Signs of the Literary Times

Essays, Reviews, Profiles 1970-1992

By William O'Rourke

Subjects: Fiction
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791416822, 250 pages, November 1993
Hardcover : 9780791416815, 250 pages, December 1993

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Table of contents



I. Edward Dahlberg Times 5


Edward Dahlberg, Teacher
Dahlberg's The Olive of Minerva
Edward Dahlberg 1900-1977
The Wages of Expectation
The Causes of Immortal Conceptions


II. The Literary Life and Hard Times


The Literature of Place and No Place
The Night the Ghost Didn't Get In
Catholics Coming of Age
Ellen Frankfort's Voice
Difficult Women and Minor Characters
On Becoming a Novelist and Panic among the Philistines
Famous People He Has Known
The Post-Modern Aura
Protesting N. E.A.
Artisits Should Accept Grants from the Arts Endowment
Letters to Editors: The N. E.A. and the Loyalty Oafs


III. Fictional Times: America, England, Ireland


Craig Nova, 1,2,3
John Updike
Nicholas Delbanco, Donald Marsh, Katherine Dunn, Rosalyn Drexler, Kenneth Patchen, Harry Crews, Robert Hemenway
David Black
James Carroll
Mary Gordon
Chuck Blaise and Madison Jones
Hugh Nissenson
John Barth
Gordon Lish
Thomas McMahon
James T. Farrell
Joseph Caldwell and James Reid
John Cheever
Norman Kotker
Richard Elman and Robin Hemley
Nettie Jones
C. E. Poverman
Douglas Unger
Richard Bausch and Mark Probst
Howard Frank Mosher
Thomas Pynchon
Larry Heinemann
Adrian Mitchell
Patrick McGinley
Bernard Mac Laverty
William Trevor and Fay Weldon
Iris Murdoch
D. M. Thomas


IV. Nonfictional Time: Amnesty, Trials, Profiles, Censorship


Remebering to Forget
Jury Duty
Michael Harrington
William Sloane Coffin, Jr.
Of Judges and G-strings
Will the Court Bare All?
Freedom at Risk


V. Time for One Story


The Maggot Principle





This book is O'Rourke's first volume of nonfiction since his 1972 The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left, which Garry Wills hailed as "a clinical x-ray of our society's condition. " That book prompted Herbert Mitgang to name O'Rourke "one of the finest writers of his generation. " Signs of the Literary Times provides new evidence for that assessment. It brings together O'Rourke's unique mixture of literary, political, and cultural criticism published periodically during the last twenty-two years. The collection ranges from autobiographical essays describing his generation's literary evolution, to articles on free speech issues, such as nude dancing and the Bush-era NEA controversies, as well as book reviews that provide a fresh and largely uncharted critical map of the period. O'Rourke is not only interested in genre bending and expansion, but in persevering during this age of academic specialization as, in his phrase, "a person of letters. "

In the two decades between his first work of nonfiction and this volume, O'Rourke has published three highly acclaimed novels, The Meekness of Isaac (1974), Idle Hands (1981), and Criminal Tendencies (1987). Of the last, The Virginia Quarterly Review wrote, "Of all the novelists paraded in recent years by publishers as natural successors to Graham Greene, this one comes the closest. A thoroughly entertaining literary event. "

Signs of the Literary Times is not so much a compendium of diverse pieces on various subjects, as it is a cogent and continuing x-ray of our society's condition.

William O'Rourke has taught at Rutgers University, Mount Holyoke College, and is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.


"Though unabashedly literary, O'Rourke's primary concerns—freedom, war, work, and religion—are intensely American. O'Rourke earns the respect of his readers through his superb phrasing, his rigorous thinking and his consistently sound values. As a general reader I trust what he has to tell me because his writing is so gracefully persuasive. If O'Rourke were a lawyer, I'd want him to represent me in court; if he were a carpenter, I'd want him to build my house. " — David Huddle, University of Vermont

"Signs of the Literary Times is a fascinating account of working with literature by one of America's more interesting, responsible, and innovative writers. "—Jerome Klinkowitz, University of Northern Iowa.