McCourt, Frank: 'Tis
(researched by Casey Reck)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Frank McCourt. 'Tis: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 1999. Copyright: Frank McCourt. Parallel First Edition: London: Flamingo.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First American edition is published in a hard cardboard cover with trade cloth binding on spine and partially on front and back covers.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
184 leaves, pp. [1-10] 11-367
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is dedicated to McCourt's daughter and wife: "This book is dedicated to | my daughter, Maggie, for her warm, searching heart, | and to | my wife, Ellen, for joining her side to mine." The book notes it is a sequel to Angela's Ashes, and states some of the character names have been changed. McCourt includes a paragraph of acknowledgements. The front jacket cover advertises the book as being "By the | Pulitzer Prize-Winning | Author of | the #1 New York Times Bestseller | Angela's Ashes."
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
Plate on pg. [2]: Black and white photograph of McCourt faces the title page. No date or source given.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Text is highly legible. Margins could be wider to enhance readability of text. Chapters are numbered, but not titled. Each chapter begins with a large, bold letter. Book shows little to no wear. The dust jacket, cover, spine, and pages are all in near perfect condition. 90R. Page Size: 23.4cm by 15.5cm. Text Size: 19.5cm by 11.3cm. Measurement of margins: Top & Side: 1.5cm; Bottom: 2cm Typography: Bembo, as identified on verso of the title page.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
White, smooth paper with straight edges. Pages are slightly translucent. The pages are in excellent condition and show no signs of smudging, weathering, or tearing. Front photograph is printed on same paper.
11 Description of binding(s)
Embossed cream grain cloth covers the spine and 4cm of both the front and back covers. The remaining binding is in navy cardboard. No markings on either cover. Endpapers are the same white color as the rest of the book, but of thicker stock. Dust jacket included. Spine has author's name, title, and publisher's name (in that order) stamped vertically in metallic silver. Transcription of the spine: Frank McCourt | 'TIS | [Scribner insignia] | SCRIBNER
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: Frank McCourt | [line] | 'TIS | A Memoir | [line] | SCRIBNER Verso: [Scribner insignia] | SCRIBNER | 1230 Avenue of the Americas | New York, NY 10020 | Copyright 1999 by Frank McCourt All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction | in whole or in part in any form. | Some of the names in 'Tis have been changed. | SCRIBNER and design are registered trademarks of Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc. | used under license by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work. | Designed by Brooke Zimmer | Text set in Bembo | Manufactured in the United States of America | 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 | Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data | McCourt, Frank. | 'Tis: a memoir/Frank McCourt. | p. cm. | Sequel to: Angela's ashes. | 1. McCourt, Frank. 2. Irish Americans Biography. | 3. New York (N.Y.) Biography. I. Title. | E184.I6.M118 1999 | 974.7'10049162'0092--dc21 | [B] 99-31280 | CIP | ISBN 0-684-86449-5 (LARGE PRINT)
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The manuscript of 'Tis is last reported (as of February 18, 2013) as being held at the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick, Ireland. The manuscript was put on display after a private individual donated it to the museum.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Dust jacket: (see cover art image, #3) -Back cover contains four quotes of praise for the author's previous memoir, Angela's Ashes. The quotes are presented in a square, gold frame. -Inside front flap a brief summary of Angela's Ashes. It also gives a brief introductory to the plot of 'Tis. -Inside back flap contains a photograph of the author, and a short bibliographic blurb about Frank McCourt. Jacket design by John Fontana Jacket photograph courtesy of Frank McCourt Jacket photograph of New York is from Archive Photos Author photograph by Gasper Tringale
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
According to Publishers Weekly, Scribner simultaneously released hardcover and paperback editions of 'Tis. Scribner published the first trade paperback edition of the memoir in 2005. All editions published by Scribner appear to be uniform in terms of page length, cover art, and text. Large Print and Braille editions of 'Tis were also published in 1999.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
Scribner's first printing of 'Tis yielded one million copies. By Oct. 4, 1999, 'Tis had been back to press four times, increasing the in-print total to 1.3 million copies. As of August 2000, 1.5 million copies had been printed. Simon & Schuster's first printing of the trade paper edition (released on August 29, 2000) was for 650,000 copies.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Other editions include: Barcelona: Columna, 1999 (Catalan) Bath: Chivers Audio Books, 1999 (Audiobook) London: Chivers, 1999 (Large Print) London: Flamingo, 1999 London: HarperCollins, 1999 London: Quality Paperbacks Direct, 1999 Madrid: Maeva, 1999 (Spanish) New York, HarperCollins, 1999 (Large Print) New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999 (Unabridged) New York: Scribner, 1999 (Large Print) New York: Scribner, 1999 (Braille) New York: Touchstone Books, 1999 Norwalk, Connecticut: Easton Press, 1999 Zagreb: Algoritam, 1999 (Croatian) Barcelona: Circulo de Lectores, 2000 (Spanish) Bath: Windsor, 2000 (Large Print) London: Flamingo, 2000 (Australian Edition) New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000 (1st Trade Paperback Edition) Simon & Schuster, 2000 (International Edition) Bath: Chivers, 2001 (Large Print) Bath: Paragon, 2001 (Large Print) Budapest: Magveto, 2001 (Hungarian) Taibei: Huang Guan, 2001 (Chinese) Toronto: CNIB, 2002 (Audiobook) Zagreb: Algoritam, 2002 (Croatian) London: Harper Perennial, 2004 (Spanish) Madrid: Suma de Letras, 2004 (Spanish) London: Harper Perennial, 2005 London: HarperCollins, 2006 (Audiobook) Brisbane: Queensland Braille Writing Association, 2009 (Braille)
