Brautigan > A Confederate General from Big Sur
This node of the American Dust website (formerly Brautigan Bibliography and Archive) provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's novel A Confederate General from Big Sur. Published in 1964, this was Brautigan's first published novel. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.
Publication information regarding Richard Brautigan's novel A Confederate General from Big Sur.
First USA Edition
New York: Grove Press
Library of Congress Catalog Card #: 64-24078
5.75" x 8.25"; 159 pages
Hard Cover, with dust jacket; Blue boards; silver titling stamped on spine
Copyright page contains no notice of first edition/printing or numbering sequence. "Copyright" misspelled as "Coyright."
Manufactured by The Book Press, Brattleboro, Vermont
TriQuarterly, vol. 1, Fall 1964, pp. 62-67.
Featured three chapters: "Breaking Bread at Big Sur," "Preparing for Ecclesiastes," and "The Rivets in Ecclesiastes." Also featured a portfolio of picture-poems by Kenneth Patchen.
Front dust jacket color illustration, The Next to Last Confederate General, by Larry Rivers.
Back cover full-page black and white photograph by Erik Weber of Brautigan in San Francisco, in 1962. The photograph was taken in the foliage-filled aviary in the back of apartment C, 483 Frisco Street, which Brautigan sublet from friends away in Mexico. In addition to monthly rent, Brautigan cared for the owner's birds.
Review copies of A Confederate General from Big Sur were sent to several writers and actors believed by Grove Press to be associated with the developing literary counterculture. Among others, copies were sent to LeRoi Jones, Ken Kesey, Malcolm Crowley, Mary McCarthy, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, John Steinbeck, Sterling Hayden, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Gore Vidal, Eudora Welty, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, Burt Lancaster and Steve McQueen (for consideration of movie adaptation), Samuel Beckett, and Michael McClure.
A review copy was sent to John Ciardi, poetry editor at Saturday Review. In a letter to Donald Merriam Allen (1912-1922) at Grove Press, written in November 1964, apparently after he had read the review copy of A Confederate General from Big Sur, Ciardi said of Brautigan, "The man's a writer and the writing takes over in its own way, which is what writing should do. Brautigan manages effects the English novel has never produced before."
Although review copies were sent in the fall of 1964, published reviews did not begin to appear until the spring of 1965. Despite promotional efforts, sales were disappointing. Keith Abbott describes a royalty statement from Grove Press hanging on the wall just above the toilet in Brautigan's apartment stating that "A Confederate General from Big Sur had sold 743 copies. What Richard thought about this was easy to guess from its position" (Keith Abbott 18).
Grove Press rejected the next two Brautigan novels in turn: In Watermelon Sugar, written in 1964, and The Abortion, written during the first five months of 1966, and allowed their contract for Trout Fishing in America to expire in July 1966. A Confederate General from Big Sur was kept alive in small editions, which Brautigan resented. He felt Grove Press had published the novel poorly.
In October 1966, Brautigan wrote to Robert Park Mills, a New York literary agent, asking him to act as his literary agent and to sell "three unpublished novels": Trout Fishing in America, In Watermelon Sugar, and The Abortion and "the Confederate General rights that I have lying around over at Grove." Brautigan and Mills exchanged several letters.Close
Published in 1964, released in January 1965, A Confederate General from Big Sur was Brautigan's first published novel, but not his first written. Trout Fishing in America was written earlier, in 1961, but not published until 1967. A failure with its first publication, A Confederate General from Big Sur was rereleased after Brautigan achieved international fame with Trout Fishing in America.
to my daughter Ianthe
Brautigan and his first wife, Virginia Dionne Alder, traveled to the Big Sur area of California, south of Gorda, in August 1957, to visit with Price Dunn who was staying on property owned by Pat Boyd, a painter. Brautigan and Dunn met in the spring at a party at Virginia's apartment and had become good friends. This first visit lasted about a month and Brautigan and Alder visited again in February 1958. The magic adventure events of these visits became the basis for this novel: the raucous frogs in the pond, the alligator, Brautigan counting the punctuation in the Gideon Bible, and the crazy business man with the briefcase full of cash and stock certificates.
It seems that Dunn was inspiration for the titular character, Lee Mellon. A copy of the book, inscribed by Brautigan to Price Dunn, July 31, 1968, features an inscription on the inside back cover, believed to be written by Don Rodenhaven, biker/mechanic friend of Dunn.
