UVa Library Press Releases 1997 - 1998
GIFT OF LETTERS COMPLETES JOHN DOS PASSOS ARCHIVE
Contact: Michael Plunkett, director of Special Collections at (804) 924-3998 or e-mail: email@example.com
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Dec. 3, 1997 -- An important collection of letters written to American novelist John Dos Passos has been given to the University of Virginia Library by his widow Elizabeth Dos Passos of Westmoreland County, library officials announced.
The gift strengthens U.Va.'s renowned American literature materials that are studied by scholars from around the world. The collection of letters, recently appraised at $730,000 and previously on deposit for scholars to use here, touches on many parts of 20th century literary history and includes correspondence from such literary figures as poets E.E. Cummings and Archibald MacLeish, critic Edmund Wilson and novelist Ernest Hemingway.
Dos Passos, one of the pre-eminent writers of the 20th century and one of America's most significant political novelists, chose the University of Virginia as the repository for his manuscripts and papers and continued to give materials to the library's special collections department until his death in 1970. Mrs. Dos Passos later deposited the personal and literary letters written to her husband and recently gave the letters to the library, rounding out a Dos Passos collection that includes the manuscripts and typescripts of all his novels, histories, works of journalism, poetry and most of his short stories.
These materials, along with extensive family papers, letters from Dos Passos donated by friends, and first editions in the library's collections, now form a full archive of the novelist's life and writing, said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. "This new gift completes the collection begun in 1954 by John Dos Passos," she said. "I am most grateful to the Dos Passos family for their continuing generosity over five decades."
Dos Passos, born in Chicago in 1896 and part of the post World War I "lost generation" of writers, took modern American society and urban alienation as the subject for his radical critiques in such novels as his 1930s landmark "U.S.A." trilogy. But he always felt a deep attachment to the state of Virginia and land his father owned near the mouth of the Potomac River, said Michael F. Plunkett, the U.Va. Library's director of special collections.
In the novelist's later years he and Mrs. Dos Passos made their home on the Westmoreland County property and in 1963 he was a writer-in-residence at U.Va. He was also an admirer of the University's founder, Jefferson, about whom he wrote a full biography, "The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson."
Though Dos Passos's reputation has fluctuated with time, the the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said he regarded him as "the greatest writer of our time." His works, both fiction and nonfiction, continue to be read widely here and abroad, according to his biographer Townsend Ludington. His stylistic innovations still continue to influence other writers and some of his novels - in particular "Three Soldiers" (1921), "Manhattan Transfer" (1922) and the three volumes of "U.S.A." ("The 42nd Parallel," "1919" and "The Big Money," 1930-36) are considered key works in American literary history.
Dos Passos was involved in many of the episodes that have played an important part in American literary history, such as the post-World War I expatriate scene in Europe and the political radicalism of the 1920s and 30s, which he later turned away from. The letters written to him, which comprise Mrs. Dos Passos's gift, read like a history of 20th century literature.
Edmund Wilson's letters reveal an enduring friendship and incisive criticism of Dos Passos's work. Hemingway's letters gossip about mutual friends, praise Dos Passos's writing and describe life in Key West. Letters from writer John Howard Lawson discuss the left-wing ideology that Dos Passos drew away from after the early 1930s.
For additional information please contact Michael Plunkett at the U.Va. Library at (804) 924-3025 or Bob Brickhouse at U.Va. News Services at (804) 924-6856.