John Barth

John Simmons Barth (/bɑːrθ/;[1] born May 27, 1930) is an American writer who is best known for his postmodernist and metafictional fiction.

John Barth
Author John Barth (46716317801)
BornMay 27, 1930 (age 88)
Cambridge, Maryland, US
Occupationnovelist, professor
GenrePostmodernism, metafiction
Notable awardsNational Book Award
1973 Chimera


John Barth, called "Jack", was born in Cambridge, Maryland. He has an older brother, Bill, and a twin sister Jill. In 1947 he graduated from Cambridge High School, where he played drums and wrote for the school newspaper.[2] He briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard[3] before attending Johns Hopkins University, where he received a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952. His thesis novel, The Shirt of Nessus, drew on his experiences at Johns Hopkins.

Barth married Harriet Anne Strickland on January 11, 1950. He published two short stories that same year, one in Johns Hopkins's student literary magazine and one in The Hopkins Review. His daughter, Christine Ann, was born in the summer of 1951. His son, John Strickland, was born the following year.[4]

Barth was a professor at Pennsylvania State University from 1953 to 1965, where he met his second and current wife, Shelly Rosenberg.[5] His third child, Daniel Stephen, was born in 1954. During the "American high Sixties", he moved to teach at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1965 to 1973. In that period he came to know "the remarkable short fiction" of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, which inspired his collection Lost in the Funhouse.[6]

Barth later taught at Boston University as a visiting professor in 1972–73 and at Johns Hopkins University from 1973 until retiring in 1995.

Literary work

Barth began his career with The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, two short realist[7] novels that deal wittily with controversial topics, suicide and abortion respectively. They are straightforward realistic tales; as Barth later remarked, they "didn't know they were novels".

The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) was initially intended as the completing novel of a trilogy comprising his first two "realist" novels, but, as a consequence of Barth's maturation as a writer, it developed into a different project.[7] The novel is significant as it marked Barth's discovery of postmodernism.[8]

Barth's next novel, Giles Goat-Boy (about 800 pages), is a speculative fiction based on the conceit of the university as universe. Giles, a boy raised as a goat, discovers his humanity and becomes a savior in a story presented as a computer tape given to Barth, who denied that it was his work. In the course of the novel Giles carries out all the tasks prescribed by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Barth kept a list of the tasks taped to his wall while he was writing the book.

The short story collection Lost in the Funhouse (1968) and the novella collection Chimera (1972) are even more metafictional than their two predecessors, foregrounding the writing process and presenting achievements such as a seven-deep nested quotation. Chimera shared the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.[9]

In the novel LETTERS (1979), Barth interacts with characters from his first six books.

His 1994 Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera, reuses stock characters, stock situations and formulas.[8]

Styles, approaches and artistic criteria

Barth's work is characterized by a historical awareness of literary tradition[10] and by the practice of rewriting typical of postmodernism. He said, "I don't know what my view of history is, but insofar as it involves some allowance for repetition and recurrence, reorchestration, and reprise [...] I would always want it to be more in the form of a thing circling out and out and becoming more inclusive each time."[11][12] In Barth's postmodern sensibility, parody is a central device.[13]

Around 1972, in an interview, Barth declared that "The process [of making a novel] is the content, more or less."[14][15]

Barth's fiction continues to maintain a precarious balance between postmodern self-consciousness and wordplay and the sympathetic characterization and "page-turning" plotting commonly associated with more traditional genres and subgenres of classic and contemporary storytelling.


While writing these books, Barth was also pondering and discussing the theoretical problems of fiction writing.

In 1967, he wrote a highly influential[16] and to some controversial[17] essay considered a manifesto of postmodernism, The Literature of Exhaustion (first printed in The Atlantic, 1967). It depicts literary realism as a "used-up" tradition; Barth's description of his own work, which many thought illustrated a core trait of postmodernism, is "novels which imitate the form of a novel, by an author who imitates the role of author".[18]

The essay was widely considered a statement of "the death of the novel", (compare with Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author"). Barth has since insisted that he was merely making clear that a particular stage in history was passing, and pointing to possible directions from there. He later (1980) wrote a follow-up essay, "The Literature of Replenishment", to clarify the point.


