Sunday, September 11, 2011

John Dos Passos

Parlor Figure Name: John Dos Passos 

John Dos Passos is an American novelist and historian, mostly known for his portrayal of two Americas in the U.S.A. Trilogy and for his support of the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. 

Birth-Death: January 14, 1896 – September 28, 1970 (1)

Residence (city, state, or region): John Dos Passos was born in Chicago, IL (2) and later had a house In Provincetown, MA with his wife, Kate Smith (3). However, he did a lot of travelling, especially in Spain.

Occupation: American novelist, playwright, poet, journalist, translator (1)

What’s this person best known for? Dos Passos is best known for his work, the U.S.A. Trilogy

Race/Ethnicity/Religion (if important): He is of Portuguese descent from his father’s side. This may account for his interest in Spain and Central America.

Politics: John Dos Passos was a Libertarian. However, he was suspicious of all political organizations, Big Business, and Big Government. This made him strongly independent. After working hard to get them pardoned, he was upset by the executions of Anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (4). In addition, Dos Passos supported the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. But the execution of his friend, Jose Robles, for suspected treason, made him suspicious of the Communist Party’s involvement. (3)

Beliefs about relation between art and politics (if applicable): John Dos Passos used his writing to spread his ideas about politics. Since he was on the editorial board for the New Masses, he supported the slogan, “art is a class weapon.” In his works, he frequently portrayed the lives of working class people.

Major Activities in the 1930s: Dos Passos spend much of the 1930s writing the three novels that make up his U.S.A. Trilogy. In addition, he was one of the heads of Contemporary Historians, Inc., a group that supported the common people of Spain and their troubles with insurgents (8). He spend a lot of time in Spain and assisted in the making of the video The Spanish Earth. THis video portrayed how the peasants of Spain sought to reclaim their land through irrigation and cultivation (8).

Major Works (include dates and place of publication where applicable): (2)
-The 42nd Parallel (1930)
-1919 (1932)
-The Spanish Earth (1937)
-The Big Money (1938)

Places where figure’s work often appears (magazines, radio, nightclubs, galleries): A lot of John Dos Passos’ work appears in The New Republic as well as the New Masses.

Organizations s/he belongs to, causes s/he supports: Dos Passos supported the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. In addition, the was on the editorial board for the New Masses (3) and headed the Contemporary Historians, Inc. along with Ernest Hemingway and others (8).

Best sound bites by or about this figure, including source (if this person is a writer, you must include a quote by him or her):
“The creation of a world view is the work of a generation rather than of an individual, but we each of us, for better or for worse, add our brick to the edifice.” (5)

Was this person a popular or critical 7)success? Before the 1930s, John Dos Passos antiwar novels were criticized, but his U.S.A Trilogy (beginning with The 42nd Parallel in 1930) was received with great success. A few critics on the left thought the works were too individualistic while some on the right thought they were too radical (7). But after the completion of the Trilogy, Theodore Spencer declared: "No one concerned with the health of the novel as a living form can fail to ... regard his achievement with respect. He writes from a wise and comprehending point of view; his construction is firm; his narrative is swift, realistic, and interesting. There are few novelists in this country today whose craftsmanship is as secure, and whose sense of American life as understanding and awake." After the 30s, his success, as well as his support for the left side, dwindled.

Any Gossip? When John Dos Passos married Kate Smith, this sparked some tension between him and his good friend Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had been interested in Kate for awhile.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell:
- Dos Passos met Hemingway while they both volunteered to drive ambulances in Italy during WWI. (4)
-In his later life, Dos Passos was involved in a car accident that killed his wife and caused him to lose his right eye. (4)
-Not only was he a writer, he also made over 400 pieces of visual art. (4)
-the U.S.A. Trilogy employs unique literary devices such as "Newsreels", "Camera Eye", and biographical portraits (7).

Titles of the 1-3 “texts” (writing, photos, songs, etc.) by this person you’ll discuss in your paper (include date and place of publication, if applicable): (2)

1. The Big Money (1938)

2. The Spanish Earth (1937)

3. The Death of Jose Robles (The New Republic, 1939)

What primary research have you done?  I have found many of my sources on the Historical New York Times database. I was able to find book reviews on the three books making up the U.S.A. Trilogy as well as a review on the film The Spanish Earth. In addition, I came across the wedding announcement of John Dos Passos and Kate Smith.

Connections with other parlor figures:
a. friends, people who worked together, people in the same circle:
John Dos Passos became friends with Ernest Hemingway when they met during WWI while driving ambulances in Italy. They shared a sympathy for the loyalists of Spain and sought to support them by forming the Contemporary Historians, Inc. group and producing the film, "The Spanish Earth" (8).

b. political or artistic allies:
Lewis Mumford both had articles featured in the leftist journal, "The New Republic." In addition, they were both part of "the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners," a group of leftist writers who allied themselves with common workers (9).

Malcolm Cowley and Dos Passos were both leftists who supported the loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. They signed the same document urging FDR to be the voice of the American people objecting to the Fascist takeover of Madrid (10).

c. political or artistic opponents:
Although they were both involved with "The New Republic." it was known that John Dos Passos and Malcolm Cowley did not like each other. However, as Cowley was the assistant editor, Dos Passos chose to hide his feelings in order to protect his career (11).

d. other connections:
Granville Hicks and Dos Passos were leftists to varying degrees, they both lamented the decision of the Sacco-Vanzetti case and signed a document voicing their displeasure (12).

Works Cited
1. "John Dos Passos." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 11 Sept. 2011.

2. "John (Roderigo) Dos Passos." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale. Web. 11 Sept. 2011.

3. Pizer, Donald. "The Hemingway--Dos Passos Relationship."   Journal of Modern Literature 13.1 (1986): 111. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 11 Sept. 2011.

4. "John Dos Passos." Poets of Cambridge, U.S.A. Harvard Square Library. Web. 11 Sept. 2011.

5."John Dos Passos." Xplore Inc, 2011. 11 September. 2011.

6. Galloway, Ann. "The Spanish Earth (Reel 1 of 6)." YouTube. YouTube, 5 Apr. 2011. Web. 11 Sept. 2011.

7. "Books of the Times." New York Times (1923-Current file): 19, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). Jan 28 1938. Web. 11 Sept. 2011 <>.

8. "Down to Earth in Spain." New York Times (1923-Current file): 134. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). Jul 25 1937. Web. 11 Sep. 2011 <>. 

9. American Studies at the University of Virginia. America in the 1930s. AS@UVA, 2009. Web. 15 Sept. 2011.
10. "Madrid Siege Protested." New York Times (1923-Current file): 13. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). Nov 23 1936. Web. 13 Sept. 2011 <>.

11. "Malcolm Cowley." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Sept. 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2011.

12. "Assail Dr. Lowell on Sacco Decision." New York Times (1923-Current file): 6. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). Sept 19 1936. Web. 13 Sept. 2011. <>.

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