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Stoner by John Williams

Stoner (1965)

by John Williams

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,0022431,885 (4.28)1 / 295
Recently added bypeacocoa, private library, angelo.dat, ACBijeljina, bobboxx, DHPolley, Floyd3345, -__-, drusus_curvus
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John Williams' novel STONER (1965) is, for me, a ten-star book. I think I first read it over forty years ago, when I was still teaching college English, and had way too many sections of Freshman Comp. I gave all that up after five years, but Stoner's story has stayed with me, maybe because I have re-read it at least a half a dozen times. It has never failed to re-engage me, to pull me into the sad drama of William Stoner's progress from farm boy to professor, with all the sacrifice, study, and departmental intrigues and politics and the small victories and humiliations that come with all of it. Stoner's story encompasses more than forty years and three wars. During all of it, he kept his head down and continued his teaching and research, despite an unhappy marriage and a continuing feud with his department chair. There is also a bittersweet affair with a younger teacher. The writing here is simply beautiful. Once again, it gave me hope, reminded me that there ARE good men, dedicated to their professions, doing the best they can.

I was not surprised to learn of a recent book by Charles Shields called THE MAN WHO WROTE THE PERFECT NOVEL: JOHN WILLIAMS, STONER, AND THE WRITING LIFE. His title says it all. I must read this book. Because I could not agree more. STONER. The perfect novel. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | May 29, 2019 |
Williams, John (1965). Stoner. New York: New York Review Books Classics. 2010. ISBN 9781590173930. Pagine 305. 8,61 €

Quando ero molto più giovane di adesso, tra la fine del liceo e l’inizio dell’università, ho cominciato a scrivere un romanzo. Non penso fosse una cosa tanto rara o speciale: penso che molti di noi l’abbiano fatto, o almeno immaginato.

Poi non l’abbiamo nemmeno iniziato, o comunque non terminato: e sarà stato probabilmente un destino provvidenziale, per il pianeta e per noi stessi. Inevitabilmente, direi. Il Boris dell’epoca aveva vissuto fino ad allora una vita relativamente breve e priva di grandi eventi. La sua famiglia era una famiglia mediamente felice, e quindi poco interessante secondo il celebre incipit di Anna Karenina. Negli anni successivi sarebbe stata martoriata da una serie di perdite importanti, come se la morte giocasse agli Orazi e ai Curiazi; ma all’epoca, a parte una nonna amatissima, c’erano ancora tutti. Quanto a quello che sarebbero state persone importanti nella mia vita, non le avevo ancora incontrate. Insomma, non c’era abbastanza materia per scrivere un romanzo, tant’è che non lo scrissi.

Però una cosa l’avevo: il nome del protagonista e io narrante. Si chiamava Giobbe. Non conoscevo il romanzo di Joseph Roth (che sarebbe stato pubblicato anni dopo), ma conoscevo bene il personaggio biblico: paziente e rassegnato fino al grottesco, ma gigantesco nella sua calma resistenza a una divinità capricciosa, che lo tormenta per scommessa e poi è così arrogante da giustificarsi tirando in ballo la creazione, l’ippopotamo e il leviatano … Insomma, Giobbe doveva rappresentare secondo me la grandezza del flemmatico, di quello che si piega ma non si spezza: l’esatto opposto del giovane impetuoso e irascibile che ero (e che sono, nonostante tutto).

Ho ripensato a questo perché William Stoner, il protagonista dell’omonimo romanzo, è un Giobbe moderno. Il romanzo, riscoperto da poco, è bellissimo, ma una delle cose più disperatamente tristi che mi sia capitato di leggere.

È stato riscoperto alcuni anni fa dalla New York Review of Book, che l’ha ripubblicato nel 2006 (l’opera è del 1965):

William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.
John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.

Stoner ha avuto nel tempo molti autorevoli ammiratori – il New York Times ricorda Irving Howe su The New Republic nel 1966, C. P. Snow su The Financial Times nel 1973, Dan Wakefield su Ploughshares nel 1981 e Steve Almond su Tin House nel 2003 – senza aver mai goduto di grande successo: e non stento a crederlo, dal momento che la sua perfezione e la sua disperata tristezza sono una cosa sola. Se dovessi riassumerlo in una frase sarebbe questa:

He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember.

