R(onald) V(erlin) Cassill Biography
R.V. Cassill comments:
Nationality: American. Born: Cedar Falls, Iowa, 1919. Education: The University of Iowa, Iowa City, B.A. 1939 (Phi Beta Kappa), M.A. 1947; the Sorbonne, Paris (Fulbright fellow), 1952-53. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1942-46: Lieutenant. Career: Instructor, University of Iowa, 1948-52; editor, Western Review, Iowa City, 1951-52, Colliers' Encyclopedia, New York, 1953-54, and Dude and Gent, New York, 1958; lecturer, Columbia University and New School for Social Research, both New York, 1957-59, and University of Iowa, 1960-65; writer-in-residence, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, 1965-66. Associate professor, 1966-71, and professor of English, 1972-83, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; now emeritus. U.S. Information Service lecturer in Europe, 1975-76. Painter and lithographer: exhibitions—John Snowden Gallery, Chicago, 1946; Eleanor Smith Galleries, Chicago, 1948; Wickersham Gallery, New York, 1970. Awards: Atlantic "Firsts" prize, for short story, 1947; Rockefeller grant, 1954; Guggenheim grant, 1968. Agent: Candida Donadio and Associates, 231 West 22nd Street, New York, New York 10011.
The Eagle on the Coin. New York, Random House, 1950.
Dormitory Women. New York, Lion, 1953.
The Left Bank of Desire, with Eric Protter. New York, Ace, 1955.
A Taste of Sin. New York, Ace, 1955; London, Digit, 1959.
The Hungering Shame. New York, Avon, 1956.
The Wound of Love. New York, Avon, 1956.
An Affair to Remember (novelization of screenplay; as Owen Aherne).New York, Avon, 1957.
Naked Morning. New York, Avon, 1957.
Man on Fire (novelization of screenplay; as Owen Aherne). NewYork, Avon, 1957.
The Buccaneer (novelization of screenplay). New York, Fawcett, 1958.
Lustful Summer. New York, Avon, 1958.
Nurses' Quarters. New York, Fawcett, 1958; London, Muller, 1962.
The Tempest (novelization of screenplay). New York, Fawcett, 1959.
The Wife Next Door. New York, Fawcett, 1959; London, Muller, 1960.
Clem Anderson. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1960.
My Sister's Keeper. New York, Avon, 1961.
Night School. New York, New American Library, 1961.
Pretty Leslie. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1963; London, Muller, 1964.
The President. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1964.
La Vie Passionée of Rodney Buckthorne: A Tale of the Great American's Last Rally and Curious Death. New York, Geis, 1968.
Doctor Cobb's Game. New York, Bantam, 1969.
The Goss Women. New York, Doubleday, 1974; London, Hodder andStoughton, 1975.
Hoyt's Child. New York, Doubleday, 1976.
Labors of Love. New York, Arbor House, 1980.
Flame. New York, Arbor House, 1980.
After Goliath. New York, Ticknor and Fields, 1985.
The Unknown Soldier. Montrose, Alabama, Texas Center for WritersPress, 1991.
15 x 3, with Herbert Gold and James B. Hall. New York, NewDirections, 1957.
The Father and Other Stories. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1965.
The Happy Marriage and Other Stories. West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University Press, 1967.
Three Stories. Oakland, California, Hermes House Press, 1982.
Patrimonies. Bristol, Rhode Island, Ampersand Press, 1988.
Collected Stories. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1989.
The General Said "Nuts." New York, Birk, 1955.
Writing Fiction. New York, Pocket Books, 1963; revised edition, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1975.
In an Iron Time: Statements and Reiterations: Essays. West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University Press, 1967.
Editor, Intro 1-3. New York, Bantam, 3 vols., 1968-1970.
Editor, with Walton Beacham, Intro 4. Charlottesville, UniversityPress of Virginia, 1972.
Editor, Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York, Norton, 1978; revised edition, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1994, 1995, 2000.
Editor, Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. New York, Norton, 1988; (with Joyce Carol Oates), 1998.
Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
"R.V. Cassill Issue" of December (Chicago), vol. 23, nos. 1-2, 1981 (includes bibliography).
(1972) My most personal statement is probably to be found in my short stories. If few of them are reliably autobiographical at least they grew from the observations, moods, exultations, and agonies of early years. If there is constant pattern in them, it is probably that of a hopeful being who expects evil and finds worse.
From my first novel onward I have explored the correspondences between the interior world—of desire and anxiety—and the public world of power—extra-social violences and politics. In The Eagle on the Coin I wrote of the ill-fated attempt of some alienated liberals, including a compassionate homosexual, to elect a Negro to the schoolboard in a small midwestern city. In Doctor Cobb's Game I used the silhouette of a major British political scandal as the area within which I composed an elaborate pattern of occult-sexual-political forces weaving and unweaving. Between these two novels, almost 20 years apart, I have played with a variety of forms and subject matter, but the focus of concern has probably been the same, under the surface of appearances. In Clem Anderson I took the silhouette of Dylan Thomas's life and within that composed the story of an American poet's self-destructive triumph. It probably is and always will be my most embattled work, simply because in its considerable extent it replaces most of the comfortable or profitable clichés about an artist's life with tougher and more painful diagrams.
