The Quiet American

It’s been a decade since John Updike died at the age of 76. While his status as a Great American Novelist is well known, his role as an icon of sartorial understatement is not. And so we present this homage to a master not only of English literature, but of dressing with quiet flair. Our tweed bucket hats are off to you, Mr. Updike.

The well aged man of letters. He’s smirking because he knows something you don’t, like how to wear tweed and a turtleneck:

Farewell. You will be remembered for your timeless prose and timeless style: — ZD & CC

Color image from Alfred A. Knopf via the New York Times

19 Comments on "The Quiet American"

  1. John Updike possessed a truly beautiful mind; he didn’t just write well, he wrote wisely

  2. I read Rabbit Run in college and was iimmediately drawn to both his prose style and his vision. Updike’s writing was suffused with an almost religious luminesence, even when describing actions that bordered on the brutal as in the short story, “Pigeon Feathers,” where the protagonist takles ontological questions as he follows his grandmother’s order that he shoot all the pigeons roosting in the barn. It has been suggested that, taken as a whole, the Rabbit books may, taken in toto, constitute the long-sought, elusive Great American Novel. I must admit I was probably the only person in my literature class who was enthusiastic about Rabbit, Run. Most found his attention to detail merely tedious and his mmelancholy protagonist depressing. But to me his books were wise, beautifully-crafted things of beauty. They were also quite funny. I also admired the way he dressed. he looked like a writer should look, understated, classic, and just a little rumpled. Like Laguna Beach Trad above I also loved John Cheever, although he never quite mastered the novel form the way Updike did.

  3. Orange Fiji | February 6, 2019 at 7:29 pm |

    Without a doubt, my favorite author.

  4. A master of style, both literary and sartorial

  5. RoarLionRoar | February 7, 2019 at 7:48 am |

    Maybe I’m mistaken but wasn’t *The Quiet American* authored by Graham Greene?

  6. English literature?

  7. Was interested to learn that John Updike was an English novelist who wrote The Quiet American.

  8. Vern Trotter | February 7, 2019 at 11:49 am |

    Updike was never 100% Ivy unlike Cheever or Marquand. Always a little off, like no cuffs or poor choice of necktie. He tried to be a Swamp Yankee but could not achieve.

  9. Evan Everhart | February 7, 2019 at 12:39 pm |

    Is that a cannabis leaf on his polo shirt’s pocket?! Okee….A little too groovy there.

  10. Evan Everhart | February 7, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Nope i think that is a Japanese maple leaf from Boast, a very 70’s preppy label of the day. The logo’s similarity to a cannabis leaf was not an accident.

  11. One of the masters. Not, as has been pointed out and contrary to received popular understanding, exclusively an author of the ‘elite’ per se (he bristled at the ‘New England’ reputation he seemed to carry, being of hardy Pennsylvania extraction) his novels and short stories (I think here particularly of the Maple stories) are as perfect an encapsulation of mid-century American life as one will ever find. The Rabbit novels (and in particular Rabbit, Run) were quite deliberately a response to Kerouac’s On the Road — if one juxtaposes these two novels, I think the core tension, the dual temperament, of the American spirit is revealed. Both great, but Kerouac shallower and more obvious in my opinion — the romanticism, the sentimentality, the fireworks across the sky — while Updike strikes a deeper, more elegiac note. Something like wisdom, I should think. Something enduring.

  12. I should add, in keeping with my curmudgeonly take on contemporary life, that the excision of Updike, Roth, Bellow, Mailer and others from the study of literature in the university is a tragedy. As Harold Bloom has remarked, so many professors of literature nowadays appear to hate literature. Important to recommend and champion these American masters as often and as loudly as one can.

  13. First picture is telling, in a macabre sort of way. He died of lung cancer.

    He became disenchanted with New York after only a year or so of residence. As he moved the family to Ipswich, MA: “The place proved to be other than the Fred Astaire movies had led me to expect.” (I get what he meant by this).

    He didn’t look back upon his time at Harvard with a smile (much preferred his small town PA friends). He favored the rumpled New England look. (good for him).

    Some of his work is great; much of it probably isn’t. The charge “over published” might stick. As David Foster Wallace put it: “Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?”

    He was blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with the chilly-yet-pleasant reserve for which WASPs are known. In a world of filled with kitsch, slapstick, goofiness (look at what talk shows have become), idiocy, and loudness, he represented a beautiful (okay, handsome) counterpoint. Restrained, prim, soft-spoken, politely aloof. To repeat: WASPy.

    Too many vices to count, but, as they say, nobody’s perfect. It’s no wonder he devoured the theology of Karl Barth. Few have spoken so eloquently of God’s capacity for graciousness.

  14. SE, we have an opening here for a columnist.

  15. Charlottesville | February 7, 2019 at 2:39 pm |

    FWIW, I do not think the title of the post was intended to imply that Updike wrote the book of that title, but rather that his was an understated (i.e., quiet) and very American style. Also, I wonder whether cuffs are an absolute requirement for WASPy dress. For me, they are, excepting only dinner trousers and jeans, although I often see otherwise impeccably traditional men wearing uncuffed trousers, especially khakis and cords. They look unfinished to me, but I can’t say they are beyond the preppy pale. But what do I know? I even like the turtleneck and tweed look and have worn it occasionally for 30 years or more.

  16. CC, I fear I’ve already, without asking permission, adopted an informal version of role.

    I like this observation:

    Updike was “the great poet of the ordinary life, of domesticity, of life as most people live it.”

    https://newrepublic.com/article/117721/john-updikes-new-biography-adam-begley

    Middle-class suburbanites are slow-moving targets–for both urban sophisticates (why so much contempt for the bourgeoisie?) and the varieties of lower-and-working class folk, frequently romanticized and exalted as heroic. Updike redeems our world. He reminds us that the little adventures and exploits we encounter each every day–at the hardware store, the high school football game, the local breakfast spot, the church potluck dinner–are on par with the dramas and sagas of old. The “soccer mom” who makes the afternoon rounds in the station wagon and “commuter dad” who takes the train “into the city”–they’re characters in an epic that’s worthy of attention.

  17. Vern Trotter: OK, you stumped me. “Swamp Yankee”?? What is that?

    Charlottesville, I agree with you that trousers without cuffs simply look cheap and unfinished, when part of a suit. Or, when left off “better” trousers like grey flannels. While I do like other pants cuffed as well, a pair of khakis without cuffs doesn’t really bother me as much. (I hope! I have a couple pairs sans cuffs.) But suits REALLY need to be cuffed.

    RBM, I am unfamiliar with the excision of those writers from the study of literature. However, chronologically, sometimes writers in the “middle space”–meaning not quite contemporary but not dead too long either–are left out.

  18. I happen to know, from direct sources and a familiarity with the field, that figures like Updike (as DFW called him, the “penis with a thesaurus”) and Bellow (“who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?”) are not only not studied, but actively inveighed against in most academic
    and MFA programs. The irony being, of course, that real writers — of whatever background — continue to love and revere them.

  19. Vern Trotter | February 9, 2019 at 10:45 am |

    John P. Marquand considered himself a Swamp Yankee. Of the purest Yankee stock but no money. Raised by eccentric aunts around Newburyport, attended Newburyport High and won a scholarship to Harvard where he was snubbed by the Groton, St. Paul, Exeter crowd. Married into old Yankee families, Sedgwick (1) and Hooker(2), he became one of the most successful American authors up past the mid 20th century.

    One can also call Cheever a Swamp Yankee. Never went to college past prep school. No money. Classic Ivy dresser.

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