John Knowles, Novelist Who Wrote 'A Separate Peace,' Dies at 75
Mr. Knowles wrote many books, but "A Separate Peace" and its
sequel, "Peace Breaks Out" (Bantam, 1982), are his only novels still in
print. His later novels, including "A Vein of Riches" (1978), received
respectful reviews but never captured a mass audience.
John Knowles, whose coming-of- age novel "A Separate Peace" became
required reading for generations of high school students, died on Thursday
(Nov. 29, 2001) at a convalescent home in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale,
Fla. He was 75.
Mr. Knowles died after a short illness, said his lawyer,
Encouraged by Thornton Wilder to write about his most vivid memories,
Mr. Knowles based "A Separate Peace," his first novel, on his years at
Phillips Exeter Academy.
"A Separate Peace," which is set in the fictional Devon School during
World War II, explores themes of loyalty, cruelty, betrayal and original
A principal question raised by the book and long debated by readers is
whether the novel's schoolboy protagonist, Gene Forrester, intentionally
causes his athletic friend Phineas to fall from a tree and suffer a leg
injury that cripples him and indirectly leads to his death.
"John used to say he would never answer that question," his brother-
in-law, Bob Maxwell, said when announcing Mr. Knowles's death. "He took
that one with him."
The closest Mr. Knowles came to explaining the origin of the novel was
in an interview for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel shortly after he moved
to Fort Lauderdale in 1987. " `A Separate Peace' is based on experiences
that I had, but it is not literally true," he said.
Published by Macmillan in 1960, "A Separate Peace" won the William
Faulkner Foundation Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National
Institute of Arts and Letters and soon came to be compared to classics
like "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger and "Lord of the Flies" by
The novel, which drew good reviews, was also a huge commercial success,
selling more than eight million copies. In 1972 it was made into a film by
Mr. Knowles wrote many books, but "A Separate Peace" and its sequel,
"Peace Breaks Out" (Bantam, 1982), are his only novels still in print. His
later novels, including "A Vein of Riches" (1978), received respectful
reviews but never captured a mass audience.
In 1971 Jonathan Yardley said in The New Republic that Mr. Knowles was
"foundering — writing with characteristic grace and intelligence, but
groping uncertainly for new subjects and themes."
John Knowles was born on Sept. 16, 1926, in Fairmont, W.Va., and
entered Exeter at 15. He graduated in 1945 and received his bachelor's
degree from Yale in 1949.
He worked as a reporter and drama critic for The Hartford Courant for a
few years and then served as associate editor of Holiday, the travel
magazine, from 1956 to 1960. He was also a freelance writer.
Mr. Knowles is survived by two sisters, Dorothy Maxwell, of Oro Valley,
Ariz., and Marjorie Johnson, of Dallas; and a brother, James, of San
Mr. Knowles once told an interviewer that he did not mind having his
reputation rest on a single book.
paid the bills for 30 years," he said. "It has made my career possible.
Unlike most writers, I don't have to do anything else to make a living."
Source: New York Times, Dec 1, 2001:
DEATH OF EDWIN KNOWLES 1846-1902 (RI, NY)
Theatrical Manager and Old-Time Actor Succumbs to Paralysis in Brooklyn. New
York Times, April 15, 1902.
Edwin Knowles, who was one of the best known theatrical managers and
old-time actors in the country, died at 6 o'clock last evening of paralysis at
his home, 868 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, after a long illness. The funeral
services will be held at the residence tomorrow afternoon. The remains are to be
Edwin Knowles was born in Providence, RI, fifty-six years ago. When sixteen
years old, he went to work as a reporter on The Providence Evening Telegram. In
1867 he began his theatrical career as an actor in the old New York Theatre. He
continued before the footlights for fifteen years, appearing at different times
with Lester Wallack, Lawrence Barrett, Fanny Davenport, Mary Anderson, and other
famous actors and actresses. He first became a manager in 1882 when, with the
late Col. Theodore Morris as a partner, he assumed control of The Grand Opera
House in Elm Place, near Fulton Street, Brooklyn.
Six years later he opened the Amphion Theatre on Bedford Avenue in the
Eastern District of Brooklyn. Mr. Knowles in 1891 became associated with Daniel
Frohman and Al Hayman as Edwin Knowles and Co., and opened the Columbia Theatre
on Washington Street, Brooklyn. Some time later Mr. Knowles leased the Fifth
Avenue Theatre in Manhattan from Henry Miner. He continued in the management of
this house for two years, when F.F. Proctor secured control of it. Since that
time, Mr. Knowles has been associated with F. C. Whitney in the presentation of
various theatrical productions.
Mr. Knowles was a thirty-second degree Mason, a member of the Brooklyn Lodge
of Elks, the Brooklyn Club, the Players' Club, and Edwin Forrest Lodge No. 2,
Actors Order of Friendship. He was also prominent in the Actors' Fund. He is
survived by his wife, his father, four sisters, and a brother.