This bibliography of secondary material is arranged chronologically; for items published during the same year, the entries are in alphabetical order. Not listed here are the initial book reviews or the many dissertations and theses written on The Public Burning.
Had it not been for 2½ disruptive years of personal and legal infighting after the book was finished, Robert Coover's big novel could have been published in time for the 1976 Bicentennial. Those difficult times for the author, as well as the book's odyssey from the first publisher to lawyers and on to different publishers and their legal consultants, are poignantly summed up by William H. Gass in his introduction to the reissue of the novel by Grove Press in 1998. In 1966, 10 years before the different companies' legal teams "Nixoned the novel's publication," Coover had realized that the Rosenberg case and the executions had virtually disappeared from public memory. He decided to give "this watershed event for America" a fresh treatment; when Nixon prepared to run for the presidency in 1968, Coover found his clown-like narrator for the events of 1953. For this retrospective he then still envisioned a short, parodic theatrical piece. By 1971, he abandoned the original theater idea for a novel as the more suitable format for his encyclopedic narrative. A reminder of this earlier concept can be found in Coover's 1973 publication of "The public burning of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: an historical romance." After Watergate broke in June 1972, Coover remarks, he was forced to "work a lot harder, dig deeper, think beyond the [Nixon] pratfalls." During the years of working on and re-working the novel, Coover's agent George Borchardt was positively engaged throughout and finally, in 1975, the book was finished.
More than two decades after the original publication in 1977, critical reception of and responses to The Public Burning have not radically changed. Then, as today, there existed two distinct camps, either enthusiastically pro or vehemently contra, with apparently no middle ground. What has lessened over time, however, is the original, almost hysterical outcry from a number of righteous (though often quite amusing) critics. Coover was accused of a myriad of transgressions: of "violating the ethics of literature," of "bad taste and blatant falsehood," of having written an "anti-American book," of manufacturing a "cartoon saga of Richard Nixon and the Rosenbergs," of publishing "a story going too far beyond readers' sense of what is permissible." Some reviewers could not refrain from applying their own brand of "psychology" to the author, to his "troubling book," and to "the astonishing degree of puerility it exhibits." This group not only analyzed "the author's spleen against Nixon and America," but also determined that "the underlying problem is that rage has replaced intelligence." Yet the main hue and cry was and still is over the integrity of the historical record, over how far a novelist may go in treating real (and living) historical figures, over the limits of political satire and the political novel. Some of these voices could still be heard in the late 80s, particularly those calling for a supposed historical accuracy. These detractors defined Coover's reconsideration of the Rosenberg case a "fantastic distortion of history."
The other, much larger group of early critics, reviewed Coover's madly inventive satire "with the energy and passion the book deserved." Later commentators centered their debates, critical assessments, and discussions on The Public Burning's great virtuosity, extravagance, and mastery, on its magic, mythology and meaning. Their voluminous output would fill several pages, of which only a selection is listed in the bibliography. Among them, remarkably enough, are a number of examinations in prestigious law journals and historical reviews.
One chapter in Virginia Carmichael's unusual and fascinating study, Framing History: The Rosenberg Story and the Cold War, offers a discussion of Coover's treatment of the Rosenberg case for "a consideration of the function of storytelling—of narrative—in history." Carmichael investigates Coover's suspicion of and dealings with myths, and his commitment to design (as evidenced in the novel's symmetrical and numerical layout). His use of language "performs provocative incongruities on three linguistic levels: rhetorical and stylistic, logical and semantic, and dramatic and structural." Applying Victor Turner's concept of "social drama" and his category of "liminality," she then explores "Robert Coover's critical interrogation of cold war relationships among gender, class, myth and power," focusing "on the historical production and cultural uses of the Rosenbergs and the Rosenberg story."
A different approach is taken by Jackson I. Cope in Robert Coover's Fictions. In one densely packed chapter he analyzes in detail Coover's interlacing and incorporation of concepts such as "circus," Roger Caillois' "dream time," Mikhail Bakhtine's "dialogic novel" and "the carnivalesque," and Robert N. Bellah's "civil religion." Cope ends his excellent discussion of The Public Burning with this conclusion on the novel's final words—the departing Uncle Sam tells Nixon: "always leave 'em laughin' as you say good-bye!"—"the last words of the first truly dialogic, perhaps the first truly American, novel. They are, I hope, Robert Coover's plaudite upon having been ringmaster to the most difficult circus stunt in the history of American literature."
