The Uneasy Chair by Wallace Stegner
A Biography of Bernard DeVoto

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"He was precocious, alert, intelligent, brash, challenging, irreverent, literary, self-conscious, insecure, often ostentatiously crude, sometimes insufferable," Wallace Stegner says of Bernard DeVoto, who, in the words of a childhood acquaintance, was also "the ugliest, most disagreeable boy you ever saw." Between the disagreeable boy and the literary lion, a life unfolds, full of comedy and drama, as told in this definitive biography, which brings together two exemplary American men of letters. Born within a dozen years of one another in small towns in Utah, both men were, as Stegner writes, "novelists by intention, teachers by necessity, and historians by the sheer compulsion of the region that shaped us." From this unique vantage point, Stegner follows DeVoto's path from his beloved but not particularly congenial Utah to the even less congenial Harvard where, galvanized by the disregard of the aesthetes around him, he commenced a career that, over three and a half decades, would embrace nearly every sort of literary enterprise: from modestly successful novels to prize-winning Western histories, from the editorship of the Saturday Review to a famously combative, long-running monthly column in Harper's, "The Easy Chair." A nuanced portrait of a stormy literary life, Stegner's biography of DeVoto is also a window on the tumultuous world of American letters in the twentieth century.

About Wallace Stegner

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In 1972, Stegner won a Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose (1971), a novel about a wheelchair-bound man's re-creation of his New England grandmother's experience in a late nineteenth-century frontier town. As a result, Stegner is undergoing something of a revival. His work enjoys a new appreciation for its traditional narrative forms, its use of rich detail, and the unpretentious way it treats general social and psychological issues. For readers tired or confused by postmodernist fiction, Stegner offers relief. Stegner may also be the beneficiary of a quickening of interest in the latest literary westward expansion that includes such diverse writers as Jane Smiley and Larry McMurtry. Stegner's novels and stories are profoundly influenced by the American West where he grew up, and he wants to construct the history of a place where people went, often trying to escape the past. Moving between Eastern "cultivation" and Western "nature," Stegner's novels trace various stages in the Westward movement of the American experience. Against this broad cultural landscape, showing the modern betrayal of the past, Stegner details individual human behavior through a range of fully conceived and finely drawn characters. He is a master at tracing the changes over time in marriages and friendships, as well as at depicting the poignant tensions between a mind that remains strong in a body that is succumbing to illness.
Published January 1, 1974 by Doubleday. 464 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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“A thoroughly agreeable book about a thoroughly disagreeable” man Kirkus put it: “an exhaustive biography of such a minor literary personality.” But Stegner’s “valentine” to his friend also captures the times in which he thrived—it’s a remarkable look at the literary politics of an era, and a man...

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