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John Knowles (born September 16, 1926 in Fairmont, West Virginia, died on November 29, 2001 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) [1] was an American novelist, best known for his novel A Separate Peace.


Early Life

Knowles was the son of James M. Knowles, a purchasing agent from Lowell, Massachusetts, and Mary Beatrice Shea Knowles from Concord, New Hampshire. He attended St. Peter's High School in Fairmont, West Virginia from 1940 until 1942, before continuing at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, graduating in 1944. He married Beth Anne Dymen Hughes at the age of 19. Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949. While at Yale, Knowles served on the Board of Yale Daily News during his sophomore, junior and senior years, specifically as Editorial Secretary during his senior year. He was a record-holding varsity swimmer during his sophomore year. A Separate Peace is based upon Knowles' experiences at Phillips Exeter during the summer of 1969. The setting for The Devon School is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Phillips Exeter. The plot should not be taken as autobiographical, although many elements of the novel stem from personal experience, including Knowles' membership in a secret society and sustaining of a foot injury while jumping from a tree during society exercises. In his essay, "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote:[2]

The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, character, athleticism, and honor.

The secondary character Finny (Phineas) was the best friend of the main character, Gene. Knowles has stated that he modeled Finny on David Hackett from Milton Academy, whom he met when both attended a summer session at Phillips Exeter. Hackett was a friend of Robert Kennedy's, under whom he later served in the Justice Department. A Phineas Sprague lived in the same dormitory as Knowles during the summer session of 1943 and may have been an inspiration for the character's name.

Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, acknowledges that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter, with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal states that Knowles told him that the character Brinker, who precipitates the novel's crisis, is based on Vidal. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."

Following his time at Philips Exeter, Knowles spent eight months serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II after which he attended Yale. Early in Knowles' career, he wrote for the Hartford Courant and was assistant editor for Holiday magazine, while he concurrently began writing novels, of which he eventually completed seven.

Later Career

A Separate Peace was first published in London by Secker and Warburg in 1959. The novel was published in New York in 1960 by Macmillan. Knowles' other significant works are Morning in Antibes, Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad, Indian Summer, The Paragon, and Peace Breaks Out. None of these later works were as well received as A Separate Peace.

As a resident of Southampton, New York, Knowles wrote seven novels, a book on travel and a collection of stories. He was the winner of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award shinguard of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In his later years, Knowles lectured to university audiences.

Selected Works

  • A Separate Peace; a novel, London, Secker & Warburg, 1959; New York, Macmillan Co., 1960
  • Morning in Antibes; a novel, New York, Macmillan, 1962
  • Double Vision; American Thoughts Abroad, New York, Macmillan, 1964
  • Indian Summer, New York, Random House, 1966
  • Phineas; six stories, New York, Random House, 1968
  • The Paragon; a novel, New York, Random House, c. 1971
  • A Special Time, A Special Place, Exeter Bulletin, 1995 (autobiographical note on internet)
  • Spreading Fires, New York, Random House, 1974
  • A Vein of Riches, Boston, Little Brown, 1978
  • Peace Breaks Out, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981
  • A Stolen Past, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983
  • The Private Life of Axie Reed, New York : Jesse Grunberg, 1986

Film and Television Adaptations of A Separate Peace

In 1972, Paramount Pictures released a movie version of A Separate Peace starring Parker Stevenson and John Heyl which was directed by Larry Peerce. In 2004, a television movie was released which was directed by Peter Yates, starring Hume Cronyn, J Barton, and Toby Moore.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ John Knowles. "A Special Time, A Special School". Retrieved 2009-01-27.  


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

John Knowles (September 16, 1926 - November 29, 2001) was an American novelist, best known for his novel A Separate Peace.


A Separate Peace (1959)

  • He [Finny] had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he.
    • Gene, on his weakness.
    • P. 51
  • He possessed an extra vigor, a heightened confidence in himself, a serene capacity for affection which saved him. Nothing as he was growing up at home, nothing at Devon, nothing even about the war had broken his harmonious and natural unity. So at last I had.
    • Gene, on Finny's strength.
    • P. 194-195
  • I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas.
    • Gene, on the desire to be Finny.
    • P. 77
  • Now I see what racing skiing is all about. It's all right to miss seeing the trees and the countryside and all the other things when you've got to be in a hurry. And when you're in a war you've got to be in a hurry. Don't you? So I guess maybe racing skiers weren't ruining the sport after all. They were preparing it, if you see what I mean, for the future. Everything has to evolve or else it perishes. . . I'm almost glad this war came along. It's like a test, isn't it, and only the things and the people who've been evolving the right way survive.
    • Leper, on the need to change.
    • P. 116-117
  • Stranded in this mill town railroad yard while the whole world was converging elsewhere, we seemed to be nothing but children playing among heroic men.
    • Gene, on the war activities around Devon.
    • P. 89
  • You had to be rude at least sometimes and edgy often to be credited with 'personality,' and without that accolade no one at Devon could be anyone. No one, with the exception of course of Phineas.
    • Gene, on personality.
    • P. 124
  • Naturally I don't believe books and I don't believe teachers, but I do believe-it's important for me to believe you [Gene]. Christ, I've got to believe you, at least. I know you better than anybody.
    • Finny, on his trust in Gene.
    • P. 163
  • Your war memories will be with you forever, you'll be asked about them thousands of times after the war is over. People will get their respect for you from that-partly from that, don't get me wrong-but if you can say that you were up front where there was some real shooting going on, then that will mean a whole lot to you in years to come.
    • Mr. Hadley on war.
    • P. 191
  • It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.
    • Gene, on war.
    • P. 193
  • All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way-if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.
    • Gene, on the enemy.
    • P. 196

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