John Updike

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Updike, John (18 March 1932 - 27 January 2009)

Updike, in his novels, short stories, and poetry, depicts “American, Protestant, small-town, middle-class” life. Sometimes referred to as “the sexy WASP,” for he does not avoid the erotic, Updike was a major figure at The New Yorker and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Rabbit, Run (1960) is one of his best-known works. In his criticism, he often downplays fellow authors’ non-belief and he makes no secret of his Christian beliefs.

In The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 2 (2007), critic Richard Eder cites critic Harold Bloom as calling Updike “A minor novelist with a major style. A quite beautiful and very considerable stylist,” he adds, as if amending and then, amending again, “he specializes in the easier pleasures." "Not, of course, that Mr. Bloom has anything against pleasure," writes Eder.

Updike's theistic outlook:

  • I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe.

The Associated Press, announcing his death, included,

  • He captured, and sometimes embodied, a generation's confusion over the civil rights and women's movements, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Updike was called a misogynist, a racist and an apologist for the establishment. On purely literary grounds, he was attacked by Norman Mailer as the kind of author appreciated by readers who knew nothing about writing. Last year, judges of Britain's Bad Sex in Fiction Prize voted Updike lifetime achievement honors.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist died in a Massachusetts hospice of lung cancer. An Episcopalian, he had been a member and once President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Helen Pidd,
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, International Herald Tribune
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
Hillel Italie, Associated Press

(See entry for Theism.)

{“The Future of Faith, Confessions of a Churchgoer,” The New Yorker, 29 November 1999}