A me ha fatto pensare molto a James Joyce, quello di Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: ogni breve capitolo di Stoner è costruito e scandito da un’epifania.

Morris Dickstein, recensendolo sul NYT (Sunday Book Review) del 17 giugno 2007 scriveva:

John Williams’s “Stoner” is something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away.
“Stoner” is a western in a more poignant sense. Its hero, the son of hard-working, dirt-poor farmers, inherits their taciturn stoicism, born of sheer adversity — their hardened accommodation to the whims of fate. William Stoner enters the state university in 1910 to study agriculture, but his life changes irrevocably when he comes upon literature in a sophomore survey course. His future mentor humiliates him by asking him to explain Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, a poem about love and loss that foreshadows Stoner’s own future. Shakespeare’s aging speaker compares himself to “bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang,” and adds: “In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire, / That on the ashes of his youth doth lie.” Following Stoner through two world wars, the novel captures both the fire of his inarticulate passion and the glowing embers it leaves behind.
Only two passions matter in Stoner’s life, love and learning, and in a sense he fails at both. His wife, his first love, turns cold and repellent almost from the moment he meets her. Their honeymoon, in which she submits to him with distaste, must be one of the grimmest ever recorded in fiction. Soon we learn, with a clang of inevitability, that “within a month he knew that his marriage was a failure; within a year he stopped hoping that it would improve. He learned silence and did not insist upon his love.” Stoner’s deeply ingrained reticence is a keystone of the novel. This is the story of an ordinary man, seemingly thwarted at every turn, but also of the knotty integrity he preserves, the deep inner life behind the impassive facade.
The man’s professional career could also be seen as a failure, though it gives him quiet satisfaction. He is neither a great teacher nor a noted scholar […] A gifted but bitter colleague, touched by the same knowledge, turns against him in one of those toxic departmental feuds that bedevils the rest of his career. The one book Stoner produces is soon forgotten. His distrust of glib brilliance, his concern with ancient theories of grammar and rhetoric, make him look pedantic. Stoner’s cast of mind is monastic, unworldly. He is reduced to teaching menial courses to students who only dimly sense the warmth and conviction he brings to them.
The same quiet depth of feeling redeems his love life. Caught in an empty shell of a marriage, though too stoical to end it, he bonds deeply with his young daughter. But his resentful wife evicts him from his daughter’s life, as she evicts them both from the book-lined study where they often take refuge. Stoner responds with a helpless sense of resignation. But in his 40s he begins an affair with a talented scholar half his age, which leads to a precious interlude of unlooked-for happiness. Like his discovery of literature, this intimacy becomes an awakening to the possibilities of life. Their deep attraction, luminously described, combines love and learning as forms of passionate knowing — the true North Star of Williams’s fiction. “Day by day, the layers of reserve that protected them dropped away. … They made love, and talked, and made love again, like children who did not think of tiring at their play.” Though their affair is broken up by Stoner’s academic nemesis, who threatens scandal, it offers a hint of paradise that hovers dreamily over the rest of the novel.
Stoner’s physical decline is premature but inexorable, his death almost anonymous. Yet few stories this sad could be so secretly triumphant, or so exhilarating. Williams brings to Stoner’s fate a quality of attention, a rare empathy, that shows us why this unassuming life was worth living.

In italiano è stato pubblicato da poco da Fazi, nella traduzione di Stefano Tummolini. Irene Bignardi ne ha scritto una bellissima recensione su la Repubblica l’11 marzo 2012:

Riscoprendo Stoner l’uomo qualunque di una minitragedia

Se è vero che tutte le famiglie felici si assomigliano tra loro, e che ogni famiglia infelice è infelice a modo suo, l’infelicità dei singoli – l’infelicità senza eventi, l’infelicità senza ragioni, l’infelicità della gente mite, di chi non reagisce, non contrattacca – è più difficile da raccontare. Come quella di Stoner, protagonista e antieroe eponimo di un singolare romanzo di John Williams (Fazi). Singolare perché racconta una vita fallita. Perché racconta una storia che non si muove dal suo baricentro. Perché registra una vicenda umana così simile a tante da non essere, all’apparenza, interessante. E da esserlo proprio perché nella gentilezza e nella non reattività del protagonista riconosciamo le mille vite non avventurose, modeste, sbagliate, moderatamente infelici, ma senza lasciare traccia, che abbiamo incrociato. C’è più che un sospetto di autobiografismo, in Stoner. Anche il suo autore, John Williams, era nato in un ambiente contadino. Williams, come il suo Stoner, si era innamorato della letteratura e aveva cambiato il destino che gli era stato disegnato. Aveva fatto ogni possibile lavoro. Aveva combattuto in India e Birmania durante la guerra, per poi laurearsi al ritorno all’Università del Missouri, proprio quella di Stoner, anche se gli anni sono diversi. Avrebbe insegnato lì per trent’anni e scritto tre romanzi, per essere presto dimenticato – salvo riemergere grazie ai suoi ammiratori, tra cui C. P. Snow, e, recentemente, per essere riscoperto dalla New York Review of Books. E il fascino del libro sta proprio nel metterci attraverso Stoner e la sua storia dalla parte dei dimenticati, degli umiliati e offesi della vita, di chi vive un profondo masochismo da gentilezza, di chi non sa reagire, offendere per difendersi, cambiare le carte in tavola. Basterebbe il racconto della luna di miele di Stoner con la sua giovane moglie, che, quanto a sensazione di disagio, fa il paio solo con il disastro di cui fa la cronaca McEwan in Chesil Beach. O la progressione per cui, mano a mano, i suoi spazi a casa si restringono, senza che lui alzi mai la voce, fino a lasciargli per lavorare poco più che la superficie di un tavolino. O la mitezza con cui, consapevole delle proprie doti limitate, e tuttavia profondamente innamorato del suo lavoro di insegnante e delle gioie che gli dà la letteratura, accetta la guerra, inspiegabile e feroce, che gli fa un collega, umiliandolo di fronte al corpo insegnante del suo college e ai suoi allievi. Quello che David Lodge racconterebbe con irresistibile humour nella vita di Stoner diventa una malinconica minitragedia. E quando finalmente la vita gli offre l’incontro con un’occasione d’amore nella persona di una giovane studiosa, tutto gli si rivolta contro. Il ritorno alla solitudine è il suo destino, e la sua la tragedia di un uomo qualunque che non sa né vuole combattere, che di questa remissività, del fallimento che ne segue, è in qualche misura fiero. Williams registra questa vicenda umana con una prosa in minore, pudica e asciutta, attenta ai dettagli, distaccata e affezionata allo stesso tempo: per un ritratto (un autoritratto?) che ci mette a disagio e non si dimentica.


Il riferimento è come di consueto alle posizioni sul Kindle:

I’m too bright for the world, and I won’t keep my mouth shut about it; it’s a disease for which there is no cure. [582]

Like many men who consider their success incomplete, he was extraordinarily vain and consumed with a sense of his own importance. [1012]

He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it. He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been. […] He took a grim and ironic pleasure from the possibility that what little learning he had managed to acquire had led him to this knowledge: that in the long run all things, even the learning that let him know this, were futile and empty, and at last diminished into a nothingness they did not alter. [2888-2894]

He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember. [2914]

“I am not ill,” she said. And she added in a voice that was calm, speculative, and almost uninterested, “I am desperately, desperately unhappy.” [3094]

In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another. [3121]

In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart. [3130]

He aged rapidly that summer, so that when he went back to his classes in the fall there were few who did not recognize him with a start of surprise. His face, gone gaunt and bony, was deeply lined; heavy patches of gray ran through his hair; and he was heavily stooped, as if he carried an invisible burden. […] he attended faithfully all departmental meetings. He did not speak often at these meetings, but when he did he spoke without tact or diplomacy, so that among his colleagues he developed a reputation for crustiness and ill temper. [3510-3517]

He had wanted love; and he had had love, and had relinquished it, had let it go into the chaos of potentiality. [4427] ( )
  Boris.Limpopo | Apr 29, 2019 |
I do not understand the gushing praise of this book. The wife is totally unbelievable as a person. As best I can tell, she suffers some sort of serious mental illness. And yet, we are led to think she's a one-dimensional demon whose singular goal is to punish her husband for, what?, marrying her?

The two male villains in the book are physically disabled, which is just awful. And the evil woman is basically described as a blonde ice queen. Shoot me.

And then there's Stoner himself. A man who has glimpses of happiness but lacks the fortitude to seize them. He's like a leaf going down a turbulent river. He so rarely acts and when he does the reader is left to wonder: why now?

There's a lot good about the book, to be fair. The simplicity and straightforwardness of the prose harmonizes well with the simple straightforwardness of the Missouri in which the story takes place. And it certainly is a story that makes you feel the overwhelming despair, loneliness, and hours of life that make up too many lives.

( )
  HeatherWhitney | Apr 25, 2019 |
Perhaps the closest thing in the English language to the novels of Balzac. ( )
  Lirmac | Mar 21, 2019 |
OK, I confess that I thought this was about 1970s washed up wasteoids, and this isn't that. It's a gentle novel of academic misery and virginal vapors. The protagonist, from a poor farming family, is sent to a Missouri land grant college to study agriculture right before the start of WWI. Much to the regret of his father, who had to borrow against next year's crop to send his son to school, William Stoner falls in love with English lit and stays on to become an instructor. He also meets Emily, a nervous young woman who possibly was a victim of incest (not explicitly defined), and marries her, which proves to be disastrous for both. They have a daughter who is crushed by their enmity, and Stoner also makes a powerful enemy at the college. But he finds delightful and enlightening communion, literary and sensual, with a brilliant graduate student as the novel marches on through WWII and to Stoner's demise. I still don't get what fueled literaryland's rapturous rediscovery of the author a few years ago - he reminds me of Sinclair Lewis, dated in the same way. The novel did hold my interest and earned my admiration, but with no desire to explore his other novels. ( )
  froxgirl | Mar 8, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
Part of “Stoner” ’s greatness is that it sees life whole and as it is, without delusion yet without despair. Stoner realizes at the last that he found what he sought at the university not in books but in his love and study of them, not in some obscure scholarly Grail but in its pursuit. His life has not been squandered in mediocrity and obscurity; his undistinguished career has not been mulish labor but an act of devotion. He has been a priest of literature, and given himself as fully as he could to the thing he loved. The book’s conclusion, such as it is—I don’t know whether to call it a consolation or a warning—is that there is nothing better in this life. The line, “It hardly mattered to him that the book was forgotten and served no use; and the question of its worth at any time seemed almost trivial,” is like the novel’s own epitaph. Its last image is of the book falling from lifeless fingers into silence.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew Yorker, Tim Kreider (Oct 20, 2013)

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Williams, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krol, EdzardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGahern, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rekiaro, IlkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robben, BernhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rodell, MarieContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torrescasana, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to my friends and former colleagues in the Department of English at the University of Missouri. They will recognize at once that it is a work of fiction--that no character portrayed in it is based upon any person, living or dead, and that no event has its counterpart in the reality we knew at the University of Missouri. They will also realize that I have taken certain liberties, both physical and historical, with the University of Missouri, so that in effect it, too, is a fictional place.
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William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.
He had dreamed of a kind of integrity, of a kind of purity that was entire; he had found compromise and the assaulting diversion of triviality. He had conceived wisdom, and at the end of the long years he had found ignorance.
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"Born the child of a poor farmer in Missouri, William Stoner is urged by his parents to study new agriculture techniques at the state university. Digging instead into the texts of Milton and Shakespeare, Stoner falls under the spell of the unexpected pleasures of English literature, and decides to make it his life. Stoner is the story of that life" -- publisher description (January 2007).… (more)

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Editions: 1590171993, 1590173937

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