Styron, William: Sophie's Choice
(researched by Jessica Busch)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
The First Trade Edition of Sophie's Choice was published in 1979 by Random House Inc. in New York. Published simultaneously by Random House of Canada Limited in Toronto.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first edition is published in maroon cloth with a gold stamp of William Styron's signature on the front and gold stamps on the spine.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
265 leaves, 515 pages 7 unnumbered leaves in beginning pp. 3-515 numbered and two unnumbered leaves at the end.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
This edition is not edited or introduced
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
This edition is not illustrated.
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?)
The dust jacket of this edition is off white with brown writing. There are not pictures, only the title and the author's name. This gives the book an air of seriousness. The writing is a good size and the margins are also. The cloth cover of the book is a very attractive maroon with gold stampings of the title, author, and publisher on the spine. The author's signature is stamped on the front cover in gold writing.
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?)
The paper used for this book is very high quality. The pages are thick and rigid. None of the pages have yellowed with time and none of the ink is smudged. The paper holds up very well. It is evident that this book was meant to stick around for a while.
11 Description of binding(s)
The pages of this book are stitched together with red and yellow head and tailbands. There are gold stamps and the cover and the spine of the book.
12 Transcription of title page
SOPHIE'S/CHOICE/WILLIAM/STYRON/Random House/New York
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
No holdings available
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
There is a dedication on the eighth unnumbered page that says "To the Memory of My Father (1889-1978) There is a quote in German and one in French on the ninth unnumbered page. The tenth unnumbered page provides a translation of both: "Who'll show a child just as it is? Who'll place it within its constellation, with the measure of distance in its hand? Who'll make its death from grey bread, that grows hard,-or leave it there, within the round mouth, like the choking core of a sweet apple?...Minds of mur- derers are easily divined. But this, though: death, the whole death,-even before life's begun, to hold it all so gently, and be good: this is beyond description! From the fourth Duino Elegy -translated by J.B. Leishman and Stephen Spender ...I seek that essential region of the soul where absolute evil confronts brotherhood.
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
The original publisher, Random House, issued at least five editions of this book. There are four regualar editions and one limited edition. The limited edition consists of five hundred copies each one numbered and signed by the author.
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?
The first edition had at least five printings.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
This book has been published by at least four different publishers: Bantam Books 1980 and 1983 Corgi 1980 Cape 1979 Vintage 1992
6 Last date in print?
The last known date in print is 1992
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
The first printing sold 125,000 copies. By June 1979 book sales numbered 203,000. By November 1979 the total book sales were 225,000.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
The book originally cost $12.95. Since a total of 225,000 books were sold by 1979, the sales figures up until 1979 equalled about $2,913,750.00
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Finding an advertisement of this book was somewhat difficult. I did come across one example in the New York Times 1979 edition. The ad was spread across two entire pages. It had a large picture of the first edition of this book. Next to the picture were the words: And now/we are proud/to announce/the publication/of William Styron's/triumphant/new novel
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
This book was also promoted through Publisher's Weekly. The book appeared in the Publisher's Weekly bestsellers list from August 1979 to February 1980. It also appeared as the Book of the Month Club's Main Selection.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
This book appeared as a Book on Tape in 1984 in nineteen sound cassettes of 1 1/2 hours each. This book was made into a motion picture in 1982 starring Keving Kline and Meryl Streep. There is a musical score available from the motion picture's piano score. This contains four pages of piano music along with guitar chords.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
This book was translated in many different languages: Spanish: La decision de Sophie, Ediciones Grijalbo, S.A. 1985 Slovene: Sohiejina odlocitev, Zalozba Obzorja, 1982 Dutch: Sophie's keuze, Veen, 1980 Swedish: Sophies val, Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 1980 Russian: Vybor Sofi: roman, Raduga, 1991 Polish: Wybor Zofii, Niezalezna Oficyna Wydawnicza, 1991 Italian: La scelta di Sophie, Leonardo, 1990 Japanese: Sofi no sentaku, Shinchosha, 1991 French: Le choix de Sophie, Gallimard, 1990 Rumanian: Sophie a ales, Univers, 1993 Norwegian: Sofies valg, Aschenhoug, 1984 Hungarian: Sophie valaszt: regeny, Europa Konyvkiado, 1985 Finnish: Sofien valinta, Helsingissa Kunstannusosakeyhtio Otava, 1985 Portuguese: A escolha de Sofia, Edito Record, 1988 Slovak: Sophilina volba, Bratislava, 1986 Turkish: Sophie' nin secimi, Altin Kitaplar Yayinevi, 1983