This book was written by
a friend of ours about
a friend of ours.
Lee Mellon is actually
Price Dunn the name was
changed to confuse the
fuzz. Since the author
signed his name to it
and presented it [to] the
man whom it was about
it should be quite a
Collector Item when
good old Richard discorporates
The inspiration for setting the novel in Big Sur was part reality, and part response to both Henry Miller's memoir Big Sur (1957) and the forthcoming novel by Jack Kerouac, Big Sur, to be published in August 1962, in which he recounted a short summer stay at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's rustic cabin in the Big Sur area.
Writing and Publication
Wanting to start a new novel, following completion of Trout Fishing in America, in July 1962, Brautigan began sketching ideas involving his experiences with Dunn, whom he called Lee Mellon, and Mellon's great grandfather, General Augustus Mellon, CSA, the only Confederate General to have come from Big Sur. Like his great grandfather, Mellon is a seeker after truth in his own modern-day (1957) war against the status quo and the state of the Union. Dunn, born in Alabama in 1934, was, like Brautigan, very interested in Civil War history.
Following his separation from first wife Virginia (Ginny) Alder, 24 December 1962, Brautigan lived with Ron Loewinsohn and his wife, Joan Gatten, at their apartment at 1056 Fourteenth Street. Brautigan used the back porch as his writing studio and worked there to produce the manuscript for this novel, keeping each chapter in a separate envelope.
Don Carpenter says this practice was deliberate. Brautigan would "write each chapter on a piece of paper," put it in an envelope, and "write the name of the chapter on the envelope." He would then stack the envelopes in different orders until they represented the desired order for the book. Then Brautigan would "type it up on his IBM Selectric" (Hjortsberg 195).
In May of 1963, Brautigan moved into his own apartment at 1565 Washington Street. In September he moved to an apartment at 1327 Leavenworth Street where he finished the manuscript for A Confederate General from Big Sur. Brautigan gave Donald Merriam Allen a copy of the manuscript, who sent it to Richard Seaver at Grove Press who quickly asked for a two month option.
In December 1963, Seaver contacted Brautigan to say Grove Press, and specifically Barnet Lee "Barney" Rosset, Jr., had decided to publish A Confederate General from Big Sur. He offered Brautigan a $1,000 dollar advance against royalty payments. Additionally, Seaver offered a $1,000 option for Trout Fishing in America with a $1,000 advance payable within one month of publication of A Confederate General from Big Sur. Seaver also offered an option on Brautigan's third novel (unnamed, but Brautigan was working on a manuscript he called Contemporary Life in California) with terms to be determined on delivery of the manuscript.
Ivan von Auw, a New York literary agent also wrote Brautigan saying his agency, Harold Ober Associates, wanted to represent him to his new publisher, Grove Press.
But, Brautigan was concerned. Grove Press was most interested in A Confederate General from Big Sur, thinking it the more "traditional" novel and desired to publish it first, with Trout Fishing in American to follow. Brautigan considered Trout Fishing in America his first novel, A Confederate General from Big Sur his second. Together they represented an aesthetic order that should be published in the order in which they were written. His third novel, he felt, would continue the aesthetic. Brautigan was also concerned that von Auw would be his literary agent when it was Donald Allen who had done all the work to get his books published.
In January 1964, Brautigan, having no formal agreement with a literary agent, and concerned to secure the best possible contract with Grove Press, proposed using one modeled after that used by the Society of Author's Representatives. Anticipating selling the screenplay rights from one of his novels, Brautigan asked Grove to pay advertising costs from their half of the royalties. Richard Seaver, for Grove, accepted the contract, but rejected the proposed change to screenplay royalties. He told Brautigan that Grove wanted to submit A Confederate General from Big Sur for the Prix Formentor, a prestigious international award for unpublished fiction. Contracts had to be finalized before application for the award could be submitted, and applications were due at the end of January. Seaver also offered Brautigan, who desperately needed the money, $500.00 on signing. He told Brautigan that Grove planned to published A Confederate General from Big Sur in the fall of 1964, and Trout Fishing in America a year later. This subtle pressure convinced Brautigan to sign a publishing contract with Grove Press and thus, although it was the second novel Brautigan wrote, A Confederate General from Big Sur became the first published.
