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West, Nathanael - Novels and Other Writings


Nathanael West

Novels and Other Writings

The Dream Life of Balso SnellMiss Lonelyhearts A Cool MillionThe Day of the Locust • Screenplays and Correspondence

 
"If your collection is shamefully lacking in West, this splendid volume gives you virtually his entire career. One of the finest collections of the year."
—Library Journal
 
Overview  |  Note on the Texts  |  Reviews  |  Table of Contents
 

This volume presents the texts of four novels by Nathanael West, The Dream Life of Balso Snell(1931), Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin (1934), and The Day of the Locust (1939); six short pieces published by West between 1923 and 1934 (three essays, a short story, a book review, and a promotional leaflet); a selection of 12 writings that were unpublished, and in some cases unfinished, at the time of West's death in 1940 (six short stories and story fragments, a poem, a play, a screenplay, a screen story, and two outlines for future work); and a selection of 29 letters written by West between 1930 and 1940.

West began developing material for The Dream Life of Balso Snell as early as 1924, the year he graduated from Brown University. After working on the novel during his stay in Paris in 1926, he wrote a complete draft in New York City between 1927 and 1929, using the title The Journal of Balso Snell. He submitted the typed manuscript to Robert McAlmon, the publisher of Contact Editions, a small press in Paris that had earlier published work by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, but McAlmon rejected it. (McAlmon later wrote that the work "was too Anatole France for me.") Early in 1930 the novel was also rejected by Brewer, Warren & Putnam, which considered some portions to be blasphemous and obscene. West continued to revise the manuscript and later in 1930 submitted it to Martin Kamin, who, along with David Moss, had recently reached an agreement with McAlmon to take over the Contact Editions imprint. After receiving a favorable appraisal of the book from William Carlos Williams, Kamin and Moss accepted it for publication. The Dream Life of Balso Snell was published in New York City by Contact Editions in August 1931 in an edition of 500 numbered copies. There were no other printings in West's lifetime. The present volume prints the text of the Contact edition .

In March 1929 West read some of the letters sent to "Susan Chester," the advice columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He began writing Miss Lonelyhearts early in 1930 and showed 15,000 words from the manuscript to Clifton Fadiman of Simon and Schuster in April 1930 in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain an advance. West continued to work on the novel and in 1932 published five chapters from it in two magazines; these chapters all appeared in revised form in the completed book. "Miss Lonelyhearts and the Lamb," which West intended at the time to be the first chapter in the book, appeared in the February 1932 number of Contact. "Miss Lonelyhearts and the Dead Pan" and "Miss Lonelyhearts and the Clean Old Man," both of which are narrated from the first-person perspective of the "Miss Lonelyhearts" character, were published in Contact in May 1932. "Miss Lonelyhearts in the Dismal Swamp" appeared in Contempo, July 5, 1932, and "Miss Lonelyhearts on a Field Trip" was published in Contact in October 1932. West completed the novel in late November 1932 and signed a contract with Liveright, Inc., in February 1933 for its publication in an edition of 2,200 copies. Miss Lonelyhearts was published in New York on April 8, 1933, and received several highly favorable reviews; however, Liveright declared bankruptcy as the book was being issued, and the printer refused to release 1,400 copies that had not yet been shipped. Although Harcourt, Brace, and Company agreed on May 26, 1933, to reprint Miss Lonelyhearts, using the Liveright plates and substituting a new title page, the novel's sales were adversely affected by the bankruptcy. In 1934 the Liveright plates were also used by the Outlet Publishing Company for a cheap edition of Miss Lonelyhearts under the imprint of "Greenberg: Publisher." No other printings were made during West's lifetime. This volume uses the text of the original Liveright printing.

West began writing A Cool Million in the fall of 1933. He completed a handwritten first draft in November and submitted the first half of a typewritten second draft to Harcourt, Brace in early December. Although the publisher rejected it, West continued to work on the novel, and in March 1934 it was accepted for publication by Covici-Friede. West revised and rearranged the typescript before sending it to the typesetter and read and corrected galleys. A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin was published in New York by Covici-Friede on June 19, 1934, in an edition of 3,000 copies. The novel received mixed reviews and sold poorly; it was not reprinted during West's lifetime. This volume prints the text of the Covici-Friede edition.

