More about Erica Jong
In 1973 Erica Jong published Fear of Flying, the novel for which she is
probably best known, and a novel that would take the public by storm for its explicit
treatment of women's sexuality. The novel was greeted on publication with high praise from
such prominent writers as John Updike and Henry Miller. In The New Yorker Updike
wrote of the novel's "class, sass, brightness, and bite," noting that
"[Chaucer's] Wife of Bath, were she young and gorgeous, neurotic and Jewish,
urban and contemporary, might have written like this." Henry Miller predicted in the New
York Times that "this book will make literary history, that because of it women
are going to find their own voice and give us great sagas of sex, life, joy, and
adventure." The Wall Street Journal wrote that the book "transcends
being a woman's book and becomes a latter-day Ulysses, with a female Bloom
stumbling and groping, but surviving."
On publication of the paperback edition the novel entered another realm. "There
was a media frenzy," Jong told a Washington Post interviewer in 1997.
"A scandal. Here was this young woman coming out of nowhere to talk about sex. And
she had blond hair. . .The book became a bestseller for extraliterary reasons." And
those extraliterary considerations clouded the novel's more serious underlying theme: the
search for fulfillment. To date, Fear of Flying has sold over 12.5 million
copies, 6.5 million in the United States alone, and has been translated into 27 languages.
What many remain unaware of is that before Fear of Flying, Erica Jong has
produced two widely respected volumes of poetry, Fruits & Vegetables and Half-Lives.
Josephine Hendin in The Nation called Fruits & Vegetables
"funny and enticing," and Jong "a brilliant poet of analogies, who makes
the vibration of the senses a force that binds us together." Of Half-Lives
Muriel Rukeyser wrote, "these are poems of a most joyful agility; they deal with sex,
its stances and treacheries, and with the preparation of life, the preparation for death.
There is extreme laughter and sorrow here." Louis Untermeyer called the poems
"sly but penetrating, witty but passionate, bawdy and beautiful. . .a poetry to fall
in love with."
Erica Jong grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the second daughter in a "New
York Jewish intellectual family," a milieu remarkably similar, she has said, to the
one depicted by Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters. In her entry in Current Biography
1975, she recalls being "smothered with opportunity -- piano lessons, skating
lessons, summer camps, art school." After attending New York's prestigious High
School of Music and Art, she went on the earn a Bachelor's Degree in English at Barnard
College and an M.A. from Columbia University in Eighteenth-century English Literature. She
left Columbia before completing her Ph.D. to write Fear of Flying.
Over the course of her career, Jong has built up an impressive body of work that
includes a half dozen volumes of poetry and eight works of fiction. Jong is also the
author of a memoir of Henry Miller entitled The Devil at Large, and of a
"midlife memoir" called Fear of Fifty, in which she details her life as
a member of "the whiplash generation," a generation of women "raised to be
Doris Day, growing up wanting to be Gloria Steinem," and coping amid the widely
diverging ideas of women's roles and expectations during the past four decades. Her latest
book, What Do Women What? Bread, Roses, Sex, Power promises "a provocative,
often controversial look at where women have been, where they are now, and where they are
going as they approach the new millennium."
Critics have not always wholeheartedly embraced Jong's work or felt at ease with her
boldness. But there is no denying her serious intent. "What I have fought for in my
life," Jong writes in Fear of Fifty, "and in my books -- irony, the
double vision that sees good and evil as flip sides of the same human coin, the
integration of body and brain, sensuality and spirituality, honeyed voluptuousness and
philosophical rigor - theses are the things most endangered today." Over the course
of a career, Jong has sought not only to entertain, but to illuminate the needs, desires,
and rights of women (while at the same time maintaining a healthy affection for men).
"I'm always asked in seminars to stand for contemporary womanhood," she told the
Washington Post. "And I'm glad to do it." We can be sure that she does
it with wit, candor, exuberance, and gusto.
--by Laurie Graham
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