In September 1964, Seaver sent Brautigan an advance copy of the novel. Brautigan did not like the the reproduction of Larry Rivers 1959 painting The Next-to-Last Confederate General. Rivers was, Brautigan thought, tainted by Beat connections. He was a noted member New York City's Greenwich Village beats, and had played the role of Milo in the movie Pull My Daisy. The dust jacket blurb noted the novel as giving "serious portrait of a 'beat' character and a critique of the beat way of life." Brautigan wanted no association with the Beats, or the beat way of life. His objections were overruled. Seaver also told Brautigan that Grove Press had decided to delay release of the novel until January 1965 so that the book would not be lost in the Christmas season. Another disappointment for Brautigan. The dust jacket blurb also noted that Brautigan was working on a novel entitled Contemporary Life in California, a project that Brautigan had dropped in April. Perhaps hedging his bets, Brautigan let this notice remain in the final copy.
Disappointing sales of A Confederate General from Big Sur prompted Grove Press to reject the next two Brautigan novels in turn: In Watermelon Sugar, written in 1964, and The Abortion, written during the first five months of 1966 and to allow their contract for Trout Fishing in America to expire in July 1966.
The novel's theme was the domination of imagination over reality: both a curse and a blessing. Imagination was presented as an uncontrollable force from which people received comfort, hope, and despair. This theme was reprised in all Brautigan's subsequent novels.
Grove Press sponsored a publication party and reading for Friday, 22 January 1964 to celebrate the release of A Confederate General from Big Sur. The 4" x 9" invitations were printed on textured, deckle-edge stock and included small illustrations. The 8:30 p.m. reading was held at the California Club, 625 Polk Street. A reception followed, 10:00 p.m.-midnight, at the Tape Music Center, 321 Divisadero Street.
In 1970, Brautigan released a record album titled Listening to Richard Brautigan that featured him reading poetry, short stories, and selections from some of his novels. One reading was "The Rivets in Ecclesiastes," a chapter from A Confederate General from Big Sur.
Grove Press sent bound copies of the novel to Burt Lancaster and Steve McQueen for consideration of movie adaptation.
In his 5 October 1966 letter to Robert Mills, Brautigan wrote, "I have a Hollywood agent. Mr. H.N. Swanson is trying to sell the movie rights to the book, but so far nothing has happened."
A screenplay of the novel was adapted by Brandon French for Brady French Films. First draft dated 15 June 1972. The project was never pursued beyond the first draft of the screenplay.Close
Reviews for A Confederate General from Big Sur are detailed below. See also reviews of Brautigan's collected works, and General Reviews for commentary about Brautigan's work and his place in American literature.
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard." Choice, May 1965, p. 156.
The full text of this review reads, "This work exists primarily within the pastoral-primitive tradition of the American novel. Until the advent of Roy Earle, a San José insurance man, in the final third of the novel, Brautigan's humor remains whimsically grave like Saroyan's. Lee Mellon, the narrator Jesse, and Jesse's girl Elaine live in ramshackle contentment over the sea at Big Sur much like Danny's paisanos in Tortilla Flat or Mack and the boys in Cannery Row. As happens in Tortilla Flat, the world of the primitive is destroyed by the advent of property. Dope and Roy Earle's $100,000 bring the world of institutions, responsibilities, and synthetic compensations into Brautigan's never overly sentimentalized paradise. Jesse is impotent at the end of the novel. Elaine has sloughed her girlishness and begun really to like dope. In a series of italicized passages describing the flight of Private Augustus Mellon at the Battle of the Wilderness, Lee Mellon has been stripped of the imaginary general in his family. Brautigan's novel does not pretend to high seriousness. It is well wrought and suitable for undergraduates beyond the freshman level."
Anonymous. "Books." Playboy, vol. 12, no. 3, Mar. 1965, p. 22.