West became interested in writing a novel about Hollywood in 1933, when he worked for several weeks as a screenwriter for Columbia Pictures. He returned to California in the spring of 1935 with plans for a book involving an eccentric group of characters on board a chartered yacht and began a draft while living in an apartment hotel near Hollywood Boulevard. Illness, depression, and a severe lack of money made it difficult for him to write at first, but he made more progress on the manuscript after being hired as a screenwriter by Republic Productions in January 1936. An excerpt from the novel, then titled The Cheated, was published as "Bird and Bottle" in Pacific Weekly on November 10, 1936; in revised and expanded form it became chapter 14 of The Day of the Locust. West completed a handwritten first draft, typed a second draft, and then made revisions in subsequent drafts typed for him by his secretary, Josephine Conway. In April 1938 he submitted the novel to Random House, which accepted it for publication on May 17. West made a series of changes, including some suggested by Bennett Cerf of Random House, and submitted a revised manuscript on July 11. He also decided to change the title, and considered "The Grass Eaters," "Cry Wolf" and "The Wrath to Come" before choosing The Day of the Locust. West undertook a further series of revisions before the novel was typeset, then made a few alterations while reading proofs early in 1939. The Day of the Locust was published in New York by Random House on May 16, 1939, in an edition of 3,000 copies. Although the novel received generally good reviews, only 1,464 copies were sold by February 1940. This volume prints the text of the Random House edition.

None of the six pieces collected in this volume in the section titled "Other Writings" was revised or collected by West after initial publication. "Euripides--A Playwright" was published in Casements, the Brown University literary magazine, in July 1923; the text printed here is taken from Casements. "Through the Hole in the Mundane Millstone" was printed and distributed as a leaflet by Contact Editions in 1931 to promote The Dream Life of Balso Snell. Although no copies of the original leaflet are now known to be extant, it was reprinted in Nathanael West: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Jay Martin (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971), and in William White, Nathanael West: A Comprehensive Bibliography (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1975). Since according to White the text printed in the Martin collection introduces three variants in punctuation and italicization, this volume prints the text presented in the White bibliography. The texts of the remaining four pieces in the section are taken from their original periodical publication: "Some Notes on Violence," Contact, October 1932; "Some Notes on Miss L.," Contempo, May 15, 1933; "Business Deal," Americana, October 1933; "Soft Soap for the Barber," The New Republic, November 14, 1934.

The 12 pieces collected in this volume in the section titled "Unpublished Writings and Fragments" are believed to have been written between 1930 and 1940 and are arranged chronologically in the probable order of their composition. Some of these writings are extant only in the form of uncorrected and incomplete typescripts or holograph manuscripts. In presenting unpublished texts, this volume accepts West's handwritten and typed revisions and corrects unmistakable typing errors. Unrecoverable or missing material in the typescripts is indicated in this volume by a bracketed space, i.e., [ ].

West is believed to have worked on the stories "The Impostor," "Western Union Boy," "Mr. Potts of Pottstown," and "The Adventurer" in the early 1930s. Two typescript versions of "The Impostor" are in the John Hay Library at Brown University. The first typescript is 22 pages long and was originally titled "The Fake," then retitled "L'Affaire Beano"; the second typescript, an incomplete revision of the first version, is 14 pages long and was titled "L'Affaire Beano" before being retitled "The Impostor." This volume uses the entire revised typescript and a portion of the first typescript as its copy-text for "The Impostor." The text of the revised version is printed here on pp. 411.1-419.38, and the conclusion of the original typescript appears on pp. 419.39-424.20.

The text of "Western Union Boy" printed in this volume is taken from the typescript in the John Hay Library at Brown University, which is the only version of the story known to be extant. There are no corrections or emendations in the typescript, which may have been prepared for submission to magazines (the name and address of Maxim Lieber, West's literary agent, was pasted onto the first page of the typescript).

The only version of "Mr. Potts of Pottstown" known to be extant is a typescript in the John Hay Library, Brown University, that contains both typed and handwritten emendations and which breaks off at the beginning of its seventh numbered section. This volume prints the text of the incomplete typescript.

The text of "The Adventurer" printed in this volume is taken from a 16-page typescript in the John Hay Library at Brown University. This typescript, which contains both handwritten and typed revisions, is the only text known to be extant. No evidence has been located that would indicate whether West ever continued the story past the point at which the typescript ends.

The fragmentary sketch "Three Eskimos" was probably written during or after West's trip to Hollywood in 1933. Although West never completed the sketch, he used its premise in creating the Gingo family, who appear in chapter 17 of The Day of the Locust. The text presented in this volume is taken from the holograph manuscript in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

West published a shorter, and possibly earlier, version of "Burn the Cities" in Contempo on February 21, 1933, under the title "Christmass Poem" (see note 458.1 in this volume). Since no manuscript text of "Burn the Cities" is now known to be extant, this volume prints the text presented in Jay Martin, Nathanael West: The Art of His Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970), pp. 329-31.

