A Death in the Family
First edition cover
|Published||1957 (McDowell, Obolensky)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
A Death in the Family is an autobiographical novel by author James Agee, set in Knoxville, Tennessee. He began writing it in 1948, but it was not quite complete when he died in 1955. It was edited and released posthumously in 1957 by editor David McDowell. Agee's widow and children were left with little money after Agee's death and McDowell wanted to help them by publishing the work. Agee won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1958 for the novel. The novel was included on Time's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.
The novel is based on the events that occurred to Agee in 1915 when his father went out of town to see his own father, who had suffered a heart attack. During the return trip, Agee's father was killed in a car accident. The novel provides a portrait of life in Knoxville, Tennessee, showing how such a loss affects the young widow, her two children, her atheist father and the dead man's alcoholic brother.
University of Tennessee professor Michael Lofaro claimed the version published in 1957 was not the version intended for print by the author. He discussed his work at a conference that was part of the Knoxville James Agee Celebration (April 2005). Lofaro tracked down the author's original manuscripts and notes and has reconstructed a version he says is more authentic. Lofaro's version of the novel, A Death in the Family: A Restoration of the Author's Text, was published in 2007 as part of a 10-volume set, The Collected Works of James Agee (University of Tennessee Press). Lofaro is also the author of Agee Agonistes: Essays on the Life, Legend, and Works of James Agee (2007).
According to Lofaro, McDowell altered the original text in a number of ways:
- Removed the original opening, a nightmare scene, and instead started the novel with "Knoxville: Summer of 1915," a previously published short work of Agee's that was not intended as part of the novel.
- Altered the order of the book, which was intended to be chronological.
- Some chapters were removed.
- Some chapters were chopped up.
- Some chapters were moved and presented as flashbacks.
- The number of chapters was changed from 44 short chapters to 20.
The movie All The Way Home (1963) was adapted by Philip H. Reisman, Jr. from the Agee novel and the Mosel play. It was filmed in the same neighborhood where Agee grew up in Knoxville. Produced by David Susskind and directed by Alex Segal, it stars Robert Preston, Jean Simmons and Pat Hingle.
Samuel Barber wrote Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947, revised 1950) on commission from the American soprano Eleanor Steber, who had asked for a work for soprano with orchestra.