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Portions of this book previously appeared in Esquire magazine.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Biography on William Styron Focus on: Sophie's Choice Sophie's Choice, a novel by William Styron focuses on a young girl, Sophie's life. The novel's narrator, Stingo, a struggling writer, moves into the apartment below her. He becomes friends with Sophie and her boyfriend, Nathan. He finds Sophie fascinating and eventually falls in love with her. Nathan turns out to be abusive and harsh towards Sophie. Because of this, Sophie turns to Stingo as a confidant and trusted friend. She spills her secrets to him, including those about Nathan. Stingo finds out, after seeing a tattoo on Sophie's arm, that she is a survivor of Auschwitz. She tells him of the horrors she encountered and of many choices she had to make during this time. The end of the novel finds Sophie unable to cope with all of the pressure her choices placed upon her and she killed herself. William Styron put a lot of thought and time into the development of Sophie's Choice. The topic of the novel was generated by the novel Five Chimneys by Olga Lengyel, a Hungarian who survived Auschwitz. She tells how through her ignorance she let her children be led to the gas chamber. She regrets not lying about their age because then they may have been salvaged as workers. She also tells a story about a Gypsy who, like Sophie, was forced to choose which of her children she wanted to keep. (West, 246) Styron also knew an actual person on which he based his Sophie character. This woman, Sophie, was a beautiful blonde with a tattoo on her arm. She had come back from Auschwitz and was in love with the man upstairs. This woman lost her father, husband, and two children to the gas chamber. Many of Styron's characters are based on real people. Sophie, as mentioned above was based on an actual woman named Sophie who went through similar problems. Styron based Nathan on the man who lived above him who the real Sophie was in love with. This of course left Styron himself as Stingo. Stingo is very autobiographical. Both Styron and Stingo worked in the publishing house, McGraw Hill, they both found the work terribly boring. Styron refused Kon-Tiki, a bestseller by Thor Heyderdahl, Stingo also refuses this book in the novel. Both men were dismissed from the publishing house for their casual attitude, and because they refused to wear a hat to work. Most important, both men fell in love early in life and the girl committed suicide. Styron also recounts his mother's death accurately in the novel. (West, 244) William Styron wrote Sophie's Choice for many reasons. One was to convey the message that anti-Semitism such as infected Europe can make anyone a victim, even a non-Jew. (West, 247) Second, he wanted people to know that there were more sufferers that Jews-Armenians, Gypsies, Poles, etc. Finally, Styron wanted to take up the challenge presented to him in a quote by Malraux, "I seek that essential region of the soul where absolute evil confronts brotherhood." Styron wanted to recreate this moment of absolute evil. (West, 254) Styron was adamant about providing a novel of truth. Since truth, to him, equals authority, he did not want any historical errors whatsoever. To achieve this he read books about the holocaust and Auschwitz. He reached a point, however, where he was uncomfortable writing anything else without seeing the place where it happened. Because of this, he visited Auschwitz during the same season his character, Sophie would have been there. He described it as "horrible beyond belief". (West, 201) In conclusion, Styron did not write Sophie's Choice to change the world or it's views. He does not believe that literature can change the world, but it can penetrate deeply into human consciousness and give them new ideas to think about. Source: West, James L. ed. Conversations with William Styron. University Press of Mississippi, USA. 1985
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
From its publication in 1976, William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice was controversial. Critics and readers wondered how a Southern man "troubled only by minor guilts and major yearningsand remote from the psychic condition at the center of his intended work" (Ziff, 1979) could possibly capture adequately the intense emotions and problems of people actually connected with the Holocaust. Critics both support and chide Styron's ability to portray the Holocaust accurately. Larzer Ziff supports Styron in his article "Breaking Sacred Silences". Ziff claims that many readers criticize Styron for "importing unhappiness from outside his continent". (Ziff, 1979) Ziff suggests that this is Styron's way of unburdening himself and suggests that Styron does not support silence as a way of dealing with horrors such as the Holocaust. Some critics, such as John Gardner in his essay "A Novel of