Reviews several books, including A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan. The full text of this review reads, "The latest in a blasted line from a blameless sire is A Confederate General from Big Sur, a novel by Richard Brautigan which is a surrealist synopsis of everything that was worth missing in the now-fading beat literary scene. There is a 'hero' whose heroism consists of scrounging and inviting his friend, the narrator, to loaf, invite his soul, and note the lay of the land. They are thus self-evidently, sensitive, superior beings. There are purportedly odd adventures, lovable eccentric characters, despicable types who work for a living, callgirls with hearts of gold and other parts to match, all seen from the heights of middle adolescence. The story (nonexistent) moves through San Francisco and the Big Sur and is interwoven with references, in mystical italics, to a mythic Confederate general. This, possibly gives the book historical resonance; on the other hand, possibly not. The style, all bits and pieces, never really takes the bits in its teeth. The insights have all the freshness of a Willkie button. ('I have noticed this pattern again and again. A pretty girl living with an ugly.') The trick of always referring to the hero by his full name does not, unfortunately, succeed in giving him stature and depth. At one point the narrator, who adores the hero, says of his girl, 'In an extraordinarily brief period of time she had grown to know, to undertand what went on behind the surface of Lee Mellon.' She should have told the author."
Barkham, John. "Beats Are Becoming Intelligible Again?" Dallas Morning News, Jan. 24, 1965, Sec. 4, p. 8.
Bienen, Leigh Buchanan. "New American Fiction." Transition: An International Review, vol. 5, no. 20, 1965, pp. 46-51.
Reviews The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss Herzog by Saul Bellow, The People One Knows by Robert Boles, Full Fathom Five by John Stewart Carter, The Higher Animals by H. E. F. Donohue, Leah by Seymour Epstein, A Mother's Kisses by Bruce Jay Friedman, The Nowhere City by Alison Lurie, An American Dream by Norman Mailer, To an Early Grave by Wallace Markfield, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr., If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "Although they fall into the same general division as the Lurie and Tyler novels, The People One Knows and A Confederate General from Big Sur resemble discursive essays on search for self. The narrator in The People One Knows feels obliged to avoid both America and love until he can come to bear the image of his face in the glass. And this ambivalence towards himself is based upon his half Negro parentage, which he was brought up to accept with equanimity, only to find that the rest of the world did not share his calm or tranquilty on the subject. At least author Boles avoids the obvious cliches of the Negro search for identity, and that is in itself no mean feat, while the vague and aimless observer who describes the events in A Confederate General from Big Sur seems to bounce unfeelingly back from a series of odd and sometimes amusing encounters with fellow eccentrics on the Pacific Coast, without finding either himself or much else of any interest."
Brown, F. J. "Richard Brautigan." Books & Bookmen, Apr. 1971, pp. 46-47.
Reviews The Necromancers by Peter Haining, Lords of Human Kind by James Dillion White, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan. Says, of A Confederate General from Big Sur, "This is a surrealist novel kept going by the exuberance of the author's invention. Until almost the end it capers satisfyingly enough . . . on the edge of reality. Curiously enough, it collapses into something like flatness when he ends up describing a "trip" on hallucinatory drugs." READ this review.
Cadogan, Lucy. "New from Africa." New Statesman, 29 Jan. 1971, p. 155.
Reviews The Return by Olu Ibukun, The Talking Trees and other Stories by Sean O'Faolain, A Soldier Erect by Brian Aldiss, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "In no way do America and England differ more than in the manners of their children. An American child enjoys raucous big-talk and loud obvious jokes with his friends, which is exactly the idiom of Richard Brautigan's Jesse and Lee Mellon in A Confederate General from Big Sur. An American myself, I am often amused by the efforts many over here make to hide their inevitable bewilderment about, and lurking disapproval of, such unsophisticated goings-on. Wouldn't Brautigan be an enigma to English readers if they really thought that most Americans had at some time or other talked and acted like his characters? Lee Mellon, the hero, is the soft, accident-prone hard-guy who is vain, irresponsible and hopelessly funny. He was raised in the South—but he hasn't a Southern accent: 'I read a lot of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kant when I was a kid,' he explains. Names of writers, poets, philosophers proliferate in true American fashion—reminding me of the inscription over the Columbia University Library, of Homer, Demosthenes et al . . . Brautigan's adult heroes, living their childish ways finally in a shack on the obsolete Highway 1 along the Pacific coast of California, with two rifles that have no bullets and a hole in the kitchen wall, count the punctuation marks in Ecclesiastes by lantern light and reveal in their buffoonery the chasm between the hungers of 'everyday life' and the culture of their World Literature courses:
'Maybe tomorrow morning we'll find a deer in the garden,' I said. Lee Mellon would have none of it. I might as well have been talking about the poems of Sappho.
"I liked the book."
Coleman, John. "Irishman at Large." The Observer Review, 31 Jan. 1971, p. 23.
