John Cheever

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John Cheever

John Cheever (May 27, 1912June 18, 1982) was an American novelist and short story writer.


  • The novel remains for me one of the few forms where we can record man’s complexity and the strength and decency of his longings. Where we can describe, step by step, minute by minute, our not altogether unpleasant struggle to put ourselves into a viable and devout relationship to our beloved and mistaken world.
    • Accepting National Book Award, The Writer (September 1958).
  • He was a tall man with an astonishing and somehow elegant curvature of the spine, formed by an enlarged lower abdomen, which he carried in a stately and contented way, as if it contained money and securities.
  • Homesickness is nothing … Fifty percent of the people in the world are homesick all the time.
    • “The Bella Lingua” in The Brigadier and the Golf Widow (1964).
  • Art is the triumph over chaos.
    • The Stories of John Cheever Knopf (1978).
  • I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.
    • Christian Science Monitor (October 24, 1979).
  • The need to write comes from the need to make sense of one’s life and discover one’s usefulness.
  • A collection of short stories is generally thought to be a horrendous clinker; an enforced courtesy for the elderly writer who wants to display the trophies of his youth, along with his trout flies.
    • Quoted in James Charlton's The Writer’s Quotation Book (1980).
  • For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain [and] the noise of battle. [It] has the power to give grief or universality that lends it a youthful beauty.
    • Accepting National Medal for Literature (April 27, 1982).
  • I sometimes go back to walk through the ghostly remains of Sutton Place where the rude, new buildings stand squarely in one another’s river views.
    • “Moving Out” Esquire (June 1983).
  • When I remember my family, I always remember their backs. They were always indignantly leaving places. That’s the way I remember them, heading for an exit.
    • Quoted by Susan Cheever, Home before Dark Houghton Mifflin (1984).
  • What I am going to write is the last of what I have to say. I will say that literature is the only consciousness we possess and that its role as consciousness must inform us of our ability to comprehend the hideous danger of nuclear power.
    • Entry in his journal before his last public appearance, the ceremony at which he received the National Medal for Literature, quoted by Susan Cheever, Home before Dark Houghton Mifflin (1984).
  • Literature has been the salvation of the damned, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world.
    • Entry in his journal before his last public appearance, the ceremony at which he received the National Medal for Literature, quoted by Susan Cheever, Home before Dark Houghton Mifflin (1984).
  • All literary men are Red Sox fans—to be a Yankee fan in a literate society is to endanger your life.
    • Newsweek (October 20, 1986).
  • My veins are filled, once a week with a Neapolitan carpet cleaner distilled from the Adriatic and I am as bald as an egg. However I still get around and am mean to cats.
    • Letter to Philip Roth (May 10, 1982); The Letters of John Cheever (1989).

The Wapshot Chronicle (1957)[edit]

  • He had that spooky bass voice meant to announce that he had entered the kingdom of manhood, but Rosalie knew that he was still outside the gates.
  • ...your underwear is clean in case you should be hit by a taxicab and have to be undressed by strangers.
  • ..for the dead fish was striped like a cat and the sky was striped like the fish and the conch was whorled like an ear and the beach was ribbed like a dog's mouth and the movables in the surf splintered and crashed like the walls of Jericho.
  • Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the lord.
  • I'm wicked, as you say, and I'm rude and I'm boorish and I discovered, after marrying Mr Scaddon, that I could be all these things and worse and that there would still be plenty of people to lick my boots.

The Journals of John Cheever (1991)[edit]

Edited by Robert Gottlieb

  • When the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart it seems no bigger than a grain of sand.
    • The Late Forties and the Fifties, 1952 entry.
  • Strange and predatory and truly dangerous, car thieves and muggers—they seem to jeopardize all our cherished concepts, even our self-esteem, our property rights, our powers of love, our laws and pleasures. The only relationship we seem to have with them is scorn or bewilderment, but they belong somewhere on the dark prairies of a country that is in the throes of self-discovery.
    • The Late Forties and the Fifties, 1955 entry.
  • I do not understand the capricious lewdness of the sleeping mind.
    • The Late Forties and the Fifties, 1955 entry.
  • Wisdom we know is the knowledge of good and evil not the strength to choose between the two.
    • The Late Forties and the Fifties, 1956 entry.
  • We praise Him, we bless Him, we adore Him, we glorify Him, and we wonder who is that baritone across the aisle and that pretty woman on our right who smells of apple blossoms. Our bowels stir and our cod itches and we amend our prayers for the spiritual life with the hope that it will not be too spiritual.
    • The Late Forties and the Fifties, 1956 entry.
  • One would never have guessed that the world had such a capacity for genuine grief. The most we can do is exploit our memories of his excellence.
  • The task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball. This is ceremony.
    • The Sixties, 1963 entry.
  • The organizations of men, like men themselves, seem subject to deafness, nearsightedness, lameness, and involuntary cruelty. We seem tragically unable to help one another, to understand one another.
    • The Sixties, 1963 entry.
  • People named John and Mary never divorce. For better or for worse, in madness and in saneness, they seem bound together for eternity by their rudimentary nomenclature. They may loathe and despise one another, quarrel, weep, and commit mayhem, but they are not free to divorce. Tom, Dick, and Harry can go to Reno on a whim, but nothing short of death can separate John and Mary.
    • The Sixties, 1966 entry.
  • At my back I hear the word—”homosexual”—and it seems to split my world in two.... It is ignorance, our ignorance of one another, that creates this terrifying erotic chaos. Information, a crumb of information, seems to light the world.
    • The Sixties, 1966 entry.
  • A lonely man is a lonesome thing, a stone, a bone, a stick, a receptacle for Gilbey’s gin, a stooped figure sitting at the edge of a hotel bed, heaving copious sighs like the autumn wind.
    • The Sixties, 1966 entry.

About John Cheever[edit]

  • His religious requirements—that the service come from Cranmer’s rites in the old prayer book, that it take 33 minutes or less, that the church be within 10 minutes’ driving distance and that the altar be sufficiently simple so that it wouldn’t remind him of a gift shop—limited his choice of parishes.
  • I'm not like some writers who are very specific about their audience. Cheever talks about looking into the woods and he sees somebody walking there and he's writing for that person. My sense of an audience is very wide-maybe people in the distant future-in a sense, the universe.

External links[edit]

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