Peter De Vries definitely belongs in the company of his nineteenth century fellow Dutch American literary giants Herman Melville and Walter Whitman. He passed away only about a dozen years ago, and it might be a little early to make that statement, but his body of literary output will receive more attention as time passes on. His satiric wit, his linguistic ability and his comic outlook on life will keep him endeared to the English language reader, but will also attract more attention to his work and his style of writing by academics and scholars.
De Vries was born in Chicago into the Dutch immigrant community that was largely made up of people of the Dutch Reformed persuasion. In those days the somewhat dour but also comedic Calvinistic influence on all parts of life was still very prominent in that community. And many of the De Vries stories reflect the influence that community had on him later in his life. The Dutch immigrant community was also rich in classic behavior styles that were able to elicit or generate much comedy and hilarity, features that are found in much of the De Vries work.
De Vries went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Christian Reformed Church-affiliated college, and graduated from there in 1931. The next seven years, the depression years, were a period in his life where he was involved in a variety of jobs. In 1938, he was able to land a job in the literary field. He became the editor of Poetry Magazine. It appeared to be a great position but probably was not well remunerated. He stayed at the magazine until 1944, whereupon he joined the staff at the New Yorker Magazine as a writer and editor. He apparently got his New Yorker position with the help of James Thurber who had followed De Vries’s work while De Vries was the editor of Poetry Magazine. De Vries remained at the New Yorker for 43 years until 1987, at which point in time he was 77 years old. The environment of the New Yorker Magazine clearly provided him with the energy and the creativity for writing his many literary contributions during his stay at the magazine.
During the time period De Vries spent at Poetry Magazine he wrote three novels. His first novel was entitled, “But Who Wakes the Bugler” published in 1940; his second novel followed three years later. It was entitled, “The Handsome Heart”. His third novel was entitled, “Angels Can’t Do Better”. None of the three novels created much interest or notoriety. But few authors who eventually become prominent have produced their best work in the beginning of their writing career.
The next literary piece produced by De Vries was a collection of short stories entitled, “No, But I Saw the Movie”. It was published in 1952 and won critical acclaim, and positioned De Vries in the lime light. Also note that it was written after he joined the New Yorker, a location from where he was in a better position to judge his own work before sending it to the publisher.
Two years later De Vries published, “Tunnel of Love”. It not only became a best seller but was also adapted for a stage play, and was turned into a motion picture. Three other books followed but none of the three produced much notoriety or admiration. They were: “Comfort Me with Apples” in 1956, “The Mackerel Plaza” in 1958, and “The Tents of Wickedness” in 1959.
To this writer, De Vries’s most impressive and entertaining book was, “The Blood of the Lamb”, published in 1961. It became a best seller, especially among Dutch Americans, because it reveals many experiences and emotions with which they could identify. The book is also considered autobiographical since it apparently mirrored the environment in which he grew up in the Chicago Dutch American community.
De Vries wrote at least seven more novels following “The Blood of the Lamb”, but none of them were nearly as successful as “The Blood of the Lamb”. Three years later, in 1964, appeared, “Reuben, Reuben”, followed in 1971 by “Into Your Tent I’ll Creep”. “I Hear America Swinging” was published in 1976, and “Madder Music” followed in 1977. His final three books consisted of: “Consenting Adults” published in 1980, “Sauce for the Goose” published in 1981, and “Slouching towards Kalamazoo” published in 1983. It was his last book. He was then 73 years old, a good age for retirement from writing. He would stay affiliated with the New Yorker, however, for another four years, until 1987.
Peter De Vries was married to Katinka Loeser, and they had four children, Jon, Derek, Jan and Emily. Emily died at age 12 from Leukemia. De Vries passed away on September 28, 1993 in Norwalk, Connecticut.
De Vries was also known for his tongue in cheek quotations. The best known one is: “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be”. Others that will create a chuckle are: “I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paper work”, “I wanted to be bored to death, as good a way to go as any”, and “There are times when parenthood seems nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you”. He will be remembered fondly by those who have been exposed to his creative writing.
Peter De Vries Quotes-The Quotations Page, www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Peter_De_Vries
De Vries, Peter, www.britannica.com/eb/article-9029622
Peter De Vries, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_De_Vries
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