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Farther and Wilder

The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson

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From the prizewinning biographer of Richard Yates and John Cheever, here is the fascinating biography of Charles Jackson, the author of The Lost Weekend—a writer whose life and work encapsulated what it meant to be an addict and a closeted gay man in mid-century America, and what one had to do with the other.

Charles Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend—the story of five disastrous days in the life of alcoholic Don Birnam—was published in 1944 to triumphant success. Within five years it had sold nearly half a million copies in various editions, and was added to the prestigious Modern Library. The actor Ray Milland, who would win an Oscar for his portrayal of Birnam, was coached in the ways of drunkenness by the novel’s author—a balding, impeccably groomed middle-aged man who had been sober since 1936 and had no intention of going down in history as the author of a thinly veiled autobiography about a crypto-homosexual drunk. But The Lost Weekend was all but entirely based on Jackson’s own experiences, and Jackson’s valiant struggles fill these pages. He and his handsome gay brother, Fred (“Boom”), grew up in the scandal-plagued village of Newark, New York, and later lived in Europe as TB patients, consorting with aristocratic café society. Jackson went on to work in radio and Hollywood, was published widely, lived in the Hotel Chelsea in New York City, and knew everyone from Judy Garland and Billy Wilder to Thomas Mann and Mary McCarthy. A doting family man with two daughters, Jackson was often industrious and sober; he even became a celebrated spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet he ultimately found it nearly impossible to write without the stimulus of pills or alcohol and felt his devotion to his work was worth the price. Rich with incident and character, Farther & Wilder is the moving story of an artist whose commitment to bringing forbidden subjects into the popular discourse was far ahead of his time.

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From the prizewinning biographer of Richard Yates and John Cheever, here is the fascinating biography of Charles Jackson, the author of The Lost Weekend—a writer whose life and work encapsulated what it meant to be an addict and a closeted gay man in mid-century America, and what one had to do with the other.

Charles Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend—the story of five disastrous days in the life of alcoholic Don Birnam—was published in 1944 to triumphant success. Within five years it had sold nearly half a million copies in various editions, and was added to the prestigious Modern Library. The actor Ray Milland, who would win an Oscar for his portrayal of Birnam, was coached in the ways of drunkenness by the novel’s author—a balding, impeccably groomed middle-aged man who had been sober since 1936 and had no intention of going down in history as the author of a thinly veiled autobiography about a crypto-homosexual drunk. But The Lost Weekend was all but entirely based on Jackson’s own experiences, and Jackson’s valiant struggles fill these pages. He and his handsome gay brother, Fred (“Boom”), grew up in the scandal-plagued village of Newark, New York, and later lived in Europe as TB patients, consorting with aristocratic café society. Jackson went on to work in radio and Hollywood, was published widely, lived in the Hotel Chelsea in New York City, and knew everyone from Judy Garland and Billy Wilder to Thomas Mann and Mary McCarthy. A doting family man with two daughters, Jackson was often industrious and sober; he even became a celebrated spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet he ultimately found it nearly impossible to write without the stimulus of pills or alcohol and felt his devotion to his work was worth the price. Rich with incident and character, Farther & Wilder is the moving story of an artist whose commitment to bringing forbidden subjects into the popular discourse was far ahead of his time.

Product Details
eBook (496 pages)
Published: March 19, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Knopf
ISBN: 9780307962201
Other books byBlake Bailey
  • Cheever

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    John Cheever spent much of his career impersonating a perfect suburban gentleman, the better to become one of the foremost chroniclers of postwar America. Written with unprecedented access to essential sources—including Cheever’s massive journal, only a fraction of which has ever been published—Bailey’s Cheever is a stunning example of the biographer’s art and a brilliant tribute to an essential author.

    The Lost Weekend

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    The classic tale of one man’s struggle with alcoholism, this revolutionary novel remains Charles Jackson’s best-known book—a daring autobiographical work that paved the way for contemporary addiction literature. It is 1936, and on the East Side of Manhattan, a would-be writer named Don Birnam decides to have a drink. And then another, and then another, until he’s in the midst of what becomes a five-day binge. The Lost Weekend moves with unstoppable speed, propelled by a heartbreaking but unflinching truth. It catapulted Charles Jackson to fame, and endures as an acute study of the ravages of alcoholism, as well as an unforgettable parable of the condition of the modern man.

    A Tragic Honesty

    A Tragic Honesty
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    The first biography of acclaimed American novelist and story writer Richard Yates Celebrated in his prime, forgotten in his final years, only to be championed anew by our greatest contemporary authors, Richard Yates has always exposed readers to the unsettling hypocrisies of our modern age. Classic novels such as Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade are incomparable chronicles of the quiet and not-so-quiet desperation of the American middle-class. Lonely housewives, addled businessmen, desperate career-girls and fearful boys and soldiers, Yates’s America was a panorama of high living, self-doubt and self-deception. And in the tradition of other great realistic writers of his time (Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Cheever and Updike), Yates’s fictional world mirrored his own. A manic-depressive alcoholic and unapologetic gentleman, his life was a hornets’ nest of childhood ghosts, the horrors of war, money woes, and ebullient cocktailed evenings in New York, Hollywood, and the Riviera. A Tragic Honesty is a masterful evocation of a man who in many ways embodied the struggles of the Great American Writer in the latter half of the twentieth century. Fame and reward followed by heartbreak and obscurity, Richard Yates here stands for what the writer must sacrifice for his craft, the devil’s bargain of artistry for happiness, praise for sanity.

    The Sunnier Side and Other Stories

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    A masterful collection of short stories exposing the seamy undercurrents of small-town American life from Charles Jackson, celebrated author of The Lost Weekend. A selection of Jackson’s finest tales, The Sunnier Side and Other Stories explores the trials of adolescence in America during the tumultuous years of the early twentieth century. Set in the town of Arcadia in upstate New York, the stories in this collection address the unspoken issues—homosexuality, masturbation, alcoholism, to name a few—lurking just beneath the surface of the small-town ideal. The Sunnier Side showcases Jackson at the height of his storytelling powers, reaffirming his reputation as a boundary-pushing, irreverent writer years ahead of his time.

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