The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry


In this fresh approach to Wendell Berry's entire literary canon, Janet Goodrich argues that Berry writes primarily as an autobiographer and as such belongs to the tradition of autobiography. Goodrich maintains that whether Berry is writing poetry, fiction, or prose, he is imagining and re-imagining his own life from multiple perspectives -- temporal as well as imaginative.

With these ongoing re-creations of his own life through the different vocations that comprise his being, Berry imaginatively shapes his experience into literary artifice. Goodrich identifies five of these vocations -- the autobiographer, the poet, the farmer, the prophet, and the neighbor -- and traces them in the body of Berry's work where they are consistently identifiable in the authorial voice and obvious to the imagination in fictive characterizations. Berry's writings express these "personae" as they develop, partly by intent and partly by chance, and it is this complexity of perspective the enables Berry to write and rewrite his experience in ways that allow him to connect with his readers.

Goodrich's book is organized thematically into five chapters, each examining one of Berry's imaginative voices. Within each chapter, she has proceeded chronologically through Berry's work in order to trace the development in each point of view. Thus, the study opens the possibility of understanding Berry's writings without reducing him. By acknowledging the relationships between different themes and patterns of language in the texts, Goodrich helps the reader appreciate the richness with which Berry writes his life into art.

Whereas others have categorized Berry according to just one of his many facets, The UnforeseenSelf in the Works of Wendell Berry takes account of his work in all its complexity, providing a coherent critical context and method of study. Reconciling the sometimes-contradictory labels pinned on Berry, this vital study

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Columbia, MO
Publication year:
  • 2001


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