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Herbert Gold Biography

Herbert Gold comments:

Nationality: American. Born: Cleveland, Ohio, 1924. Education: Columbia University, New York, B.A. 1946, M.A. 1948; the Sorbonne, Paris (Fulbright scholar), 1949-51. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1943-46. Career: lecturer in philosophy and literature, Western Reserve University, Cleveland, 1951-53; lecturer in English, Wayne State University, Detroit, 1954-56. Visiting professor, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1958, University of California, Berkeley, 1963, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1964, Stanford University, California, 1967, and University of California, Davis, 1973-79. Awards: Inter-American Cultural grant, to Haiti, 1950; Hudson Review fellowship, 1956; Guggenheim fellowship, 1957; American Academy grant, 1958; Longview Foundation award, 1959; Ford fellowship, for drama, 1960; Sherwood Anderson prize, 1989. L.H.D.: Baruch College, City University, New York, 1988.



Birth of a Hero. New York, Viking Press, 1951.

The Prospect Before Us. Cleveland, World, 1954; as Room Clerk, New York, New American Library, 1955.

The Man Who Was Not With It. Boston, Little Brown, 1956; London, Secker and Warburg, 1965; as The Wild Life, New York, Permabooks, 1957.

The Optimist. Boston, Little Brown, 1959.

Therefore Be Bold. New York, Dial Press, 1960; London, Deutsch, 1962.

Salt. New York, Dial Press, 1963; London, Secker and Warburg, 1964.

Fathers: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir. New York, RandomHouse, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1967.

The Great American Jackpot. New York, Random House, 1970;London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971.

Swiftie the Magician. New York, McGraw Hill, 1974; London, Hutchinson, 1975.

Waiting for Cordelia. New York, Arbor House, 1977; London, Hutchinson, 1978.

Slave Trade. New York, Arbor House, 1979.

He/She. New York, Arbor House, 1980; London, Severn House, 1982.

Family: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir. New York, Arbor House, 1981; London, Severn House, 1983.

True Love. New York, Arbor House, 1982; London, Severn House, 1984.

Mister White Eyes. New York, Arbor House, 1984; London, SevernHouse, 1985.

A Girl of Forty. New York, Fine, 1986.

Dreaming. New York, Fine, 1988.

She Took My Arm As If She Loved Me. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Short Stories

15 x 3, with R.V. Cassill and James B. Hall. New York, NewDirections, 1957.

Love and Like. New York, Dial Press, 1960; London, Deutsch, 1961.

The Magic Will: Stories and Essays of a Decade. New York, RandomHouse, 1971.

Stories of Misbegotten Love. Santa Barbara, California, Capra Press, 1985.

Lovers and Cohorts: Twenty-Seven Stories. New York, Fine, 1986.


The Age of Happy Problems (essays). New York, Dial Press, 1962.

Biafra Goodbye. San Francisco, Twowindows Press, 1970.

My Last Two Thousand Years (autobiography). New York, RandomHouse, 1972; London, Hutchinson, 1973.

The Young Prince and the Magic Cone (for children). New York, Doubleday, 1973.

A Walk on the West Side: California on the Brink (stories and essays).New York, Arbor House, 1981.

Travels in San Francisco. New York, Arcade, 1990.

The Best Nightmare on Earth: A Life in Haiti. New York, PrenticeHall Press, and London, Grafton, 1991.

Bohemia. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Editor, Fiction of the Fifties: A Decade of American Writing. NewYork, Doubleday, 1959.

Editor, with David L. Stevenson, Stories of Modern America. NewYork, St. Martin's Press, 1961; revised edition, 1963.

Editor, First Person Singular: Essays for the Sixties. New York, DialPress, 1963.


Subjects: Power, money, sex and love, intention in America. Themes: The same.

Moral: Coming next time.

* * *

In Herbert Gold's introduction to Fiction of the Fifties, he makes a distinction between fiction which avows and fiction which controls. The fiction which avows is a rather faithful transcription of the immediate and personal experience of the writer; such fiction makes use of the writer's own experience of his past and the section of social life where that experience took place. The other sort of fiction makes an attempt to present the experiences of persons who indeed are not the writer; these experiences are given clarity by an effort of the imagination which takes the writer outside himself and immerses him in circumstances that are not his own. All this is done by the exercise of control.

These interesting categories can be used to classify Gold's own fiction. A great deal of that fiction falls into the first category, that of avowal, as one can see from an inspection of his autobiographical My Last Two Thousand Years. This book is a narrative of Gold's own life, a life that finds its way into several of his novels. It was a life in which, as the son of a Jewish immigrant who settled in Cleveland, Gold experienced a difficult youth in the shadow of a strong father who had found a place for himself in an alien society. Gold's narrative relates his own struggles to detach himself from his father's ambitions for him, and to achieve his own goals, in New York and elsewhere, as student, critic, and novelist. All this was a process of self-discovery that demanded acts of will and personal heroism. This self-discovery, as Gold relates it, also involved a succession of painful relationships: marriage, parenthood, divorce, and a second marriage, with various temporary relationships along the way.