Reviews The Talking Trees by Sean O'Faolain, The Desperate Criminals by Roger Longrigg, A Soldier Erect by Brian W. Aldiss, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads. "Richard Brautigan is an acquired taste and his six-year-old A Confederate General from Big Sur will be too slack and sugary for many. Again two staunch comrades, Jesse, who dribbles out vague fantasies and memories and incidents as they occur to him, and Lee Mellon, who claims his great-grandaddy was the hero of the title, shack up in cabins on the cliffs at Big Sur and sort of play at life. They seem lucky with their girls, buy a couple of alligators to silence the local frog population, half starve a times, but relish what comes. The most noteworthy arrival is a short, bald-headed crazy businessman who skips his demanding family once in a while: sometimes Lee has to chain him at nights. He cuts quite a swathe through the surrounding whimsy. Typically, Mr. Brautigan supplies five or six alternative endings."
Gilroy, Harry. "End Papers." The New York Times, 24 Feb. 1965, p. 39.
The full text of this review reads, "Boom, boom, the Beat resounds through the American literary West.
"Jack Kerouac's 'Big Sur' indicated that this California writer's colony was throbbing. Henry Miller, patron sait of today's free writers, lives in the neighborhood, between Big Sur and Monterey, as Mr. Brautigan mentions.
"In this appropriate setting, he places two young men who renounce the world of daily labor for swindles, liquor, make-do, sex, literate absurdities and dope. Crude food produces digestive language. A pool of noisy frogs is calmed by introduction of a pair of alligators. Two ravishing ladies are ravished. One character thinks he is descended from a heroic Confederate general, but italic interpolations suggest the ancestor was a scared private. Eventually, dope undoes sex, literacy and inventiveness.
"The impression left by all this is that Mr. Brautigan is a writer. Somewhat funny, somewhat coarse, somewhat pointless—but let it be said again, funny—he has transmuted Big Sur into surrealism."
Gold, Arthur. "Fun in Section Eight." Book Week, 14 Feb. 1965, p. 18.
Says, "The best thing about Richard Brautigan's first published novel is the language, which is consistently more inventive and delicate than you might expect from one of the so-called "beats.". . . His metaphors alone make . . . good whimsical reading. Perhaps however, A Confederate General from Big Sur might have been more than merely whimsical if there had been more tension between the imagined society and the one we all live in, or between the writer's fancy and his reason."
The full text of this review reads, "The best thing about Richard Brautigan's first published novel is the language, which is consistently more inventive and delicate than you might expect from one of the so-called 'beats.' A room after loving has the fragrance of 'Cupid's Gym,' and the window of a Rolls-Royce 'drifted effortlessly down like the neck of a transparent swan.' His metaphors alone make Brautigan's novel worth reading.
"The tone of the novel as a whole is also unexpectedly delicate. Brautigan's characters aren't violent, like Kerouac's. They are selfish, irresponsible, but they harm no one and do not obviously 'rebel.' One is a toothless tall fellow who thinks of himself as a Confederate general in ruins, another is a mad millionaire who likes to behave like an outlaw running from the sheriff, and a third is the narrator, Jesse, who takes the first two as they take themselves. With girls, they retire to the Big Sur, which is a kind of last frontier, and there, taking to marijuana as schoolboys to punk, they re-create one of those children's paradises of freedom and fun which appear in every age and variety of American literature.
"The writer is freely experimental as his characters. He gives us choice of several written endings, and he dots the narrative with italicized flashbacks to the Civil War, which was 'the last good time this country ever had.' It all makes for good whimsical reading. Perhaps however, A Confederate General from Big Sur might have been more than merely whimsical if there had been more tension between the imagined society and the one we all live in, or between the writer's fancy and his reason."
Hogan, William. "Rebels in the War with Life." Saturday Review, 13 Feb. 1965, pp. 49-50.
Hogan, book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, calls A Confederate General from Big Sur "a comic valentine from the subterraneans that rattles on like a tattoo on a bongo drum. [William] Saroyan, [Jack] Kerouac, and the ghost of Sherwood Anderson may have been looking over Brautigan's shoulder as he shaped his prose." Concludes that the novel is "a quaint, if unnecessary, contribution to California Beat literature." READ this review.