Selected works



  • The Friday Book (1984)
  • Further Fridays (1995)
  • Final Fridays (2012)

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Barth". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Giles, James, R. and Wanda H. (2000). American Novelists Since World War II: Sixth Series. Michigan: Gale. p. 38. ISBN 0787631361.
  3. ^ Townsend, Victoria. Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Spring 2005 Archived 2011-09-16 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Giles, James, R. and Wanda H. (2000). American Writers Since World War II: Sixth Series. Michigan: Gale. p. 38. ISBN 0787631361.
  5. ^ "John Barth" FAQ,
  6. ^ Barth (1984) intro to The Literature of Exhaustion, in The Friday Book.
  7. ^ a b John Barth (1987) Foreword to Doubleday Anchor Edition of The Sot-Weed Factor
  8. ^ a b Clavier, Berndt (2007) John Barth and Postmodernism: Spatiality, Travel, Montage pp. 165–167
  9. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1973". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
    (With acceptance speech by Barth and two essays by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards' 60-year anniversary blog. The essay nominally about Williams and Augustus includes Augenbraum's discussion of the split award.)
  10. ^ Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut
  11. ^ Elias, Amy J. (2001) Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction. p. 224.
  12. ^ Lampkin, Loretta M.; Barth, John "An Interview with John Barth". Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter 1988), pp. 485-497.
  13. ^ Hutcheon Linda. Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox. pp. 50-51.
  14. ^ Samet, Tom. "The Modulated Vision: Lionel Trilling's 'Larger Naturalism'". Critical Inquiry, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Spring 1978), pp. 539–557.
    Quotation: novel is the process of its own making. "The process is the content, more or less," John Barth has recently declared,38 thus turning [Mark] Schorer's position on its head.
  15. ^ Prescott, Peter S.; Prescott, Anne Lake. Encounters with American Culture, Volume 2, p. 137. Google Books.
  16. ^ [1] Contemporary Literature 2000
  17. ^ [2]
  18. ^ p.72
  19. ^ "National Book Awards – 1956". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  20. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-05-18.
  21. ^ John Barth Wins Iranian Literary Prize, Powell's Books.
  22. ^ John Barth's statement to Iranian literary prize, Roozi Rozegari.

Further reading

External links


In language, an archaism (from the Ancient Greek: ἀρχαϊκός, archaïkós, 'old-fashioned, antiquated', ultimately ἀρχαῖος, archaîos, 'from the beginning, ancient') is a word, a sense of a word, or a style of speech or writing that belongs to a historical epoch long beyond living memory, but that has survived in a few practical settings or affairs. Lexical archaisms are single archaic words or expressions used regularly in an affair (e.g. religion or law) or freely; literary archaism is the survival of archaic language in a traditional literary text such as a nursery rhyme or the deliberate use of a style characteristic of an earlier age—for example, in his 1960 novel The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth writes in an 18th-century style. Archaic words or expressions may have distinctive emotional connotations—some can be humorous (forsooth), some highly formal (What say you?), and some solemn (With thee do I plight my troth).

Augustus (Williams novel)

Augustus is an epistolary, historical fiction by John Williams published by Viking Press in 1972. It tells the story of Augustus, emperor of Rome, from his youth through old age.[1] The book is divided into two parts, the beginning chronicling his rise to power, the latter describing his rule thereafter, and the familial problems faced choosing a successor. Williams and Augustus shared the 1973 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction with John Barth and Chimera, the first time the award was split, and the only of Williams' four novels to receive significant acclaim within his lifetime.

Chimera (Barth novel)

Chimera is a 1972 fantasy novel written by American writer John Barth, composed of three loosely connected novellas. The novellas are Dunyazadiad, Perseid and Bellerophoniad, whose titles refer eponymously to the mythical characters Dunyazad, Perseus and Bellerophon (slayer of the mythical Chimera). The book is an example of postmodernism, which can be seen in its metafictional content and its incorporation of stylistic elements that go beyond the traditional novel genre. It shared the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction with Augustus by John Edward Williams.

Coming Soon!!!

Coming Soon!!! is a novel by American writer John Barth, published in 2001.

The competing protagonists of the metafictional work are the Novelist Emeritus, who is a recent retired novelist from Johns Hopkins University; and the Novelist Aspirant, Johns Hopkins Johnson. The Novelist Emeritus plans to reorchestrate his first novel The Floating Opera as The Original Floating Opera II, and the Novelist Aspirant challenges him by attempting to reinvent that novel himself in hypertext.

Every Third Thought

Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons is a novel by American writer John Barth, published in 2011.

