Northern Illinois University Press


The Fictive World of Conrad Aiken

A Celebration of Consciousness

Catharine F. Seigel

Early in his career Conrad Aiken observed, "If we begin by understanding ourselves, as far as we can, we progress toward an understanding of man and his potentialities.... Let us be as conscious as possible." In this statement, Aiken summarized the driving motivation of his writing, a theme that figured prominently in his work throughout his life.

Seigel illuminates the importance of consciousness in Aiken's fiction through readings of his five novels—Blue Voyage, Great Circle, King Coffin, A Heart for the Gods of Mexico, Conversation—and his controversial novel/autobiography, Ushant. She traces chronologically through these works Aiken's theory of evolving consciousness, which had as its wellspring the violent murder/suicide of his parents. She finds that full appreciation of Aiken's fiction, which has sometimes left even his critics puzzled, depends on a firm understanding of his life events and his developing philosophy.

Believing that consciousness is humankind's supreme gift, Aiken pursued self-revelation through writing, which he used as a medium to come to terms with his existence. Seigel demonstrates that Aiken rewrote his autobiography throughout his entire career. His novels, as well as his poetry and short fiction, retell his life. She offers as evidence his last major work, Ushant, a fictionalized though faithful autobiography that discloses many of the pivotal incidents in his stories.

Seigel sheds light on Aiken's unique contributions to the twentieth-century American novel through her exploration of his theory of consciousness. Arguing that Aiken's philosophical insights into consciousness continue to be relevant, she clarifies his sometimes ambiguous artistry and suggests new ways for readers to approach his fiction.

(1993) 230 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-172-2
cloth $31.00

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Freud and the Psychoanalytic Foundation
3. The Evolution of Consciousness: The New England Roots
4. The Dilemma of the Artist: Blue Voyage
5. The Recurring Betrayal: Great Circle
6. The "Queer" Book: Kind Coffin
7. The Fictional End: A Heart for the Gods of Mexico and Conversation
8. The Consistent View: Ushant
9. The Circle Completed
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-172-2
cloth $31.00