Killinger, J. R. "Some Novels for the Pastor's Study." Theology Today, Jul. 1979, pp. 251-257.
Reviews several novels worthy of the minister's attention when preparing sermons for diverse congregations. The full text of this review reads, "Among numerous other fine novels claiming the minister's attention [is] Richard Brautigan's A Confederate General from Big Sur (a hilarious "American" novel in the tradition of Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Ernest Hemingway)."
Levin, Martin. "A Reader's Report." The New York Times Book Review, 24 Jan. 1965, p. BR42.
Reviews Andromeda Breakthrough by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot, Lay Them Straight by Mickey Phillips, The Visitors by Charles Addams [sic], and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "Not having heard from Jack Kerouac for some time, his admirers may like to keep in touch through a volume by what seems to be a disciple: Richard Brautigan, a young man from the Pacific Northwest, has put into A Confederate General from Big Sur (Grove Press, $3.95) some essential beatificnick ingredients. A couple of rolling stones whose main occupation is hitchhiking. Local color like drinking muscatel in S.F. doorways. Turning on with whatever is at hand. And for a second-act backdrop, the magnificent scenery amid which lives Henry Miller, the daddy primitivist of them all.
"So? So nothing. Mr. Brautigan throws in some Surrealist (sorry) whimsy about a bogus Confederate general allegedly related to one of his principals, humor that depends on non-sequiturs, a touch here and there of painful artiness—and a selection of five possible endings. I didn't like any of them."
Locklin, Gerald and Charles Stetler. "Some Observations on A Confederate General from Big Sur." Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, vol. 13, no. 2, 1971, pp. 72-82.
Compares the similiar uses of symbolism, characterization, and theme in A Confederate General from Big Sur, The Sun Also Rises, and The Great Gatsby and points out the contradictions in A Confederate General from Big Sur, primarily in the tension between characterization and apparent themes. READ this review.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 57-74.
Malley, Terence. Richard Brautigan. Warner, 1972.
First printing October 1972. The first critical survey of Brautigan's work through 1971. Chapter 4, "A Confederate General in Ruins," deals with A Confederate General from Big Sur. One of several reference books focusing on Brautigan.
Martin [sic]. "A Confederate General From Big Sur." Daily Planet [Coconut Grove, Florida], 21 Sep. 1970, p. 28.
Says reading A Confederate General from Big Sur will make you laugh. READ this review.
Muggeridge, Malcolm. "Books." Esquire, Apr. 1965, pp. 58-60.
Reviews Tiny Alice by Edward Albee, Some of My Best Friends Are People by Art Moger, Fiction Techniques That Sell by Lousie Boggess, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "Occasionally, like other square visitors to California, I have been taken to see the Beats, just as, in the old days, one was taken to see the apaches on the Left Bank in Paris. Bearded, scruffy men, tousled, scruffy girls, the two barely distinguishable. Now, as I am given to understand, the species is almost extinct. Beardless Beatles are all the rage. Even so, the Beat vogue will surely have its place in the social history of our time. Mr. (if I may be so bold and square as to accord him the prefix) Richard Brautigan, in his novel A Confederate General from Big Sur (Grove Press, $3.95), provides as good an account as has come my way of Beat life and humor; though the latter, I have to admit, won from me no more than the kind of wintry smile I habitually wore during the five sad years that I was editor of Punch.
"Big Sur is, of course, hallowed ground to admirers of Henry Miller's writings, a Beat shrine, if ever there was one. A glimpse is caught in A Confederate General from Big Sur of Mr. Miller collecting his mail, and provides the only point in the narrative when the giggling stops and a respectful silence momentarily descends. Otherwise the novel consists of a series of bizarre (perhaps it would be politer to say picaresque) adventures, sometimes salacious, sometimes narcotic, and sometimes pettifoggingly criminal.
"Beats, according to Mr. Brautigan's account, are heathen, parasitic, dirty and idle. They are the devil's anchorites, covered with the lice of unrighteousness, and eating the bitter bread of boredom and vacuity. Only an occasional bout of fornication relieves the tedium of their days, and even that is precluded when they are too high to perform. As a protest against the American way of life, theirs would seem to lack point. They are but a waste product of what they affect to despise; refusing to participate in the feast of affluence, they grovel and crawl under the table and about the guests' legs in search of crumbs, cigarette butts and voyeur ecstasies. Poor Beats! Mr. Brautigan has convinced me that we are better without them."
