Cover image for Beyond the gray flannel suit : books from the 1950s that made American culture
Beyond the gray flannel suit : books from the 1950s that made American culture
Castronovo, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Continuum, [2004]

Physical Description:
207 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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PS225 .C37 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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American writers of the 1920s, such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, have been heralded as The Lost Generation, while an earlier generation formed The American Renaissance. Far less critical attention has been paid to mid-twentieth-century literature and how a super-charged body of writing changed our perceptions of the world. Beyond the Gray Flannel Suit considers the books of our lives, which shaped our times, whether we realize it or not. Where did youth culture come from? Why do people argue over pop and high culture? What part do race and ethnicity play in an author's work? By examining a carefully selected range of books and authors, Castronovo shows the true significance of the remarkable literary explosion that took place between the late 1940s and the JFK years.

Author Notes

David Castronovo is Professor of English at Pace University in New York City.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The 1950s were as important to American literature as the mid-nineteenth century and the jazz-age 1920s, Castronovo contends, producing books that so freshly "distill the modern American spirit" that they still loom large. Yet his arguments about 25 such books are concerned not with their places in any canon of great literature but with their creative responses to post-World War II America. He adduces novels and story collections by Ellison, Bellow, Malamud, and O'Connor that exemplify literary naturalism's being positively transformed by a hankering for transcendence; Catcher in the Rye0 , On the Road0 , and Ginsberg's poetry collection Howl0 as expressions of youthful rebellion; a quartet of noir thrillers portraying post-A-bomb paranoia and alienation; Algren and Mailer on the predicament of the social outsider; satires by Nabokov, Dawn Powell, and Jarrell skewering social conformities; four cultural critics essaying intellectual honesty in the face of commodification; Cheever's, Powers', Baldwin's, and Roth's fictional portrayals of WASPs, Catholics, blacks, and Jews adapting to crumbling ethnic identities; and Updike and Yates on tragedy in suburbia. Top-drawer literary-cultural cogitation. --Ray Olson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Castronovo (English, Pace Univ.) has written extensively on modern American authors, among them Thornton Wilder and Norman Mailer, as well as critic Edmund Wilson. Here he examines American literature from the late 1940s to the Kennedy inauguration in 1961. A half-century later, Castronovo convincingly presents those works he sees as landmarks from the era. Many have already attained the status of "great" works of art, e.g., Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Ginsberg's Howl, Kerouac's On the Road, and Nabokov's Lolita. Others, such as Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man and Dawn Powell's The Golden Spur, are less recognizable and are seldom taught in college-level survey classes. This is not a "best of" book but rather one that considers literature as a reflection of the sea change in American society from World War II to the upheavals of the 1960s. The writing is scholarly yet accessible to the educated lay reader. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 9
1 Breaking Throughp. 32
2 Holden, Dean, and Allenp. 55
3 Angst, Inc.p. 77
4 Rough Customersp. 94
5 The New Observersp. 110
6 The Eggheadsp. 133
7 WASP, Catholic, Black, Jewishp. 160
8 Naturalism Reinventedp. 187
Afterwordp. 195
Acknowledgmentsp. 202
Indexp. 203