Gaddis, William

Gaddis, William,

1922–98, American novelist, b. New York City. An erudite master of satire and black comedy, he was both praised and criticized for his avant-garde techniques—repetitions, multiple layers of meaning, sprawling shapelessness, frequent digressions, complexities of plot and language that can veer into incomprehensibility, and the exhausting length of his works. Gaddis wrote five novels, the second and fourth of which won the National Book Award. Epic in size, his first novel, The Recognitions (1955), examines falseness and the loss of authenticity in its story of a master forger. The next four novels are written almost completely without narration in a series of dialogues and a multiplicity of voices. JR (1975) concerns elaborate corporate shenanigans, Carpenter's Gothic (1985) explores ramifications of the Vietnam War, A Frolic of His Own (1994) skewers the litigious modern world, and the posthumously published Agapē Agape (2002) records the reflections of a dying writer obsessed with player pianos and, by extension, the nature of art. Gaddis's shorter prose is collected in The Rush for Second Place (2002).


See S. Moore, A Reader's Guide to William Gaddis's "The Recognitions" (1982) and William Gaddis (1989); S. Moore, ed., The Letters of William Gaddis (2013); E. B. Safer, The Contemporary American Comic Epic: The Novels of Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, and Kesey (1988); J. Johnston, Carnival of Repetition (1989); G. Comnes, The Ethics of Indeterminacy in the Novels of William Gaddis (1994).

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Gaddis, William

(1922–  ) writer; born in New York City. He attended Harvard and briefly joined the staff of the New Yorker (1946–47). He worked as a free-lance corporate writer until the 1970s and details of his personal life remained all but unknown, even in literary circles. His first novel, The Recognitions (1955), did not gain much popular or critical attention at first but gradually attained an almost "cult" following as well as critical respect; his second novel, JR (1975), won a National Book Award. Both works were encyclopedic "meganovels," but his third, Carpenter's Gothic (1985), was more conventional. He continued to shun the spotlight and was only briefly observed when he was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1982.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.