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Next Up: The Sot-Weed Factor

I now begin a 700 page novel. I don’t know if I’m ready for this.

The Sot-Weed Factor is a “satirical epic” written by John Barth. It tells the story of Ebenezer Cooke, a poet laureate, on his travels from London to colonial Maryland in the late 1600s.

A few quick facts about The Sot-Weed Factor and John Barth:

  • Published in 1960, The Sot-Weed Factor was Barth’s first experiment with literary postmodernism.
  • Ebenezer Cooke, the protagonist, was an actual English-born poet who lived from 1665-1732 and actually wrote a poem called “The Sot-Weed Factor.”
  • “Sot weed” is an old term for a tobacco plant, and “factor” was a middleman who bought something in order to resell it.
  • The novel has been called a parody of Tom Jones.
  • The Sot-Weed Factor has a lot of historical fiction elements with characters who include John Smith and Pocahantas.
  • In March 2013, director Steven Soderbergh said he was making a 12 hour adaption of The Sot-Weed Factor.
  • Barth, 83, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has written dozens of novels and three pieces of nonfiction.

Another aspect of this book that I find interesting, if not intimidating: It’s a “loosely structured” novel with digressions, stories within stories, and a lot of 16th century dialogue. I’m not too sure what my ADD will think about this.

In my early opinion, the pros of the novel include its satirical style. I love satire (see Catch 22). The cons include the “thees” and “thous” and all the other 16th century speak. I’m not sure how well I can cope with that, but I guess I’m about to find out.

Anyone have experience with Barth or The Sot-Weed Factor?

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. I wish you luck! That’s a hefty tome! ☺

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  2. Reblogged this on WHAT'S UP WITH ME AND STUFF and commented:
    Sound good…

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  3. Nope. Looking forward to reading your views as you read it. Good luck!

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  4. This is possibly the quintessential postmodern novel: there were earlier examples (what do you think about Tristram Shandy?), better books (I’m a Robert Coover man myself), and bigger books (did you get the newest novel by Péter Nádas?), but if you find a list of postmodern criteria, Barth includes them all in this novel. There are a few clues to the novel that will help you keep things straight, but then, isn’t it more fun to suss out the puzzles yourself?

    Fun to read; fast moving; very influential; excellent writing; great book … no one should miss it. But don’t just read this book and say you’ve read Barth: he has written many excellent novels that will both entertain and expand your mind.

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  5. I wish thees success, and thous pleasure to read this, but I think thees is interesting….

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  6. teresa #

    Its place in literature is a given, but in terms of controversy, this book may be high on the list with Naked Lunch, A Clockwork Orange and Lolita. Now, what will you think of THIS one?

    Like

    October 10, 2013
    • Really? Sexually graphic?

      Like

      October 10, 2013
      • Teresa #

        Not that. It’s a very wicked book. It can offend if you don’t like that sort of thing. Wickedly funny if you do.

        Like

        October 11, 2013
  7. I haven’t read this one, but I did read its (equally long) follow-up, Giles Goat Boy. It was a really fun read, very clever – maybe too clever for some tastes. A writer he reminded me of a lot was Flann O’Brien. It’s the sort of book you’ll like if you like that sort of book.

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  8. Ted Fontenot #

    Great book, but you have to like that sort of stuff. It’s an extended pastiche, with elements of parody and satire throughout, and some of it is all parody, like the burlesques of poems and journals of historical figures (John Smith and Pocahontas). Barth revels in excess–two whores get in a verbal catfight and call each other names, never repeating themselves, for something like five pages.

    Barth is a great talent. As someone mentioned, his futuristic (dystopian?) novel Giles Goat-Boy is wild. Post-modernism and metafiction has no greater exponent.

    And Barth’s first two novels were realistic novels of ideas, and they are excellent. I highly recommend The Floating Opera, which concerns a man who tells of the day 17 years earlier when he decided to kill himself. Of course, since he is telling the story long afterwards, he obviously didn’t. The questions, with all their philosophical implications, are why did he want to, and why did he change his mind. You’ll be surprised.

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  9. Enjoy . . . .it’s a whole new world to visit every evening. Barth needs a revival!

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  10. I read this book in German – really – in the early 1970s. It’s title in German was “Der Tabakhändler.” I was a teenager then, it was a lot of work reading it, probably the longest book I had read up until then, but I remember I loved it. Your post here has me thinking I should pick it up again – if I can find a Kindle version. I can’t read thick hardcopy books anymore….

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  11. Please change It’s to its.

    Like

    October 10, 2013
  12. Hello, there’s a tag chain through blogs called the Liebster Award, and I nominated you for it, if you want to take part then here is my post; http://emlinian.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/the-liebster-award/

    Like

    October 13, 2013

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