Nathanael West

Nathanael West, 1903–40, American novelist, whose real name was Nathan Weinstein, b. New York City, grad. Brown Univ., 1924. An innovative, highly original author, West revealed the sterility and grotesqueness underlying the American dream; his vision has profoundly influenced subsequent writers. After spending two years in Paris, he worked as a hotel manager in New York. His first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), is a garish satire that foreshadowed the work to follow. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), his most successful novel, relates the painful life of a columnist for the lovelorn whose misguided priestliness leads him to a tragic and ironic involvement with his suffering correspondents. West also edited and wrote for several magazines and in 1935 moved to Hollywood, where he became a prolific scriptwriter. A Cool Million (1934) was West's bitter indictment of a materialistic world. His last novel and the book often called his masterpiece, The Day of the Locust (1939), presents a gallery of horrifying misfits living in a vacuous, surreal Hollywood atmosphere. West was not a commercial success in his own time, but his popularity rose after his premature death at 37 in an automobile accident. The Complete Works of Nathanael West was published in 1957.

See biographies by J. Martin (1970) and M. Meade (2010); studies by R. Reid (1967), J. F. Light (2d ed. 1971), I. Malin (1972), K. Widmer (1982), R. E. Long (1985), H. Bloom, ed. (1986), A. Wisker (1990), B. Siegel, ed. (1994), and J. Veitch (1997).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Nathanael West's Novels
Irving Malin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1972
Librarian’s tip: This is a book of literary criticism
The Day of the Locust
Nathanael West.
New Directions, 1950
A House of Words: Jewish Writing, Identity, and Memory
Norman Ravvin.
McGill-Queens University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Apocalypse Stalled: The Role of Traditional Archetypes and Symbol in Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust"
Tycoons and Locusts: A Regional Look at Hollywood Fiction of the 1930s
Walter Wells.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1973
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Shriek of the Locusts"
Classic Cult Fiction: A Companion to Popular Cult Literature
Thomas Reed Whissen.
Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "The Day of the Locust" begins on p. 68
Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts
Allienne R. Becker.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Flesh Made Word: Miss Lonelyheart's Sublime Grotesque"
Saints and Lovers: 'Miss Lonelyhearts' in the Tradition
Lynch, Richard P.
Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 2, Spring 1994
This Cosmic Pawnshop We Call Life: Nathaniel West, Bergson, Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Hoeveler, Diane Long.
Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer 1996
Minor American Novelists
Charles Alva Hoyt.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1970
Librarian’s tip: "Nathanael West: The Use of Cynicism" begins on p. 81
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