WEST, NATHANAEL


WEST, NATHANAEL (pseudonym of Nathan Wallenstein Weinstein; 1903–1940), U.S. novelist. Widely regarded as one of the most distinguished American novelists of the 1930s, West was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who had settled in New York City, and a brother-in-law of the writer S.J. *Perelman. He began his first novel during his student days at Brown University. Later published as The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), this was a surrealistic fantasy dwelling on human corruption. It shows the influence of western European symbolists such as James Joyce and other modern experimental writers, particularly those of France. For six years, beginning in 1927, he was a hotel manager in New York. During that time he worked at developing a prose style marked by economy of diction, poetic richness, and psychological depth, and published his second novel, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933). Though it was his masterpiece, it was not a popular success. It depicted a once-cynical newspaper columnist dispensing compassion, love, and help to victims of personal or social failure. A Cool Million (1934) satirized American fascists veiling themselves in democratic values, myths, and history. From 1935 he worked in Hollywood, remaining there as a scriptwriter until his death in an automobile accident. His fourth novel, The Day of the Locust (1938), was a grim satire of American life set in Hollywood. West's achievement rested primarily upon his ability to portray the sordidness, violence, humor, and tragedy of American life. Self-rejection was epitomized in his change of name from Nathan Weinstein and was perhaps the cause of his virtually antisemitic ridicule of Jews and Jewishness in his novels. West was active in movements against Nazism, economic exploitation, and abridgment of democratic rights.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

V. Comerchero, Nathanael West: The Ironic Prophet (1964); J.F. Light, Nathanael West (1961); S.E. Hyman, Nathanael West (1962), University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers, no. 21; J. Martin, Nathanael West: The Art of His Life (1970); J. Herbst, in: Kenyon Review, 23 (1961), 611–30; R.H. Smith, in: Saturday Review, 40 (1957), 13–14.

[Brom Weber]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.