"Tibetan Night" is believed to have been written sometime after the publication in 1933 of Lost Horizon, the popular novel about Tibet by James Hilton. This volume prints the text of the typescript in the John Hay Library, Brown University, which is the only text of the story known to be extant. The typescript, which contains one hand-written cancellation, may have been prepared for submission to a magazine; its heading indicates that it was typed at his farm in Pennsylvania, where West moved in the fall of 1933.

West submitted his proposal to the Guggenheim Foundation in the fall of 1934. This volume prints the text of the carbon typescript in the files of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

In 1936 West met Joseph Schrank, a playwright working for M.G.M., and suggested that they collaborate on a satirical play about World War I. Schrank agreed, and after the two writers had discussed ideas for the play for several weeks, Schrank dictated a 40-page outline to a secretary. Using the outline, West began writing a first draft in February 1937 and completed it in May. Schrank revised the draft during the summer, and West then wrote a third version in September and October 1937. Jerome Mayer, a Broadway producer, agreed in February 1938 to stage the play, then titled Gentleman, the War!, and in the summer of 1938 West and Schrank made further revisions. The play, which had been retitled Good Hunting, opened in New York on November 21, 1938, and ran for two performances. This volume prints the text of a photocopy of the typescript of the final version of Good Hunting in the Huntington Library (the present location of this type-script has not been determined).

In November 1939 West was hired as a screenwriter by R.K.O. Pictures and assigned to collaborate with Boris Ingster on a film adaptation of Before the Fact, Frances Iles' 1932 novel. West and Ingster wrote a screenplay in seven weeks, with Ingster concentrating on the narrative structure while West focused on characterization and dialogue. They subsequently made revisions in scenes 86-87, 100, 104-8, 110, and 119-122; these changes were incorporated in seven retyped pages, dated January 17, 1940, which were inserted into the existing typescript. R.K.O. subsequently assigned Before the Fact to director Alfred Hitchcock, who had an entirely new and substantially different screenplay written by Samson Raphaelson, Alma Reville, and Joan Harrison; the resulting film, Suspicion, was released in 1941. This volume prints the text of the West and Ingster screenplay from the typescript in the R.K.O. archive.

West and Ingster continued their collaboration and in September 1940 wrote an original screen story together, using "A Cool Million" as their title in the hope that a studio would pay more for a story ostensibly based on a published book. (At the time West expressed confidence that "no one would read the book to check" whether the story he had written with Ingster bore any relation to his 1934 novel.) Columbia Pictures bought the story for $10,000 on September 24, 1940, and assigned it to screenwriter Sidney Buchman, but the studio soon abandoned the project and "A Cool Million" was never filmed. The text printed in this volume is taken from the only version of "A Cool Million" known to be extant, an undated typescript without corrections or revisions in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

The material presented in this volume under the heading of "Untitled Outline" was written by West during the summer and autumn of 1940 and may have been intended for use in a new novel. This material is in the form of two separate typescripts, both of which are marked with typed and handwritten changes; the order in which the typescripts were composed is uncertain. The text of one typescript is printed on pp. 755.2-757.3 of this volume, and the text of the other typescript is printed on pp. 757.4-766.25; both texts are taken from the photocopies of the typescripts in the Huntington Library (the present location of the originals of these documents has not been determined).

The final section of this volume contains 29 letters written by West between 1930 and 1940. One letter, signed by West and Julian L. Shapiro, appeared in the New York World-Telegram on October 20, 1931, and the text presented here is taken from the newspaper printing. Six letters, addressed to either Milton Abernethy or Milton and Minna Abernethy and dated April 26, 1932, February 17, 1933, March 24, 1933, April 11, 1933, May? 1933, and July 27, 1933, are printed from the originals in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. The letter to Malcolm Cowley dated May 11, 1939, is printed from the original in the Department of Special Collections of the University Library at the University of California, Los Angeles; the letter to Bob Brown, dated February 14, 1940, is printed from the original in the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Two letters to Josephine Conway, dated September 19 and October 21, 1938, are printed from the originals in the Huntington Library. The texts of the remaining 18 letters are printed from the photocopies of the originals in the Huntington Library (the present location of the originals of these letters has not been determined).

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