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James Gould Cozzens Biography

(1903–78), Confusion, The Son of Perdition

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American novelist, born in Chicago, educated at Harvard University where he completed Confusion (1924), his first novel. Other early novels include The Son of Perdition (1929) and S.S. San Pedro: A Tale of the Sea (1931), set in Cuba and the US merchant navy, respectively. Cozzens's fiction is more generally concerned with the precise delineation of social manners and mores and the place of institutions in the affairs of mankind. Men and Brethren (1936) concerns the dilemma that confronts an Episcopalian minister who tries to assist another minister expelled from the church for homosexuality. The Just and the Unjust (1942) is a murder story, which centres on the role of the legal system in the defence of an ordered society against the forces of anarchy, while Guard of Honour (1948; Pulitzer Prize), set in the Second World War at an airforce base in Florida, explores the related themes of command, duty, and responsibility within a military hierarchy. Cozzens won critical acclaim with By Love Possessed (1957); reviewers such as J. B. Priestley and Angus Wilson considered it one of the finest post-war American novels. Its theme is the operation of love, in all its various guises, over forty-eight hours of the life of a small American town. As so often in Cozzens's work, the conflict is between a puritanically stern moral education and the forces of change and modernity. His last novel is Morning Noon and Night (1968). Children and Others (1964) and A Flower in Her Hair (1974) are collections of short stories. In an age of experimentation, Cozzens's preoccupation with custom, law, and tradition earned him the opprobrium of many critics who associated his position with the conservatism and complacency of the Eisenhower era. It is only in more recent years that serious scrutiny of his work has emerged. Just Representations: A Cozzens Reader (1978; edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli) is an anthology of his writings, while the strongest case for his importance as a novelist is put by D. E. S. Maxwell in Cozzens (1964).

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