6 Last date in print?
As of 2005, the Scribner and Harper Perennial editions of 'Tis were still in print. Simon & Schuster's last audiobook CD copy of 'Tis was released in 2009.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
According to Publishers Weekly, the trade paperback edition of Scribner’s ‘Tis sold 618,000 copies in 2000. London’s HarperCollins had sold 500,000 copies of ‘Tis by March 2000.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
See #7.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
“The second installment in McCourt's fluent and bewitchingly candid memoir will be eagerly embraced by a reading public madly in love with the first, the award-winning and best-selling Angela's Ashes (1996). Here McCourt, still simultaneously voluble and precise, chronicles his return to New York, the city of his birth. A high-school dropout with a thick brogue, terrible teeth and skin, and red and infected eyes, he is easy pickings for a priest who helps him get settled, then attempts to molest him. This distressing introduction to the perversity of life in America kicks off an almost unbelievable series of humiliations and hardships as McCourt works soul-crushingly menial jobs for pittance and is confronted both with vicious antiIrish prejudice and tedious Irish pride-nearly everyone he meets recounts their Irish genealogy and tells him to stick to his own kind. McCourt stubbornly dreams of becoming a teacher and writer but often retreats from the demands of college and work into the comforting haze of alcohol, the bane of his family…. YA: Teen readers won't be disappointed, especially because much of this covers McCourt's young adulthood.” By Donna Seaman for The Booklist, Aug. 1999. “THE PAPERBACKING OF 'ANGELA'S ASHES'” Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes has enjoyed the kind of bestseller run that most authors don't even dare dream about -- more than two years on the national charts and hardcover sales approaching the 2.5-million mark. The Scribner book was published in more than 25 languages and garnered many prizes, including the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award (ABBY). Now Touchstone hopes to do as well with the trade paper edition, scheduled to go on sale around May 25 with a 750,000-copy first printing. It will be supported by a $500,000 advertising campaign that includes print and TV ads. McCourt's millions of fans can also look forward to the sequel, 'Tis, planned for September, and the 1999 Paramount Pictures film of Angela's Ashes in time for the holidays.” By Daisy Maryles for Publishers Weekly, April 19, 1999 “Retailers and listeners alike eagerly await 'Tis, the sequel to Frank McCourt's hugely successful Angela's Ashes (both Simon & Schuster). Ric Berg predicted 'Tis "will be the biggest thing in the fall, aside from King." By Trudi M. Rosenblum for Publishers Weekly, Aug. 2, 1999 “Talking to the Teacher,” by Sara Mosle for the New York Times, Sept. 12, 1999 (see attached image) “Join Your Favorit Authors in a Literary Tradition: The New York Times Literary Brunch celebrating the 21st annual New York is Book Country with Stusan Faludi ‘Stiffed,’ Frank McCourt ‘’Tis,’ Richard North Patterson ‘Dark Lady,’ Neil Simon ‘The Play Goes On.’” NYT Display Ad 190, July 18, 1999 (pg. NJ7)
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A210191140213100300.jpg
11 Other promotion
In order to promote the trade paper edition of ‘Tis, the 60 Minutes interview of McCourt was re-aired on August 6, 2000. Since Angela’s Ashes owes much of its success to the speaking and touring McCourt did in order to promote his memoir, he also embarked on an extensive tour on the behalf of ‘Tis. McCourt made “media and bookstore appearances in more than 30 cities. In his home state of Connecticut, tickets quickly sold out for his book-signing and lecture appearance (capacity was about 850).” In addition, Simon & Schuster Audio announced that for every book copy of ‘Tis purchased, “S&S will give a $5 rebate on an abridged audio or CD (retail price is $26 and $32 respectively) or a $10 rebate on an unabridged audio (retail: $49.95) through January 31, 2000.” (Publishers Weekly) McCourt was interviewed both for the Diane Rehm Show for NPR and for C-SPAN. ‘Tis was also reviewed by Maureen Howard for the Books section of the New York Times. Additional reviews of ‘Tis were printed on Powell Books’ website, in The Guardian, in the Austin Chronicle, and on EW.com.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The audiobook version of ‘Tis, which, like Angela’s Ashes, is read by Frank McCourt, was nominated for a PW Grammy in the category of “Adult Best Spoken Word Album.” There is also a YouTube “summary” of the memoir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5qyRjnrRoE
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
There were numerous translations of ‘Tis. See #5 for further details.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
