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Collected Novels and Plays

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About This Book
Following the widely celebrated Collected Poems, this second volume in the series of James Merrill’s works brings us Merrill as novelist and playwright. Just as in his poems we come upon prose pieces, dramatic dialogue, and even a short play in verse, in his novels and plays we find the rhythms of his poetry reflected and given new form.

Merrill’s first novel, The Seraglio, is a daring roman à clef derived in large part from his early life as the cosmopolitan son of Charles Merrill, one of America’s most famous twentieth-century financiers. Written in a highly refined prose that owes something to Henry James, the book is a compelling portrait of the luxury and treachery swirling around the Southampton beach house of an irrepressible family patriarch, with his many mistresses and ex-mistresses in attendance, told from the point of view of his lively but troubled son. At the other end of the narrative spectrum we find The (Diblos) Notebook, an experimental novel in which a young American’s adventures on a Greek island are deconstructed and assembled into a tentative fiction before our eyes. Merrill’s plays, including the one-act comedy of manners The Bait and the Chekhovian The Immortal Husband—a reinvention of the myth of Tithonus, who was granted eternal life but not eternal youth—are also fresh turns on his characteristic themes: home and travel, reality and artifice, simplicity and complication. And, for the first time in print, here is Merrill’s short play The Birthday, a fledgling effort written in 1947 and a fascinating window onto the concern with spiritual communication and the otherwordly that would later blossom into his great epic, The Changing Light at Sandover.


From the Hardcover edition.
Show less
Following the widely celebrated Collected Poems, this second volume in the series of James Merrill’s works brings us Merrill as novelist and playwright. Just as in his poems we come upon prose pieces, dramatic dialogue, and even a short play in verse, in his novels and plays we find the rhythms of his poetry reflected and given new form.

Merrill’s first novel, The Seraglio, is a daring roman à clef derived in large part from his early life as the cosmopolitan son of Charles Merrill, one of America’s most famous twentieth-century financiers. Written in a highly refined prose that owes something to Henry James, the book is a compelling portrait of the luxury and treachery swirling around the Southampton beach house of an irrepressible family patriarch, with his many mistresses and ex-mistresses in attendance, told from the point of view of his lively but troubled son. At the other end of the narrative spectrum we find The (Diblos) Notebook, an experimental novel in which a young American’s adventures on a Greek island are deconstructed and assembled into a tentative fiction before our eyes. Merrill’s plays, including the one-act comedy of manners The Bait and the Chekhovian The Immortal Husband—a reinvention of the myth of Tithonus, who was granted eternal life but not eternal youth—are also fresh turns on his characteristic themes: home and travel, reality and artifice, simplicity and complication. And, for the first time in print, here is Merrill’s short play The Birthday, a fledgling effort written in 1947 and a fascinating window onto the concern with spiritual communication and the otherwordly that would later blossom into his great epic, The Changing Light at Sandover.


From the Hardcover edition.
Product Details
eBook (688 pages)
Published: March 9, 2011
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Knopf Group E-Books
ISBN: 9780307555212
Other books byJames Merrill
  • The Changing Light at Sandover

    The Changing Light at Sandover
    A welcome return to paperback: James Merrill’s most famous and celebrated work.