The book is narrated by retired creative writing professor George Newett, who lives with his poet wife Amanda Todd. The couple are living in a cramped rental while deciding what to do after the destruction of their Heron Bay Estates home, as depicted in Barth's previous book, The Development. As the book opens, the two are planning a trip to Shakespeare's birthplace. George hits his head when they get there and experiences past memories as if they were present, each occurring on the first day of a new season, and each corresponding to a new "season" of George's life.The novel's title is taken from the final scene of Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest. At the end of a speech in which he promises to renounce magic, Prospero says, "And thence retire me to my Milan, where / Every third thought shall be my grave." The line is about considering one's mortality near life's end, and Barth's title invokes this theme.

Giles Goat-Boy

Giles Goat-Boy (1966) is the fourth novel by American writer John Barth. It is metafictional comic novel in which the universe is portrayed as a university campus in an elaborate allegory of both the hero's journey and the Cold War. Its title character is a human boy raised as a goat, who comes to believe he is the Grand Tutor, the predicted Messiah. The book was a surprise bestseller for the previously obscure Barth, and in the 1960s had a cult status. It marks Barth's leap into American postmodern fabulism.


LETTERS is an epistolary novel by the American writer John Barth, published in 1979. It consists of a series of letters in which Barth and the characters of his other books interact.

In addition to the Author and Germaine Pitt (or 'Lady Amherst', unrelated to any of Barth's previous novels), the correspondents are Todd Andrews (from The Floating Opera), Jacob Horner (from The End of the Road), A.B. Cook (a descendent of Burlingame in The Sot-Weed Factor), Jerome Bray (associated with Giles Goat-Boy and Chimera) and Ambrose Mensch (from Lost in the Funhouse).The book is subtitled "An old time epistolary novel by seven fictitious drolls & dreamers each of which imagines himself factual." The structure is such that when the first character of each of the letters in the book are placed on a calendar according to their dates, and the individual months are turned sideways, they spell out the subtitle. In addition, the marked dates spell out the word "LETTERS."

Lost in the Funhouse

Lost in the Funhouse (1968) is a short story collection by American author John Barth. The postmodern stories are extremely self-conscious and self-reflexive and are considered to exemplify metafiction.

Though Barth's reputation rests mainly on his long novels, the stories "Night-Sea Journey", "Lost in the Funhouse", "Title" and "Life-Story" from Lost in the Funhouse are widely anthologized. The book appeared the year after the publication of Barth's essay The Literature of Exhaustion, in which Barth said that the traditional modes of realistic fiction had been used up, but that this exhaustion itself could be used to inspire a new generation of writers, citing Nabokov, Beckett, and especially Borges as exemplars of this new approach. Lost in the Funhouse took these ideas to an extreme, for which it was both praised and condemned by critics.

Shirt of Nessus

In Greek mythology, the Shirt of Nessus, Tunic of Nessus, Nessus-robe, or Nessus' shirt was the poisoned shirt that killed Heracles. It was once a popular reference in literature. In folkloristics, it is considered an instance of the "poison dress" motif.

Subtropics (journal)

Subtropics is an American literary journal based at the University of Florida in Gainesville.Works originally published in Subtropics have been subsequently selected for inclusion in the Best American Poetry, The Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the Midwest, New Stories from the South, the O. Henry Prize anthology, and the Pushcart Prize anthology.

Notable writers who have contributed to this journal include Seth Abramson, Steve Almond, Chris Bachelder, John Barth, Harold Bloom, Peter Cameron, Anne Carson, Billy Collins, Martha Collins, Mark Doty, Lauren Groff, Allan Gurganus, Amy Hempel, Bob Hicok, Roy Kesey, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Les Murray, Edna O'Brien, Lucia Perillo, D. A. Powell, Padgett Powell, A. E. Stallings, Olga Slavnikova, Ben Sonnenberg, Peter Stamm, Terese Svoboda, and Paul Theroux.

The Development

The Development is a book of interrelated short stories by American writer John Barth, published in 2008. The stories are set in the Heron Bay Estates gated community for the elderly in Maryland Tidewater.

The End of the Road

The End of the Road is the second novel by American writer John Barth, published first in 1958, and then in a revised edition in 1967. The irony-laden black comedy's protagonist Jacob Horner suffers from a nihilistic paralysis he calls "cosmopsis"—an inability to choose a course of action from all possibilities. As part of a schedule of unorthodox therapies, Horner's nameless Doctor has him take a teaching job at a local teachers' college. There Horner befriends the super-rational Joe Morgan and his wife Rennie. The trio become entangled in a love triangle, with tragic results. The story deals with issues controversial at the time, such as sexuality, racial segregation, and abortion.