'Tis is the sequel to McCourt's first memoir, Angela's Ashes. Angela's Ashes was published in 1996 by Scribner. In 2005 'Tis was followed by McCourt's third memoir, Teacher Man.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Frank McCourt has died since the first entry in this database was written. This entry relates important details of the author’s final years, as well as bibliographic information specific to the content ‘Tis. For further details regarding Angela’s Ashes, McCourt’s childhood, adult life, marriages, and awards, please refer to the entry on Angela’s Ashes. Although his second memoir begins where the first concluded, chronologically and linguistically—the final word of Angela’s Ashes is “‘Tis”—‘Tis focuses on McCourt’s life in the United States. It begins in 1949 with a nineteen-year-old McCourt trying to assimilate into American life and culture. After a series of odd jobs, McCourt is drafted into the army during the Korean War. He is sent to Europe, where he “served as a dog trainer and later a clerk in West Germany” (New York Times). Although he was not a high school graduate, McCourt used his G.I. Bill to earn himself a spot at NYU, where he met his future first wife, Alberta Small. After graduating from NYU in 1957 with a B.A. in English, McCourt became an English and social studies teacher in Staten Island. He and Alberta had a daughter, Margaret Ann. However, his relationship with his wife soured, partly due to McCourt’s problems with alcohol. McCourt, following in the footsteps of his own father, eventually left his family. In 1981 Angela McCourt died in New York City at approximately the same time that Malachy McCourt, Sr., McCourt’s father, died in Ireland. “Frank goes to Ireland to bury his father and scatter his mother’s ashes” (Wikipedia). McCourt became an instant celebrity in the United States after the enormous success of Angela’s Ashes: “Critics, enchanted by Mr. McCourt’s language and gripped by his story, delivered the kind of reviews that writers can only dream of” (New York Times). Despite his popularity in America, McCourt was met with mixed emotions in Ireland. He told Slate in 2007 that “[w]hen the book was published in Ireland, I was denounced from hill, pulpit and barstool. Certain citizens claimed I had disgraced the fair name of the city of Limerick, that I had attacked the church, that I had despoiled my mother’s name, and that if I returned to Limerick, I would surely be found hanging from a lamppost” (Slate). Due to this reaction, McCourt was advised by Scribner to “change certain names and alter certain scenes” in ‘Tis “for fear of offending the sensibilities of teaching colleagues. I also had to be careful about comments on my first marriage. There be dragons” (Slate). In 2005 McCourt authored his third and final memoir, Teacher Man, a work humorously detailing the challenges and successes of his almost thirty-year career as a teacher in New York. Although McCourt did change some names in ‘Tis, even more censoring took place with the original manuscript of Teacher Man. Reacting to the response to his previous memoirs, McCourt was made to “exclude sections of my life in Teacher Man. Again, I had to change names of former students if there was any whiff of impropriety. I really wanted to take my chances, but Scribner, my publisher, wagged the old finger and said nay nay” (Slate). Like ‘Tis, Teacher Man was also a bestseller. Neither achieved anything near the success of Angela’s Ashes. In fact, prior to its 1999 publication, McCourt predicted the fate of ‘Tis: "I don't think it will be [as successful as Angela's Ashes]. It couldn't...it won't have the, the exotic appeal" (PBS). However, whereas ‘Tis “encountered rough weather from critics still giddy from the memory of Angela’s Ashes,” and “McCourt was taken to task by many critics for being bitter and self-pitying…. McCourt rallied” with Teacher Man, a book praised for its exploration of the potentials offered in and by education (New York Times). Two years before his death, McCourt espoused plans to venture into fiction writing. He declared that the “way around all this nervousness,” referring to Scribner’s censoring of his memoirs, “is in the novel—and that is what I’m trying now. Yes, yes, I still have to cover my tracks—and my ass—but I’ll have greater freedom” (Slate). In May 2009 McCourt was treated for melanoma, and subsequently underwent home chemotherapy. McCourt died of metastatic melanoma on July 19, 2009 at a hospice in Manhattan. He was 78. McCourt was survived by his third wife, Ellen Frey, his daughter, Margaret Ann, and his three grandchildren, Frank, Jack, and Avery. “In October 2009, the New York Department of Education…founded the Frank McCourt High School of Writing, Journalism, and Literature” (Wikipedia). Located on the Upper West Side, the “screened-admissions public high school” is one of four schools filling the space vacated by the Louis D. Brandeis High School (Wikipedia). Despite the initial reaction in Ireland to McCourt’s memoirs, McCourt received an honorary doctorate from Limerick University. Limerick now also provides “Angela’s Ashes” city tours. Additionally, in July 2011 the Frank McCourt Museum was opened at Leamy House, McCourt’s former school. The museum includes memorabilia, such as “schoolbooks of the period and old photos” (Frank McCourt Museum). It also contains Angela’s Ashes ephemerae, a recreation of the McCourt home, cufflinks given to McCourt by President George W. Bush, some of the author’s personal items, and the manuscript of ‘Tis. Works Cited: "The Frank McCourt Museum." The Frank McCourt Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. "Frank McCourt." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. Grimes, William. "Frank McCourt, Whose Irish Childhood Illuminated His Prose, Is Dead at 78." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 July 2009. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. McCourt, Frank. "How I Wrote Angela'sAshes." Slate Magazine. Slate Magazine, 27 Mar. 2007. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. Smith, Terrence. "Frank McCourt: Working His Way Up." PBS. PBS, 17 Mar. 1999. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
