(Carl) Frederick Buechner Biography
Frederick Buechner comments:
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1926. Education: Lawrenceville School, New Jersey, graduated 1943; Princeton University, New Jersey, A.B. in English 1947; Union Theological Seminary, New York, B.D. 1958: ordained a Minister of the United Presbyterian Church, 1958. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1944-46. Career: English Master, Lawrenceville School, 1948-53; Instructor in Creative Writing, New York University, summers 1953-54; head of the employment clinic, East Harlem Protestant Parish, New York, 1954-58; chairman of the Religion Department, 1958-67, and School Minister, 1960-67, Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire. William Belden Noble Lecturer, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969; Russell Lecturer, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, 1971; Lyman Beecher Lecturer, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut, 1976; Harris Lecturer, Bangor Seminary, Maine, 1979; Smyth Lecturer, Columbia Seminary, New York, 1981; Zabriskie Lecturer, Virginia Seminary, Lynchburg, 1982; lecturer, Trinity Institute, 1990. Awards: O. Henry prize, 1955; Rosenthal award, 1959; American Academy award, 1982. D.D.: Virginia Seminary, 1983; Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, 1984; Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa, 1988; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1990; D. Litt.: Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1985. Agent: Harriet Wasserman, 137 East 36th Street, New York, New York 10016.
A Long Day's Dying. New York, Knopf, 1950; London, Chatto andWindus, 1951.
The Seasons' Difference. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1952.
The Return of Ansel Gibbs. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1958.
The Final Beast. New York, Atheneum, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1965.
The Entrance to Porlock. New York, Atheneum, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1970.
The Book of Bebb. New York, Atheneum, 1979.
Lion Country. New York, Atheneum, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1971.
Open Heart. New York, Atheneum, and London, Chatto andWindus, 1972.
Love Feast. New York, Atheneum, 1974; London, Chatto andWindus, 1975.
Treasure Hunt. New York, Atheneum, 1977; London, Chatto andWindus, 1978.
Godric. New York, Atheneum, 1980; London, Chatto and Windus, 1981.
Brendan. New York, Atheneum, 1987.
The Wizard's Tide. New York, Harper, 1990.
The Son of Laughter. San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.
On the Road with the Archangel. San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1997.
The Storm. San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
Uncollected Short Stories
"The Tiger," in Prize Stories 1955: The O. Henry Awards, edited byPaul Engle and Hansford Martin. New York, Doubleday, 1955.
The Magnificent Defeats (meditations). New York, Seabury Press, 1966; London, Chatto and Windus, 1967.
The Hungering Dark (meditations). New York, Seabury Press, 1969.
The Alphabet of Grace (autobiography). New York, Seabury Press, 1970.
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. New York, Harper, andLondon, Collins, 1973.
The Faces of Jesus, photographs by Lee Boltin. Croton-on-Hudson, New York, Riverwood, 1974.
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. New York, Harper, 1977.
Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who's Who. New York, Harper, 1979.
The Sacred Journey (autobiography). New York, Harper, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1982.
Now and Then (autobiography). New York, Harper, 1983.
A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces. New York, Harper, 1984.
Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized. New York, Harper, 1988.
Telling Secrets (autobiography). New York, Harper, 1991.
The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction. San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, compiled by George Connor. San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections. San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.
The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found. San
Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.
Wheaton College, Illinois.
Laughter in a Genevan Gown: The Works of Frederick Buechner 1970-1980 by Marie-Hélène Davies, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1983; Frederick Buechner: Novelist and Theologian of the Lost and Found by Marjorie McCoy, New York, Harper, 1988.
(1996) When I started out writing novels, my greatest difficulty was always in finding a plot. Since then I have come to believe that there is only one plot. It has to do with the way life or reality or God—the name is perhaps not so important—seeks to turn us into human beings, to make us whole, to make us Christs, to "save" us—again, call it what you will. In my fiction and non-fiction alike, this is what everything I have written is about.
