Nathanael West's Novels

Nathanael West's Novels

Nathanael West's Novels

Nathanael West's Novels


The literature on Nathanael West by this time is larger, no doubt, than his entire output- less than 450pages in the one-volume complete edition. Yet West's four short novels, all written in the 1930s and surrounded by his reputation as a Hollywood script writer, continue to fascinate readers, who still look for sign and symbol of the books' importance.

Irving Malin, a frequent contributor to this series, has taken a new approach to West's novels. Rather than an examination of sources, his new book provides, for the first time, a chronological, chapter-by-chapter examination of the novels. This detailed textual explication shows the novels' designs, which create their powerful effects by the accumulation of significant recurring details.


Irving Malin, a City College professor who has written several earlier books for the Crosscurrents / Modern Critiques series, gives us in the present volume a thorough and expert view of the novels of Nathanael West.

Somewhat of a New Critic in his approach, Dr. Malin asserts that textual analysis is the most important element in discussions of a writer's work, and of course he is right in this. He doesn't, however, altogether dismiss the value of social and biographical considerations, though in his examinations of West's four novels he sticks closely to the texts.

But a bit of Nathanael West biography won't hurt anyone. Even in this book with its New Critics' idea of concentrating on the texts, the author can't help making a few comments on West's background. So, here are a few facts which may help to place this novelist in his milieu.

West, born in 1903, was named Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein, the name he used in his Brown University days. After some academic difficulties at Tufts, he had gone to Brown on the strength of Nathan Weinstein's transcript. This was the record of another Nathan Weinstein-just the zany kind of event which might occur at any moment in West's fiction. Despite the fakery, he was graduated from Brown in 1924 and then went to Europe for a couple of years spent mostly in Paris. After his return he became assistant manager at two uptown New York hotels (I remember staying at one of them, in Sutton Place, long after West had left). All these experi . . .

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