‘Tis was met with mixed reviews by critics. Most critics discuss the memoir’s harsh, adult tone in their reviews, comparing it to the young voice of Angela’s Ashes. It seems to be impossible to have a conversation about ‘Tis without juxtaposing it to Angela’s Ashes. Therefore, responses to McCourt’s sophomore text are based upon whether or not McCourt delivers again, not whether or not the book is successful as an individual text. There were some, like Entertainment Weekly’s L.S. Klepp, who received McCourt’s second offering favorably. Klepp writes that ‘Tis, similar to Angela’s Ashes, has a “clairvoyant eye for quirks of class, character, and fate, and also a distinct picaresque quality. It’s a quest for an America of wholesome Hollywood happiness that doesn’t exist, and it’s about the real America—rendered with comic affection—that McCourt discovers along the way” (Klepp, EW). Klepp ultimately gives the memoir an “A.” New York Times Sunday book reviewer Maureen Howard finds echoes of Sean O’Casey and James Joyce in the form and style of ‘Tis. She praises the memoir’s touching moments of insight: “This is a refreshing Frank McCourt - learned, ever so thoughtful. He is almost given to 'emotion recollected in tranquility.' In writing of the dissolution of his first marriage and the deaths of his parents, he does not strive for Dickensian poignancy. Here's the fellow who can prove himself in ink and need not romanticize the writer or presume there was no place of honor for the teacher. 'Tis a success story, after all” (Howard, NYT). Not all New York Times reviews were as positive. In fact, leading literary critic Michiko Kakutani’s review for the New York Times is one of the most notable critiques of the memoir. Her main point of contention with McCourt is the book’s tone: "'Tis is a considerably angrier book than Angela's Ashes. Whereas that ‘epic of woe’ was remarkable for its lack of bitterness and self-pity, 'Tis is largely animated by the feelings of resentment and envy that the young McCourt experienced [and] this sour tone of complaint does not make for particularly engaging or sympathetic reading…. Although such descriptions are enlivened by McCourt's resilient sense of humor, they do not possess the lyricism or searing intimacy that fueled his childhood reminiscences in Angela's Ashes” (Kakutani, NYT). Unlike Howard, she does not believe McCourt’s humor adequately counters the novel’s angry tone. She finds the story of an adolescent McCourt less appealing, less readable than the story of the child McCourt in Angela’s Ashes. Kakutani acknowledges McCourt’s gift for storytelling, but says it cannot “compete with the wonderfully nuanced portraits he drew of his parents in Angela's Ashes” (Kakutani, NYT). It seems that the book’s main flaw is that it is not Angela’s Ashes. Stacy Bush of the Austin Chronicle sums up the varied reactions to the book: “The fact that some reviews of McCourt's ‘Tis vary widely…illustrates that it has enough depth to provoke varied reactions and enough variety to engage a wide group of readers. No follow-up to Angela's Ashes was going to be easy. Say what you will: McCourt has guts and he uses them here” (Bush, Austin). Rather than lamenting the fact that the novel is not Angela’s Ashes, she commends McCourt for having the courage to pen a second memoir in the wake of the triumph of his first. As with the other reviewers, Bush focuses on the difference in tone between the two works as the source for the difference in reception. She, however, is no Kakutani, and does not loathe the tone of the second offering: “The tone of 'Tis is quite different from Angela's Ashes, and thank goodness for that. While it may be a shock to read the numerous complaints, self-deprecations, and envious moments McCourt experiences, his honesty is refreshing…. Fortunately, humor goes hand in hand with these stories, and the reader knows that McCourt has moved beyond the powerlessness and envy he felt in those days” (Bush, Austin). Instead of chastising the author, Bush allows McCourt his feelings, citing his humor as both a successful way of taking the bite out of the bitterness, as well as a sign that the author uses this tone to represent who he was at that point in his life. She praises his “nerve to write what he felt. This makes the difference between a real writer and a merely good storyteller,” and concludes with, “[y]ou miss his voice once the book has been completed. Fortunately, McCourt seems to have no intentions of doing a literary Garbo act. He'll be back with something new and different. Reading a natural like McCourt makes one suspect that the reader has the more difficult task, though; we have to wait for McCourt's next entry” (Bush, Austin). Though written in a different tone, it is the voice of the novel that appeals to Bush, and leaves her ready and waiting for Teacher Man. Works Cited Bush, Stacy. "Review: Frank McCourt's 'Tis: A Memoir." Review:. Austin Chronicle, 1 Oct. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. Howard, Maureen. "McCourt's New World." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. Kakutani, Michiko. "For an Outsider, It's Mostly Sour Grapes in the Land of Milk and Honey." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. Klepp, L. S. "'Tis Review." EW.com. Entertainment Weekly, 24 Sept. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