Probably the most comprehensive essay-length evaluation of The Public Burning can be read in Arnold L. Weinstein's Nobody's Home, where he describes "this American epic" as "what still looks to be [Coover's] magnum opus," "a rich cornucopia of all his styles and manias, a book of imperial proportions chronicling a crucial chapter of paranoia in American history [...] but ultimately crafting a surreal operatic fantasia commensurate with the mythic dimensions of the American way of life." Weinstein discusses not only Nixon's function as a clown but even more crucially "the frenzied carnivalization at the heart of the novel." When examining Uncle Sam's language, Weinstein implicitly comments on the overall result of the novel's use of language: "What Coover has done is to focus so intently and passionately on the slogans of American jingoism that he has found their poetry. And in finding their poetry, he has produced some of the most rollicking and vibrant prose of the century." Weinstein concludes that Uncle Sam "has the juiciest language in the novel, the raunchiest and often the most brilliant running commentary on American res publica ever to have been penned."
A complicated novel to render in any language other than American English, The Public Burning nevertheless has been translated into both French and German. In addition, excerpts were published in Polish. Essays about the novel have appeared in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, Romania, and Spain; and the responses from critics as well as the novel's acceptance by readers outside the U.S. have been overwhelmingly positive, despite the book's very American topic.
In the United States, The Public Burning has been accepted into the canon of contemporary classics, is regularly taught at institutions of higher learning, and may very well reintroduce this period of American history into the national dialogue. Perhaps the novel's clown had known as much all along: "I think, unless you discipline yourself to writing, you talk too much."—Richard M. Nixon [TV program 20/20 (May 9, 1985)]
This bibliography of materials related to Robert Coover's 1977 novel, The Public Burning, is divided into two sections: the publication history of the novel and a listing of secondary sources. Each section is arranged chronologically, with items published during the same year listed alphabetically. The bibliography does not contain either the initial book reviews or the many dissertations and theses written on The Public Burning.
"The Public Burning of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: An Historical Romance." TriQuarterly 26 (Winter 1973): 262-81.
"Sam Slick the Yankee Peddler." Northeast (Summer 1974): 3-6
"Groun'-Hog Hunt." American Review 25 (October 1976): 1-32.
"With Uncle Sam at Burning Tree." TriQuarterly 36 (Spring 1976): 3-23.
"The Clemency Appeals. A Dramatic Dialogue by Ethel Rosenberg and Dwight Eisenhower." Statements 2: New Fiction. Ed. Jonathan Baumbach and Peter Spielberg. Introduction by Robert Coover. New York: Fiction Collective, 1977. 87-94.
The Public Burning. New York: Viking, 1977.
The Public Burning. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
The Public Burning. New York: Bantam, 1978.
The Public Burning. London: Allen Lane, 1978.
"With Uncle Sam at Burning Tree." TriQuarterly 63 (Spring-Summer 1985): 289-308.
"Groun'-Hog Hunt" (Excerpt from The Public Burning). The Rosenbergs: Collected Visions of Artists and Writers. Ed. Rob A. Okun. 1983. Montague, MA: Cultural Forecast, 1993. 146-54.
"The Tears of a Clown." New York Newsday 27 Apr. 1994: A30, A32.
The Public Burning. Introduction by William H. Gass. New York: Grove, 1998.
Fiedler, Leslie A. "Afterthoughts on the Rosenbergs." Encounter 1.1 (1953): 12-21.
National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case, ed. The Death House Letters of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. New York: Jero, 1953.
Warshow, Robert. "The `Idealism' of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg." Commentary (November 1953): 413-18.
Reuben, William. The Atom Spy Hoax. New York: Action, 1955.
Wexley, John. The Judgement of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. New York: French, 1955, 1969; Ballantine, 1977.
Hoover, J. Edgar. Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It. New York: Holt, 1958.
Schneir, Walter, and Miriam Schneir. Invitation to an Inquest. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. London: Allen, 1966.
Fiedler, Leslie A. "The Rosenbergs: A Dialogue," Collected Essays of Leslie Fiedler. Vol. 2. New York: Stein, 1971: 199-209.
Nizer, Louis. The Implosion Conspiracy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.
Goldstein, Alvin H. The Unquiet Death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. New York: Lawrence Hill, 1975.
Meeropol, Michael, and Robert Meeropol. We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Boston: Houghton, 1975.
Parrish, Michael E. "Cold War Justice: The Supreme Court and the Rosenbergs." American Historical Review 82 (1977): 805-42.
