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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

...the real importance of Mr. Knowles's novel does indeed lie in its account of the attempt, made by two powerless individuals, to dissociate themselves from them [Roosevelt, Churchill, the "old men" leaders of war, and authority in general] and the follies for which they are responsible.... But Mr.
Knowles makes it plain enough (even if we hadn't guessed already) that quiet common sense is a feeble match for reality and the Generals: they are sure of the last word.

Simon Raven, "No Time for War," 1959 Mr. Knowles's world is the real world where black-and-white character contrasts rarely lie conveniently to hand. Gene and Finny can slip in and out of each other's roles and yet remain entirely themselves while doing so. Their relationship has that subtle elusiveness which is entirely human and which novelists, with good reason, find desperately difficult to convey.

"School Reports," in Times Literary Supplement, 1959, p. 262 Knowles' schoolboy must face the discovery of hatred-a bitter and homicidal knot of hatred in himself.... One of the things the novelist seems to be saying is that the enemy Gene killed, and
loved, is the one every man must kill: his own youth, the innocence that burns too hotly to be endured.

"The Leap," in Time magazine, 1960
...if, as the book shows, Finny is unfit for war, it is because of his fundamental innocence or idealism-his regard for the world not as it is, but as it should be-that renders him unfit.... In Finny's
fall from the tree, Gene has violated, or rather surrendered, his innocence, and he learns that any attempt to regain it, to 'become a part of Phineas'... is at best a transient experience, at worst a gesture of despair.



Jay L. Halio, "John Knowles's Short Novels," 1960 Unlike his friends who had sought through some building of defenses to ward off the inevitability of evil, Gene has come to see that his enemy never comes from without, but always from within. He knows, moreover, that there is no defense to be built, only an acceptance and purification of oneself through love. Such a love did he share with a Phineas in a private gypsy summer. And it is because of the purity of this love that he is able to survive his fall from innocence.

James Ellis, "A Separate Peace: The Fall from Innocence," 1964. Although the war touches Devon school only slightly-one of the joys of the summer session is that it seems totally removed from the world of war-it cannot be forgotten or ignored for long; it exists not only as an event that stands between the experience of the novel and Gene's telling, but as an event that, at the very moment of the experience, dominates the life of each character."

Ronald Weber, "Narrative Method in A Separate Peace," 1965 Good and evil, love and hate, involvement and isolation, self and selflessness are not always clearly defined nor their values constant [in A Separate Peace]. Part of growing up is the recognition that the human condition is a dappled one, that the wrong we feel in things is often only some pattern erected by fear and ignorance, some rigidity that divides life into lifeless compartments.

Paul Witherington, "A Separate Peace: A Study in Structural Ambiguity," 1965 A Separate Peace deals with culture, and with the sensibility of the individual as it is formed by a particular culture.... Knowles draws the reader's attention to the individual's efforts to adjust to
cultural change, and to the quality of his moral responses as he attempts to cope with the disruption of his formerly stable world.

James L. McDonald, "The Novels of John Knowles," 1967
...there is more goodness in Gene than he knows. Phineas, in his need, gives Gene the opportunity to do good and unknowingly gives Gene the self-confidence to be free once more. For Gene's act had damaged Phineas' athletic excellence and, worse, threatened the basis for Phineas' humanity; and Phineas uses his remaining days to deny this loss. He proceeds to recreate his world through Gene's friendship and athletic development. In this experience, Gene, freed now of envy and despair, understands himself and Phineas.

Fraziska Lynne Greiling, "The Theme of Freedom in A Separate Peace," 1967 [Gene's] return to Devon in his early thirties and his memoir of Devon's 1942-43 academic year prove that his private struggle has outlasted the public holocaust of World War II. Just as the anvil can break the hammer, the tree incident hurts Gene more than it does Finny. The novel turns on the irony that the separate peace mentioned in its title excludes its most vivid presence-its narrator. Peter Wolfe, "The Impact of Knowles's A Separate Peace," 1970

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