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The Sot-weed Factor [Paperback]

John Barth
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Mar 2002
Considered by critics to be Barth's most distinguished novel, The Sot-Weed Factor has acquired the status of a modern classic. Set in the late 1600s, it recounts the chaotic odyssey of the hapless, ungainly Ebeneezer Cooke. Cooke is sent to the new world to oversee his father's tobacco business and to record the struggles of the Maryland colony in an epic poem. On his mission, he is captured by pirates and Indians; loses his father's estate to roguish impostors; falls in love with a former prostitute;is nearly robbed of his virginity, which he is (almost)determined to protect; and meets a gallery of treacherous characters who continually switch identities. The Sot-Weed Factor is a hilarious, bawdy tribute to all the most insidious human vices with lasting relevance for readers of all times.

Product details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (4 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903809509
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903809501
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 746,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

In this boisterous satire on the historical novel, the hapless, naive Ebeneezer Cooke is sent from England to the New World to look after his father's tobacco business. But instead of the cultivated Eden he has been led to expect, he finds the Maryland plantation to be a barbarous and pestilential place where the Indians stink of bear grease, the colonials are drunkards and the women are sluttish. With a dazzling display of invention and unfailing wit, John Barth takes us on a wildly chaotic journey of innocence and experience through an eighteenth century that never was.

“One thing about Mr Barth's gargantuan novel can be cleared up right away. A sot-weed factor is, in eighteenth-century America, the manager of a tobacco plantation. The reader is advised to cling to this solid fact, because nothing else in Mr Barth's monstrous tome is what it appears to be, not only on the surface but also several layers below. A most magnificent, tongue-in-cheek, totally scandalous romp, reeking with vice, blasphemy and every kind of scurrility known to man.”

“'The Sot-Weed Factor' is that rare literary creation – a genuine serious comedy. Ebeneezer Cooke, in this boisterous historical farce, emerges as one of the most diverting heroes to roam the world since Candide.”

“Brilliant… as it were, a lost novel by Defoe or Smollett which recreates with a remarkable air of verisimilitude a whole lost world. Exceedingly enjoyable.”

“A mightily-hewn boulder of a novel among the smoother pebbles of contemporary fiction. A tour de force.”

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

John Barth stands alongside Thomas Pynchon as one of the innovative giants of post-war fiction. He is the author of The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Lost in the Funhouse, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor and the National Book Award winner Chimera. He taught for many years on the writing programme at John Hopkins University.

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First Sentence
IN THE LAST YEARS of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to be the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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4.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful; a timeless classic 22 Dec 2010
Over the first three months of 1955, American author John Barth wrote the first part of an intended trilogy of works -- his 'nihilistic comedy', "The Floating Opera". He completed the second part, "The End of the Road" (a 'nihilistic tragedy') in the final three months of the same year. Encouraged by the speed with which he composed these two books, Barth embarked on the final part, convinced he would have it completed by the time he turned 26, on May 27, 1956. In the end, it took him over three years to pen the 800-odd pages of what was to became "The Sot-Weed Factor" -- a massive and massively complex burlesque comedy, in antiquated style, which would forever after be seen as one of his greatest achievements, and the book that would stand as a timeless landmark to the brilliance of this young American writer. In deciding a subject for this book, Barth underwent something of a major crisis in a hitherto almost blind pursuit of realism in his fiction, eventually coming to a realisation that words, ultimately, can never truly convey reality, thus making realism an imperfect tool for communicating the truth of anything. In David Morel's seminal paper, "Ebenezer Cooke, Sot-Weed Factor Redivivus: The Genesis of John Barth's The Sot- Weed Factor" (published in the Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 8, No. 1 [Spring, 1975]) Barth is quoted as summing up his views in an interview, thus: "One ought to know about Reality before one writes realistic novels. Since I don't know much about Reality, it will have to be abolished. Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece 6 Jan 2007
By Didier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Ebenezer Cooke is one of the most moving and endearing characters I've ever come across. The picaresque tale of his hapless adventures will have you laughing out loud at times, and deeply sympathizing with his troubles at the same time. Barth's language is superb too: of course it's not really how people spoke in those days, but it feels ever so right.

Thick as it may be, you'll wish this novel had twice as many pages to enjoy!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
"The Sot-Weed Factor" is originally a satirical poem, written by a certain Ebenezer Cooke, and is among the earliest pieces of literature to come out of the newly settled America. John Barth has borrowed the name of both author and work, and has sculptured a beautiful work, a grand tale about small and greater men. The characters are diverse, and the striking technique of Mr Barth makes them all come alive. The plotline is too complicated to explain in full, but still easy to follow, and the passages about an earlier journey around Chesapeake bay are hilarious, written in an English only a scholar could contrive (Mr Barth is a professor of English). And for all of those who like good, old-fashioned storytelling from which you may actually learn something, the tale of Ebenezer's (I know him so well that I only use his first name) awowed innocence, with the disastrous results it has for himself and others, gives an opportunity to ponder this aspect of human existenc.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!! 7 Aug 2010
Laugh out loud funny at the beginning (embarrassing on the beach)this is a rollicking bawdy adventure with so many twists and turns. It is an intelligent work that never fails to entertain from start to finish. Brilliant! About to order my next J Barth.
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