These are all matters that various other novelists would regard as private. So are they for Gold. But they are also the stuff of much of his fiction. These are the novels which avow (or assert) the essentials of the writer's own life. Such fiction contrasts with other novels in which Gold borrows and reshapes elements of other lives; it is in these latter novels that Gold controls the experiences of other persons and also depicts social patterns which the writer does not know directly and immediately.

Gold's frequent adherence to the dictum of Sir Philip Sidney's muse—"Fool … look in thy heart and write"—is illustrated by an excellent novel, Fathers, which is subtitled "A Novel in the Form of a Memoir." The novel tells of the relation between an immigrant father and his son; it is a vivid recollection of matters that Gold also puts down in My Last Two Thousand Years. Fathers offers homage to a courageous father and to the equally courageous son who chooses to turn aside from his father. The novel offers a convincing texture of loyalty and enmity. The same section of Gold's life appears in Therefore Be Bold which, however, centers attention on "Daniel Berman's" adolescent years in Cleveland: his encounters with poetry and sex and his bitter first experience of anti-Semitism.

Other novels, one can judge, are transcriptions of Gold's own experience of self-assertion and self-discovery in the New York literary world. Thus, Swiftie the Magician displays Gold's creative imagination moving onwards from his youth and assessing a man's attempts to find his own way through the jungles of professional and emotional life that surround a person in the second half of the twentieth century. The novel relates the involvement of a writer with three women: an East Coast innocent, a West Coast "experienced" young woman, and the hard-bitten Swiftie, a "magician" who knows what the score is in a rough world. Salt gives the reader a more complex version of such pursuits of identity. Two men—one a complacent Wasp and the other once more an alter ego for Gold—move from woman to woman, the Wasp learning little and the young Jew from Cleveland a great deal.

Such are the novels in which Gold reworks the stuff of his own life. But there are other novels in which Gold is exercising control—is, in more conventional literary language, inventing persons not himself and following the courses of their experiences. Birth of a Hero follows the attempts of a middle-aged business man, Reuben Flair, a faceless cipher, to become a man fully aware of what he has done, in marriage and beyond marriage. As in other novels by Gold, the outlines of Reuben's achievement are cloudy, but a sense of travel and change is conveyed. In The Prospect Before Us Gold moves still farther afield. In this novel the chief person is Harry Bowers, manager of a run-down motel in Cleveland. A level of life—low, raunchy, and cruel, and quite different from the world of the novels of avowal—is presented in colors that convince. And there is no touch of the frequent father-son situation; Harry Bowers allows a black woman to rent a room in his motel and is hounded for what he has done. The Man Who Was Not With It allows us to inhabit the awareness of a carnival worker. Here, however, there is an approach to the themes of the novels of avowal. Bud, the carnie, is saddled with two fathers: one, his real one in Pittsburgh, and the other a carnival barker. The barker delivers Bud from his drug habit (and falls foul of it himself) and hovers like a threatening cloud over the early weeks of Bud's marriage: a relation that links this novel with other work of Gold. In The Great American Jackpot the persona is also not Gold's own (the hero is a Berkeley student of the 1960s), but the student's preoccupations are not unfamiliar. Al Dooley loves and hates his teacher, a black sociologist; Dooley tries to find out who he is in the arms of two girls; and, finally, he asserts his identity by breaking out: in this instance, by robbing a bank and experiencing the farce of American justice. Dooley reappears in Waiting for Cordelia where he is doing a thesis on prostitution in the San Francisco area. A madam (Cordelia) and Marietta, a woman eager to become a reforming mayor of San Francisco, enrich Dooley's research. In the course of writing his study, Dooley faces Gold's usual questions about the nature of love and the sadness and the loneliness which hamper its realization. Similar preoccupations mark the early novel, The Optimist, in which Burr Fuller makes his way through a failed marriage and achieves some mastery of the mysteries of love and career. And similar struggles mark True Love where the subject is the uneasiness of middle age; a "respectable" man is harassed by the dreams of his youth and by his fears about his later life. Will the late discovery of "true love" allay these discontents? In all, a considerable variety. It is a variety bound together by a style that is generally pervasive save for variations that reflect the different social levels reproduced.

In She Took My Arm As If She Loved Me, private eye Dan Kasdan gets a lead on the location of Priscilla, the wife he loved and lost many years before. That lead comes from a sleazy pornographer—yet the real story centers around Dan's enduring love for Priscilla. A certain vigor results from the determined contemporary quality of Gold's references, including commercial products and public diversions, and even turns of speech. What usually holds this variety together is Gold's own sense of the worth of what he is doing. The language of the novels is a considerable support to the portions of wisdom that appear in the novels.

—Harold H. Watts

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