Philip Roth

(1933- )

1933-

"Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts."

Birthplace

New Jersey, US

Education

Roth did his Master's degree and PhD work at Chicago University.

Other jobs

He enlisted in the army and worked in the Washington Public Information Office; he has combined university teaching with writing.

Did you know?

The improbably named Swede Levov, put-upon hero of American Pastoral, was discovered to have a real-life counterpart with a spookily similar biography.

Critical verdict

The early part of Roth's career concentrated on the American Jewish experience; more recently he has focused on the waning days of the great American middle-aged male. He is fond of characters named Philip Roth, and often uses biographical events, filtered through his alter-ego narrator Nathan Zuckerman (In Deception, both Roth and his then wife appear by name and profession, she "remarkably uninteresting"). Portnoy's Complaint, maybe the only great masturbation novel, introduced his trademark style of sexual honesty mixed with shame.

Recommended works

Portnoy's Complaint; Sabbath's Theatre

Influences

Saul Bellow

Now read on

Bernard Malamud, Morecai Richler, Martin Amis (for self-referentialism). See also Claire Bloom's Leaving A Doll's House, about her relationship with Roth (he comes out badly, to say the least).

Adaptations

Goodbye Columbus was filmed in 1969 by Larry Peerce and Portnoy's Complaint by Ernest Lehman in 1972, both as sex comedies.

Recommended biography

The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography focuses novelistically on discrete episodes from the author's life (which may, of course, not be the facts at all). Roth's Patrimony: A True Story deals with the death of his father; I Married a Communist also contains biographical elements. Hermione Lee has written an excellent biography, Philip Roth.

Criticism

Conversations with Philip Roth (ed George J Searles)

Useful links and work online

Work online
· Excerpt from The Dying Animal
· Excerpt from American Pastoral
· First chapter from The Human Stain

Background
· The Philip Roth society
· Articles about and by Philip Roth in the New York Review of Books

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