Perez, Gilberto. "Narrative Voices." Hudson Review 30.4 (Winter 1977/78): 607-20.
Wolff, Geoffrey. "An American Epic." New Times 9.4 (August 19, 1977): 48-57.
Anders, Roger M. "The Rosenberg Case Revisited: The Greenglass Testimony and the Protection of Atomic Secrets." American Historical Review 83 (April 1978): 388-400.
Silver, Isidore. "Libel, the `Higher Truths' of Art, and the First Amendment." University of Pennsylvania Law Review 126.5 (1978): 1065-98.
Chenetier, Marc. "Coover et l'histoire ou Clio doesn't live here anymore." Delta 8 (Mai 1979): 205-40.
Hume, Kathryn. "Robert Coover's Fiction: The Naked and the Mythic." Novel 12.2 (Winter 1979): 127-48. GOINK
Stern, Sol, and Ronald Radosh. "The Hidden Rosenberg Case." New Republic 180.25 (June 23, 1979): 13-25.
Turner, Joseph W. "The Kinds of Historical Fiction: An Essay in Definition and Methodology." Genre 12.3 (Fall 1979): 333-55.
Aaron, Daniel. "Fictionalizing the Past." Partisan Review 47.2 (1980): 231-41.
Hyde, H. Montgomery. The Atom Bomb Spies. New York: Atheneum, 1980.
Klinkowitz, Jerome. The American 1960's: Imaginative Acts in a Decade of Change. Ames: Iowa State UP, 1980. 3-19.
Martin, Richard. "Clio Bemused: The Use of History in Contemporary American Fiction." Sub-Stance 9.27 (1980): 13-24
Nusbaum, Philip. "The Importance of Storytelling Style Among New York City Taxi Drivers." New York Folklore 6.1-2 (Summer 1980): 67-88.
Andersen, Richard. Robert Coover. Boston: Twayne, 1981. 117-33.
Balitas, Vincent D. "Historical Consciousness in the Novels of Robert Coover." Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny 28.3-4 (1981): 369-79.
Wilson, Vivian Deborah. "The Law of Libel and the Art of Fiction." Law and Contemporary Problems 44.4 (1981): 27-50.
Fogel, Stan. "Richard Nixon by Robert Coover, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes." English Studies in Canada 8.2 (1982): 187-202.
Gallo, Louis, "Nixon and the `House of Wax': An Emblematic Episode in Coover's The Public Burning." Special issue of Critique 23.3 (1982): 43-51.
LeClair, Tom. "Avant-garde mastery." TriQuarterly 53 (1982): 259-67.
--. "Robert Coover, The Public Burning, and the Art of Excess." Special issue of Critique 23.3 (1982): 5-28.
Mazurek, Raymond A. "Metafiction, the Historical Novel, and Coover's The Public Burning." Special issue of Critique 23.3 (1982): 29-42.
McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Works of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P, 1982. 83-97.
Ramage, John. "Myth and Monomyth in Coover's The Public Burning." Special issue of Critique 23.3 (1982): 52-68.
Werner, Craig Hansen. Paradoxical Resolutions: American Fiction Since James Joyce. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1982. 68-88.
Berman, Paul. "The Nuclear Jitters: The Rosenberg Affair Was the Beginning of the End:" Vanity Fair 46.7 (1983): 98-101.
Christensen, Bryce. "John Barth & Robert Coover: Naught as Meaning." Rockford Papers 8.1 (January 1983): ii, 1-22.
Gordon, Lois. Robert Coover: The Universal Fictionmaking Process. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1983. 51-86.
Ickstadt, Heinz. "History, Fiction and the Designs of Robert Coover." Amerikastudien/American Studies 28.3 (1983): 347-60.
"`Invitation to an Inquest': An Exchange." Walter and Miriam Schneir vs. Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton. New York Review of Books (September 29, 1983): 55-63.
Karl, Frederick R. American Fictions 1940/1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Evaluation. New York: Harper, 1983. 261-67, 358-67.
Radosh, Ronald, and Joyce Milton. The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth. New York: Holt, 1983; Vintage/Random, 1984.
Schneir, Walter, and Miriam Schneir. Invitation to an Inquest: A New Look at the Rosenberg-Sobell Case. New York: Pantheon, 1983.
Strout, Cushing. "The Veracious Imagination." Partisan Review 50.3 (1983): 428-43.
Alter, Robert. "The American Political Novel." Motives for Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984. 38-45.
Anderson, Richard. "Robert Coover's Dissident Works." Mid-American Review 4.1 (1984): 105-13.
