Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.
(1895-1980) US historian and author who obtained his MA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1920 and his PhD from Columbia University in 1922, afterwards becoming a professor of English at the University of California and concentrating his attention – through novels, literary studies, popular history, etc. – on the Pacific Edge of America (see California). His first book of any importance, Bret Harte: Argonaut and Exile (1930), was an extended biographical study of Bret Harte, focusing on his beginnings there as a regional writer. His novel Storm (1941) personifies the titular natural Disaster as almost the protagonist of the tale: a Pacific storm called Maria (leading the US National Weather Service to adopt the practice of giving storms female names) threatens San Francisco; the human cast, though they are vividly drawn, are dwarfed by the planetary grammar of the tale. Storm is roughly prefigured in an earlier novel, Chita: A Memory of Last Island (1889) by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), in which an almost sentient hurricane hits Louisiana. Fire (1948), perhaps less vividly than its predecessor, animates a forest wildfire known as the Spitcat.
Stewart's only sf novel, Earth Abides (1949), set in the San Francisco region, tells of the struggle to survive and rebuild after a virus-based Pandemic has wiped out most of humanity. The protagonist, Isherwood Williams, lives for many decades after the Disaster, breeding children with one of his rare fellow survivors, and watching his world gradually turning into a Ruined Earth and the Long Night begin, as his descendants gradually lose all sense of the civilization he represents; but the fruitful natural world abides. The sense of requiem and rebirth promulgated in the novel, enriched through a "literary" style typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF, is rendered all the more complex for readers aware of the implications of Isherwood's nickname, Ish, a direct reference to the historic Native American, Ishi (circa 1860-1916), last survivor of the Yana people, who became famous in the early years of the century as the last living representative of his tribe, just as Ish is one of the last living representatives of the civilization which has destroyed his namesake's world. Ishi in Two Worlds (1961) by Theodora Kroeber (1897-1979), who was Ursula K Le Guin's mother, serves as a telling complement. One of the finest of all Post-Holocaust/Ruined Earth novels, Stewart's superb elegy was the first winner of the International Fantasy Award; Stephen King acknowledged its influence on The Stand (1978; text restored 1990). [MJE/JC/DRL]
George Rippey Stewart
born Sewickley, Pennsylvania: 31 May 1895
died San Francisco, California: 22 August 1980
- Storm (New York: Random House, 1941) [hb/]
- Fire (New York: Random House, 1948) [hb/]
- Earth Abides (New York: Random House, 1949) [hb/H Lawrence Hoffman]
- Bret Harte: Argonaut and Exile (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930) [nonfiction: hb/uncredited]
about the author
- Donald M Scott. The Life and Truth of George R Stewart: A Literary Biography of the Author of Earth Abides (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2012) [nonfiction: pb/]
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