The achievement of Joseph Hergesheimer in the art of fiction
Martin, Ronald Edward
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Since the 1920's, when Joseph Hergesheimer was widely acclaimed as one of America's greatest writers, the reputation of his fiction has declined precipitously. Although the quality of his fiction gives ample reason for correcting the inflated estimation of him of the 'twenties, it should also prevent his complete rejection by posterity. This dissertation, therefore, attempts to study Hergesheimer's fiction sympathetically but critically, recognizing both its excellences and its limitations. The result is an understanding of Hergesheimer's total achievement in the art of fiction. The method of this study is to give careful examination both to a number of his individual works and to certain crucial aspects of his whole body of fiction. The first of the ten chapters briefly defines Hergesneimer's main interest in his writing--a specific emotional effect he hoped to produce in himself and in the reader. He achieved this effect principally by building most of his works around a certain kind of action--a dramatic gesture of self-assertion made by a protagonist in the face of extreme adversity. The second chapter classifies the fictional motifs in Hergesheimer's fiction--the life-situations which he uses in his works to project this dramatic gesture. The underlying themes of these two chapters are the narrowness of Hergesheimer's range and intent, and the reiteration which exists in his works. Each of the next six chapters begins with a self-contained analysis of a novel, and then uses that novel to introduce some important feature of Hergesheimer's whole body of fiction. The third chapter presents a complete discussion of The Three Black Pennys, and then uses that novel to initiate a discussion of character in Hergesheimer's fiction; it is demonstrated that his characters clearly run in types and subserve his preoccupation with the dramatic gesture. The fourth chapter analyzes Java Head and evaluates plot in Hergesheimer's fiction, demonstrating that resolution and causality are generally quite simple and direct and sometimes arbitrarily manipulated in the interest of the overall effect. Chapter V analyzes Cytherea and discusses the overall social and moral environment which his fictions create; emphasis falls on his use of antithesis and moral dilemma to create dramatic situations and on the hostility which cnaracterizes virtually all human relations in his works. Chapter VI discusses the Limestone Tree and narrative technique in the episodic novels and shows how Hergesheimer achieves unity by means of overall theme, continuity of historical background, anu certain reiterated motifs. Chapter VII discusses Tampico and the narrative technique in the novels having a single continuous action; this chapter explains how he achieves coherence and form by means of symbolism, structural division, and selectivity. The last novel to be analyzed is Balisand, in the eighth chapter, where discussion focusses on Hergesheimer's preoccupation with atmosphere and the suggestive qualities of settings and events. Hergesheimer's uneven prose style is the subject of the ninth chapter, and again a number of writings are used as data. His theory of style is examined as well as the characteristics of diction and cadence in his fiction. The tenth and final chapter studies Hergesheimer's commitment to the commercial fiction he wrote for the mass magazines; this chapter traces the influence of this commitment on his more serious work, and then develops a general evaluation of Hergesheimer as a distinctly minor writer, but one whose fiction can be justifiably appreciated for certain of its tecbnical achievements as well as certain of its insights.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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