Evil", go so far as to suggest that Styron occasionally lapses into anti-Semitism, anti-feminism etc. (Gardner, 1979)Some critics also remain unconvinced by Styron's arguments. They claim that Styron's novel is flawed in many ways. In Robert Alter's article "Styron's Stingo", Alter claims that Styron tries too hard to produce intensities. He says that Styron's descriptions of things like "a little girl being marched off to the gas clutching her flute in one hand and a one-eyed teddy bear in the other" is going way too far in attempts to stir reader's emotions. Benjamin DeMott in his article, "Styron's Survivor: An Honest Witness" touches upon this issue as well. He claims that Styron has "no direct knowledge" of the Holocaust which makes some of his narrative awkward, only serving to disengage reader's feelings. This creates a feeling of skepticism in the reader. DeMott also feels that there is an "immense gap between the youthful Stingo's level of comprehension and the inexpressibel horror through which his friend has passed." (DeMott, 1979) Styron's novel, as Philip W. Leon points out in his article "A Vast Dehumanization",caused friction among the Jewish Community. Some charge that Styron "has trespassed on Jewish suffering and death at the hands of Hitler's executioners." (Leon, 1979) Their main objection was that Styron never "experienced the agony of a Nazi death camp." Leon hopes that readers will see that Styron is "urging a universal confrontation of the reality of the unutterable dehumanization which took place in our very recent history, because only through such confrontation and examination can the truth be made clear." (Leon, 1979)
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
From its publication in 1976, William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice was controversial. Critics and readers wondered how a Southern man "troubled only by minor guilts and major yearningsand remote from the psychic condition at the center of his intended work" (Ziff, 1979) could possibly capture adequately the intense emotions and problems of people actually connected with the Holocaust. Critics both support and chide Styron's ability to portray the Holocaust accurately. Larzer Ziff supports Styron in his article "Breaking Sacred Silences". Ziff claims that many readers criticize Styron for "importing unhappiness from outside his continent". (Ziff, 1979) Ziff suggests that this is Styron's way of unburdening himself and suggests that Styron does not support silence as a way of dealing with horrors such as the Holocaust. Some critics, such as John Gardner in his essay "A Novel of Evil", go so far as to suggest that Styron occasionally lapses into anti-Semitism, anti-feminism etc. (Gardner, 1979)Some critics also remain unconvinced by Styron's arguments. They claim that Styron's novel is flawed in many ways. In Robert Alter's article "Styron's Stingo", Alter claims that Styron tries too hard to produce intensities. He says that Styron's descriptions of things like "a little girl being marched off to the gas clutching her flute in one hand and a one-eyed teddy bear in the other" is going way too far in attempts to stir reader's emotions. Benjamin DeMott in his article, "Styron's Survivor: An Honest Witness" touches upon this issue as well. He claims that Styron has "no direct knowledge" of the Holocaust which makes some of his narrative awkward, only serving to disengage reader's feelings. This creates a feeling of skepticism in the reader. DeMott also feels that there is an "immense gap between the youthful Stingo's level of comprehension and the inexpressibel horror through which his friend has passed." (DeMott, 1979) Styron's novel, as Philip W. Leon points out in his article "A Vast Dehumanization",caused friction among the Jewish Community. Some charge that Styron "has trespassed on Jewish suffering and death at the hands of Hitler's executioners." (Leon, 1979) Their main objection was that Styron never "experienced the agony of a Nazi death camp." Leon hopes that readers will see that Styron is "urging a universal confrontation of the reality of the unutterable dehumanization which took place in our very recent history, because only through such confrontation and examination can the truth be made clear." (Leon, 1979)
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
William Styron's Sophie's Choice is the second of Styron's novels to make it big. Styron enjoyed a small amount of popularity when he published Lie Down in Darkness (1951), The Long March (1953), and Set this House on Fire (1960). These novels won awards including the Academy of Arts and Letters' Prix de Rome for Lie Down in Darkness. Even better than the awards, however, these novels successfully earned the attention of literary critics. When Styron's novel The Confessions of Nat Turner was published in 1967, the critics were waiting. Nat Turner was a controversial novel concerning the revolt of Nat Turner. This novel had great impact and left the United States pondering the state of race relations in the country. Nat Turner enjoyed almost a year on the bestseller list and also won a Pulitzer Prize. This novel made William Styron popular and set a precedence for his novels to come. Contributing to Styron's popularity is the fact that he follows in the footsteps of William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren, two