‘Tis was met with mixed reviews by critics. Most critics discuss the memoir’s harsh, adult tone in their reviews, comparing it to the young voice of Angela’s Ashes. It seems to be impossible to have a conversation about ‘Tis without juxtaposing it to Angela’s Ashes. Therefore, responses to McCourt’s sophomore text are based upon whether or not McCourt delivers again, not whether or not the book is successful as an individual text. There were some, like Entertainment Weekly’s L.S. Klepp, who received McCourt’s second offering favorably. Klepp writes that ‘Tis, similar to Angela’s Ashes, has a “clairvoyant eye for quirks of class, character, and fate, and also a distinct picaresque quality. It’s a quest for an America of wholesome Hollywood happiness that doesn’t exist, and it’s about the real America—rendered with comic affection—that McCourt discovers along the way” (Klepp, EW). Klepp ultimately gives the memoir an “A.” New York Times Sunday book reviewer Maureen Howard finds echoes of Sean O’Casey and James Joyce in the form and style of ‘Tis. She praises the memoir’s touching moments of insight: “This is a refreshing Frank McCourt - learned, ever so thoughtful. He is almost given to 'emotion recollected in tranquility.' In writing of the dissolution of his first marriage and the deaths of his parents, he does not strive for Dickensian poignancy. Here's the fellow who can prove himself in ink and need not romanticize the writer or presume there was no place of honor for the teacher. 'Tis a success story, after all” (Howard, NYT). Not all New York Times reviews were as positive. In fact, leading literary critic Michiko Kakutani’s review for the New York Times is one of the most notable critiques of the memoir. Her main point of contention with McCourt is the book’s tone: "'Tis is a considerably angrier book than Angela's Ashes. Whereas that ‘epic of woe’ was remarkable for its lack of bitterness and self-pity, 'Tis is largely animated by the feelings of resentment and envy that the young McCourt experienced [and] this sour tone of complaint does not make for particularly engaging or sympathetic reading…. Although such descriptions are enlivened by McCourt's resilient sense of humor, they do not possess the lyricism or searing intimacy that fueled his childhood reminiscences in Angela's Ashes” (Kakutani, NYT). Unlike Howard, she does not believe McCourt’s humor adequately counters the novel’s angry tone. She finds the story of an adolescent McCourt less appealing, less readable than the story of the child McCourt in Angela’s Ashes. Kakutani acknowledges McCourt’s gift for storytelling, but says it cannot “compete with the wonderfully nuanced portraits he drew of his parents in Angela's Ashes” (Kakutani, NYT). It seems that the book’s main flaw is that it is not Angela’s Ashes. Stacy Bush of the Austin Chronicle sums up the varied reactions to the book: “The fact that some reviews of McCourt's ‘Tis vary widely…illustrates that it has enough depth to provoke varied reactions and enough variety to engage a wide group of readers. No follow-up to Angela's Ashes was going to be easy. Say what you will: McCourt has guts and he uses them here” (Bush, Austin). Rather than lamenting the fact that the novel is not Angela’s Ashes, she commends McCourt for having the courage to pen a second memoir in the wake of the triumph of his first. As with the other reviewers, Bush focuses on the difference in tone between the two works as the source for the difference in reception. She, however, is no Kakutani, and does not loathe the tone of the second offering: “The tone of 'Tis is quite different from Angela's Ashes, and thank goodness for that. While it may be a shock to read the numerous complaints, self-deprecations, and envious moments McCourt experiences, his honesty is refreshing…. Fortunately, humor goes hand in hand with these stories, and the reader knows that McCourt has moved beyond the powerlessness and envy he felt in those days” (Bush, Austin). Instead of chastising the author, Bush allows McCourt his feelings, citing his humor as both a successful way of taking the bite out of the bitterness, as well as a sign that the author uses this tone to represent who he was at that point in his life. She praises his “nerve to write what he felt. This makes the difference between a real writer and a merely good storyteller,” and concludes with, “[y]ou miss his voice once the book has been completed. Fortunately, McCourt seems to have no intentions of doing a literary Garbo act. He'll be back with something new and different. Reading a natural like McCourt makes one suspect that the reader has the more difficult task, though; we have to wait for McCourt's next entry” (Bush, Austin). Though written in a different tone, it is the voice of the novel that appeals to Bush, and leaves her ready and waiting for Teacher Man. Works Cited Bush, Stacy. "Review: Frank McCourt's 'Tis: A Memoir." Review:. Austin Chronicle, 1 Oct. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. Howard, Maureen. "McCourt's New World." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. Kakutani, Michiko. "For an Outsider, It's Mostly Sour Grapes in the Land of Milk and Honey." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. Klepp, L. S. "'Tis Review." EW.com. Entertainment Weekly, 24 Sept. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
