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Cozzens, James Gould

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1903-1978) US author, best known for his novels of contemporary American life, including Guard of Honor (1948), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, and By Love Possessed (1957), which brought him considerable fame. One of the passengers in the doomed liner (see Ship of Fools) that gives its name to S S San Pedro (August 1930 Scribner's Magazine; 1931) is a malign doctor, a Mysterious Stranger who is an unmistakable allegorical representation of Death; he jumps ship. A second short novel, Castaway (1934; rev 1934), Cozzens's sole fantasy, describes the vicissitudes of an unimpressive Everyman who is trapped in a large department store in a devastated and deserted New York. Parallels with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) – including the epigraph and a Friday figure – are explicit, but unlike a true Robinsonade, the ending of Cozzens's fable, though ambiguous, encompasses unequivocal defeat; the UK edition's prefatory restriction of the "catastrophe" to New York alone does not appear in other editions (see End of the World). However delimited in space, the tale's power derives in large part from the tension between its coolly precise prose and its fantastic premise.

Regarded as a misfire by Cozzens's champions even during his period of celebrity, Castaway has since suffered yet deeper neglect as Cozzens's reputation entered a steep decline. Matthew J Bruccoli, Cozzens's biographer, proposes that the work may be read as a Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; there has been scant additional commentary. [GF/JC]

James Gould Cozzens

born Chicago, Illinois: 19 August 1903

died Stuart, Florida: 9 August 1978

works (highly selected)

  • S S San Pedro (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1931) [first appeared August 1930 Scribner's Magazine: hb/E T T]
  • Castaway (London: Longmans, Green, 1934) [hb/Isobel R Beard]
    • Castaway (New York: Random House, 1934) [cut rev of the above: hb/]
    • S S San Pedro and Castaway (New York: Modern Library, 1957) [omni of the above two: follows American text: hb/]

about the author


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