of the greatest Southern novelists. Both Faulkner and Warren used the historical novel not only to make a statement about the era, but also to make a statement about history and about the processes of history. Styron also attempted to make a statement about history both with Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice. He is trying to transmit through his own understanding of history, the conciousness of the time. He wanted to transmit a sense of history for our time. As George Core states in his Southern Review, ?.novels of the highest order can still be written in the South." Sophie's Choice concerns a young man, the narrator, Stingo who moves into a Brookly boarding house. Stingo meets his upstairs neighbor, Sophie, a Polish survivor of Auschwitz, and her lover, Nathan, an American Jew. Stingo becomes a confidant for Sophie who eventually tells him of the tragedies she endured during her stay at Auschwitz. The reader learns that Sophie had to make many difficult choices during her stay but the most difficult concerned her children. The Nazi leader in charge of her allowed her to keep one of her children but told her that the one she did not choose would go to the gas chamber then the incinerator. Sophie was forced to decide which of her children to kill. The Nazi, in effect, made Sophie the murderer of her own child. In Sophie's Choice, Styron has "taken on the most dangerous and vast subject among his works: Auschwitz" says interviewer Michel Bradeau. Sophie's Choice was popular from its first appearance in 1979. The novel debuted on the bestseller list in Publisher's Weekly at number three and only climbed the charts from there. Sophie's Choice remained on the bestseller list for an amazing forty weeks, holding the number one spot for much of that time. Sophie's Choice, like Nat Turner, is a historically based novel. Unlike Nat Turner that stood alone in this classification during its time, Sophie's Choice was one of many historically based novels on the bestsellers list during 1979. During the late 1970s, the United States was finally coming to grips with what happened in Germany during World War II. Facts were finally coming out into the open and people were ready to hear about them. Authors used their novels to convey these facts and to create an understanding and empathy towards what happened during this time. The theme of Sophie's Choice contributed to its popularity. Styron, during an interview with Stephen Lewis, states that the popularity of Sophie's Choice had a lot to do with its date of publication. The "book seems to coincide with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the time. Sophie's Choice coincided with a deep and troubled interest in the Nazi period and the Holocaust. Ever since World War Two, we have been thinking about the Nazis and the camps and the Holocaust in general, but I think it came to a crescendo in the late 1970s, when my book was published. The book appeared only a year after that sensational and not terribly good television program, Holocaust. In the years preceding the late 1970s, there just was not enough general consciousness of what had gone on. Finally the accretion of fact and the sense of horror grew and grew." The popularity of themes relating to World War II is evident when one inspects the other bestsellers of the time. The Martarese Circle, by Rover Ludlum concerns two mortal enemies who are the only two people in the world cunning and knowledgeable enough to stop an evil plot that threatens the entire planet. This theme, although not explicitly about World War II alludes to the fact that the United States and other countries involved had to stop Hitler's evil plan before he destroyed an entire race of people. War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk also appeared on the bestseller list along side of Sophie's Choice. This novel writes the story of America's involvement in World War II. The novel follows the Henry family from the Middle East, to Moscow, to Hitler's death camps and tells of the grave danger the family faces as the fight in the Second World War. Joseph Heller's Good as Gold "takes the reader into the heart of the Jewish experience in contemporary America." The themes of the bestsellers of this time reinforce the notion that during this time (the late 1970s), the United States is just beginning to come to grips with the realities of World War II. The facts of the War are finally being divulged and writers use the War theme to try to help themselves and their fellow Americans to fully digest and understand what happened in Germany during World War II. Another possible explanation for Sophie's popularity is the fact that the book is based on truth, which makes the characters and situations all the more sympathetic. His ideas stemmed from two true stories. One was from the book Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel, a Hungarian doctor who survived Auschwitz. She tells how, through ignorance, she let her children be led to the gas chamber. Had she said they were older they might have been kept alive for work. The second true story occurred when Styron moved into a boarding house in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, exactly where the novel takes place. He met a young blonde woman. Her English was hesitant and there was a number tattooed on her arm. She confided in