in the Eminem
    Eminem
    Marshall Bruce Mathers III , better known by his stage name Eminem or his alter ego Slim Shady, is an American rapper, record producer, songwriter and actor. Eminem's popularity brought his group project, D12, to mainstream recognition...

     film 8 Mile
    8 Mile (film)
    8 Mile is a 2002 American hip-hop drama film written by Scott Silver, directed by Curtis Hanson, and starring Eminem, Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy, and Kim Basinger....

     (2002) is nicknamed "Rabbit" and has some similarities to Rabbit Angstrom. The film's soundtrack
    8 Mile (soundtrack)
    -Album:-Singles:-Certifications:...

     has a song titled "Rabbit Run
    Rabbit, Run
    Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike.The novel depicts five months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life...

    ".
  • Portraits of Updike appeared several times in The New York Review of Books, drawn by the American caricaturist David Levine
    David Levine
    David Levine was an American artist and illustrator best known for his caricatures in The New York Review of Books. Jules Feiffer has called him "the greatest caricaturist of the last half of the 20th Century".-Early life and education:Levine was born in Brooklyn, where his father Harry ran a...

    .
  • In an episode of the television series Gilmore Girls
    Gilmore Girls
    Gilmore Girls is an American family comedy-drama series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. On October 5, 2000, the series debuted on The WB and was cancelled in its seventh season, ending on May 15, 2007 on The CW...

    , "In the Clamor and the Clangor", the main characters are attending a funeral and jocularly try to guess which members of the town will be the next to die, but they quickly realize the morbidity of their conversation and regret it, especially when ominous things begin to happen to the people they speculated dying, prompting Lorelai
    Lorelai Gilmore
    Lorelai Victoria Gilmore is a fictional character in the WB/CW television series Gilmore Girls, portrayed by Lauren Graham. She is the main protagonist for the length of the series's seven year run from October, 2000, until May, 2007....

     to say, "We are The Witches of Eastwick
    The Witches of Eastwick
    The Witches of Eastwick is a 1984 novel by John Updike.-Plot summary:The story, set in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the late 1960s, follows the witches Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont, who acquired their powers after leaving or being left by their husbands....

    ."
  • In 2009 a U.S. television series named Eastwick
    Eastwick (TV series)
    Eastwick is a 2009 screwball comedy series based on John Updike's novel, The Witches of Eastwick. The series was developed by Maggie Friedman, and starred Paul Gross as the infamous Darryl Van Horne, alongside Jaime Ray Newman , Lindsay Price, and Rebecca Romijn as the eponymous...

     premiered, based (loosely) on the Updike novel.
  • The second episode of the seventh season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force
    Aqua Teen Hunger Force
    Aqua Teen Hunger Force , retitled Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 in 2011, is an American animated television series on Cartoon Network late night programing block, Adult Swim, as well as Teletoon's Teletoon at Night block and later G4 Canada's ADd block in Canada...

     was titled "Rabbot Redux."

Awards

  • 1959 Guggenheim Fellow
  • 1959 National Institute of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award
  • 1964 National Book Award
    National Book Award
    The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

     for Fiction
  • 1965 Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger
    Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger
    The Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger is a French literary prize created in 1948. It is awarded yearly in two categories: Novel and Essay for books translated in to French.- Prix du Meilleur livre étranger — Novel :* 2010: Gonçalo M...

  • 1966 O. Henry Prize
  • 1981 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
  • 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
    Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
    The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

  • 1982 National Book Award
    National Book Award
    The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

     for Fiction
  • 1982 Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award
  • 1983 National Book Critics Circle
    National Book Critics Circle
    The National Book Critics Circle is an American tax-exempt organization for active book reviewers. Its flagship is the National Book Critics Circle Award....

     Award for Criticism
  • 1984 National Arts Club Medal of Honor
    National Arts Club
    The National Arts Club is a private club in Gramercy Park, New York City, New York, USA. It was founded in 1898 to "stimulate, foster, and promote public interest in the arts and to educate the American people in the fine arts". Since 1906 the organization has occupied the Samuel J...

  • 1987 St. Louis Literary Award
    St. Louis Literary Award
    Every year the Saint Louis University Library Associates present the St. Louis Literary Award to a distinguished figure in literature.Past Recipients of the Award:*2010 Don DeLillo*2009 Sir Salman Rushdie*2008 E. L. Doctorow*2007 William H. Gass...

