By John Barth
Publication Date: 9/19/23
This is Barth's most distinguished masterpiece. This modern classic is a hilarious tribute to all the most insidious human vices, with a hero who is "one of the most diverting . . . to roam the world since Candide."
"A feast. Dense, funny, endlessly inventive (and, OK, yes, long-winded) this satire of the eighteenth-century picaresque novel—think Fielding's Tom Jones or Sterne's Tristram Shandy—is also an earnest picture of the pitfalls awaiting innocence as it makes its unsteady way in the world. It's the late seventeenth century and Ebenezer Cooke is a poet, dutiful son and determined virgin who travels from England to Maryland to take possession of his father's tobacco (or "sot weed") plantation. He is also eventually given to believe that he has been commissioned by the third Lord Baltimore to write an epic poem, The Marylandiad. But things are not always what they seem. Actually, things are almost never what they seem. Not since Candide has a steadfast soul witnessed so many strange scenes or faced so many perils. Pirates, Indians, shrewd prostitutes, armed insurrectionists—Cooke endures them all, plus assaults on his virginity from both women and men. Barth's language is impossibly rich, a wickedly funny take on old English rhetoric and American self-appraisals. For good measure he throws in stories within stories, including the funniest retelling of the Pocahontas tale—revealed to us in the 'secret' journals of Capt. John Smith—that anyone has ever dared to tell." — Time
"Here [is] a masterly act of authorial ventriloquism, a vivid recreation of the cadences and vocabulary, the mind-set and mores (or lack thereof) of English colonists in America’s mid-Atlantic region in the late 1600’s . . . Ebenezer describes himself as 'a morsel for the wide world’s lions.' What a gorgeous set-up for a satire."— The Millions
"John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor is a brilliantly specialized performance . . . A bare-knuckled satire of humanity at large." — New York Times
John Barth is our most celebrated postmodernist. From the appearance in 1956 of The Floating Opera, his first published book, through the essay collection Final Fridays, released in 2012, he has published at least two books in each of the seven decades spanning his writerly life thus far. Thrice nominated for the National Book Award—The Floating Opera, Lost in the Funhouse, and Chimera, which won in 1973—Barth has received the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, and the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. A native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he taught for twenty-two years in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He now lives in Florida with his wife Shelly.