    Collected Poems

    Collected Poems
    The publication of James Merrill's Collected Poems is a landmark in the history of modern American literature. His First Poems—its sophistication and virtuosity were recognized at once—appeared half a century ago. Over the next five decades, Merrill's range broadened and his voice took on its characteristic richness. In book after book, his urbanity and wit, his intriguing images and paradoxes, shone with a rare brilliance. As he once told an interviewer, he "looked for English in its billiard-table sense—words that have been set spinning against their own gravity." But beneath their surface glamour, his poems were driven by an audacious imagination that continually sought to deepen and refine our perspectives on experience. Among other roles, he was one of the supreme love poets of the twentieth century. In delicate lyric or complex narrative, this book abounds with what he once called his "chronicles of love and loss." Like Wallace Stevens and W. H. Auden before him, Merrill sought to quicken the pulse of a poem in surprising and compelling ways—ways, indeed, that changed how we came to see our own lives. Years ago, the critic Helen Vendler spoke for others when she wrote of Merrill, "The time eventually comes, in a good poet's career, when readers actively wait for his books: to know that someone out there is writing down your century, your generation, your language, your life . . . He has become one of our indispensable poets." This book brings together a remarkable body of work in an authoritative edition. From Merrill's privately printed book, The Black Swan, published in 1946, to his posthumous collection, A Scattering of Salts, which appeared in 1995, all of the poems he published are included, except for juvenalia and his epic, The Changing Light at Sandover. In addition, twenty-one of his translations (from Apollinaire, Montale, and Cavafy, among others) and forty-four of his previously uncollected poems (including those written in the last year of his life) are gathered here for the first time. Collected Poems in the first volume in a series that will present all of James Merrill's work—his novels and plays, and his collected prose. Together, these volumes will testify to a monumental career that distinguished American literature in the late twentieth century and will continue to inspire readers and writers for years to come. From the Hardcover edition.

    Inner Room

    Inner Room
    James Merrill's new collection, The Inner Room, combines symmetry with surprise.The first and last of its five parts include, in addition to diverse two masterly long poems each ('Morning Glory' and 'A Room at the Heart of Things' in Part I and 'Walks in Rome' and 'Losing the Marbles' in Part V). The central section, an arrangement of shorter poems and a bittersweet meditation written some years ago but not collected until now, is framed by the book's most startling accomplishments. In Part II Merrill returns to the verse drama, a genre that he has not worked in since the 1950s, when 'The Bait' was produced off-Broadway. 'The Image Maker' is an exquisitely fashioned one-act play about a santero, a saint-maker, whose carved figures are objects of veneration and sources of power in his Caribbean village. The santero also practices santeria, the Latin American religion that syncretizes the Yoruba lore which the slaves brought with them from West Africa and the Catholicism imposed on them in their new world. In this exotic context, Merrill rings changes on themes developed in his epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover. Part IV, a sequence entitled 'Prose of Departure, is itself another striking departure from Merrill's recent work. Set mostly in Japan, it intertwines narratives of beginnings and endings even as it intersperses its prose with hokku in a manner reminiscent of Basho's travel journals -- though the delicately managed rhymes set Merrill's cachet upon the form. Among the other work here are poems in Sapphics and in syllabics; a villanelle whose recursions celebrate memory', and a doubled anagram, in which the English poem is shadowed by a French version" Stephen Yenser author of The Consuming Myth, The Work of James Merrill

    Collected Prose

    Collected Prose
    Following James Merrill’s widely celebrated Collected Poems and Collected Novels and Plays, this volume gives us, most intimately, the man himself and his charmingly straightforward exploration of how he became himself. As much as any poet of our time, Merrill conceived of his work and his life as warp and woof, and the prose collected here (from his juvenilia and occasional pieces through his critical writings to his interviews and memoir) shows how bound up in his craft (itself a recurrent topic) were his readings and reflections, his travels and friendships. Even Merrill’s most devoted readers will be startled anew at the range of his aesthetic concerns and the depth of his knowledge. Dante and Ponge, Cavafy and Montale, Elizabeth Bishop and Wallace Stevens, all figure prominently here, and the volume is shot through with commentary on music, especially opera, and descriptions of the world’s great cities–including New York, Paris, Istanbul, and Kyoto–and their cultural treasures. The volume closes resoundingly with A Different Person, Merrill’s memoir of his young life, in which he travels to Europe to explore the culture, comes of age as a gay man, and faces down his legacy as the son of the renowned financier Charles E. Merrill. As Merrill remarks to one interviewer here, a poet is “someone choosing the words he lives by.” This volume, a cross section of a singularly complex literary life, showcases the care for verbal nuance and the inimitably varied tones that distinguish this great American writer.

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