  • 1987 Ambassador Book Award
    Ambassador Book Award
    The Ambassador Book Award is awarded annually by the English Speaking Union. It recognizes important literary works that contribute to the understanding and interpretation of American life and culture. Winners of the award are considered literary ambassadors who provide, in the best contemporary...

  • 1987 Helmerich Award
    Helmerich Award
    The Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is an American literary prize awarded by the Tulsa Library Trust in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is bestowed annually upon an "internationally acclaimed" author who has "written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of...

    , the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust
    Tulsa City-County Library
    The Tulsa City-County Library is the major public library system in Tulsa County, Oklahoma.-Overview:The library system serves those who live, work, go to school in, own land in, or pay property taxes on land in Tulsa County. There are 25 branches in the system: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,...

    .
  • 1988 PEN/Malamud Award
    PEN/Malamud Award
    The PEN/Malamud Award and Memorial Reading honors "excellence in the art of the short story", and is awarded annually by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. The selection committee is composed of PEN/Faulkner directors and representatives of Bernard Malamud's literary executors.The award was first given...

  • 1989 National Medal of Arts
    National Medal of Arts
    The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

  • 1990 National Book Critics Circle
    National Book Critics Circle
    The National Book Critics Circle is an American tax-exempt organization for active book reviewers. Its flagship is the National Book Critics Circle Award....

     Award for Fiction
  • 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
    Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
    The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947.-1910s:...

  • 1991 O. Henry Prize
  • 1992 Honorary
    Honorary degree
    An honorary degree or a degree honoris causa is an academic degree for which a university has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, study, and the passing of examinations...

     Doctor of Letters
    Doctor of Letters
    Doctor of Letters is a university academic degree, often a higher doctorate which is frequently awarded as an honorary degree in recognition of outstanding scholarship or other merits.-Commonwealth:...

     from Harvard University
    Harvard University
    Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

  • 1995 William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
    William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
    The William Dean Howells Medal is awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Established in 1925, it is given once every five years, generally in recognition of the most distinguished American novel published during that period, although some awards have been made to novelists for their...

  • 1995 Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
  • 1997 Ambassador Book Award
    Ambassador Book Award
    The Ambassador Book Award is awarded annually by the English Speaking Union. It recognizes important literary works that contribute to the understanding and interpretation of American life and culture. Winners of the award are considered literary ambassadors who provide, in the best contemporary...

  • 1998 National Book Award Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
    National Book Award
    The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

  • 2003 National Humanities Medal
    National Humanities Medal
    The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.The award, given by the...

  • 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
    PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
    The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is awarded annually by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation to the authors of the year's best works of fiction by living American citizens. The winner receives US $15,000 and each of four runners-up receives US $5000. The foundation brings the winner and runners-up to...

  • 2006 Rea Award for the Short Story
    Rea Award for the Short Story
    The Rea Award for the Short Story is an annual award given to a living American or Canadian author chosen for unusually significant contributions to short story fiction.-The Award:...

  • 2007 American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction
    American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medals
    Two American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medals are awarded each year by the academy for distinguished achievement. The two awards are taken in rotation from these categories:*Belles Lettres and Criticism, and Painting;*Biography and Music;...

  • 2008 Literary Review
    Literary Review
    Literary Review is a British literary magazine founded in 1979 by Anne Smith, then head of the Department of English at Edinburgh University. Its offices are currently on Lexington Street in Soho, London, and it has a circulation of 44,750. Britain's principal literary monthly, the magazine was...

     Bad Sex in Fiction Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2008 Jefferson Lecture
    Jefferson Lecture
    The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is an honorary lecture series established in 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities . According to the NEH, the Lecture is "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."-History of...


External links


  • The John Updike Society
  • John Updike collection, Houghton Library
    Houghton Library
    Houghton Library is the primary repository for rare books and manuscripts at Harvard University. It is part of the Harvard College Library within the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Houghton is located on the south side of Harvard Yard, next to Widener Library.- History :Harvard's first...

    , Harvard University
    Harvard University
    Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

  • Column archive at The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

  • Column archive at The New Yorker
    The New Yorker
    The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

  • Reviews at the London Review of Books
    London Review of Books
    The London Review of Books is a fortnightly British magazine of literary and intellectual essays.-History:The LRB was founded in 1979, during the year-long lock-out at The Times, by publisher A...


Articles and interviews