Nilsen, Don L. F., and Allen Pace Nilsen. "An Exploration and Defense of the Humor in Young Adult Literature." Journal of Reading, 26 Oct. 1982, p. 64.
Says humor draws teenage readers to writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, John Irving, Joseph Heller, and Richard Brautigan. Argues that despite the importance of humor, little attention has been paid to what teenagers think is humorous. Reports on a study undertaken by the authors which finds choices by teenage readers "not quite as appalling as we had first thought."
The full text of the reference to Brautigan reads, "Richard Brautigan also surprises readers with innocent sounding grossness. For example, he explains the title of his novel [sic] The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster: 'When you take your pill it's like a mine disaster. I think of all the people lost inside you.'"
Recommends, in a note at the end of the article, A Confederate General from Big Sur, In Watermelon Sugar, and The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster as "recommended humorous books."
Nye, Robert. "A Confederate General from Big Sur." The Times [London], 28 Jan. 1971, p. F11.
The full text of this review reads, "He is not a real Confederate General, but a second generation San Francisco-scene gentle drop-out with loose false teeth called Lee Mellon who gets drunk and stoned and back to the old elemental Pacific beach life with frogs in the pools and girls in the quilt bags and millionaire madmen in log-cabins and mild refractions of [Jack] Kerouac. Very whimsical, very fantastical, very American-agrarian by the author of Trout Fishing in America. And oh it flows."
Rahv, Phillip. "New American Fiction." The New York Review of Books, 8 Apr. 1965, pp. 8-10.
Reviews Roar Lion Roar by Irving Faust, The Edge of the Woods by Heather Ross Miller, A House on the Sound by Kathrin Perutz, P. S. Wilkinson by C. D. B. Bryan, Yarborough by B. H. Friedman, and A Confederate General from Big Sur.
The full text of this review reads, "These six books, all of them by young writers, are in their way characteristic of the current crop of fiction—not a bumber crop, to be sure, but not so bad at that after all. . . . Two of these six works under review are rather better than just promising; three, if not good, are at least readable; only one—Richard Brautigan's beat-story A Confederate General from Big Sur strikes me as very crude indeed. In it the beatnik tendency to disorganization of form and inconsequence of content reaches a new low.
"There is little to say of Richard Brautigan's A Confederate General from Big Sur except that it is no story at all but only a series of improvised scenes in the manner of Jack Kerouac. It is pop-writing of the worst kind, full of vapid jokes and equally vapid sex-scenes which are also a joke, though scarcely in the sense intended by the author, its two protagonists, inevitably, are a couple of young men who have made scrounging for food, liquor, and women their life-career. The only connection with the Confederacy is that one of the young men fraudulently claims descent from a general in the Civil War. And what is so terribly funny about that remains the author's secret."
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 57-74.
Randall, Dudley. "A Review of The Confederate General from Big Sur." Negro Digest, August 1965, p. 92.
Says, "[Brautigan] seems to write whatever comes first to the top of his head, and what comes out is sometimes meaningless, sometimes inane and sometimes a nice simile or metaphor. The characters are zany like those in comic strips. The book is froth, and like the fiction of ladies' magazines, is to be read in a summer hammock or in bed when you can't go to sleep, and then be forgotten."
The full text of this review reads, "The Confederate general of the title is not a character in this book by Richard Brautigan, A Confederate General from Big Sur (Grove Press, $3.95), but is supposed to be the great grandfather of one Lee Mellon, who meets the narrator, Jesse, on a spree after he has hit 'a rich queer' on the head with a rock and has taken his car, his watch and his money. Later, Jesse visits Lee in his primitive cabin on Big Sur, and the rest of the book is taken up with their attempts to find food, money, tobacco and 'lays.'
"The reader of this book is reminded of an old-time vaudeville comedian who feels the audience is getting bored and who says 'damn,' whereupon everyone laughs; only this time the performer says "damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn" so often that there is no response. Mr. Brautigan uses so many four-letter words that they become as meaningless as the circumambient profanity of the Army.
"He seems to write whatever comes first to the top of his head, and what comes out is sometimes meaningless, sometimes inane and sometimes a nice simile or metaphor.
"The characters are zany like those in comic strips. The book is froth, and like the fiction of ladies' magazines, is to be read in a summer hammock or in bed when you can't go to sleep, and then be forgotten."