Barth and his critics often pair the novel with its predecessor, The Floating Opera (1956); both were written in 1955, and are available together in a one-volume edition. Both are philosophical novels; The End of the Road continues with the conclusions about absolute values made by the protagonist of The Floating Opera, and takes these ideas "to the end of the road". Barth wrote both novels in a realistic mode, in contrast to Barth's better-known metafictional, fabulist, and postmodern works from the 1960s and later, such as Lost in the Funhouse (1968) and LETTERS (1979).

Critics have been divided over whether Barth identified with the book's protagonist, who retreats from emotion and human relations through language and intellectual analysis; Jake prefers to keep even his sexual relations impersonal. Language is presented as a distortion of experience, yet nevertheless unavoidable. In his later novels Barth forefronted the artifice in his writing, beginning with The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), a work Barth conceived as the last of a "loose trilogy of novels".

A 1970 film loosely based on the novel stars James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach and Harris Yulin in their earliest feature roles. It was rated X, in part because of a graphic abortion scene.

The Floating Opera

The Floating Opera is a novel by American writer John Barth, first published in 1956 and significantly revised in 1967. Barth's first published work, the existentialist and nihilist story is a first-person account of a day protagonist Todd Andrews contemplated suicide.

Critics and Barth himself often pair The Floating Opera with Barth's next novel, The End of the Road (1958); both were written in 1955, and are available together in a one-volume edition. Both are philosophical novels; The End of the Road continues with the conclusions made about absolute values by the protagonist of The Floating Opera, and takes these ideas "to the end of the road". Barth wrote both novels in a realistic mode, in contrast to Barth's better-known metafictional, fabulist, and postmodern works from the 1960s and later, such as Lost in the Funhouse (1968) and LETTERS (1979).

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor is a novel by American writer John Barth, published in 1991. It is a postmodern metafictional story of a man who jumps overboard from a modern replica of a medieval Arab ship and is rescued by sailors from the world of Sinbad the Sailor. Eventually he makes his way to "Baghdad, the City of Peace", and finds himself in the stories of Sindbad and Scheherazade. The novel makes use of a challenging double-stranded narrative and a rich prose style.

The Sot-Weed Factor

The Sot-Weed Factor is a 1960 novel by the American writer John Barth. The novel marks the beginning of Barth's literary postmodernism. The Sot-Weed Factor takes its title from the poem The Sotweed Factor, or A Voyage to Maryland, A Satyr (1708) by the English-born poet Ebenezer Cooke (c. 1665 – c. 1732), of whom few biographical details are known.

A satirical epic set in the 1680s–90s in London and colonial Maryland, the novel tells of a fictionalized Ebenezer Cooke, who is given the title "Poet Laureate of Maryland" by Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore and commissioned to write a Marylandiad to sing the praises of the colony. He undergoes adventures on his journey to and within Maryland while striving to preserve his virginity. The complicated Tom Jones-like plot is interwoven with numerous digressions and stories-within-stories, and is written in a style patterned on the writing of 18th-century novelists such as Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne and Tobias Smollett.

The Tidewater Tales

The Tidewater Tales is a 1987 novel by the American writer John Barth. Its narrative is told from the shared perspectives of Peter Sagamore and Katherine Sherritt Sagamore, a well-coupled couple in their 8 and a half month of pregnancy in the summer of 1980. Peter Sagamore is a gifted author, whose gifts, we learn early on, have been dwindling in recent years due to a malignant relationship with "the demon Less is More". His fiction has fizzled from sprawling works to solitary words on a page, and his career has followed suit. His wife, Katherine, herself a storyteller by trade, sets him a task at his beckon: She asks him to take them sailing, and to tell her the tale of a couple much like them in manner and make and in their reckless decision to go sailing at such a delicate time in her pregnancy. The result is "The Tidewater Tales: a novel", or, the story of the stories these two storytellers swap while sailing in their ship, Story, atop the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Where Three Roads Meet

Where Three Roads Meet is a book of three metafictional novellas by American writer John Barth, published in 2005. "Tell Me" tells of a love triangle between three "Freds": undergraduates Wilfred, Alfred, and Winifred. "I've Been Told: A Story's Story" is a highly metatextual story of a story telling itself. "As I Was Saying ..." is told from the point of view of three elderly sisters remembering how they had long ago inspired a novelist to produce a "once-notorious and controversial but now virtually forgotten masterwork".

John Barth

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