Styron and told him she was in love with a man who lived above him. This is the man and woman from which Styron derived the characters of Nathan and Sophie. Sophie's Choice was also popular because of the novelty of the ideas presented in the book. Many people believed, during this time, that one, only survivors should attempt to recreate the Holocaust in literature or film, and two, that any attempt to recreate the Holocaust diminishes the event. Styron rejected both of these ideals. He did not think that the Holocaust was some "sacrosanct" area that could not be treated, nor did he think that someone who was not there was incapable of dealing with it. He also boldly presented his victim of the Holocaust as a blonde Polish woman rather than Jewish. This is a new point of view for people during this time. Styron was "troubled nonetheless by a certain ungenerousity that does not allow the understanding that there were, indeed, not just thousands, not hundreds of thousands, but millions of non-Jews who died just as horribly as the Jews, although perhaps not as methodically." A movie version of Sophie's Choice starring Meryl Streep as Sophie, came out in 1982. William Styron comments on the movie in his interview with Stephen Lewis. "I thought the film was a remarkably faithful adaptation of the book. I thought it did a splendid job, in a linear way, of representing the book. At the same time, the film necessarily had to commit rather enormous sins of omission, and much of the book was not in the film. I regretted that but that is implicit in the making of movies. It would have been a ten or twelve hour movie if it had tried to reproduce the complexity of the book." Styron also thought that the films great virtue was "that it extracted the essence of the book, the central story. The message of the book was retained. It could not contain any of the purely philosophical points that were made, but it did a good job capturing the basic outline of the story." Styron felt that Streep extraordinarily portrayed the essence of Sophie's horror and her agony. Styron also speaks of the television program Holocaust in comparison to the movie Sophie's Choice. He says that the movie of Sophie's is a far more honest attempt to capture the essence of the Holocaust than the television series was. It is unclear if the movie affected the sales of the novel at all but it did increase Styron's popularity and the popularity of the subject matter. "There have been a lot of people who probably would not read the book but who leave the movie feeling that they learned something or were moved in some way." Sophie's Choice probably remained popular for as long as it did because of the impact it made on society. People began to realize the enormity of the Holocaust and the tragedies it caused the families involved. They also felt more empathy towards the War since they could now "get to know" a survivor of Auschwitz and follow her through her stay and hardships. According to Styron, "part of the message was that the Nazis actually got everyone. They got the Jews first and foremost and most specifically, but anything so deadly, anything so utterly consummately filled with evil ahs to have at least a residual effect on everyone else. Just the magnitude of the venture had to cause suffering that was universal." There are certain works that touch some kind of nerve universally, that gather together all the anxieties that people feel. The Nazi period was a world cataclysm from which we're still recovering. This novel helped people realize the extent of the damage the Nazis caused and helped them relate to the people involved. In conclusion, many aspects of William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice contributed to its success and popularity. Around the late 1970s, the United States was just beginning to come to grips with what happened in Nazi Germany. Facts finally dispersed and real stories were coming out. Many novels during this time dealt with the issues of World War II. The bestsellers during the time when Sophie's Choice was on the list included: The Martarese Circle by Robert Ludlam, War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, and Good as Gold by Joseph Heller. Each one of these novels dealt in some way, with World War II and the mass destruction that occured. Sophie's Choice is no exception. Styron tells a truth based historical tale about the life of one survivor of Auschwitz. Styron tells his tale in a sympathetic manner in order to evoke the readers feelings. The topic of the book itself was enough to create popularity. Styron's previous success with the Confessions of Nat Turner got him attention with critics so they were eagerly prepared to receive Sophie's Choice. The movie, although it did not significantly impact book sales, heightened awareness on the subject and helped popularize it. Sophie's Choice also had a huge impact on society by presenting the facts of World War II through the eyes of a woman who survived a stay at Auschwitz. This made her character more sympathetic and made readers feel more emphatic towards her. The novelty of the book gripped readers attention and enticed many people to read it. Styron deals with subjects previously off limit: the Holocaust, and especially the fact that many of the people in Auschwitz were not Jewish.
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