The bestseller status of Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis (1999) is definitely attributable to the enormous success of Angela’s Ashes, the memoir that transformed its teacher-turned-author into an overnight celebrity and Pulitzer Prize winner. Marketed as a sequel to McCourt’s first memoir, and promoted in numerous interviews and by a book tour, it is not surprising that ‘Tis was an instant bestseller. However, even though it made the annual bestseller list, the fate of ‘Tis does not resemble that of Angela’s Ashes. Still humorous, but darker in tone than its predecessor, ‘Tis fails to strike the same emotional chord with American audiences. For this reason, ‘Tis was met with mixed reviews and, consequently, has not garnered much critical or popular attention since its release. Nonetheless, despite the memoir’s ability to easily fit into the category of bestsellers that succeed solely based upon their author’s name and the success of his or her preceding work(s), ‘Tis possesses numerous parallels with other twentieth century bestsellers. In ‘Tis, McCourt spotlights the difficulty for an Irish immigrant to arrive penniless in America and, even with hard work and determination, turn himself into a successful, self-made man. As the young McCourt struggles to shed his Irish identity, the memoir, via pointed, though humorous, observations of the persistent ethnic and class barriers in America, touches upon the idea of what it means to be an American. Though a work of nonfiction, ‘Tis reads like many popular American fictions, and taps into many of the themes that run through numerous twentieth century bestsellers. Therefore, ‘Tis can be placed into a category with other bestsellers that have an outsider protagonist who critiques the accepted social norms of society through his struggle to assimilate into. Although the memoir was published in 1999, the story begins in 1949 when a nineteen-year-old Frank McCourt arrives via boat in New York. The narrative continues until the year 1985, following McCourt through his personal and professional ups and downs as an Irish-American living in New York City. From working odd jobs to serving in the military to putting himself through college to becoming an American high school English teacher, McCourt’s adventures reveal the ethnic, religious, cultural, professional, educational, and class divisions that exist in the United States. Using the perspective of a newly arrived outsider, and then a disillusioned insider, ‘Tis’ tone grows with its developing protagonist. Though not a traditional Bildungsroman, ‘Tis is still a story of growth and development. The McCourt of ‘Tis must not only grow into a man, though; he must also develop into an American. Although the United States is a mixing pot of cultures and ethnicities, McCourt’s memoir illuminates the difficulty for mid-twentieth century immigrants in New York City to achieve the elusive American Dream. When Frank sets sail for America from Ireland, he envisions New York City as the “city of my dreams where I’d have the golden tan, the dazzling white teeth” (15). However, he quickly realizes that it is not as easy to make himself over into an American—let alone achieve the dashing good looks of an American movie star—as he had initially presumed: “New York was the city of my dreams but now I’m here the dreams are gone and it’s not what I expected at all” (49). Moving from the boarding house of one frustrated immigrant to another, and forced to take jobs he can never tell anyone at home about—“They’d never believe me. They’d say, Go away ower that, and they’d laugh because all you have to do is look at the films to see how well off Americans are”—the America McCourt encounters is nothing like the one he anticipated (50). What McCourt identifies as being the main obstacle prohibiting him from assimilation is the very thing he believed moving to America would erase: his status as an Irishman. McCourt quickly becomes aware of the impossibility of escaping his Irishness in America: “Why is it the minute I open my mouth the whole world is telling me they’re Irish and we should all have a drink?” (91); “If I didn’t have red eyes and an Irish accent I could be purely American” (180). Unable to cure his infected eyes or get rid of his brogue, McCourt is constantly labeled as Irish and foreign. Everyone he meets is either at least part Irish or has an opinion about the Irish, especially their fondness for alcohol: “All you people do is drink” (23); “What did you people ever do for the world besides drink?” (57); “I’m Italian an’ Greek an’ we have our problems but my advice to a young Irishman is this, Stay away from the booze” (277). Since Americans are predisposed to