But then perhaps my whole productive life has been a swimming against the tide. A midwesterner by origin, and no doubt by temperament and experience, I worked through decades when first the southern and then the urban-Jewish novel held an almost monopolistic grip on the tastes and prejudices of American readers. In my extensive reviewing and lecturing I have tried more to examine the clichés, slogans, and rallying cries of the time than to oppose or espouse them—thus leaving myself without any visible partisan support from any quarter. To radicals I have appeared a conservative, to conservatives a radical—and to both a mystification or, I suppose, I would not have been tolerated as long as I have been. As I grow older I love the commonplace of traditional thought and expression with a growing fervor, especially as their rarity increases amid the indoctrinating forces that spoil our good lives.
* * *
From the first novel, The Eagle on the Coin, and the early stories, R.V. Cassill's art shows a steady development from the autobiographical and the imitative to the fully dramatic capabilities of the mature novelist and short story writer. The range of his talent is wide: from near-pastoral impressions of midwestern America, to urban life in Chicago and New York, to his most technically accomplished work, Doctor Cobb's Game, based on the Profumo scandals in London.
Cassill's most complex work relies on four broad kinds of material: stories and novels about the midwest, most notably Iowa as in Pretty Leslie ; stories and novels concerning academic life, as in "Larchmoor Is Not the World" and The President ; materials about art and the artist's life (Clem Anderson); and finally materials of a less regional nature which may be called the vision of modernity found in the short story "Love? Squalor?" and Doctor Cobb. A second lesser-known order of Cassill's work consists of a dozen novels, "paperback originals" so-called because of the contractual circumstances of their first publication. For the most part The Wound of Love, Dormitory Women, and others await sophisticated literary evaluation. These shorter, often more spontaneous novels also exploit the same kinds of material. It should be well understood that these categories are intended to be only suggestive; the most ambitious work, for example, displays all these materials.
Beyond the technical accomplishments of any professional novelist, Cassill's most noteworthy literary quality is the "visual" nature of his prose fiction. There is a steady exploitation of color, of the precise, telling, visual detail, a sensitivity to proportion, and to the architectonics of scene. In fact Cassill began his artistic career as a painter, a teacher of art; from time to time he still exhibits his work. His fiction shows some of the same qualities as the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, and the German Expressionistic painters.
The literary influences are wide-ranging and interestingly absorbed. In general these influences are evoked when necessary rather than being held steadily as "models" in any neoclassic sense. Specifically, Cassill values Flaubert, James, Joyce, and especially D.H. Lawrence. Of a different order of specific influence would be Madam Bovary, Gissing's New Grub Street, and Benjamin Constant's Adolphe (1815). It is interesting that Cassill has written the best extant appreciation of Adolphe. Thus Cassill is a highly literary writer, with a broad, useful knowledge of American and European literatures; for many years he has been a teacher of contemporary literature and a writer-in-residence at universities, a professional reviewer, essayist, a discerning cultural commentator and critic.
The governing themes of Cassill's work are less easy to identify. A recurring situation is the nature and the resultant fate of a human pair, the destiny of a man or woman in the throes of new love, old love, marriage, or adultery. Closely bound to these concerns is the nature of love and responsibility; the implications of choice, loyalty, and liberty. Often there are conflicts generated between rationality and a merely emotional yearning—real or imagined—genuine affection as against the implied necessity of sexual aggression or the ironies of "modern love." At times these relationships are between teacher and pupil, lovers, man and wife; between artist and patron, mistress, or the world "out there."
A fascination with these and other difficult themes places a heavy obligation on the novelist, especially in the matter of plot-structures and the handling of sex scenes. Throughout Cassill's work there is the insistence of the centrality of the sexual aspect of all human relationships. If in real life such concerns are seldom finally resolved, so is it in many novelistic structures which tend to rely on sexual involvements as a central motivation. Often, therefore, a story or a novel will begin with a vivid, strong situation which in the end is obscured or vague rather than suggestive or resolved. The reliance on the sexual drive as a compelling motive becomes more insistent in the later work.
Although he is primarily a novelist, Cassill's most sustained work is often in the short fiction, of which he is a master. The best stories focus on domestic scenes, memories of youth, the pathos of age, the casual lost relationship, conversations of art, ideas, literature, and the meaning of life itself.
Taken together, the stories, novels, and criticism show a strongly unified sensibility, a dedicated, energetic artist, a man in a modern world imaginatively and at times romantically comprehended, a man whose powerful gifts are his best protection against his own vision of America and of the midwest where modernity is rampant and the end is nowhere in sight.
—James B. Hall
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