Couturier, Maurice. "Sex vs. Text: From Miller to Nabokov." Revue Française d'Études Américaines 19.20 (Mai 1984): 243-60.
Federman, Raymond. "Fiction in America Today or the Unreality of Reality." Indian Journal of American Studies 14.1 (1984): 5-16.
Jacobs, Naomi. "Lies, Libels, and the Truth of Fiction." Missouri Review 8.2 (1985): 164-78.
Pearce, Richard. "The Circus, the Clown, and Coover's Public Burning." The Scope of the Fantastic--Culture, Biography, Themes, Children's Literature. Ed. Robert A. Collins and Howard D. Pearce. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Number 11. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. 129-36.
Morace, Robert A. "Robert Coover, the Imaginative Self, and the `Tyrant Other.'" Papers on Language and Literature 21.2 (Spring 1985): 202-09.
Rosenfeld, Alvin. "Where Hitler Lives Again: Pop Culture Finds a New Hero." Dissent 32.2 (1985): 219-25.
Atherton, John. "Courts As Readers." Massachusetts Review 28 (1986): 242-66.
Cope, Jackson I. Robert Coover's Fictions. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986. 59-113.
Humm, Peter. "Telling Tales on the Rosenbergs." Literature and History 12.1 (Spring 1986): 48-57.
Semrau, Janusz. American Self-Conscious Fiction of the 1960s and 1970s: Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Ronald Sukenick. Poznan: Mickiewicza, 1986. 71-75.
Estes, David C. "American Folk Laughter in Robert Coover's The Public Burning." Contemporary Literature 28.2 (Summer 1987): 239-56.
Guzlowski, John Z. "Coover's The Public Burning: Richard Nixon, and the Politics of Experience." Critique 29 (Fall 1987): 57-71.
Klein, Marcus. "Postmodernism as a Politics." English Language and Literature (Seoul) 33.1 (Spring 1987): 153-68. Trans. Gyu-Han Kang (into Korean). Rpt. in Contemporary World Literature 45 (Winter 1995): 30-46.
LeClair, Tom. In the Loop: Don DeLillo and the Systems Novel. Urbana: U of Chicago P, 1987. 13-23.
McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York/London: Methuen, 1987. 171-74.
Petillon, Pierre-Yves. "La vie comme elle va, de travers et par vent de noroit." Critique (Paris) 44.498 (Novembre 1988): 903-13.
Philipson, Ilene. Ethel Rosenberg: Beyond the Myths. New York: Watts, 1988.
Ross, Andrew. "Intellectuals and Ordinary People: Reading the Rosenberg Letters." Cultural Critique 9 (Spring 1988): 55-86.
Kuehl, John. Alternate Worlds: A Study of Postmodern Antirealistic American Fiction. Introduction and interview by James W. Tuttleton. New York: New York UP, 1989. 224-31.
LeClair, Tom. The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989. 106-30.
Orlov, Paul A. "A Fiction of Politically Fantastic 'Facts': Robert Coover's The Public Burning." Politics and the Muse: Studies in the Politics of Recent American Literature. Ed. Adam J. Sorkin. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green U Popular P, 1989. 111-23.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice That Sealed the Rosenberg's Fate. New York: Scribner's, 1989.
Viereck, Elisabeth (Elisabeth Ly Bell). "The Clown Knew It All Along: The Medium Was the Message." Spec. issue on Robert Coover Delta 28 (juin 1989): 63-81.
Kunow, Rudiger. "Without Telos or Subject? Coover's and Doctorow's Presentations of History." Reconstructing American Literary and Historical Studies. Ed. Gunter H. Lenz, Hartmut Keil, and Sabine Brock-Sullah. Frankfurt: Campus, 1990. 372-90.
Jacobs, Naomi. The Character of Truth: Historical Figures in Contemporary Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990. 166-94.
Messenger, Christian K. Sport and the Spirit of Play in Contemporary American Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1990. 145-53.
Ickstadt, Heinz. "Plot, Komplott oder Herrschaft des Zufalls: Die Findung und Erfindung von Geschichte im postmodernen amerikanischen Roman." Postmoderne--Globale Differenz. Ed. Robert Weimann, and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1991. 265-77.
Maltby, Paul. Dissident Postmodernists: Barthelme, Coover, Pynchon. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1991. 97-126.
Wesseling, Elisabeth. Writing History as a Prophet: Postmodernist Innovations of the Historical Novel. Utrecht Publications in General and Comparative Literature 26. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1991. 138-53.
