Alexander Theroux

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Alexander Louis Theroux[1] (born 1939) is an American novelist and poet whose best known novel is perhaps Darconville's Cat (1981) which was selected by Anthony Burgess’s Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 – A Personal Choice in 1984 and in Larry McCaffery’s 20th Century’s Greatest Hits.[2]

He was awarded the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction in 1991 and the Clifton Fadiman Medal for Fiction in 2002 by the Mercantile Library in New York City. He is the brother of novelist Paul Theroux and uncle of documentarian Louis Theroux and novelist Marcel Theroux.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Theroux was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the son of Catholic parents; his mother, Anne (née Dittami), was Italian American, and his father, Albert Eugene Theroux, was French Canadian. His mother was a grammar school teacher and his father was a salesman for the American Leather Oak company. Theroux graduated from Medford High School where he attended Boys State in Amherst, Massachusetts, was class president in 1956, was a starting member of the Medford High School basketball team which went to the Tech Tourney in Boston two times. He entered the Trappist Monastery at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1958, and then the Franciscan Seminary at Callicoon, New York in 1960. He earned his BA at St. Francis College in 1964, his MA in English literature in 1965 and his PhD in English literature, 1968 at the University of Virginia, where he won the Schubert Playwrighting Fellowship in 1967 and where he belonged to both the Raven Society and the Society of the Purple Shadows.

He spent a year on a Fulbright Grant in London, England in 1969. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974.

He has taught at the University of Virginia in 1968 as well as at Harvard University as Brigg-Copeland Lecturer from 1973 to 1979. He was writer-in-residence at Phillips Academy in Andover from 1979 to 1982. He taught at MIT from 1982 to 1987 and at Yale University from 1987 to 1991.

He has lived in England, Estonia, and France.

Literary work[edit]

His first novel, Three Wogs, was written during a stay in London and was briefly considered for performance by BBC television by the actor, Roy Dotrice. His second novel, Darconville’s Cat, was nominated for the National Book Award. He published the fable, Master Snickup’s Cloak, which was illustrated by Brian Froud, in 1979. That followed two other fables, The Schinocephalic Waif and The Wragby Cars, with illustrations by Stan Washburn in 1975. In 1987 he published An Adultery, and his longest, most satirical novel, Laura Warholic was published in 2007. Several of his non-fiction books on color, The Primary Colors (1994) and The Secondary Colors (1996) were briefly on the best-seller list in Los Angeles. As a writer, he is known for his encyclopedic, highly allusive style and learned wit. Critic Colin Marshall wrote, “Defending of his prose, Theroux once likened it to 'a Victorian attic.' He delivers more inner life than outer, more desire for vengeance than for anything else, and more sheer stuff per page—stuff you don't expect—than in any other novels.[3] Literary broadcaster Michael Silverblatt once questioned Theroux’s 'perverse appreciation' at how inaccessible his books are thought to be. “Perhaps he sees his finely-wrought works of language and their lack of purchase on the culture as an apocalyptic indictment of that culture, of the intellectually (and especially verbally) careless society that could corrupt them. Were I him, I feel as if I’d want revenge: against lazy readers, against unengaged critics, against risk-averse publishers. But maybe, given what they’re all missing out on, he’s already taking it.”

Alex Kurtagić reminisced, “At my wedding, my cousin Pierre remarked upon the fact that when in my teens I used to enjoy reading dictionaries and collecting rare, antique, and obscure words (a criterion that defines my collecting in other areas as well). Several such dictionaries consisted purely of such words, and one of them helpfully illustrated their usage with quotes by modern authors. One of the authors most frequently mentioned was Alexander Theroux, who wrote Darconville's Cat (1981) and whose last novel, Laura Warholic, was published in 2007, following twenty years of silence. I presented my wife with a copy of the latter two days before our wedding, and, having only recently begun reading it, she has been sharing with me selected passages, where the author's contemptuous wit has iridesced with particular brilliance.”[4]

Theroux’s work has appeared Esquire, The London Magazine, Antaeus, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, Art & Antiques, Mississippi Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Chicago Tribune, and San Diego Reader. His poems have appeared in The Yale Review, The Paris Review, Poetry East, Conjunctions, Graham House Review, The San Diego Reader, Exquisite Corpse, Denver Quarterly, The Literary Quarterly, Urbanus Magazine, Boulevard, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Rain Taxi, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Image, Helicoptero, Seneca Review, The Recorder, The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, 3rd Bed, Fence, Anomaly, Subdrive, Sahara Sahara, Nantucket Magazine, Gobshite Quarterly, Gargoyle Magazine, Italian-American, Bomb, Provincetown Arts, Green Mountains Review, and The Hopkins Review.

Plagiarism controversy[edit]

In 1995 the New York Times reported that one of its readers had noted the similarity of six passages in Theroux's 1994 survey of The Primary Colors with a 1954 book Song of the Sky (by Guy Murchie). Theroux attributed the matter to "stupidity and bad note taking," noting that he had read hundreds of books for The Primary Colors. Theroux's editor said that future editions would credit Murchie's work, or remove the passages.[5][6] A few months later, Theroux published a lengthy defense in the San Diego Reader.[7]

Select awards[edit]

Selected works[edit]



  • The Schinocephalic Waif (1975)
  • The Great Wheadle Tragedy (1975)
  • The Wragby Cars (written in 1975, published in 1987)
  • Master Snickup's Cloak (1979)


  • The Lollipop Trollops (1992)
  • Collected Poems (2015)


  • The Primary Colors (1994)
  • The Secondary Colors (1996)
  • The Strange Case of Edward Gorey (2000) (revised, updated edition 2011)
  • The Enigma of Al Capp (1999)
  • Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery (2011)
  • The Grammar of Rock: Art and Artlessness in 20th Century Pop Lyrics (2013)
  • Einstein's Beets: An Examination of Food Phobias (2017)

Critical studies[edit]

  • Steven Moore, "Alexander Theroux's Darconville's Cat and the Tradition of Learned Wit." Contemporary Literature 27.2 (Summer 1986): 233–45.
  • "Alexander Theroux/Paul West Number", The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1991
  • Sam Endrigkeit. “‘Do Your Worst’: Maximalism and Intertextuality in Alexander Theroux’s Darconville’s Cat." Thesis, Universität Duisburg-Essen, 2015. [1]


  1. ^ "Alexander (Louis) Theroux Biography". Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2012-03-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Linguistic Revenge: An Alexander Theroux Primer - The Millions". 1 June 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  4. ^ "Alexander Theroux". Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  5. ^ New York Times, 3 March 1995, A Reader Finds That a Current Book Reads Suspiciously Like an Old One
  6. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, 4 March 1995, Author of `Colors' Accused of Plagiarism
  7. ^ ""Hateful, Hurtful and Hellish: Plagiarism in Primary Colors."".
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-29. Retrieved 2012-03-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]