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William Gaddis Biography

(1922–98), The Recognitions, Carpenter's Gothic, A Frolic of His Own

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Richard Furness Biography to Robert Murray Gilchrist Biography

American novelist, born in New York City, educated at Harvard. After a period of travel in Europe he published The Recognitions (1955), a complex, experimental, satirical novel whose settings range from nineteenth-century New England to Central America and contemporary New York, and whose central figure is the artist turned faker Wyatt Gwyon, who prostitutes his talent in the service of the demonic art dealer, Recktall Brown. In a book crowded with outlandish and sinister characters, incorporating a wide range of cultural and philosophical references, literary allusions, parodies of other works, and references to popular culture, Gaddis offers a bizarre and frequently disturbing portrait of contemporary society, in particular that of the shallow and self-seeking New York intelligentsia. It was highly acclaimed for its erudition and its originality. JR (1975) is an epistolary novel exploring the corruption and hypocrisy of the business world and centering on the ambitious young hero's quest for success. Carpenter's Gothic (1985) presents a bleak vision of America as a country in which the liberal decencies of the past have been eroded by reactionary fundamentalism and materialistic greed. Gaddis continues his assessment of contemporary society with A Frolic of His Own (1994), a satirical novel assessing the American legal system and the fashion for litigation.

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