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The Sot-Weed Factor Paperback – August 18, 1987

4.6 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Picaresque novel by John Barth, originally published in 1960 and revised in 1967. A parody of the historical novel, it is based on and takes its title from a satirical poem published in 1708 by Ebenezer Cooke, who is the protagonist of Barth's work. The novel's black humor is derived from its purposeful misuse of conventional literary devices. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

This is Barth's most distinguished masterpiece. This modern classic is a hilarious tribute to all the most insidious human vices, with a hero who is "one of the most diverting...to roam the world since Candide" (Time ).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 806 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Anchor Books ed edition (September 18, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385240880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385240888
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Battaglia on January 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you've read the book, then you know exactly what I'm talking about and are probably doubled over in laughter just at the mention of it . . . if you haven't, well there's just one more reason to start reading this. Widely considered Barth's best novel (I'm very much a novice with him, this being only my second book so I'm no man to judge) I can easily see why it deserves such a status. A parody of historical novels, Barth writes the story in the style of that time so it seems like all those books your teachers made you read in high school, but better. The book is massive and concerns the various adventures of would-be poet Ebenezer Cooke, writer of the poem "The Sot-Weed Factor" as he becomes involved, willingly or otherwise, in more situations than any man should reasonably have to undertake. An attempts to summarize the plot are useless, it's too sprawling, people who want instant gratification will be at a loss here, this is a book you have to absorb over the course of a few days and get used to the style before it sinks in just how much fun it is. The characters play everything seriously, making the jokes (and there are plenty, with the funniest of a vulgar nature and often involving the story of Captain John Smith of Pocohantus fame) come off as utterly hilarious, but at the same time Barth manages to make you care just a little bit about them, as quirky as they are, they still come across as typically flawed human beings. Probably the best thing about the book is its sheer unpredictability, not shackled by the morals of the 16th century, anything and everything does happen, nobody is what they seem and situations shift gears so rapidly that it'll make your head spin even as you can't stop laughing.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This true American masterpiece is written like a 17th century literary novel. The style could well be Fielding, except that Barth is even more hilarious.At a time when minimalist novelists seem to be in vogue, I revelled in the intelligent richness of the elaborate quixotic tale woven by Barth. When a novelist can write as well as peers like Saul Bellow or V.S. Naipaul, then a maximalist style like Barth's is to be savoured. Poor chaste poet laureate, Ebenezer Cooke, encounters harsh reality at every turn, including capture by pirates and Indians. His dreams drive him to ridiculous ends where his ambitions are constantly confounded by greater existential powers. "The road to Heaven's beset with thistles, and methinks there's many a cowpat on't." The dialogue is delicious and well-constructed with an authenticity and wit and bawdy truth. You have to marvel at the construction of such credible characters as Joan Toast, Bertrand, Boabdil, Andrew, Pocahontas and the pirate captain. Barth's dialogue on various letters of the alphabet, the trading of ancient insults and the scene where Ebenezer fears drowning in Chesapeake Bay were uproariously funny. Barth obviously knows the Eastern Shore near the Choptank River intimately: it's a lovely setting for his novel. For any true lover of great American literary novels, The Sotweed Factor should be on your must-read list.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I know it's supposed to spoof historical novels, but I didn't read "The Sot-Weed Factor" that way at all. To me it read like a darkly comic epic, reminiscent of "Water Music" by T. Coraghessan Boyle. I loved the characters, especially the main protagonist, Ebeneezer Cooke, the wannabe Poet Laureate of colonial Maryland. He starts out as a prim, officious twit, but his character is befouled almost continuously from the outset, so that by the end of the book he is a resigned (if not wholly self ironic) and nearly sympathetic character. And I guess that is what makes this book work for me: it follows all the rules for successful story telling. There is a central conflict (and a thousand hilarious ancillary conflicts), a crisis of spectacular proportion, believable resolution, and character transformation. The story is riddled with deception, fraud, betrayal, mistaken identity, errant bravado, sex, scatalogical humor, and enough action and adventure to hold the attention of almost any reader. At 750+ pages, it took me a month to read it (if you travel cross-country, it's perfect for those four-hour plane trips), and now that I'm finished, I'd have to say it was one of the finest months I've ever spent reading. I wish I was starting it all over again for the first time. Haply I'll read it again.
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By A Customer on July 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Perhaps most impressive of all of John Barth's picaresque classic is the fact that it succeeds on many levels. It is quite difficult to imagine anyone taking this novel completely seriously, however it can be read as an epic. Most likely it will be enjoyed as a brilliant satire providing most readers with innumerable passages that will have them laughing out loud. However one senses many philosophical statements and themes communicated through the characters' preposterous actions and attitudes. It was the characters, in fact, that impressed me the most about "The Sot-Weed Factor," while appearing at times ridiculous to the point of being hilarious, most readers will likely find a little bit of themselves in characters like Ebenezer Cooke, Henry Burlingame, etc. My favorite character was Ebenezer's servant whose name eludes me at this time. Barth has coined himself a "smiling nihilist" and this book is a fine example of this sentiment, though most readers will likely spend less time smiling and more time doubled over in laughter. A must-read!
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