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The novels of Frederick Buechner represent a movement from a consideration of psychological textures to an assessment of the religious values that are expressed by those textures. The fact that Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian clergyman may not strike the reader of the earlier novels—A Long Day's Dying, The Seasons' Difference, and The Return of Ansel Gibbs—as particularly relevant to the interpretation of those novels. His early novels, indeed, may impress the casual reader as works that are in the tradition of Henry James, concerned as they are with the rather delicate and tenuously resolved relations among cultivated and privileged Americans. The characters in these novels are preoccupied with resolutions of their difficulties, but these resolutions go no farther than clarification of their identities in relation to each other. This clarification is conveyed in a style that was regarded, at the time of the novels' appearance, as oblique and over-worked. The actual course of events in the early novels issues, as indicated, in changes of orientation that can be spoken of as a clearing out of the psychological undergrowth that impedes the discovery of purpose and self-knowledge on the part of the chief characters. The course of the narratives is marked by a taste for ironic comedy—a comedy that records the experience of living in a world that, unlike the world of some older comedy, is bare of generally shared values. The values that are to be detached are values for a particular person and do not have much wider relevance.
It is in later novels—The Final Beast, The Entrance to Porlock, and Lion Country—that one can see Buechner moving, in an ironic and quite self-protective way, toward concerns that his ordination as a clergyman would suggest. He moves from concern with particular persons in special situations toward more inclusive concerns which announce that lives of individual characters are oblique annunciations of the general constraint and opportunity which all human beings can, if they are responsive, encounter. The psyche is also a soul—a focus of energy that achieves fulfillment by coming into relation with patterns that religion and mythology testify to. The style of the later work becomes simpler, and Buechner delights in reporting farcical aspects of American experience that found little place in his earlier work. And these farcical elements are organized by invocation of narrative patterns that are widely known. The narrative pattern that underpins The Entrance to Porlock is drawn from that item of popular culture, The Wizard of Oz; the motley company of his novel repeats and varies the quest that took Dorothy Gale and her companions along the Road of Yellow Bricks.
In Lion Country and the three novels that succeed it—Open Heart, Love Feast, and Treasure Hunt—the grotesque menagerie of characters has experiences that are organized by nothing less than the traditional patterns of the Christian religion itself. (The four novels are published together under the title of The Book of Bebb.) In this series, Christianity undergoes parody that on the surface is blasphemous. The reader is offered variation that is ironical rather than confirming, and yet—in the long run—achieves the only kind of validation that is possible at the present time. At the very least the series is a successful counter-weight to novels that confirm conventional piety by exercises in conventional piety. Yet beneath the adultery, farce, and sheer violence of the Bebb series is a set of insights that are very close to the assertions of conventional Christianity. The conventionality—and the sincerity—of Buechner's views can be sampled in the theological ABC contained in Wishful Thinking and other meditations.
On the Road with the Archangel draws on the Book of Tobit, dubbed apocryphal by Protestants but included in the Catholic Bible. In Nineveh, whence the Israelites (the future Lost Tribes) have been carried away, a wealthy and generous man named Tobit undergoes a Job-like series of trials. Tobit prays for death, while in the town of Ectabana, a beautiful girl named Sarah—plagued by a demon who has killed seven would-be husbands—makes the same request. The angel Raphael hears the prayers of both, and intervenes in their affairs, bringing the two together. The tale ends happily, with Sarah's marriage to Tobit's feckless son Tobias. The Storm likewise draws on a classic, though in this case one much more recent: Shakespeare's The Tempest, which Buechner places in a modern setting.
Buechner can, in summary, be seen as a novelist who at first was challenged by the sheer complexity of human behavior and who later finds that complexity comprehensible when linked with popular myth-work like the Oz books and, finally, with the self-mastery and self-discovery offered by the Christian religion.
—Harold H. Watts
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