Rollyson, Carl E., Jr. "The Confederate General from Big Sur." Masterplots II. American Fiction Series. 4 vols. Edited by Frank N. Magill. Salem Press, 1986. Vol. 1, pp. 325-329.
"As Edward Halsey Foster put it, "the feeling that an individual should not be understood primarily as a function of time and place, as a psychological compromise between public and private needs, but rather as a self potentially and ideally independent of history" underlies Brautigan's best work. That human beings are only "potentially and ideally independent of history" is what accounts for the melancholy strain and truncated achievement of much of the author's work." READ this review.
Tannenbaum, Earl. "Brautigan, Richard." Library Journal, 15 Mar. 1965, p. 1345.
The full text of this review reads, "Less than a novel, this series of impressionistic sketches manages to catch the "beat" character without the usual false seriousness so common to the genre. The reader is not asked to judge Lee Mellon—only to observe. He exists without any explanation except that he claims to have a vague connection with a perhaps Confederate general. In his orbit for a while are Jesse, the narrator, two girls, and a mad realtor with a fortune. Jesse meets Lee in San Francisco, and then they move to Lee's homemade cabin on Big Sur. The overly poetic prose charged with incongruous metaphors and non sequitur dialogue manages to convey some of the protest, humor and bathos in this kind of existence. Whimsy there is aplenty. All is summed up in one of the many suggested endings: 'Nothing had changed. They were exactly the same.' Mr. Brautigan has written for the Evergreen Review. This is his first published novel."
Van Vactor, Anita. "Hip Elect." The Listener [London], 28 Jan. 1971, p. 121.
Reviews Heirs to the Past by Driss Chraïbi and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan. Says, "Brautigan seems to imply, a temporary community of the hip elect, free of ego hang-ups and cohering, in its own improbable way, by delicate spiritual affinities, by "touching the same ether.". . . What troubles me about this book is that you can't read it without joining it. It practices a special form of elitism: on the face of things, its manner is open and amiable, it "hangs loose," and yet its fun seems deliberately calculated to provoke defensive responses, and if you do respond defensively, if you don't dig, you're out—there's no other provision made for you." READ this review.
Waugh, Auberon. "Aubern Waugh on the Rest of the Iceberg." Spectator [London], 27 Feb. 1971, pp. 287-288.
Reviews Nightspawn by John Banville, History of a Nation of One by Jecon Gregory, A Cure for Cancer by Micheal Moorcock, Memoir in the Middle of the Journey by Julian Fane, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "The nearest approach to readability is in Mr. Brautigan's latest effort—much better than Trout Fishing in America, which is the only other book of his which I have read. Its narrative may be pointless, but at least events follow one another in chronological sequence. Some hippies and their girls and a rich madman settle in a cabin in Big Sur and that's about it. They frighten away the frogs with alligators and have quite a nice time. The dialogue is relaxed, with occasional zany excursions into the pot vocabulary, which I like. Sometimes, even, it is enlivened by the sour wit one finds in Virginia Woolf's saner moments: 'I've heard that the Digger Indians down there didn't wear any clothes. They didn't have any fire or shelter or culture. They didn't grow anything. They didn't hunt and they didn't fish. They didn't bury their dead or give birth to their children. They lived on roots and limpets and sat pleasantly out in the rain.'
"Does this not remind one of Woolf's descriptions of the Great Forest? Whether it does or not, Mr. Brautigan writes five thousand times better than [Jack] Kerouac ever did, and could easily produce some modern equivalent of W. H. Davies's Autobiography of a Super-Tramp with a little more effort, a little more discipline and a little less of the semi-articulate exhibitionism which is what people apparently mean nowadays when they talk of 'creative' writing."
Wordsworth, Christopher. "Bleak Choice." Guardian Weekly, 20 Feb. 1971, p. 18.
Reviews Forty Whacks by Fanny Howe, A Salute to the Great McCarthy by Barry Oakley, Linsey-Woolsey by Paddy Kitchen, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by Brautigan. Says, "As usual Brautigan is celebrating the American dream at a point where the stallions of hope have long since turned to dead meat on the prairie, or into clotheshorses, or any of the absurd turns that dreams can take, in a tumbleweed style that can shift through rapture, mock-rapture, to nonsense, with matching inconsequentiality." READ this review.