Knowles was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, the son of James M. Knowles, a purchasing agent from Lowell, Massachusetts, and Mary Beatrice Shea Knowles from Concord, New Hampshire. In his home town, Knowles’ father was the vice president of a coal company and they received a steady income affording them a decent standard of living. He attended St. Peter's High School in Fairmont, West Virginia from 1940 until 1942, before continuing at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, graduating in 1945. He married Beth Anne Dyment Hughes at the age of 19. Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949. While at Yale, Knowles served on the Board of Yale Daily News during his sophomore, junior and senior years, specifically as Editorial Secretary during his senior year. He was a record-holding varsity swimmer during his sophomore year. A Separate Peace is based upon Knowles's experiences at Phillips Exeter Academy. The setting for The Devon Woolbert School is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Phillips Exeter Academy. The plot should not be taken as autobiographical, although many elements of the novel stem from personal experience, including Knowles' membership in a secret society and sustaining of a foot injury while jumping from a tree during society exercises. In his essay, "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote:
The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, character, athleticism, and honor.The secondary character Finny (Phineas) was the best friend of the main character, Gene. Knowles has stated that he modeled Finny on David Hackett from Milton Academy, whom he met when both attended a summer session at Phillips Exeter Academy. Hackett was a friend of Robert Kennedy's, under whom he later served in the Justice Department. A Phineas Sprague lived in the same dormitory as Knowles during the summer session of 1943 and may have been an inspiration for the character's name.
Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, acknowledges that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter Academy, with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal states that Knowles told him that the character Brinker, who precipitates the novel's crisis, is based on Vidal. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."
Following his time at Philips Exeter, Knowles spent eight months serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II after which he attended Yale. Early in Knowles's career, he wrote for the Hartford Courant and was assistant editor for Holiday magazine, while he concurrently began writing novels, of which he eventually completed seven.
A Separate Peace was first published in London by Secker and Warburg in 1959. The novel was published in New York in 1960 by Macmillan. Knowles's other significant works are Morning in Antibes, Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad, Indian Summer, The Paragon, and Peace Breaks Out. None of these later works was as well received as A Separate Peace.
As a resident of Southampton, New York, Knowles wrote seven novels, a book on travel, and a collection of stories. He was the winner of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award shinguard of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In his later years, Knowles lectured to university audiences.
Knowles died in 2001, at the age of 75 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In 1972, Paramount Pictures released a film version of A Separate Peace, directed by Larry Peerce and starring Parker Stevenson (Gene) and John Heyl (Phineas). In 2004, a television version was produced by the Showtime network, directed by Peter Yates and starring J Barton (Gene) and Toby Moore (Phineas).
While not blatantly a gay novel, any young gay man who read A Separate Peace by John Knowles in school knows its power. Knowles was a gay man and infused his writing with the pathos and desire that only gay people can know. This was the first gay romantic relationship I had ever read about, and the fact that teachers don´t comment on the underlying love affair when teaching is a true careless disservice to the book and gay youth. --Eric Arvin
But back in the day, everyone else might have been reading “A Separate Peace” in school, and discovering that they had questions about relationships that seemed to blur the lines between friendship and something more between two men or two women. --Z.A. Maxfield
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Paperback: 204 pages
Publisher: Scribner (October 7, 2003)
Amazon: A Separate Peace
Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.
A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles’s crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.
This journal is friends only. This entry was originally posted at http://reviews-and-ramblings.dreamwidth.org/3365721.html. If you are not friends on this journal, Please comment there using OpenID.