The Centaur

Last updated
First edition ( Knopf, 1963) TheCentaur.jpg
First edition ( Knopf, 1963)

The Centaur is a novel by John Updike, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1963. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. Portions of the novel first appeared in Esquire and The New Yorker . [1]

John Updike American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic

John Hoyer Updike was an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic, and literary critic. One of only three writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once, Updike published more than twenty novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children's books during his career.

Alfred A. Knopf American publishing house

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. is a New York publishing house that was founded by Alfred A. Knopf Sr. and Blanche Knopf in 1915. Blanche and Alfred traveled abroad regularly and were known for publishing European, Asian, and Latin American writers in addition to leading American literary trends. It was acquired by Random House in 1960, who was later acquired by Bertelsmann in 1998, and is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. The Knopf publishing house is associated with its borzoi colophon, which was designed by co-founder Blanche Knopf in 1925.

The National Book Award for Fiction is one of four annual National Book Awards, which recognize outstanding literary work by United States citizens. Since 1987 the awards have been administered and presented by the National Book Foundation, but they are awards "by writers to writers". The panelists are five "writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field".

Contents

The French translation of the novel won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book Prize).

The Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger is a French literary prize created in 1948. It is awarded yearly in two categories: Novel and Essay for books translated into French.

Plot summary

The story concerns George Caldwell, a school teacher, and his son Peter, outside of Alton (i.e., Reading), Pennsylvania. The novel explores the relationship between the depressive Caldwell and his anxious son. George has largely given up on life; what glory he knew, as a football player and soldier in World War I, has passed. He feels put upon by the school's principal, and he views his students as hapless and uninterested in anything he has to teach them. Peter, meanwhile, is a budding aesthete who idolizes Vermeer and dreams of becoming a painter in a big city, like New York. He has no friends his age, and regularly worries that his peers might detect his psoriasis, which stains his skin and flecks his clothes every season but summer. One thing George and Peter share is the desire to get out, to escape their hometown. This masculine desire for escape appears in Updike's famed "Rabbit" novels. Similarly, the novel's image of Peter's mother alone on an untended farm is one we later see in Updike's 1965 novel Of the Farm .

Reading, Pennsylvania City in Pennsylvania, United States

Reading is a city in and the county seat of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States. With a population of 87,575, it is the fifth-largest city in Pennsylvania. Located in the southeastern part of the state, it is the principal city of the Greater Reading Area, and is furthermore included in the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden PA-NJ-DE-MD Combined Statistical Area.

High school football secondary school competition in gridiron football

High school football is gridiron football played by high school teams in the United States and Canada. It ranks among the most popular interscholastic sports in both countries. It is also popular amongst American High school teams in Europe.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Themes

Like James Joyce in Ulysses , Updike drew on the myths of antiquity in an attempt to turn a modern and common scene into something more profound, a meditation on life and man's relationship to nature and eternity. George is both the Centaur Chiron and Prometheus (some readers might see George's son Peter as Prometheus), Mr. Hummel, the automobile mechanic, is Hephaestus (AKA Vulcan); and so forth. The novel's structure is unusual; the narrative shifts from present day (late 1940s) to prospective (early 1960s), from describing the characters as George, Vera, and the rest, to the Centaur, Venus, and so forth. It also is punctuated with a feverish dream scene and George's obituary. Near the end of the novel, Updike includes two untranslated Greek sentences. Their translation is as follows:

James Joyce Influential Irish novelist, short story author and poet, 20th century

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer's Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.

<i>Ulysses</i> (novel) novel by the Irish author James Joyce

Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce's 40th birthday. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called "a demonstration and summation of the entire movement." According to Declan Kiberd, "Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking".

Centaur fictional creature of a combination of a man and a horse

A centaur, or occasionally hippocentaur, is a mythological creature with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse.

This quote is from Bibliotheca 2.5.4, and describes the death of Chiron.

The Bibliotheca, also known as the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus, is a compendium of Greek myths and heroic legends, arranged in three books, generally dated to the first or second century AD.

Related Research Articles

Peleus mythical character

In Greek mythology, Peleus was a hero whose myth was already known to the hearers of Homer in the late 8th century BC.

Chiron Centaur, figure from Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Chiron was held to be the superlative centaur amongst his brethren, as he was called as the "wisest and justest of all the centaurs".

Erymanthian Boar

In Greek mythology, the Erymanthian boar is a monstrous wild boar remembered in connection with The Twelve Labours, in which Heracles, the (reconciled) enemy of Hera, visited in turn "all the other sites of the Goddess throughout the world, to conquer every conceivable 'monster' of nature and rededicate the primordial world to its new master, his Olympian father," Zeus.

In Greek mythology, Asbolus was a centaur. He was a Seer,or an auger. He was a diviner who read omens in the flight of birds. He foresaw the Centaurs' battle against the Lapiths at Pirithous' wedding, and unsuccessfully attempted to prevent them from attending.

The Twelve Labours of Heracles or Hercules are a series of episodes concerning a penance carried out by Heracles, the greatest of the Greek heroes, whose name was later romanised as Hercules. They were accomplished over 12 years at the service of King Eurystheus. The episodes were later connected by a continuous narrative. The establishment of a fixed cycle of twelve labours was attributed by the Greeks to an epic poem, now lost, written by Peisander, dated about 600 BC. After Hercules killed his wife and children, he went to the oracle at Delphi. He prayed to the god Apollo for guidance. Hercules was told to serve the king of Mycenae, Eurystheus, for 12 years. During these 12 years, Hercules is sent to perform twelve difficult feats, called labours.

