Henry Roth’s Semi-Autobiographical Tetralogy Mercy of a Rude Stream (1994-1998): The Second Career of an American Novelist

Author: Gibbs, Alan
This monograph employs a diverse range of theories in order to shed new light on Henry Roth, and challenge conventional readings of him merely in terms of his Jewishness and/or debt to Freud. Above all, this study proposes that the Mercy series is simultaneously marked by Roth’s conflicting drives to confess and to evade autobiographical facts. These competing urges shape the form of the series in its rhetorical strategies of repetition, evasion, and decentred narration.


“The author offers a fascinating detective story as he teases out the process of aesthetic editing of the [Mercy of a Rude Stream series], along with the editorial consequences of legal constraints and issues of censorship.” – Professor Judie Newman, Professor or American Studies, School of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham

“. . . the book argues an original position, one stressing Roth’s contradictory “urge to confess” and a “strong desire to evade the facts” of his life.” - Richard H. King, Professor of American Intellectual History, University of Nottingham, UK

“Moving with considerable agility between life history, manuscript, galleys, interviews and published texts, Gibbs offers a stunning example of postmodern unsettlements and trauma theory while at the same time giving adroit and perceptive attention to Roth’s social and political affiliations, the issue of his Jewishness and the making of himself as a literary figure. It is difficult to imagine Henry Roth being better served.” - Professor Ian Bell, Department of American Studies, Keele University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Judie Newman
Note on Abbreviations
Repetition: Henry Roth’s Threadbare Mementoes
1. A Brief Life of Henry Roth
2. Autobiografiction, Memory, Paratext: A Star Shines Over Mt Morris Park
3. Trauma, Repetition, Confession: A Diving Rock on the Hudson
4. Editing, Censorship and the Rude Stream: From Bondage
5. Milton, Marx and the Künstlerroman: Requiem for Harlem
Conclusion: An Aesthetic of Contradiction