view him as a drunk, McCourt finds that being Irish in America means he has to dig himself out of a hole that he is not entirely responsible for. Being Irish, however, does enable McCourt to find some sort of solidarity within a pocket of people in the United States. Although the drinking stereotype is something for which he is constantly berated (sometimes deservedly, sometimes not), he finds comfort in the Irish community created in and around the various Irish pubs in New York City: “When you’re Irish and you don’t know a soul in New York and you’re walking along Third Avenue with trains rattling along on the El above there’s great comfort in discovering there’s hardly a block without an Irish bar” (27). Amidst the confusion and loneliness of the city, Irish bars provide McCourt with a reassuring sense of familiarity and a type of home-away-from-home. However, McCourt is not satisfied with being constantly labeled as Irish, a fact that seems to prohibit him from achieving the American Dream. He notes that it is “not enough to be American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and you’d wonder how they’d get along if someone hadn’t invented the hyphen” (91). He is forced to accept that he can never be simply American; he will always be Irish, always a foreigner. Similar to Leslie in Edna Ferber’s bestseller Giant (1952), McCourt will never be fully accepted as a local—within the country or the city—no matter how long he lives in the United States. Whether he is in the army in Germany, working the docks in the city, in class at New York University, or teaching on Staten Island, whenever “an Irish writer is mentioned, or anything Irish, everyone turns to me as if I’m the authority…. it’s the same with Catholicism…. I’d like to stand up…and announce…that I’m too busy to be Irish or Catholic” (179-180). He resents his outsider status, which only seems to call unwarranted and undesired attention to him, forever prohibiting him from being considered a “typical” American. Forced to work multiple jobs in order to put himself through school, pay rent, and provide for his family back in Limerick, McCourt has no time to read up on every Irish author and historical event in order to prove his worth as the expert on all things Irish. It is precisely this outsider status, though, that enables McCourt to critique aspects of American society that go unnoticed by locals. This puts ‘Tis in conversation with other twentieth century bestsellers, such as, but not limited to, Giant, The Jungle (1906), White Oleander (1999), and even Pollyanna (1913). In Giant, Ferber uses the character of Leslie, a Maryland native turned Texan bride, to paint an image of Texas as a foreign land, while simultaneously calling attention to the deplorable treatment of Mexicans by wealthy, white Texans. The character of Jurgis in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposes the difficulty (if not the impossibility) for immigrant workers to build a sustainable life while working in the meat industry in Chicago. Janet Finch’s White Oleander focuses on Astrid, a young girl turned orphan when her mother is sent to jail, to explore America’s problematic foster care system. And in Pollyanna, Eleanor Porter uses the poor, orphan Pollyanna’s outsider status to highlight the importance for wealthy Americans to act charitably towards the less fortunate members of their own communities. Although every one of these novels takes place in the United States, they have little in common in terms of plot, tone, structure, or even geographic location. However, each uses an outsider character to critique facets of American society. The central character of each exhibits a desire to fit in within his or her new community, yet also has the capacity to point out and challenge certain social norms and actions of the community in which he or she now resides. It is this ability to be immersed but, at the same time, distanced that enables the protagonists to highlight societal flaws. So although ‘Tis seems different from these other bestsellers, it shares the formal feature of having an outsider protagonist who opens readers’ eyes to local injustices. ‘Tis also fits into a tradition of “middle-class realistic novels,” novels that “mean to please and instruct middle-class America in all its diversity of social marking, economic position, political standing” (Hutner 1). Though an autobiographical work, McCourt taps into a strain of middle class realism popular in American fiction, spicing up his status as an undistinguishable Irish immigrant with humorous remarks and anecdotes. Whereas Porter uses Pollyanna’s naiveté to critique society, McCourt wields humor to access and animate the “reality” of his first decades in the United States. The humor makes both McCourt’s outsider status and his critiques of American life entertaining, rather than disparaging, which is why the book was not met with a storm of criticism. Nonetheless, it was critiqued for not recreating the tone of Angela’s Ashes. Though funny, the mood produced by ‘Tis is not as light as that of the first memoir. McCourt’s employs a humorous, though at times frustrated and biting, tone that spares no one—including the author and his own family members—from its laughter. Using humor to deal with the trials that accompany adolescence, familial