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The Professor of Desire Paperback – March 15, 1994

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (March 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749004
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

LJ's reviewer dubbed this volume "an entertaining, mature exploration of the conflicts of passion and reason" (LJ 9/15/77). The plot follows protagonist David Kepesh, who moves between a life of scholarship and carnal adventure. The paperback publication of Roth's Operation Shylock (LJ 4/15/93) should generate interest in this earlier novel.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Ranks among the major achievements in the literature of our time." —Village Voice

"No one writing can juggle the somber and the ludicrous more adroitly than Roth." —Time

"Philip Roth is a great historian of modern eroticism.... [He] speaks of a sexuality that questions itself; it is still hedonism, but it is problematic, wounded, ironic hedonism. His is the uncommon union of confession and irony. Infinitely vulnerable in his sincerity and infinitely elusive in his irony." —Milan Kundera

"A thoughtful...elegant novel.... A fine display of literary skills." —The New York Times Book Review

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

While much of the focus is on Kepesh's love life, his professional and family life are entangled with his love life.
I'll go so far as to say every word was perfect and was placed exactly where it should have been to make this read exhilarating.
This passage may as well be an introduction to this book, one of Roth's most potent and stirring novels from his earlier days.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
Philip Roth's 1972 novella, "The Breast", a take-off on Kafka's story "The Metamorphosis", introduced us to David Kepesh, a professor of Literature, who one morning wakes to find himself transformed into an enormous mammary. David Kepesh reappears as the title character of Roth's 1979 novel, "The Professor of Desire". Besides borrowing characters from the earlier story, Roth works in lots of references to Kafka, includes a long episode describing Kepesh's pilgrimage to Kafka's grave in Prague, and at one point compares Kepesh's relation to his body to K.'s relation to the authorities of "The Castle":
". . . I can only compare the body's single-mindedness, its cold indifference and absolute contempt for the well-being of the spirit, to some unyielding, authoritarian regime. And you can petition it all you like, offer up the most heartfelt and dignified and logical sort of appeal - and get no response at all. If anything, a kind of laugh is what you get."
I wasn't able to buy all this Kafka business. To me it seemed pasted-on and extrinsic to the spirit of the rest of the novel. But this is quibbling. "The Professor of Desire" is a delightful story, in which Philip Roth exuberantly displays his many quite un-Kafkaesque gifts. First among them is a magical gift for characterization; it seems that every character in this novel, and there are many, springs effortlessly to life as a complete individual, from Herbie Bratasky on the first page to Mr. Barbatnik on the last.And then there's Roth's eerie gift for dialogue. His characters' words seem always to flow from their own personalities, not the author's, and their speeches are often masterpieces of comic invention.
Though perhaps it falls short of Roth's best, this is a wonderful book. I heartily recommend it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By JR Pinto on August 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is the first novel by Philip Roth that I actually like. Portnoy's Complaint was a good hundred-page novella, spread out over a three-hundred page book; the other pages were filled with the dross of his political opinions, and his kvetching about his parents. Operation Shylock was also too pre-occupied with pushing a political agenda (but just what agenda, we are never sure). This is Roth's primary fault as an author - he is too didactic. I find that I really don't care much about what Roth's political opinions are. Ironically, this is probably one of the attributes that make him a critical darling - it shows that he thinks "deep thoughts."

The Professor of Desire is blessedly free of politics. In it, Roth sticks with the subjects he knows best: sex and relationships. Young David Kepesh is a sexually frustrated young student. That changes while studying abroad in Swinging London, where he finds that what they say about Swedish girls is true. Things take a turn for the worse after the end of his disastrous marriage finds him crushed by loneliness in New York. With the help of a psychiatrist, Kepesh tries to discover if he will ever be able to commit to anyone or experience happiness.

The Professor of Desire finds Roth at a more mature place in his career. Gone is the odious kvetching about his parents that polluted so much of Portnoy's Complaint; the parents in this book are treated with sympathy. At one point, a character points out to Kepesh that there is no point in mining the workings of a Jewish family for his fiction anymore. He is also less homophobic in this novel - but not much so. There are still things about Roth's style that take getting used to; I don't think there's anything profound in his refusal to offset dialogue into separate paragraphs - it just makes it harder to keep track of who is speaking. However, The Professor of Desire is a short, lyrical novel that is the best of anything I've read of his so far.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
David Kepesh, the aforementioned professor, towards the end of "Professor of Desire," contemplates the introductory lecture he is to deliver to his class on comparative literature:
"Indiscreet, unprofessional, unsavory as portions of these disclosures will surely strike some of you, I nonetheless would like, with your permission, to go ahead now and give an open account to you of the life I formerly led as a human being. I am devoted to fiction, and I assure you that in time I will tell you whatever I may know about it, but in truth nothing lives in me like my life."
This passage may as well be an introduction to this book, one of Roth's most potent and stirring novels from his earlier days. Through the chronicles of David Kepesh's early life, Roth examines the paradoxes of love and desire, the bridges between literature and life, and our nearly-lunatic search for identity.
In this book, we follow Roth's familiar character David Kepesh from his childhood in the Catskills hotel owned by his parents, to a post-college year of sexual freedom in Scandinavia, to a tempestuous/disastrous marriage to Helen Baird, followed by a winter of despair, and concluding with his relationship with Claire Ovington, marked by a love that is blemished by waning desire.
In the end, although more questions are posed than can ever be answered, Roth's novel can resonate with anyone who has ever grappled with the mysteries of love and self-discovery - namely, everyone. And along the way, the reader can revel in the wit, wry humor, and intellect adored by every Roth fan.
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