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.



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
Love Don

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.

Publication Party

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.

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