issues, immigration, and life in the United States, McCourt’s nonfiction work deals with many of the issues found in popular American fiction. It does not make class and ethnic divides as grim as The Jungle, but they are still obvious. Whereas the humor of Angela’s Ashes makes the experience of growing up in an impoverished family in Ireland more palatable, the humor of ‘Tis, because of McCourt’s outsider status, is more critical. Here, it does not merely serve to make a bleak subject matter easy to digest, but it also critiques flaws in American society. For instance, McCourt is often bitter about the extra obstacles he faced as a foreigner in order to live in the United States. He states, for example, that if “I didn’t have to work in banks, docks, warehouses, I’d have time to be a proper college student and moan over the emptiness” (207). Due to the additional financial pressures on him he cannot idly chat about Camus and existentialism with the other NYU students. However, his desire to be a part of the student body, to be just like everyone else, is consistent with the theme of achieving the American Dream in American bestsellers. He too values the university system; he too wants to have a Buick and a house in the suburbs. And though he wishes his “father and mother had lived respectable lives and sent me to college so that I could spend my time in bars and cafeterias telling everyone how I admired Camus for his daily invitation to suicide,” he knows that he must work harder to turn the American Dream into a reality for himself (207). Unlike Pollyanna, who is an orphan but has familial connections to support her, McCourt, an immigrant, cannot climb the socio-economic ladder through relationships alone. Similar to Jurgis, McCourt is part of a community of immigrants that struggles to survive, making it difficult to save up for and attain George Babbitt-like status within the middle class. He may be in America and inside of an American classroom, but he is still an outsider. This is where the bitterness of tone that many critics have cited as their reason for not liking ‘Tis as much as Angela’s Ashes stems from. McCourt is still humorous, but his humor becomes more provocative when it is critical of his time in America. Describing a class he was in at NYU, McCourt recalls how the professor said the “Pilgrims left England to escape religious persecution and that puzzles me because the Pilgrims were English themselves and the English were always the ones who persecuted everyone else, especially the Irish” (148). However, McCourt feels inadequate to question the professor on this point: “I’d like to raise my hand and tell the professor how the Irish suffered for centuries under English rule but I’m sure everyone in this class has a high school diploma and if I open my mouth they’ll know I’m not one of them” (148). Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis offers a different lens through which Americans can look at their country. For those born in the United States, it calls attention to what it is like to be an immigrant; to the small, daily struggles, and to the impossibility of losing the hyphenated identity. For immigrants, those who feel the burden of the hyphen in their daily lives, it may provide moments of familiarity. Either way, it provides a realistic glimpse at the way in which someone else thinks. The memoir reminds its audiences that the United States was founded upon the American Dream. This desire to be socially mobile, to work for and achieve a better life has not disappeared; immigrants are still coming to America with the hope of building a more comfortable life. Yet, the struggle for livelihood and the permanent branding of outsiderness makes it difficult to fully assimilate. While McCourt may have been able to use a lighter sense of humor to depict his Irish childhood, he does not deem it appropriate for realistically capturing the adolescent angst of a frustrated immigrant. Thus, the view of Frank McCourt as an author is complicated by ‘Tis. However, regardless of how it diverges from the tone of Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis explores many of the same themes as other twentieth century bestsellers. The use of an outsider character to critique and explore American life, and the permeation of the American Dream within the memoir—“I’d like to be part of an American family…. I might have pimples and bad teeth and fire alarm eyes but, underneath, I’m just like them, a well-scrubbed soul dreaming of a house in a suburb with a tidy lawn where our child, little Frank, pushes his tricycle”— places the book within the group of other middle class realist American bestsellers (82). McCourt is a foreigner, but inside, he is like any other American. And underneath the dark humor and pointed critiques of the United States, his memoir proves it is in the same vein as other American bestsellers. The book may have made it to the bestseller list because of Frank McCourt’s celebrity, but it does not strike one as an outsider on the list. Works Cited Hutner, Gordon. "Introduction," What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel 1920-1960. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. 1-36. McCourt, Frank. 'Tis: A Memoir. New York, NY: Scribner, 1999. Print.
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