Aaron, Daniel. "What Can You Learn from a Historical Novel?" American Heritage 43.6 (October 1992): 55-62.
Dainotto, Roberto Maria. "Myth and Carnival in Robert Coover's The Public Burning." Rivista di Studi Nord Americani 3 (1992): 5-22.
Strehle, Susan. "Robert Coover: The Public Burning and the Accidents of History." Fiction in the Quantum Universe. By Strehle. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1992. 66-97.
Carmichael, Virginia. "Framing History: The Rosenberg Story and the Cold War." American Culture 6. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 1993. xi-xxv, 157-94.
Hite, Molly. "`A Parody of Martyrdom': The Rosenbergs, Cold War Theology, and Robert Coover's The Public Burning." Novel 27.1 (Fall 1993): 85-101.
Okun, Rob A. "The Public Burning, Robert Coover." Okun 146-54.
--. "Rosenberg Case Bibliography." Okun 160.
--, ed. The Rosenbergs: Collected Visions of Artists and Writers. 2nd ed. Montague, MA: Cultural Forecast, 1993.
Walsh, Richard. "Narrative Inscription, History and the Reader in Robert Coover's The Public Burning." Studies in the Novel 25.3 (Fall 1993): 332-47.
Weinstein, Arnold L. Nobody's Home: Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to DeLillo. New York/Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. 237-60.
Wiesen Cook, Blanche. "The Rosenbergs and the Crime of the Century." Introduction to Okun, n. pag.
Pughe, Thomas. Comic Sense: Reading Robert Coover, Stanley Elkin, Philip Roth. Basel: Birkhauser, 1994. 59-81.
Reitz, Bernhard. "The Reconstruction of the Fifties in E.L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel and Robert Coover's The Public Burning." Historiographic Metafiction in Modern American and Canadian Literature. Ed. Bernd Engler and Kurt Muller. Paderborn: F. Schoningh, 1994. 223-240.
Rigney, Ann. "Fame and Defamation: Toward a Socio-Pragmatics." Semiotica 99.1-2 (1994): 53-65.
Aaron, Daniel. "Nixon As Literary Artifact." Raritan 15.2 (Fall 1995): 83-96.
Chung, Sang--Jun. "Postmodern Fiction and the Problems of Rewriting History." Journal of American Studies (American Studies Association of Korea) 27.1 (June 1995): 95-109.
Irmer, Thomas. Metafiction, Moving Pictures, Moving Histories: Der historische Roman in der Literatur der amerikanischen Postmoderne. Tubingen: Narr, 1995. 85-109.
Moran, Joe. "The Author as a Brand Name: American Literary Figures and the Time Cover Story." Journal of American Studies 29.3 (December 1995): 349-63.
Chassay, Jean-Francois. Robert Coover: l'ecriture contre les mythes. Paris: Belin, 1996. 31-46.
Chenetier, Marc. Beyond Suspicion: New American Fiction Since 1960. Trans. Elizabeth A. Houlding. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1996. 171-91. Rpt. of Au-dela du soupcon: La nouvelle fiction americaine de 1960 a nos jours. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1989.
Detweiler, Robert. "Carnival of Shame: Doctorow and the Rosenbergs." Religion and American Culture 6.1 (Winter 1996): 63-85.
Frick, Daniel E. "Coover's Secret Sharer? Richard Nixon in The Public Burning." Critique 37.2 (Winter 1996): 82-91.
Miguel-Alfonso, Ricardo. "Robert Coover's The Public Burning and the Ethics of Historical Understanding." International Fiction Review 23.1-2 (1996): 16-24.
Kim, Seong-Kon. "Coover and Doctorow: Two Postmodern Historical Novels." Contemporary American Literature. Ed. Kim. Seoul, Korea: Minumsa, 1997. 249-58.
Radosh, Ronald, and Joyce Milton. The Rosenberg File. 1983. New Introduction Containing Revelations from National Security Agency and Soviet Sources. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997.
William H. Gass. Introduction. The Public Burning. New York: Grove, 1998. xi-xviii.
Dee, Jonathan. "The Reanimators: On the Art of Literary Graverobbing." Harper's 298.1789 (June 1999): 76-84.
Bell, Elisabeth Ly. "The Notorious Hot Potato." Critique, vol. 42, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 7-17.
Elisabeth Ly Bell closely observes contemporary American writers, Robert Coover in particular, from a European perspective. She also contributes to this issue: