John Dos Passos

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John Dos Passos

John Roderigo Dos Passos (born January 14, 1896 in Chicago , † September 28, 1970 in Baltimore ) was an American writer. Alongside Ernest Hemingway , William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, he is considered to be one of the main representatives of American modernism .


Dos Passos was born the illegitimate son of the wealthy lawyer of Portuguese descent John Randolph Dos Passos (1844-1917) and grew up under the care of his mother Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison in Virginia . While still at school, he went on a six-month grand tour with a private teacher through France, England, Italy, Greece and the Middle East to study masterpieces of classical art and architecture in the original.

In 1913 he enrolled at Harvard University and after graduating in 1916 went to Spain to see art and architecture. At the time, the First World War was raging in Europe , in which the USA had not yet entered. Dos Passos reported on the French side in July 1917 together with his friends EE Cummings and Robert Hillyer as an ambulance driver.

In late summer 1918 he had completed the draft of his first novel. At that time he was called up to the US Army medical service, for which he had to report to Camp Crane, Pennsylvania. At the end of the war he was stationed in Paris, where he was approved to study anthropology at the Sorbonne . One of the characters in the novel Nineteen Nineteen goes through practically the same stations and stays in Paris after the war.

Literary career

The first novel, One Man's Initiation: 1917 , was published in 1920. He was followed in 1921 by the anti-war novel Three Soldiers , which earned him first recognition. In 1925 Manhattan Transfer was published , which today is considered one of the great city novels of literary modernism alongside Andrei Belys Petersburg , James Joyce ' Ulysses and Alfred Döblins Berlin, Alexanderplatz . Here he used the stream of consciousness technique for the first time in his work . The novel was also a commercial success.

Dos Passos saw himself as a Social Revolutionary at the time and saw the United States as divided into a rich and a poor nation. He wrote about the wobblies with admiration . After Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted , he and other personalities took part in a fruitless campaign to save them the death penalty. In 1928 Dos Passos spent several months in the Soviet Union to study socialism. He returned to Spain with Hemingway during the Civil War , but his views on communism had already begun to change. There was a break with Hemingway and Herbert Matthews because of their condescending attitude towards the war and their willingness to be harnessed for the Stalinist propaganda.

During his long and successful career Dos Passos wrote 42 novels, as well as poems, essays and plays, and created more than 400 paintings. From 1930 to 1936 his impressive trilogy of novels USA appeared , consisting of The 42nd Parallel , 1919 and The Big Money . It represents a large-scale moral picture of American society from 1890 to 1930. Dos Passos used various experimental collage techniques with newspaper clippings and headlines, poems, biographical elements and fiction. Although each novel can stand on its own, the trilogy is designed to be read as a whole. His reflections on the political and economic direction of the USA are full of pessimism, and only a few characters in the novel manage to save their ideals through the First World War.

Dos Passos was a sympathizer of the young Soviet Union in the 1920s and supported the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) . However, after he saw how terrorist the Soviet faction there enforced its leadership position against the allied Trotskyists and anarchists - u. a. If they murdered Dos Passos' translator José Robles in 1937 - he distanced himself from the Stalinist left and wrote a number of critical articles against them. In The Big Money he created the figure of an idealistic communist who is destroyed by intra-party terror. Since the Soviet Union was seen as the most important anti-fascist power in Europe at that time, despite the Moscow trials , Dos Passos suffered a sharp drop in the sales of his books. It was not until thirty years later that he was rehabilitated in Europe when he received the prestigious Antonio Feltrinelli Prize in 1967 in recognition of his literary achievements . Dos Passos' supporters have long claimed that his late work was ignored because of his political change, but there is a consensus among critics that the quality of his novels has also deteriorated drastically after the climax of the USA trilogy .

From 1942 to 1945 Dos Passos worked as a journalist in World War II; In 1947 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . Since 1937 he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters . In a car accident he lost his wife Katharine Smith, to whom he had been married for 18 years, and the sight on one side. Eventually he remarried to Elizabeth Holdridge (1909-1998) and wrote in Baltimore until his death in 1970. He is buried in Yeocomico Churchyard Cemetery in Cople Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia, not far from where he lived.

The Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia lends since 1980 the Prize Dos Passos .

The painter

Before Dos Passos rose as a novelist, he drew and painted. He spent the summer of 1922 at the Hamilton Easter Field's art colony in Ogunquit , Maine . Many of his books, which came on the market in the next ten years, contained cover pictures and illustrations that Dos Passos had created. Influenced by various art movements, such as impressionism , expressionism and cubism , he created his own style. An exhibition at the New York National Arts Club in 1922 and the following year at Gertrude Whitney's Studio Club in New York proves that his work was more than a mere hobby .

Even if Dos Passos was never recognized as a great painter, he painted throughout his life. The themes were determined by his travels in Spain, Mexico and North Africa and by the streets and cafes of the Montparnasse district of Paris, which he roamed with friends Fernand Léger , Ernest Hemingway and Blaise Cendrars . Between 1925 and 1927 Dos Passos wrote plays and also created the posters and sets for the New Playwrights Theater in New York. In his later years he painted landscapes around his homes in Maine and Virginia.

In 2001 an art exhibition called The Art of John Dos Passos opened at the Queens Borough Library in New York, which then toured several locations in the United States.

Works (selection)

  • The Scene of Battle (1919)
  • One Man's Initiation: 1917 (1920)
  • Three Soldiers ( 1921) (German EA: Three Soldiers, Malik Verlag Berlin 1922)
  • A Pushcart at the Curb (1922)
  • Rosinante to the Road Again (1922)
  • Streets of Night (1923)
  • Manhattan Transfer (1925) (German EA: Manhattan Transfer, S. Fischer Verlag Berlin 1927)
  • Facing the Chair (1927)
  • Orient Express (1927) (German EA: Orient-Express, Nagel & Kimche Munich 2013)
  • USA (1930, 1932, 1936; three-handed)
    • The 42nd Parallel (German EA: The 42nd Latitude, S. Fischer Verlag Berlin 1930)
    • Nineteen Nineteen (German EA: Auf den Trümmern, S. Fischer Verlag Berlin 1932)
    • The Big Money (German EA: The Great Shadow, Gutenberg Book Guild Zurich / Prague 1938; new translation: Die Hochfinanz, Rowohlt Verlag Hamburg 1962)
  • The country of the questionnaire. 1945: Reports from defeated Germany. (for the US magazine Life from Frankfurt am Main, a village in the Hessian province, from the war crimes trial in Nuremberg and from Vienna)
  • The Ground We Stand On (1949)
  • District of Columbia (1952), three volumes
    • Adventures of a Young Man (1939)
    • Number One (1943)
    • The Grand Design (1949)
  • Chosen Country (1951)
  • Most Likely to Succeed (1954)
  • The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson (1954)
  • American portraits. Inventors / Presidents / Rebels (1985, orig. 1957 The Men Who Made the Nation )
  • The death of James Dean . Together with Alfred Andersch (1960)
  • The Great Days (1965; orig. 1958 The Great Days )
  • Prospects of a Golden Age (1959)
  • Mid-century (1963, orig. 1961 midcentury )
  • Mr. Wilson's War (1962)
  • Brazil on the Move (1963)
  • The Best Times: An Informal Memoir (1966)
  • The Shackles of Power (1966)
  • The Portugal Story (1969)
  • Century's Ebb: The Thirteenth Chronicle (1970)
  • Easter Island: Island of Enigmas (1970)


  • Ignacio Martínez de Pisón: The death of the translator . Essay. Translated from Spanish by Sybille Martin . Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 3-455-04713-0 .

Web links

Commons : John Dos Passos  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Members: John Dos Passos. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed February 27, 2019 .