Published in 1957 to wide acclaim, James Agee's A Death in the Family was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature. However, the novel had been so heavily edited by publisher and editor David McDowell that it little resembled the manuscript that James Agee had completed at the time of his death. The inaugural title of the University of Tennessee Press's scholarly edition of The Works of James Agee, this restored text of A Death in the Family is, in many ways, a new novel. This volume provides, for the first time, a modern critical edition of Agee's manuscript, a novel based upon his childhood and his attempts to understand the death of his father. The new introduction is a revealing nightmare rather than an idyllic reverie; the book includes ten and one-third previously omitted chapters, substitutes three finished chapters for erroneously printed drafts, and is divided into forty-five chapters rather than twenty; it is chronological and has no flashback chapters; real names of people and places are used, as are more regional speech patterns; and young Rufus (based on young James), his father, and their deep and caring relationship are far more fully developed. All are changes that showcase the intended autobiographical realism of the novel. This comprehensive edition also provides the reader with an introductory essay, a way to read the McDowell edition from it for purposes of comparison, Agee's draft of his memories of his father's death, unfinished letters to his parents, manuscript variants, and textual notes which document each part of the reconstruction. The edition has received the approval of the Committee on Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association.Wonderfully evocative, this exciting reconstruction of A Death in the Family provides a firmer sense of Agee's achievement as a writer of creative non-fiction and presents his literary genius to a new generation of readers.
Michael A. Lofaro is professor of American literature and American and cultural studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has authored and edited numerous volumes, most recently "Agee Agonistes: Essays on the Life, Legend, and Works of James Agee."