<i>Kafka on the Shore</i> novel by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore is a 2002 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Its 2005 English translation was among "The 10 Best Books of 2005" from The New York Times and received the World Fantasy Award for 2006.

<i>Rabbit Is Rich</i> novel by John Updike

Rabbit Is Rich is a 1981 novel by John Updike. It is the third novel of the four-part series which begins with Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, and concludes with Rabbit At Rest. There is also a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered. Rabbit Is Rich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1982, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1981. The first-edition hardcover dust jacket for the novel was designed by the author, and is significantly different from the common horizontal-stripe designs used on the other three Rabbit novels. Later printings, including trade paperbacks, feature the trademark stripe motif with stock images of a set of car keys or an image of a late-1970s Japanese automobile.

<i>Rabbit, Run</i> novel by John Updike

Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike. The novel depicts three months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom who is trapped in a loveless marriage and a boring sales job, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life. It spawned several sequels, including Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, as well as a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered. In these novels Updike takes a comical and retrospective look at the relentless questing life of Rabbit against the background of the major events of the latter half of the 20th century.

<i>Desire Under the Elms</i> play by Eugene O’Neill

Desire Under the Elms is a 1924 play written by Eugene O'Neill. Like Mourning Becomes Electra, Desire Under the Elms signifies an attempt by O'Neill to adapt plot elements and themes of Greek tragedy to a rural New England setting. It was inspired by the myth of Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Theseus. A film version was produced in 1958, and there is an operatic setting by Edward Thomas.

<i>Summerland</i> (novel) book by Michael Chabon

Summerland is a 2002 fantasy young adult novel by American writer Michael Chabon. It is about young children who save the world from destruction by playing baseball, the central theme and symbol throughout the novel. Summerland weaves elements of a World Series, parallel-universe road trip, and a hero's odyssey. The book received mixed reviews; The New York Times called it "bewilderingly busy" and likened it to "the novelization of an animated action film".

<i>Gods Little Acre</i> 1933 novel by Erskine Caldwell

God's Little Acre is a 1933 novel by Erskine Caldwell about a dysfunctional farming family in Georgia obsessed with sex and wealth. The novel's sexual themes were so controversial that the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice asked a New York state court to censor it. The novel was made into a film of the same name in 1958. Although controversial, the novel became an international best seller with over 10 million copies sold. God's Little Acre is Caldwell's most popular novel, although his reputation is often tied to his 1932 novel Tobacco Road (novel), which was listed in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels. God's Little Acre later was later adapted as a 1958 film starring Robert Ryan.

<i>The Sea of Monsters</i> American novel, 2006, second in the Percy Jackson series

The Sea of Monsters is an American fantasy-adventure novel based on Greek mythology written by Rick Riordan and published in 2006. It is the second novel in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and the sequel to The Lightning Thief. This book chronicles the adventures of thirteen-year-old demigod, Percy Jackson as he and his friends rescue his satyr friend Grover from the Cyclops Polyphemus and save the camp from a Titan's attack by bringing the Golden Fleece to cure Thalia's poisoned pine tree.

<i>The Anatomy Lesson</i> (Roth novel) novel by Philip Roth

The Anatomy Lesson is a 1983 novel by the American author Philip Roth. It is the third novel from Roth to feature Nathan Zuckerman as the main character.

<i>Of the Farm</i> novel by John Updike

Of the Farm is a 1965 novel by the American author John Updike. Of the Farm was his fourth novel. The story concerns Joey Robinson, a divorced, thirty-five-year-old Manhattan advertising executive who visits his mother on her unfarmed farm in rural Pennsylvania. He has come with his new wife, Peggy and her son, Richard, a precocious eleven-year-old. The novel explores both Joey's relationship to his widowed mother, a flinty woman who reveres her farm, and to Peggy, a kind, sensual woman. Joey feels guilt for leaving his mother, and anger at her stubborn refusal to leave the farm, and anger at her from having uprooted his late father from the suburbs to move to the farm decades ago. Joey, though the only man in the novel, is not a man in charge. He is buffeted by doubt, angst, and anger, and is pinballed between his dueling mother and Peggy.

Pholus (mythology)

In Greek mythology, Pholus was a wise centaur and friend of Heracles who lived in a cave on or near Mount Pelion.

Auguste Corteau Greek writer

Auguste Corteau is the pen name of the Greek author Petros Hadjopoulos. He was born in Thessaloniki, in 1979.

<i>Goat Days</i> book by Benyamin

Goat Days is a 2008 Malayalam novel about an abused migrant worker in Saudi Arabia written by Bahrain-based Indian author Benyamin. The novel was first published in serial form in Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly.

Lime tree in culture

The lime tree or Linden (Tilia) is important in the mythology, literature and folklore of a number of cultures.

References

  1. "National Book Awards – 1964". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
    (With acceptance speech by Updike and essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
Awards
Preceded by
Morte d'Urban
J. F. Powers
National Book Award for Fiction
1964
Succeeded by
Herzog
Saul Bellow