Some Nearly Forgotten 1940s Novels that are Exceptionally Good

As I was looking over the lists of novels I’ve read over the years, I came across these four novels, all written in the 1940s, which I considered excellent when I read them, but have heard little or nothing about the novels or their authors in recent years.

‘Never Come Morning’ by Nelson Algren (1942) – Algren captured the raw underside of Chicago life in this novel about a dirt-poor boxer.  Having read nearly all his works, I am a huge admirer of Nelson Algren’s style; he writes about the hard gritty side of life, but with obvious intelligence and insight. His novels ‘Man with the Golden Arm’ and ‘A Walk on the Wild Side’ are probably better known than this early novel, but this one is excellent.  Perhaps Nelson Algren is best remembered for this quote.

    Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.” From A Walk on the Wild Side

‘The Mountain Lion’ by Jean Stafford (1947) –  A brother and sister coming-of-age novel, this story is a tragedy, yet charming and funny by turns.  Stafford is best known as a short story writer and for her unfortunate short marriage to the brilliant but mentally unstable poet Robert Lowell.  I’ve read nearly all of her work including her short stories and her other major novel “The Catherine Wheel”, and they are all excellent.  Jean Stafford is a writer too good to disappear into obscurity.  Here is a quote from Jean Stafford.

    Irony, I feel, is a very high form of morality.

‘A Burnt Child’ by Stig Dagerman (1947) –  Stig Dagerman was one of the most prominent Swedish writers in the 1940s.  If you like extreme psychological novels, this is the novel for you.  Wikiquote has a whole long page devoted to quotes from ‘A Burnt Child’.  I’ve also read ‘The Games of Night’, a book of short stories, which is also excellent.  Stig Dagerman committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 31.  If you want to learn more about Stig Dagerman, go to the Stig Dagerman Blog.   Here is one quote from this novel.

    I am sufficiently intelligent to be able to differentiate between real falsehood, which is aimed at hurting people, and a wise moderation of so-called truth, whose only object is to simplify life for all concerned.

‘The Bridge On the Drina’ by Ivo Andric (1945)– This novel is probably least likely of the four here to be forgotten because Ivo Andric received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1961, although that may not be a guarantee.   It is the story of some of the people who crossed the bridge during its three and a half centuries of existence.   The bridge is in what is now Serbia, and Andric sees it as the connection between the eastern Ottoman culture and the western Christian culture.   This is historical fiction at its most powerful.   Here is a quote from Ivo Andric.

    If people would know how little brain is ruling the world, they would die of fear.

I would really like to hear from anyone who is familiar with these novels and/or authors. Please leave a comment.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Fascinating post Tony. I’ve vaguely heard of Algren and Andric but not Dagerman or Jean Stafford. Love that quote you’ve given from Dagerman. I like the idea of “wise moderation of so-called truth” which simplifies life. So-called truth … little-t truth perhaps?


  2. Hi Whisperinggums,
    Thanks for your nice comment. I was really surprised about all the Stig Dagerman material on the Internet. I found out about him in the Complete Review, read the only two of his books that were translated; both impressed me much. Fifty years after his passing, he has a blog dedicated to him on the Internet.


  3. Great post, Tony. Of those authors you’ve listed here, I am only familiar with the work of Algren. I am a huge fan of Simone De Beauvoir and, of course, Nelson Algren had an affair with Simone (or vice versa, I suppose). Their connection made it sufficiently urgent that I learn more about Algren that I bought the 50th Anniversary critical edition of Algen’s The Man with the Golden Arm. I loved it. I also highly recommend the critical edition because the included pieces of commentary are excellent. I have not sought out his other works, but this post ensures I will. I was extremely impressed by Algren and his writing, so I am pleased to find this reminder that he wrote other great books too. Of his works, I will read Never Come Morning because of your suggestion. Plus, it sounds a little like a Joyce Carol Oates (long) short story, “The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza”, in that they both feature a poor boxer and the gritty side of life.

    Of the others, I am very intrigued by Stig Dagerman and will have to find a copy of The Burnt Child. “Extreme psychological novels” are very popular in my household. This is one to which I will be looking forward.

    Thanks for a great post.


    • Hi Kerry,
      I think we may have the beginnings of a Nelson Algren revival here. I do believe he is one of the great writers because of the atmosphere he creates in his novels.
      And thanks for reminding me about Simone de Beauvoir whose fiction also has been highly recommended, although I haven’t read it yet. I know ‘The Mandarins’ is recommended; that novel is 610 pages so I may start with ‘The Woman Destroyed’ or ‘When Things of the Spirit Come First – Five Early Tales’ instead.


    • Ah, I’d forgotten the Algren-de Beauvoir connection. I’ve only read her She came to stay (1943) – autobiographical. My first of hers, and her first I think! Always meant to read more, but haven’t … as I was rivetted by this one.


  4. Tony,

    I cannot more highly recommend The Mandarins, but The Woman Destroyed is also excellent. The latter is shorter, but Simone does not take it easy on her characters. The title should give some idea of the emotional toll the book takes. The Mandarins is much less emotionally taxing, in that sense. Just be forewarned. I also really enjoyed her non-fiction book America Day by Day (in which Nelson Algren makes an appearance).

    I have not read When Things of the Spirit Come First. I should probably read that next. You have not mentioned All Men Are Mortal, but it is also quite good. It was my first De Beauvoir, but it is not her best. Still, being my first, it has a special place and is definitely worth reading if you are interested in the philosophy of the time and/or like De Beauvoir’s writing.

    Thanks again for an excellent post. (And the chance to discuss some of my favorite writers.)


  5. Which WP theme do you use?


    • HI, thanks for stopping by. The Word Press theme that I use is ‘Theme Spring Loaded with 4 Widgets’
      It seems to work out nicely.


    • Wahrsagerin, I know Tony has answered this already, but if you ever want to know the theme used on a WordPress blog just scroll to the very bottom of the page. There is always (at least I’ve never not seen it there) the following info:
      “Blog at Theme: SpringLoaded by the449.”
      (This is the one at the bottom of Tony’s. Of course mine will have a different “Theme” and a different name after “by”)


  6. Good post!As i was passing by here and i read your post.


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